Room of One’s Own

New Hope couple transforms garage into stylish retreat

   THEY were initially looking for a weekend place, a refuge from the stresses of life in Manhattan.
   But when editor Terry Moffatt and his wife, artist Lisa Mahan, discovered the former tiny schoolhouse in New Hope, Pa., that seemed to beckon them, the couple took the plunge and left urban life for a home in the country.
   Part of the package was a singularly unattractive, two-car cinder block garage on the property that Terry initially fancied as a perfect home office.
   But when priorities were established, it was Lisa who won the potentially prized space for use as an artist’s studio. And it was Terry, the product of a do-it-yourself family, who decided to undertake much of the conversion project.
   "The concept was to give Lisa the improved upstairs space, and to increase its very limited light. We wanted to make the garage usable, but it wasn’t going to be easy," said good-natured Terry Moffatt, who "partnered"with Lisa to provide the lion’s share of the elbow grease.
   The master plan included creating much-needed headroom, which involved literally raising the roof to allow for a 12-foot cathedral ceiling. It also involved making ingenious use of the vintage windows, glass cabinet doors and light fixtures that the couple had been collecting sometimes from the streets of New York City, never dreaming that they would someday be part of a rural artist’s studio.
   "Friends and family helped with some of the hardest jobs," said Mr. Moffatt, who had even built a scale model out of cardboard to get a sense of where the project would take them. A local architect helped convert the plans that artist Lisa Mahan had sketched, again to make the end result more real.
   Among the most tedious work: stripping two layers of asphalt shingles from the roof and removing its tongue in groove planking. Handling 13-foot rafters was one of the greatest physical challenges. And it was five-foot-three Lisa who ultimately shingled the new roof, working from early morning to dusk to get the job done before the winter set in back in 1996.
   The most glorious moment: "When the roof was finished and we had a basic shelter," said Terry. "Creating a shelter gives one a feeling of enormous gratification."
   That "shelter" has become an artistic haven for Lisa Mahan. With its ever-changing light, its ample space for her abundant artistic supplies and its glorious space, the garage/studio is a special place for any artist, she suggests.
   "This is the classic ‘room of one’s own,’ " said Ms. Mahan, who works in oils and often creates still lifes and, increasingly, urban themes on her canvases.
   "Going to work, for me, means stepping out of our house and into our garage. But it’s a separate building, which gives me a sense of both closeness and distance from my other world."
   The 350-square foot studio includes a pleasant living area with twin beds arranged to look like a banquette, and with the old roof planking on the studio walls to impart a rustic look and feel. Within her garage/studio, Lisa Mahan has created works that have been exhibited regionally. Ms. Mahan is part of an artist’s cooperative in Lambertville, The Artists’ Gallery at 32 Coryell St. She is also scheduled for a one-woman show at The Atelier in Frenchtown starting on June 1.
   Both Lisa and Terry look back on the project they undertook with humor — and obvious justifiable pride.
   "Even though I almost cut my fingers off with a table saw," said Terry, "I’d do it all again. But I’m glad I don’t have to!"