Shared Space: A Potter Shares Her Space with Another Artist in Transition

When Eric Seritella decided to move to North Carolina from New York, he had the conundrum that most of us face when moving – where to set up shop. He decided to rent space while he settles into the area, and he found another potter who was willing to oblige with a beautiful space.

In today’s post, an excerpt from the November 2013 issue of Ceramics Monthly, Susan Filley and Eric share how they make their arrangement work for both of them, and give advice to others who contemplate working in a shared space. – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.




Susan Filley: I have a wonderful studio, which we built six years ago. It is a passive-solar 800-square-foot building with 9-foot ceilings and great light. It is just about 30 feet from my house and only 5 miles outside of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The space is open, filled with light, and the passive solar design is always comfortable and easy to cool or heat. All my past studios were small, cramped, cold, and dark. With this big space, I have a room for photography, a gallery space, a kiln shed for my Geil kiln, and I built a water-bath spray booth (made from a physics lab fume hood discarded from University of North Carolina surplus). The view of the garden, seasons changing, and my dogs playing is really special.

When I built this studio, I was moving from two studios in South Carolina, my small half garage at my home and my studio business in Charleston, a gallery and 2000-square-foot studio that accommodated 15–20 renters in both private and shared spaces. So I was both upsizing and downsizing my studio space. I had initially thought I might have enough space to rent to someone, but with all my business equipment it was easy to fill or even overfill the entire space.

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Eric Serritella: I currently rent a room in Susan Filley’s studio (which she formerly used as her gallery space). I contacted her about opportunities for studio space around Chapel Hill prior to moving there from New York state. I knew that she was a prominent artist in the area, and thought she could provide some good information and leads. In the end, we decided to try out a space-sharing arrangement in her studio. My space is 10×15 feet, with a door that separates it from the rest of the studio. The rent is very affordable. Susan helped me to furnish the space, get set up, and even offered space in a storage shed for keeping extra supplies. I love the fact that the studio is on a small farm with horses and dogs and lots of sunshine. The space is much smaller than the full studio I had in New York, but I find this conducive to staying organized. I keep only tools that I immediately need around me, and store the rest in Susan’s shed.

Contrary to what I just said about liking the smaller space, it does present some challenges. I’m grateful that my kiln and clay are in the main studio area, yet I’m still often out of table space. I work on the floor with larger slabs until a sculpture is assembled and bring it up to a work table for final designing and sculpting.

Things get a bit cramped in my room from time to time when there are pieces in process, finished pieces drying, bisqued pieces waiting for oxides to be applied, and fired pieces waiting to be photographed. I’ve learned to move slowly near the crowded storage shelf as those flowing branches can easily grab a loose piece of clothing. Sometimes I’ll temporarily store work in my kiln to minimize the risk of breakage. I also move finished work out and into a rented storage area while accumulating work for a show.

Sharing Space

SF: When Eric called, I knew that it would be hard to carve out a space, but I also knew that it would be hard for him to find another place that would work. My gallery room is a wonderful plus for me but I don’t have regular customers coming in so I offered that room to Eric. I have a shed that I could use for all the pedestals that I own. I have to keep my work boxed in storage, which means it isn’t as easy to keep track of. In my first two years out of grad school I had a free studio offered to me in Baton Rouge. It was such a unique opportunity and that, combined with additional assistance from Joe Bova at Louisiana State University, really helped me get started in my career. I next moved to North Carolina and was offered a space in Marie Summers’ studio and was able to use Tom Spleth’s gas kiln for three years. So, with so many generous friends helping me over the years, I felt I was able to help Eric get through his transition year. I went through a year of moving without a good studio to work in and I know how difficult it can be. I guess my feeling was that sometimes it is important to pass it forward.

There are now two electric kilns and more clay stored in the studio. I miss the extra space and having my work on display in the former gallery space rather than all in storage, but Eric has made it work by trying to help out in many thoughtful ways. I knew this agreement was not going to be about the income of the studio rent, but instead a situation that would be of value based on the positive ways that we worked and helped each other out.

SF and ES: In addition to rent, Eric contributes toward the utilities. He brought his own kiln, so wear and tear on Susan’s wasn’t a concern. They compare past utility costs to current and Eric contributes based upon that difference. Eric’s current work is best fired in oxidation, so he can easily track the extra electric costs since the studio has its own meter.

Susan is currently firing all of her work, including bisque, in her gas kiln, so coordinating kiln space isn’t an issue. Eric’s electric kiln is in Susan’s space though, and since it has a loud downdraft vent, he schedules his computer-controlled firings primarily overnight or at times when Susan won’t be in the studio.

As professionals, Susan and Eric both follow the unwritten rule,“If you lose it or break it, you replace it.” So while each has his or her own tools and equipment, when there’s a cause to share, each knows that any loss or damage will be taken care of. In fact, Eric recently paid to have an electric upgrade and disconnect box put in as the kiln plug and wall receptacle blew during a firing.

While Eric and Susan are quite similar and compatible interpersonally, it was agreed from the start that small talk wasn’t necessary and that brief and courteous morning and evening salutations were sufficient to minimize interruptions. What has really made the situation most manageable is the door between the work spaces. This allows both to work independently and come and go without interrupting each other. Most days Eric is in the studio before Susan. To respect her space, he plans to do things like loading the kiln or pulling from his clay supply in the main studio before she comes in or on the days when she’s not around.

Susan often works in the evening, with longer glazing and firing days. It has evolved into a nice balance of schedules, with times when each has the studio alone, and others when both are there and can enjoy the benefits of some shared conversation.

To keep different clays from contaminating one another in a shared space, cleanliness is key. In order to avoid contamination of Susan’s porcelain from Eric’s multiple stoneware bodies, each has his or hers own tools, wheels, and equipment, and Eric cleans his hands before entering Susan’s porcelain area. To play it safe, Eric chooses to avoid the shared sink and does his nightly tool cleaning outside using the hose. He keeps a bucket of water and sponge in his area for cleaning tabletops and tools during the day. Being separated by a door helps, and he also cleans his tools and the floor every night before leaving to avoid tracking anything into Susan’s work area.

  • Shirley P.

    If you are a potter and have concernns about insurance–whether it is liability, health, property–contact the Potters Council and their current insurance company. Using a “group think” keeps premiums affordable, and the policies are in sync with the new Affordable Care Act. I’m sure you’ll find something that will fit your circumstances–in the studio or traveling to shows. Being a member of the Potters Council definitely has its perks.

  • Karen N.

    Maynard, the issues you bring up have as little to do with renting out separate work space to a fellow potter as they would with two businesses renting separate spaces in a strip mall. Each business should carry their own insurance to cover their assets and liability. Some of the insurance you mentioned only applies to a business that HIRES employees which certainly does not apply in the description of this arrangement. As far as taxes and business and sales license, each state has regulations on the requirements – usually based on volume of sales and other related factors – and is easy enough to research. It helps to identify the ‘scary’ things that prevent moving in a positive direction, research each one with the help of professionals if needed, and determine if they apply to the situation at hand. Otherwise, the fear can be paralyzing.

  • Kathleen R.

    Maynard, you have some good questions but seemed to avalanche into a plethora of worries and fears that run amok. Let’s think about some of the issues that may be of concern to many who share space or are considering sharing personal space with another artist. In this article there is no mention of “hiring” the other, so workman’s comp need not be an issue.

    1. How do you handle insurance issues with regard to fire, theft and/or liability for injury?

    2. Does the renter sell art in your gallery, and if so, how do you work it out… consignment, rental?
    How do you handle the sales tax component of sales?

    3. Are there precedents for worrying about product issues on pottery sold? (example, cup shattering).

    Any other comments or questions? I am interested about this dialogue as I share my home studio with two women who recently started spending more time with me in my studio instead of a community studio that’s not open very often.


  • Maynard L.

    How do you handle some of the legal issues with shared space. What do you do concerning insurance, specifically general liability insurance, on the workshop and the equipment. What about insurance for fire and theft etc.

    What about possibility of workmen’s compensation and possible employment and contractor situation?

    Have you prepared a written lease / rental agreement.

    All of these issues just seem to pop up in my mind when thinking about sharing space, and the what if situation that could happen should something go wrong, or someone be injured while working.

    Back in the 1960 – 1970’s people had hobby ceramic studios in there basements and garages, and no one ever even considered these issues. Not to mention business license, and sales tax on the sale of supplies and finished products, But today it is an entirely different environment. There all of the TV ambulance chasing attorneys around everywhere, and lets face it people do get hurt working with clay. It is easy to cut your finger, stab yourself with a needle tool in a bucket of clay, or even get burned with a hot kiln. Even a few stitches causes an emergency room visit and $2 – $3,000 or more in medical cost. The last time I got sewed up it cost $50, and my family Dr. did it in his office. Today my family Dr. would say go to the ER, I don’t do that in my office. It is not uncommon to be insured with a home made piece of equipment, such as a home made wheel or pug mill.

    Do you require proof of medical insurance for co workers in shared workspace?

    That does not even address the product liability issue, should someone have a coffee mug shatter in the microwave or when hot coffee is poured into it. Then everyone wants to know where that thing was made, and using what equipment, and using what materials. If you stick a piece you made in a bucket of glaze that is shared, and a person uses it in food preparation and the glaze has something it that could possibly be not be food safe. You stick a mug into a kiln firing with someone else’s work, then what. Are you both responsible for product liability for that little $5 mug you sold at a flea market? It is a scary world out there.

    How are others addressing these issued with shared space?

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