A Seattle artist transforms her backyard into a spot to unwind and find inspiration
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Live, work, play
As an artist, Kristie Severn’s livelihood depends on inspiration—something her former studio in downtown Seattle lacked. “It was cold and white, with a view of Highway 99,” says Severn, who creates mixed-media pieces that often incorporate elements from nature. “And I had to drive there.”
Looking for a space that would foster her creativity—and cut down on her commute—Severn decided to build it in her own backyard. In 2008, she hired local architects Jim Graham and Leann Crist to add a modern, airy art studio onto an existing shed in her yard. Then she hired friend and landscape designer Brandon Peterson to plant a garden full of meadowlike grasses. “Brandon designed a spot that felt like it had been here forever,” Severn says. “It’s a perfect place to relax with friends—or a sketchbook.”
In the firepit area, Peterson repurposed stone from a former raised bed to build a semicircular bench. It’s surrounded by Northwest natives and backed by a grove of maples for a tucked-away feel.
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Drawn to texture, Severn had the studio built of a mix of materials, including exposed beam and steel-bracket ceilings, concrete walls imprinted with a wood-grain pattern, and a table of exposed maple plywood (left over from ceiling construction). A 26-foot-long skylight and expansive windows provide all the light the artist needs during the day.
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The green space
Zebra grass, willow, Irish moss, sedum, and Jerusalem sage bring movement and a variety of textures. All need only occasional pruning. With its steel roof and panels, the cedar studio “provides a bit of urbanness, but it’s still respectful of the natural environment,” Severn says.
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“The garden often finds its way into the composition and patterns of my work,” says Severn. Her recent pieces include a spiky blossom made from close to 1,000 painted Q-tips (pictured) and a painting inspired by a magnolia flower. A rhododendron leaf is pinned to her mood board.