How one designer extended her creativity to her work area.
Carrie Sommer’s home office is decorated with things she finds visually stimulating, and the soothing scent of fresh lavender sweetens the air. There are bins of colorful fabric and lace, a row of tulle for wrapping packages, jars filled with vintage buttons, and mannequins draped with jewelry and flowers—pretty much what you’d expect to find in a designer’s workspace. But what might surprise you is where it is located: Carrie’s home office is in her garage.
It wasn’t her intention to operate her business, Sommer Designs, from that unlikely area; it evolved there. In 2004, Carrie began designing and manufacturing handbags, aprons, baby items and drawer liners. She considered renting a studio for her burgeoning business, but the costs were prohibitive. For two years, the dining room was her makeshift office, but with bolts of fabric, supplies and a large professional sewing machine taking up the space, Carrie could not invite guests for dinner.
“I was running back and forth to the garage, where my washer and dryer were. It wasn’t efficient,” Carrie explains. “But the garage was my husband’s domain. Eventually, he became tired of having an ironing board and fabric in the dining room, so he let me have the garage.” The cars that had been housed in the three-car garage (Carrie and her husband, Scott, have three teenage sons) now sit in the driveway.
They decided to make the renovation a soft conversion, rather than a more labor-intensive, and more expensive, permanent one. The couple spent a week putting up drywall and hanging cabinets themselves.
Upon entering the garage, you would see the work area with a large 3- by 6-foot cutting table in front. Carrie’s sewing machine is to the left of the table. Along one wall are white cabinets, a workbench, a pegboard with ribbon, tools, and the washer and dryer tucked in a nook behind curtains. The second section is for storage, with products organized in bins. Carrie uses the third part of the garage as her shipping station.
“It’s very efficient, but it also had to be pretty,” Carrie explains. “People might be surprised to know I have two chandeliers in the garage—the one over the workbench has a hydrangea design, the other one over my desk is painted turquoise with pink and green beaded swags.”
Even her storage units needed to fit in with her aesthetic. “I bought a vintage metal apothecary cabinet on eBay that is pink with vintage lace taped to the shelves. I have that over my desk,” she says.
A common question posed to Carrie when people hear she works in her garage is regarding the smell. “They always ask me whether it smells like gas fumes and oil. Someone even wondered how I could work in a place that must smell like a lawnmower,” she says. “But it actually smells like a field of lavender; I buy 60 pounds of lavender buds at a time to use in making my drawer liners.”
Carrie’s advice for anyone considering converting their garage to a home office is based on style, experience and function. “Finish it as much as you can; don’t start working in an unfinished garage,” she says. “Insolate the walls and use moisture-resistant boards—the area will get warm or cold depending on the season. Space heaters will help keep you comfortably warm in the winter months.”
Carrie opted to keep the concrete flooring, but placed large area rugs over it. “I have rugs under my cutting table, sewing machine, ironing board and in the office area,” she says. “My chair has wheels, and since garages are not flat—they have a slight tilt—without the carpet, it would be rolling around.” All Sommer Designs products are sold on Carrie’s website, sommerdesigns.blogspot.com, as well as at local events and shows in Southern California. While Carrie does the majority of the work herself, she began employing a seamstress to assist in some components of her pieces almost two years ago. However, Carrie is quick to point out the importance of the support she’s had from her family.
“I’m gone a lot of weekends doing shows, and I couldn’t do it without my family. When I’m selling at the Farmers’ Market, they come at the end and help me pack my stuff up. My 16-year-old son Colin is a videographer, and he filmed my booth and interviewed me at a recent street fair and put it on YouTube.” Her other sons—Dylan (Colin’s twin) and Drew, 13—are also integral to the success of her business and family. Scott, her husband of nearly 20 years, is her go-to person for advice.
“Scott is my silent partner. He’s the voice of reason.” However she smiles as she recalls one time when his advice was not as spot on as usual. “One thing he was wrong about was aprons. ‘Nobody’s going to buy aprons,’ he told me.”
Aprons and lavender liners are Sommer Designs’ biggest-selling items.
For more information, visit sommerdesigns.blogspot.com.
By Meryl Schoenbaum
Photography by Jaimee Itagaki
Styled by Jacqueline deMontravel