Room to grow

Create space to pursue what matters

Gretchen Fruchey
Julie Wall
Erin Erb

We all deserve, and can benefit from, a space of our own; a place to unwind, chase and fulfill dreams, build projects or find a few moments of Zen. The rise of “man caves” and “she sheds” has given way to more unique, focused spaces that serve a specific purpose or help reach a particular goal. Rather than creating a space that allows one to escape, these spaces offer individuals the opportunity to work toward something.

The impetus for such a space is due, in part, to the burgeoning self-care movement, which has inspired people to engage in a spectrum of activities which can help improve or maintain mental, physical and/or emotional health. Taking the time to enjoy these activities, hobbies and rituals supports proper stress management, inspires overall relaxation and even improves daily functioning.

Whether the space is for exercise or meditation, a craft or hobby, carving out time and an easily-accessed space specific to those needs is an essential element of consistent self-care. Forget about the near-mythical Pinterest-perfect spaces that tantalize in the digital sphere. The desire for everything to be just so can be overwhelming and ultimately take away from the feeling of peace when using the space. Instead, focus on how the space can serve both the purpose and the journey to becoming your whole, best self in a place of your very own.

Oasis of Zen
Gretchen Fruchey

Gretchen Fruchey is a Fort Wayne yoga instructor who offers group classes in her home studio as well as workshops, private consultations and classes and, in the warmer months, weekly classes on the beautiful Wells Street Bridge downtown. Fruchey believes yoga “provides Zen in every way – if you practice the right kind of yoga for you, that is. Not everyone is meant for hot yoga, just like others may find Yin yoga agitating. Be sure to practice a style that balances your energy and do it on a regular basis. Yoga brings an awareness of habits and thought patterns, teaches to pause and reflect as well as control of the breath, which affects the central nervous system. Yoga creates Zen in one’s life from every angle – physical peace, emotional awareness, mental stillness and often, spiritual inspiration. Fifteen years later, it seems I’ve only tapped into the beginning of immeasurable positive changes yoga has provided me!”

According to Fruchey, there is no one right or wrong place to practice yoga. “The ideal yoga or meditation space is one you will use. More than being perfectly decorated, serene or even quiet, cultivate a space that is convenient and accessible. Once you find that spot, make sure it is neat. Nothing is more distracting than a mess, so straighten (or even hide) any piles, toys or papers. You want the room to look and feel peaceful and calm, so I think lighting is extremely important (think dimmers and lamps). Ultimately, the ideal yoga and meditation room is one that inspires a feeling of peace the moment you enter it.”

For yoga beginners, the essentials are yoga mat, pillow and soothing music. As for the practice itself, Fruchey says, “There are endless choices of online yoga programs and memberships – it is amazing. YouTube is free and YogaGlo is $18 a month, and their instructors are amazing. I also love the Gaiam DVDs and books,” which can often be found at retail and resale media shops as well as the Allen County Public Library. “In addition to the basics, an experienced yoga mecca would also include props like blocks, straps, essential oils, a statue, piece of art or water feature you absolutely love and relate to in some way, a meditation cushion and possibly some prayer beads or crystals.” Fruchey recommends Fort Wayne Outfitters for mats, straps and blocks. Some yoga studios in town feature boutiques where you can buy candles and beads; and Earth Magic at Glenbrook Square and The Catalpa Tree Shops in Grabill are sources for “great little extras.”

You can create a yoga area in lieu of an entire room. “Look around your home. Maybe there’s an ideal area in an entryway, behind a sofa or in a hallway. My aunt came up with the genius idea of cutting up a mouse pad to place under sofa legs so it could slide out of the way at a moment’s notice, instantly changing the family room into a yoga (or dance) room. Even if your setup has to be put away after use, you can have everything you need in a basket that can easily be stored out of sight. Even though I have a yoga room in my basement, I have a portable station that I can place in my bedroom or next to the windows in the family room, depending on the time of day. Sometimes it is nice to roll out of bed right onto the mat, or vice versa,” Fruchey said.

In addition to or in place of a yoga space, a meditation altar can be another area that promotes peacefulness and relaxation. “A meditation altar is a staging of personal items that help you come to a state of peace and calm,” Fruchey said. “An altar can be set up and used for worship but also for inspiration and a general sense of reverence about sitting still. An altar doesn’t have to meet a set of standards. It can be personal. A small table, shelf or even a stack of books can elevate items, photos, art, words, statues and minerals that inspire you.

“A little wooden Buddha isn’t spiritual in its own right,” she said. “It has meaning because it’s meaningful to the person looking at it. Maybe it inspires you in a religious context or maybe it just inspires you in a way that cultivates self-awareness and self-empowerment. When constructing your own altar, use things that feel meaningful and special to you, arranging them in a way that makes you happy when you see it. Have a notebook nearby to write dedications, thoughts or prayers. A candle is a lovely way to greet and leave your altar. Like the yoga space in a basket, your altar could fit in the pocket of your yoga bag so you can arrange your treasures in front of you wherever you are.”

“Everyone deserves an oasis. Turn off your phone, light the candle, dim the light. Honestly, though, it isn’t really about the space, it’s about the intention. Having the intention to prioritize yourself is in itself deeply empowering and gratifying. To justify your need for indulgence, quiet and attention (from yourself) and then to find the time to separate from the many layers of roles, demands and distractions and just be is a huge step in a journey to becoming more fulfilled and purposeful in your life,” Fruchey said. “There are times in my studio when I make weird noises, breathe loudly or roll around like an animal (not joking!). Other times I just silently lie there, feeling my breath. It’s so freeing! You have to give yourself permission and just let your real self walk through that door. If you start finding peace within yourself, you’ll spread that peace into the world.”

Ultimate craft emporium
Julie Wall

Julie Wall is an artist, designer and maker and owner of the oh-so-charming Hedgehog Press, which is in the midst of relocation to the Canton Laundry building on Broadway. Her work has been seen at galleries and at a multitude of shops and markets in town and beyond. Wall offers ready-made products like coasters, leather decanter tags and paper goods from her studio but also leads creative workshops and classes throughout the year. “Creating art, for me, has always been a source of meditation. Using your hands, getting dirty, problem solving … these are all things we try to help children achieve but they seem less important as we get older. They are so, so important to our overall well-being and mental health. We all need a little time to forget about our day and just focus on something else. Creating art always takes my full attention and helps me to let go of things from my daily life,” Wall said.

Scrapbooking, sewing, knitting – whatever the hobby or craft, the point is to give yourself the space to create freely and in peace. According to Wall, “The ideal craft room is a space away from other distractions of daily life. Having a dedicated space really helps me to create and relax at the same time. I never have a TV nearby but always have something to play my favorite music on. I like having a large table where I can really stretch out and am able to leave a project out overnight or for a few days.”

The basic must-haves depend on what kind of crafting will take place, but organization is key. Wall-mounted peg boards have a quaint charm while keeping tools and supplies in sight and in reach. Repurposed kitchen cabinets, countertops and cupboards can be installed for more robust storage. Wall added that she enjoys filling her space with items that inspire her. “I love nature and being outdoors, so I like to surround myself with items I find while outside. . . . I also stock my art book collection in my studio. That way I can always flip through them to help get over a creative hump I’m facing.”

When space is an issue, it can be difficult to dedicate an entire room to crafting. If this is the case, Wall says to opt for a crafting cart. “I had this for many years before having my studio. When setting up for a project, I used a folding card table and rolled my cart out into an open space. In the summer, I’d use the garage so that it wasn’t always in the living room. Having a folding table helps to eliminate the need to clear daily clutter from the kitchen table, which then usually pulls you into your other life and duties. The card table, along with my cute little three-tiered cart from IKEA, really gave me a sense of space.”

As for artistic inspiration, Wall likes to shop local antique and secondhand stores for unique items. “The Wood Shack is my favorite place to go to find fun extras such as beautiful doorknobs, hinges, pedestals, etc. You can use anything to make art!” And while Wall is well known for her printed paper goods and artwork, she enjoys a variety of artistic and crafty endeavors. “I love to embroider. It usually just takes up a little sewing box and you can sit with the family while the TV is on and do it. It’s a great introduction into using your hands regularly but still integrating creativity into your life.

“My studio is my sanctuary,” Wall said. “It is where I can go to breathe, unwind, create, make mistakes and conquer my fears. I love collaborating with others as well, but when I’m in my space alone, it really helps me get to know who I am and problem solve any way I want.”

Therapeutic gardening retreat
Erin Erb

A longtime lover of plants and flowers, gardener Erin Erb was inspired to start her own gardening business, Fleurish Container Gardens, after friends and family started asking her to create pots for their front porches and steps. Gardening for Erb, and many more, has a calming, Zen-like effect. “I always say gardening is cheaper than therapy and antidepressants, but there’s actually scientific evidence of that fact,” Erb said. “Mycobacterium vaccae, a natural bacterium found in soil, has been proven to mirror the effect of pharmaceutical antidepressants by stimulating serotonin production, which makes us relaxed and happier. Whether you listen to music, audiobooks, podcasts or just revel in the silence and get lost in your work, gardening is soothing, healthy and productive. I simply can’t say enough about the meditative, calming and cathartic practice of tending to one’s garden!”

Just like planning, creating and tending to a garden, carving out an area or structure for corralling tools and supplies and setting up a workspace can be as simple or as intense as you’d like it to be. “My ideal garden ‘shed’ would be a beautiful, gothic-inspired greenhouse of my own. Until I have that, I’m quite happy with my setup at home. For me, the ideal gardening space is well-stocked and organized with tools, supplies and inspiration that help make gardening easy, convenient and fun. It’s an obvious bonus if it’s aesthetically pleasing, but anywhere that allows the gardener to access their needed materials and complete the task can be ideal,” Erb said.

If backyard space is limited, a thoughtfully organized cart or table is sufficient. “A gardening space can be any sheltered location that allows you to easily access the essentials,” Erb said. For some gardeners, that means a clean and organized spot in the garage or a small covered plot of back or side yard or patio. Potting tables and benches have become a popular choice to give everything a home. They can be purchased online or even constructed DIY-style out of pallets or scrap lumber. Get creative – a couple of shelves and a little working surface space is all it takes to create your very own functional gardening center.

Supplies, tools and the plants themselves can be found in big box stores, sure. But Fort Wayne boasts “several locally-owned garden center gems where one can find tools, high quality soil and soil amending products, beautiful, healthy plants and (can) also gather some tips and tricks from knowledgeable and friendly staff. Plant Center, McNamara and Broadview Greenhouse are a few of my personal faves,” Erb said.

During the off season, the garden shed is great for setting the stage for the season to come. “Purge anything that is no longer useful,” Erb said, such as broken tools, expired products and plant waste. These should be cleared to make space and keep the area clean and in good repair. “It’s also a good time to take inventory and build a list of things you’d like to add to your gardening space. Storing some of the essentials in a large, closed container over the winter will keep tools dry and protected if they would otherwise be exposed to the elements. As usual, other products like weed control and pesticides should be kept high and secured away from children and pets. It may seem daunting, but having everything prepped for the next season will save time and energy in the long run, allowing you to get right to work as soon as the weather breaks.”

“Gardening serves as an amazing creative outlet, so seeing all of my tools and supplies in one organized space gives me a sense of excitement and productivity. Having a dedicated gardening space is not only convenient, it was instrumental in allowing me to take my hobby a step further and create a business. With Fleurish Container Gardens, I enjoy an extraordinarily high personal satisfaction quotient. I know I’m incredibly fortunate to do what I love.”

First appeared in the October 2016 issue of She.

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