When you know it’s a wreck but you buy it anyway


I am a thinker. I ponder and agonise instead of making decisions.

It’s one of my weaknesses. And strengths. I see every angle, every nuance…. And the more I think, the more complex and intriguing it gets. Or confusing. And the fewer decisions get made.

The truth is that I’ve been looking for a decent workable studio for years, but haven’t acted.

So what do you do when an issue feels like a spinning kaleidoscope and there’s information overload coming from every side? I do nothing. Just wait for my thoughts to clarify themselves. Except that sometimes they don’t.

Now, that can turn out to be either dangerous or exciting, because then life and circumstances decide for you. Changes come, ready or not.

The startling thing is that that when I stew and procrastinate my subconscious seems to get extremely annoyed; it eventually takes control of things out of sheer frustration, and jumps in and makes the decision for me.

So it feels like it is almost by default, or rather despite myself, that I have invested in a new studio in Barcelona.

I should call it a ‘potential’ studio. Because it’s a ‘renovator’s dream’.


Unfortunately photos don’t do the property’s condition ‘full justice’ and it almost looks pristine...

Believe me, the walls are hacked into with years of pallet-bashing, most of the floor is ankle-twister rubble, the wiring is perilously prehistoric, the toilet cistern has no relationship with the bowl (the effect is purely cosmetic), the floor and walls have angry, damp sections with crumbling scabs, and broken window panes sit inside their rotten frames.

But, let’s rewind a few months - How did it come to this?

I am looking to rent a shared studio space but find no joy - the places on offer are too far away, too small, or too expensive.

Wandering the streets, seeing so many vacant shops and abandoned businesses, the almost unimaginable possibility of buying a space finds its way into my wild imagination.

Almost as a joke, I start looking at old garages and shops. Expecting not to find anything.

And my predictions look like coming true. The properties I visit are either long, skinny, lightless corridors, or abandoned sleazy bars (painted either red or lime green) in unusable, convoluted figurations. So when a real estate agent starts describing the place she thinks is perfect for me I’m skeptical.

We go to visit. The rusty roller door creaks up to reveal a grimy, dusty cavern.

It’s stuffed floor to ceiling with pallets of tinned tomatoes and eels, noodles and other market produce, as well as a huge van squeezed into the centre. To get to the back section we bend into a low door; I now feel a ceiling hovering twenty centimetres above my head. No way! This is the deal-breaker and I write the place off.

Later in the day, my husband tactfully (well,rather forcefully actually) suggests that I reconsider, pointing out that the front ‘cavern’ (which has a very tall ceiling) is in itself WAY bigger than my current studio, even forgetting about the back ‘bonus’ section. I am unconvinced but prepared to go for a second visit.

Surprisingly, six weeks later, I am clutching a heavy and rusty set of keys, tentatively entering what is now My very own space.

It’s reality check time. What absolutely needs fixing? Or, more precisely, what I can live without?

Seriously, how much do you need in an artist’s studio?

Well, a bit of power would be a start, some water and a sink, somewhere to plug in the electric kettle, some light and ventilation, a toilet…


The builders come to give me a quote. It’s ‘just’ an art studio, I say, so I only need the basics.

My list of ‘basics’ now gets translated into tangibles - meaning:

  • a new fusebox and rewiring from ground zero (actually the old fusebox has no ‘ground’)

  • lights and power points

  • water pipes, a tap in the patio

  • a kitchenette with sink/trough, and a small hot water service (OK, that’s a slight luxury)

  • a toilet that works, and a hand basin too

  • doors and windows that open and shut and keep out the air

  • A resurfaced cement floor that you don’t trip over

Deep breath, there’s no turning back. Fast forward two weeks…

NOTE TO SELF: I should have taken more notice of the ‘damp’ (or rather flooding) aspect when I visited with the agent.

Luckily I have calm and optimistic builders. When they start excavations in the tiny bathroom, they uncover a kind of septic/drainage tank. It’s part of a conduit for the sewerage for the whole six storey building. As it hasn’t been cleaned out in living memory, disgustingly unmentionable substances have accumulated and solidified.


The builders, with undertaker faces, gravely pass on the bad news. I feel like Peter Mayle from “A Year in Provence”. (Except that I’m in Spain.) We need a special truck to come and siphon out the muck and clear the pipes.

It takes a few days, but the ‘smelly’ truck arrives. Happily I am not there for the procedure. An incredibly patient and hardworking septic tank man drags an enormous sucking hose. Or maybe it blows as well…?


Truck number one is filled. truck number two has to be called.

And, as a bonus I get a big removable metal plate installed over the hole for easy future removal.


So, here we are in early February, and the workers have mostly finished. The front window is still on its way. What was supposed to have taken ta couple of weeks has dragged into five and counting. Or, rather, I am counting.

Painting to be done next - and it will be me and my darling partner taking on that task.

If you are up for it, there will be another progress reports in the following weeks…

PS Deadline looming:

Barcelona has an annual ‘Open Studio’ event in May, but there’s not much time left to apply. There is a selection process and I have one week left, but need to include photos of my studio. I will need to get some sort of staged setup happening, because it’s not looking much like a studio right now.

PPS I just checked with a friend and she says not to kill myself to participate this year as it’s mainly a community event where neighbours come to visit. So I have decided to let it drop till next year.

The before shot of the bathroom

The before shot of the bathroom

Bathroom progress…

Bathroom progress…

The old floor

The old floor

Now there are tiles and a kitchenette

Now there are tiles and a kitchenette


Next, Laurent and are painting the walls.


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