Houston art studios to rent and the home of ArtLab summer art camp for kids. Thedra & Stephen Cullar-Ledford


One studio available Sept 1 2015


We have one vacancy for a work-only studio with move-in available immediately.

There are five studios, one tiny office, and our weird house on the property. The four studios that we rent are made from used 20-foot shipping containers. They are on a half-acre of land with lots of trees, horses just over the fence, a fire pit for cool evenings, chickens, a vintage Airstream and a tree swing — all right in the middle of Houston.

These are not a subdivided common space — each unit is completely independent, lockable, and available to you 24/7/365.
– All utilities are included
– 220 square feet, plus 120 square feet in overhead storage loft. Outdoor workspace is also available for larger projects.
– Custom designed and built to meet the special needs of visual artists with a 10′ tall, 19′ wide work wall.
– Beautiful light from north-facing clerestory windows and built-in track lighting
– Individually-controlled air conditioning and heating
– Modern electrical service with plenty of outlets
– Included high speed wired Internet (WiFi doesn’t penetrate shipping containers)
– Shared full bathroom and utility sink
– Dog, kid and chicken-friendly

Rent is $600 per month with first and last month’s rent due at lease signing.
The address is 419 Janisch Road, Houston, TX 77018

Please call Stephen at 917-856-2809 if you would like to come see the space.

No space available


Thank you for your interest in Independence Art Studios. We do not have any available spaces at this time, but if you send an e-mail to info@independenceartstudios.com, we will add you to the list of people we notify when one becomes available.


No studios available, but come by anyway!

Our studios are made from used 20-foot shipping containers. They are on a half acre of land with lots of trees, horses just over the fence, a fire pit for cool evenings, and a tree swing — all right in the middle of Houston. These are not a subdivided common space — each unit is completely separated, lockable, and available to you 24/7/365.
– all utilities included
– 220 square feet, plus 120 square feet in overhead storage loft. Outdoor workspace is also available for larger projects.
– Custom designed and built to meet the special needs of visual artists with a 10′ tall, 19′ wide work wall.
– Beautiful light from north-facing clerestory windows and built-in track lighting
– Individually-controlled air conditioning and heating
– New electrical service with plenty of outlets
– High speed internet connection
– Shared full bathroom and utility sink
– Dog, kid and chicken-friendly

Give Thedra a call at 646-269-4132 if you’d like to see the space in person.

All rented out, but come by anyway!

Though we do not have any studios available at the moment, we still want to grow the community of artists and friends connected to Independence Art Studios.

  • We have a waiting list for studios (email info@independenceartstudios.com to be added)
  • We do plan on building more studios (know anybody with unwanted shipping containers?)
  • Sign up for life drawing classes that we’ll be starting this fall (details TBA)
  • Sign your kids up for the summer ArtLab camp
  • Stop by for Vodka Fridays (or “cherry limeade” Friday, if that’s more your speed.) They happen about once a month — next one is September 23)
  • We are very welcoming to artists, kids, dogs, chickens, potlucks, firepits — even collectors! Just drop by and visit.

Call Thedra if you have questions or just want to visit at 646-269-4132.

A nice place to make art

IMG_0010I was finally home during daylight hours to be able to take some photos of the recently-nearly-finished interiors.IMG_0012IMG_0019

Dramatic Developments

What a month it has been! We installed insulation, tried to do sheetrock ourselves (before hiring somebody who knew what they were doing), got the walls painted, the electricians installed plugs and switches and turned on the power! The interiors needs some trim work and cleaning, but they’re 95% complete and they look great.

For anyone interested in rentals, we only have one left.


Looking At Art has been our first visitors. They originally scheduled the two nights of visits to see Thedra’s work and the new studios, but hey, now we’ve got a gallery building in our backyard so we asked a few friends to install some work too. We had Stephanie Toppin’s paintings, Tara Conely’s installation, and Philip Durbin’s paintings.


Only one studio left

We have two of the studios rented — we’ll introduce the new artists soon. Since we need one for Thedra’s studio/classroom, that means we only have one more available. If you’re interested, here’s the scoop.

Electrical inspector is there today. Hopefully we’ll be able to insulate and start on sheetrock this week. Getting very close!

Passed city structural inspection, now ready to finalize electrical work

Turns out Stephen didn’t need to stress about the city inspector as much as anticipated. He made a number of suggestions, but they were all to be completed before the finish inspection — he signed off on structural. Now we need to buy a few cases of gap filler and caulk. We’ll get the electricians out (hopefully this week) to finish their work.

new_gardenWe took a little break from construction this week to plant some more in our new garden. We’re following the Square Foot Gardening method and are having a fun time with it. We planted two tomato plants last Saturday, both about 5 inches tall. The next day, one of them was — no kidding — 10″ tall. It doubled in size in 24 hours. You could almost sit and watch it grow. It has calmed down a little since that early exponential growth (thank goodness.) You can see for yourself in the photo. The plant in the cage on the right was the same size as the thick, tall sage plant in the middle of the garden last weekend

Deck is done and we’re ready for the structural inspection

Finished deck

Stairs are done. Railings are up and look good.




We have a renter — even though we don’t have a complete studio yet. I put down 2×6 pine boards for a floor, close up gaps around the rafters, clean up the top of the container and generally tried to make the place a little more usable. The floors look good now, but we’ll see how they look after the boards expand and contract a few dozen times with the Houston humidity.

We have the electrician coming this week (for the second time) to pick up drawings and give a revised estimate. With me being off most of this week, I hope to have our revised submission to the city in by Friday so that the electrician can submit his plans and get started soon.

Little Details

It’s amazing what a few (relatively) inexpensive details can do to make you feel like you’re making progress. I’m in the Lowe’s knob section and notice a Schlage package of light duty commercial levers and deadbolts. For some reason, this is the first time I’ve ever noticed them, though I’ve looked before. $300 later, I’m installing the little suckers.

Deadbolts and door handles are on each of the units now so the doors look finished. Too bad it has been more than a month since I installed the door frames because now two of them aren’t quite square any more and I’ll need to do the whole shimming and attaching thing again.

It’s also amazing what a single (expensive) detail can do to keep the water out of your building.

We got a little insurance money for Ike damage to our kitchen, and promptly spent it at MBCI on metal roofing. The valley gutter at the bottom of the slope once again is the tricky part. On the first one, I used sheets of lightweight aluminum that I could bend by hand, fitted them under the windows, along the cricket, and up the slope aways. Then I’d caulk the sheets together and lap the roofing over it and screw the whole thing down. Not too bad, but lots of room for leaks and the aluminum was pretty expensive.

Finally went to United Lumber and they sell rolls of metal for exactly this purpose. I think it’s galvanized steel instead of aluminum, but it will work. It’s lighter weight and one piece will do the whole run, so it’s an improvement. Much cheaper too.

The other big news is that I’ve figured out how to nibble. I was irritated that my expensive tool wasn’t going to work on corrugated metal when I realized that I could rotate the little chewing head sideways. This means that I can make it go up and down the hills and valleys of the corrugation. It’s fast, but it does seem to clog up with debris pretty often. Still figuring it out.

I now have metal roofs on two of the four units, with good waterproofing on all four. Still need to do trim on all of them.

Waterproof at Last

The tarpaper that the framers tacked onto the roof weeks ago didn’t last very long without protection, so we’ve had rainwater pouring through the building whenever a storm comes through. (I say “through” because the floor isn’t sealed tightly either, so the water really does just pass through on its way to the ground.)

I use GAF/ELK StormGuard to do roof waterproofing. I ordered “Ice and Water Shield” because that was what was recommended, and McCauley’s sent this, so I think it’s pretty much the same thing. In any case, it seems to be gooey tar/asphalt compound sandwiched between two sticky layers. The bottom sticky layer is the adhesive side that bonds to the roof. My 7-year has found that it can function well as human fly-paper today — it’s pretty strong. The other side has a clear film over it. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to remove that film, so I didn’t, figuring that more layers is better than fewer when you’re talking about a roof.

I paid about $65 per roll and needed two rolls per roof (times four roofs plus taxes came to just about $600.) I’m pleased with the results, and it stood up well to a heavy rain a few days ago. Now I just need to get the metal roofing to go over it.


I finally have a resolution to the question “is this building commercial or residential?” It’s important because the building codes are different, the permitting process is different, and the cost of trades like plumbing and electrical are different too.

It turns out that the answer depends not so much on the building itself, but on the use. If this building was to be used only by my wife and I, it would be residential. It would essentially be a disconnected extension of our home, where we could make art, have a piano, or install a pool table.

If, on the other hand, this building is to be used by other people, who will be paying us rent and who will need to have places to park and bathrooms to use that aren’t in our bedroom, it’s commercial.

I would have preferred to be classified as residential, but at this point, I don’t care which one it is, I just want to know. Now I know.

The thing that would cause the biggest trouble is if an engineer needs to do the mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) drawings. It turns out that a master plumber can do the plumbing drawings, a master electrician can do the electrical plans. (And I don’t need to show mechanical since it’s just a window unit.) This is very fortunate since the project is so small I doubt I’d be able to find an MEP engineer who would take the project.

So this is progress, though I can’t think of a photo to include for it.

Back on track

It’s been a while, but we’re back at it this weekend. We actually didn’t stop working on the project (though there was indeed a considerable slowing), but instead we were working on less-visible things like getting permitting sorted out with the city, getting bids from tradespeople, securing the building for a hurricane, then cleaning up afterwards.

In the Doghouse

The most fun thing lately is our little dog house. We’ve decided to work with Domingo, the very talented framer, to do the metal siding. He has never done it before, I’ve never done it before, and we’re both nervous about making a really big and expensive mistake. So we built this little closet thing to fit under some exterior stairs on our house as a model. It has most of the features of the bigger building, in a more convenient snack size. (Like everything on our property, it is WAY overbuilt. In this case that’s because we built the whole thing out of scrap lumber left over from the building framing. The only long stuff we had left were big 4″ x 6″ timbers, so that’s what the dog house is framed with. We could also use this as our tornado shelter.)

Josh at MBCI takes the dimensions and the materials we want to use, and he works to help me figure out what we should order. I feel like a complete idiot after he explains how trim is applied to metal siding. I’ve been trying to figure that one out for weeks, and it turns out that it’s very simple.

The biggest frustration of the day is with that nibbler. It does the job just fine — on relatively flat sheets of metal. The PBD panel we’ve chosen has dramatic corners to the corrugation and there’s no way for the nibbler to cut it. I end up using a cutting disc on a grinder, which works just fine (though it does go through discs quickly.) It looks like that $400 nibbler was a waste, for this project at least.

Here’s the very fancy doghouse, almost at the end of the day.

Key findings:
– The most important piece is the first one. Make sure it is absolutely level. You can’t correct for this on later panels.
– Start from the bottom and work up.
– Make sure the corrugation is a perfect fit when overlapping pieces. If this gets off, trim won’t fit correctly and the corrugated panels won’t fit properly later.
– When trimming around an opening, Use a big piece that covers up part of the opening and cut a hole out of it for the opening. It may be a more efficient use of material to piece it together from parts, but the seams show much more.
– Use high speed drilling, but don’t use too much pressure. If the drill slips, it will leave a mark on the metal.
– Trim is laminated with a protective plastic wrap. Remove before applying to building.
– On interior openings, trim the bottom first, then sides, the top.
– Don’t screw everything down too tight initially. It needs to be loose to apply trim and re-tightening destroys rubber
– Cut from the back of the material so that if the grinder slips, it doesn’t mar the good finish
– Hide joins by cutting on the underside of the hills of the corrugation
– Measure the placement of screws so that they form a nice, straight line
– Start on the far side of the building, so that as you overlap panels, the joins are not as visible from the front
– Wear gloves to keep skin oils from getting onto Galvalume. Over time, these oils harm the finish and show up as fingerprints.
– Don’t get too caught up with making perfect cuts. It’s nearly impossible and the trim covers up almost every imperfection.


I don’t want to be a roofer when I grow up.

All of the small windows at the back of each unit are installed, and two of the four units have clerestory windows installed. Putting the windows in is the easy part. The work is in wrestling the flexible, stretchy and really, really sticky flashing into place.

Because the clerestory windows are less than a foot above the roof “valley”, managing rainwater there is critical. Everything has to overlap properly, so I can’t put the window in before I deal with the valley, and that means I’m in the roofing business. I finally get a couple of strips of flashing lining the valley to make it watertight, then install the windows and flash around them so that it overlaps the valley flashing.

The building is good — as long is our renters keep the windows closed in a heavy downpour. I need a few days to recover.

Cause for Delay

As you may be able to tell, we don’t seem to be making much progress. We scramble to get the deck mostly done, and then spend a few days cleaning up the site in preparation for our 7-year-old’s birthday party. The party is a success, so now it’s back to work.

The windows are delivered, but sit uninstalled while I figure out weatherproofing. We have Tyvec installed, but it is tacked up with plain staples which make me a little concerned for the long term. I worry that they’ll rust and fall out, leaving the Tyvek unsupported and full of little holes. I investigate applied bituminous coatings and peel-and-stick coatings, only to conclude that the Tyvek is probably sufficient for our needs. I need to tape over the staples and use proper nails or screws to hold the sheeting on, but we don’t need to go buy and apply something entirely new.

The weatherproofing is a concern because we are using corrugated metal siding. Robert refers us to MBCI, which seems to be the hip place to get metal siding of any sort. Our sales guy there, Josh Dandy, is very helpful and patient with us, helping us understand how the parts go together, how to figure out what we need to order, and helping us get the best price. I leave there pretty stressed out because it feels like a big, expensive project that I had absolutely no prior experience with and which has very little tolerance for error. (Order it too short and you can’t use it. Order it too long and you’re out there with tin snips trying to cut across 12 feet of sheet metal.)

I come home, read through the catalog a few times, and look at the photos we’ve taken of other buildings that have siding treatments we like. I end up making a little cardboard model of the parts that seem most promising and figure out that what we’re doing is relatively simple. (Note that I don’t say “easy.” Or “cheap.”) Now I feel comfortable enough that once we get doors and windows installed and Tyvek all taped up, we can place an order.

(The best part is the metal cutting tool I need — a “pneumatic nibbler” I can’t wait to tell someone I’ve got to go get my nibbler.)

Party Time (almost)

I learn this weekend that it is a good idea to be on site when the lumber company drops off a few thousand pounds of wood. Since they arrive about four hours early, nobody is here so put all of my wood as far as they possibly could from where it needs to go. Oh, and it’s not just any lumber, it’s treated wood (which feels like that means they inject lead deep into the cellular structure of the wood.) 76 trips each time carrying a single 60 lbs. plank balanced on my bony (now bruised) shoulder.

The installation work is straightforward and not unenjoyable except for the heat. As I work I can’t help but think about all the things that might happen on this deck in the years to come. It feels like I’m building an heirloom — something that many other people will have fond memories about. Dinner parties, couples meeting or getting to know each other, performances, projects. It’s a big deck that I think will turn into a nice central gathering place.



Framer Furniture

One of the things I like about watching the framers work is their near-instant creation of “furniture” they need to do the job. On our site, this includes a sawhorse and some scaffolding.

The sawhorse is created in the time it takes for me to walk to my shop, move something out of the way, pull out my two plastic ones and walk them back over to where they’re needed. Since I’m on my little errand, I don’t get to see the cutting part, but I suspect that there’s a standard way to cut the 2x4s to make it. Here’s the result:

You can click on the image to enlarge it to see how the parts fit together. I suspect this thing would be a pain to make with a hammer, but with a nailgun it’s very fast.

The scaffolding they make is rock-solid too. I’ve seen other sites where they use diagonal braces to hold it up from the side of a building several stories up (without the posts going to the ground.)

Again, this is good design. It’s built quickly with what’s available on-hand, does the job required, is adaptable as the job needs change, and in our case at least, gets recycled into being part of the building once we don’t need it anymore.

A Room!

With the OSB sheathing and Tyvek up on the first unit, it really feels like a room now. This is the first time I’ve had a chance to really get a sense of what the room will be like.


It’s sure nice to have money when you’re doing construction. Too bad ours is nearly gone.

Here’s the original plan:

  1. Do a few extra jobs to get some cash, buy a container.
  2. Save a few hundred dollars, buy some wood.
  3. Work for a few weekends with that wood.
  4. Repeat steps 1, 2, and 3 over and over until the first unit is done.
  5. Rent the first unit, use that income to do steps 1, 2, and 3 over and over, a little bit faster.
  6. Rent a second unit…

You get the idea — it’s called bootstrapping.

Along comes a pile of capital that suddenly allows all four units to be built at once, with real tools and professionals who know what they’re doing. The project advances with lightening speed. But all that capacity has a voracious appetite for supplies and supplies cost money.

Here’s how we’ve spent money, by month:

You can see that we bought the first two containers in February, then didn’t have much money for three months (during which time I pulled the containers around the yard.) In June, we got money and started spending. Today is July 15th, so we’re on track to tie June for cash burn.

Here’s where the money has gone:

We haven’t done permitting fees, siding, roofing, windows, doors, insulation, flooring, electrical, plumbing, utilities, fixtures, lighting, fencing, sitework or marketing yet.

I’m hoping that we’re halfway there for this building, but somehow I doubt it.

It looks like we have enough remaining to do the OSB sheathing and Tyvek wrap on the walls and roof. Then that’s it, back to the bootstrapping method. We’ll re-focus on getting one unit complete and go from there.

Lesson learned: This stuff is expensive.

So many designers

We are very excited that one of instructor Rex Spencer’s classes from the Art Institute of Houston will be using Independence Art Studios as a four-week long case study project. Each student will work up a complete package for our little bit of nirvana, from site plan to interior finishes. About 20 students toured the site today to get oriented, get sweaty, and listen to me ramble on about how and why we’re doing such a crazy thing. There will be a critique in a month and we’ll get to be part of the review group.

I meant to take photos, but got so caught up answering questions that I forgot to.

I remember how excited I was at the possibility of doing a “real” job when I was in school. It seemed so much more authentic and serious. It feels really good to get to be on the other side of that — to have the cool project that other people want to be a part of.

With everyone’s permission, I’ll post the highlights of their ideas when they’re ready.

Things Move Fast

The framers are really moving things along and I’m feeling a little dizzy from the speed of it. Part of the disorientation is that I’m not actually doing the work, so I feel a little detached. The other big part is that, because I don’t know what I’m doing, when I’m doing the work it all moves along at a much slower pace as I figure things out.

Approaching the end of the framers’ work here, I feel the need to get my feet back under myself. I’m not really sure what to do next. Robert (our advising contractor) says that the city’s storm water approval is the thing that needs to be dealt with first because that could take the longest and hold up any other inspections. Other candidates for what to do next include:
– sheathing
– doors and windows
– floors inside the studios
– decking

We went to the bookstore last night to do a little research on what to do next. I bought Creative Homeowner’s Ultimate Guide to House Framing: Plan, Design, Build by John Wagner. It describes standard residential construction methods — nothing new fangled or especially green. It helps.