Living and working under the same roof
BY IMELDA DYKES
Cottage industries were common during
colonial times. No one could argue the
fact that women worked in the home.
They controlled not only their working
environment but the market economy.
During the industrialized Victorian era,
architect Leslie Kane Weisman says we
saw an end to all that. "Women were no
longer the manufacturers. We developed
the gender split between masculine/work
and domesticity or feminine/non-work."
Women's skills became 19th century skills.
We weren't trained in the new technology.
We became the "orphans of the technological age."
Changes took place in architecture, as
well. We lost those all-purpose spaces in
front of the hearth and got cubby-holed
into rooms — women got kitchens and
men got the master bedroom and everything else. Weisman collects drawings of
women's environmental fantasies and
finds "signs of neglected and unfulfilled needs." There are more windows,
fewer rooms, more attempts to bring nature in. One of her drawings showed a
simple Tree-House which branched out
to include space to eat, read, sleep and,
at the very top, to look out at the view.
Breakthrough lives downstairs in a
house with over 50 windows and an attached green house (under construction).
We became intrigued about other Houston
women who live and work in the same environment. Writer Imelda Dykes talks to
some of them about their present-day
cottage industries. — J. B.
When Ellen O'Bryan opened her shop,
Natural Magic, people told her she'd
make more money in a shopping center.
But she believes a homey environment is
necessary for her products. O'Bryan
lives upstairs over her shop which is
located in the Village. It carries Natural
Magic cosmetics, body lotions and other
potions made from organic ingredients.
The primary reason she chose the
building was because the upstairs bathroom had two full-length windows.
O'Bryan's friends often drop by her
shop. "My house revolves around Natural
Magic being here," says O'Bryan.
Marion Coleman is a printer who owns
House of Coleman on West Alabama. She
also lives upstairs over her printing shop.
"I wanted to deal with the individual
on an individual level. I thought in a
home atmosphere, the kind of atmosphere I created, I could do that. It's
definitely home. A lot of times I run
upstairs and cook a snack for a hungry
customer. I could never work in a warehouse. I could never work in an enclosed
area. I'd rather dig ditches," says Coleman.
"Really it's the House of Coleman. My
friends named my business. I started with
the idea that I would eventually get a
house. I really want to be around my
work." Coleman's devotion to her work
meant 14 to 16 hours each day for four
to five years. She readily admits she loves
her work and spent more money fixing
the business area although the upstairs is
"I have a tree-room. I have no
curtains, drapes or shades up anywhere
except my bedroom. I can look out at the
trees . . . and I'm surrounded by trees,"
Connie Moberly designed her photography studio/home. Five years ago,
Moberly was renting space on Fleetwood
Street but got a notice to move within
60 days. She'd already bought land and
had had an architect design a place, a
place she couldn't afford. She sat down
with a pencil and draft paper and
designed one she could afford and one
that would fit her lifestyle. "I was scared
. . . but I pat myself on the back now."
Her living space is so well integrated
with her work space that the IRS had
trouble finding her bedroom. She thinks
of her lifestyle as "a wrap-around. It's
everything—fun, work, money . . . and
mischief. An office environment would
be too confining. If I have something I
want to do on Tuesday that wasn't a
rule on Monday, I just change the rule.
The visual environment is mostly white.
You can't control that at most jobs—what
colors you work around, what kind of
lighting you have or what you wear.
"I also chose the location so it would
be centralized, inside the loop, so I don't
have to drive. I hand-picked everything
that's in it," Moberly says.
Both Coleman and Moberly have
people working for them and feel that
careful consideration is necessary when
hiring people. As Moberly says, "People
you work with have to be people you can
essentially live with, you spend so many
hours with them." Coleman says most
of her employees have been with her
Coming to Houston from a hometown
of 35 people, dulcimer maker Sharon
Lauder returned to the country. Lauder
began making dulcimers six years ago
and hopes to make it a full-time career.
She also teaches dulcimer music,
performs and writes music and teaches
After two years in Houston, Lauder
decided to make her dulcimers and teach
her students in her home at the dead end
of a dirt road near Conroe.
"The atmosphere is just not the same
as in Houston. I'm not busy doing city
"I have breakfast looking out at the
pine trees, thinking about the dulcimers
in all their various stages." Lauder works
simultaneously on about five instruments in different stages.
"I can pick and choose what area I
want to work in. I also work outside.
The sun helps me check things out—like
sanding—to give the wood a silky finish."
Continued on page 26
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