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Rehabbing Your Space


This chapter discusses the ins and outs of rehabbing both residential and commercial spaces. Of particular importance is the section on converting storefronts into live/work spaces.


Three fundamental things you must think about before beginning a rehab project:

  1. Your budget

  2. Which professionals you will hire

  3. What permits you will need

You also must inspect the property's condition to ascertain improvement costs. See Chapter 17: Inspections for more information.

The remainder of this section focuses on steps you must take when preparing to make your rehab dream a reality.


Set a budget
Setting a budget at the beginning of the project enables you to make informed choices when searching for products and materials. Whether you do-it-yourself or hire someone else, conduct preliminary research on materials and labor costs to make sure your budget is realistic.

Shop around
As you have probably been told a thousand times, do not buy the first thing you see. Once you find the material or service you are looking for, shop around. You can often find the same items at a cheaper price, just by doing a little legwork. The Internet also gives you access to materials you may not be able to find locally.

Shopping around also means comparing the costs and skills of professionals. Try to hire professionals who can implement your project, meet your rates, and compliment your personality.

Be willing to compromise
The chic bed and bath boutique has exactly what you want, but another establishment has a really close replica at only half the cost. Compromise! Rate items-to-buy in order of importance to get an idea on what you will and won't compromise on.

Upgrading products and materials?
Stick with your budget. If you only have finances to cover a certain amount of rehabilitation, then pick materials and products that will fall within that amount. Picking a wide range of affordable materials and products allows you to upgrade and cut back at will. When selecting materials and products, consider the quality as well as price. Sometimes cheap will cost you more in the long run if you have to replace an item sooner than expected.

Asking the contractor to do additional projects?
The contractor is there to do a specific job, not to be your personal handyperson. Every extra task you ask of them comes with a price tag. If you just can't change that light bulb yourself, or must have the contractor fix a leaky pipe, inquire about the cost of the service beforehand and get it writing, preferably in a new contract order or as an addendum to your existing one. You don't want to be surprised when you get the final bill and find the "can you do that?"'s have put you over budget.

Allow for unforeseen discoveries
No matter how much advance planning you put into a construction project, structural, electrical or mechanical problems can be "discovered" once the project is underway. Although they were not part of the original scope of work, once revealed, they must be dealt with. The best strategy to prepare for these unexpected costs is to add a contingency to your budget: at least 20% of the total construction cost. You might be able to reduce that amount to 15% if you thoroughly plan during the pre-construction phase by getting a general contractor or a building inspector to review your plans. Still, as rule of thumb most initial rehab estimates are low.

Utilize the services of a home and building inspector
Especially if your rehab involves extensive remodeling and/or construction. Inspectors are licensed by the state to know "construction detailing."

Architects are trained building and space designers, but inspectors check "workmanship" -- where quality and expense lie in the details. Your interior design person can coordinate and harmonize the design aspects, but your inspector will know how it should be done.

Consider making all contract payouts subject to a professional inspection. If the work is inadequate or dangerous, the inspector can tell you, and you can make the decision on whether or not to pay your contractor, have the work corrected or seek services from another contractor. Expect to pay your inspector around $200 or more for each payout inspection. In addition, get a written and signed report from your inspector.

TIP: If your rehab project is for a business or nonprofit organization, ask your accountant to review the budget. See Chapter 4: Professional Services for resources on hiring an accountant.

TIP: Every dollar spent locally typically creates $5-14 in your community, while every $1 spent at a chain store means most of the money leaves town immediately.

Professional Assistance

The condition of your space and type of remodeling plan will determine which design and construction professionals you'll need. These professionals include architects, building inspectors, general contractors, interior designers, structural engineers, space-planners, plumbers, and electricians.

If you are contemplating structural changes, you will need a licensed architect or structural engineer. For non-structural changes, a general contractor, architect, interior designer or other space-planning consultant will suffice. Design professionals can often connect you with the appropriate construction personnel to assist with your project.

If you are not using a design professional, you must decide which professionals your project needs. If your proposed changes involve more than three trades (plumber, electrician, etc.), you might consider hiring a general contractor, who will choose and coordinate all of the necessary subcontractors.

Definitions of the three primary professionals who may be involved in your remodeling project:

  • Architect: A professional trained in both space and building design. Architects have at least a bachelor's degree in architecture, but might possess a master's. They are required to earn continuing education credits on a yearly basis, and are licensed by the State. An architect is necessary if structural changes to the property, or architectural and/or construction drawings, are required. They can help you obtain necessary building and construction permits and locate qualified construction and/or trade professionals. Architects practicing in Washington State are regulated by the Washington State Department of licensing and the Washington State Board for Architects.

  • General Contractor: A professional who can build and implement construction projects. Once your project has been designed, they can turn your ideas into reality. Some projects can easily be handled by a general contractor without a design professional or architect's assistance. General contractors can help you obtain necessary building and construction permits and locate specialist trade professionals such as electricians or plumbers. In Washington, general contractors are regulated by the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries. They are required to pass several trade exams, and must be licensed to operate in the State. There are two types of contractors, general and specialty. 

  • Interior Designer: A professional trained in the design of interior spaces, with at least two years of academic training. If you don't need any structural changes, an interior designer might be your best bet. Interior designers often specialize in certain types of spaces, such as kitchens and baths for residential spaces or offices and manufacturing facilities in the commercial setting. In order to practice, designers must pass an exam developed by the National Council for Interior Design Qualification and annually earn continuing education credits. Washington State does not require registration or licensure for interior designers, therefore, ensure that you check references and thoroughly research your interior designer. For additional information on other real estate-related professionals, review Chapter 4: Professional Services.

TIP: When entering into a remodeling contract, have your lawyer review the material, especially if it is complicated and the project involves a substantial investment. See Chapter 4: Professional Services to find resources on hiring a lawyer.

Hiring Professionals

The best way to find qualified professionals is through word of mouth and referrals from family, friends and colleagues. The Internet also provides information on potential service providers, though you will need to do research to ensure they are qualified and have the skills to meet your needs. Professional trade associations are another viable option for locating competent help.

Trade websites such as provide additional information on hiring contractors, as well as extensive databases that sometimes offer customer ratings. Hardware and home design/improvement companies such as Home Depot list trade professionals with whom they work; check the store nearest you for a list of these professionals.

Questions to ask potential service providers include:

  • Has s/he worked with clients with space rehabs similar to yours ? If so, how many, and for how long? If possible, review their work samples. Is the appearance of these projects similar to your own goals and vision?

  • Is it possible to speak with some of their past clients? Ask for references from 3-5 recent clients to gain valuable insight into this professional's work habits and skills. While ability is important, personality conflicts can also derail your project or make the process unbearable.

  • Who will work on the project? Who will supervise the work? How many workers will be on-site? If the person you are working with hires an outside trade professional, known as a subcontractor, to complete the electrical wiring or other work, find out who the subcontractor will be, and who will perform the actual work.

  • How do they work? Find out about his or her work style and ethic. Will s/he provide weekly feedback on the project? Contact you primarily by email, phone or in-person? When is s/he available to speak with you about the project? What is their plan of action in the event that problems arise with the project? Will s/he point out where the project can be improved, and where cutbacks can be made? Or will they strictly do what you ask?

  • What type of insurance does the professional service provider carry? Most business professionals carry general liability insurance to protect their property (and possibly yours) from damage. Have your service provider describe their coverage as it applies to your project. Although not required to do so, many architects and engineers also carry professional liability insurance -- similar to malpractice insurance for physicians -- to protect them from claims regarding errors with their work.

  • What type of warranty does the contractor provide? The industry standard for a general contractor is to warranty his or her work for a period of one year. However, legal limitations on insurance preclude architects, engineers and designers from offering warranties. Some building products carry longer warranties, which are provided by the manufacturer. For example, a roofing product might have a 20-year warranty. Be aware that the contractor's warranty is only for the material and labor that s/he provided. If you purchase a faucet yourself and have the contractor install it, then the contractor will not warranty the faucet, but may only warranty the labor and installation. In addition, product or contractor warranties may be void if the product is installed slightly "out of standard" (i.e. too many screws or nails, etc.). This can also be the case if a non-appointed third party (i.e. you) completes repairs to the product or adjusts it once your contractor has left. So, it may be wise to wait for the proper professional to repair the item.
    In the meantime, document, document and photograph. Documentation can entail keeping track of your complaints in writing and making sure your contractor has a copy of your complaints. Sending paperwork and complaints to your contractor via certified mail are also ways to ensure you have adequate documentation.

  • How are you billed? Make sure you have an understanding how you will be billed before the actual work begins. Do you want to be notified if they begin to go over budget? Do you want a weekly update of how much has been spent? Do you want an itemized bill?

Some warning signs you should look for when interviewing a potential service provider include:

  • You are pressured into signing a contract with scare tactics. For example, "This deal is good for the next 2 hours only!"

  • Your requests for references are ignored or not readily offered.

  • The references you receive cannot be contacted.

  • You cannot verify their license and/or insurance.

  • The professional does not have a portfolio of completed projects to showcase their work.

  • The professional refuses or is vague about giving you a price quote.

  • Unwillingness to sign a contract which includes the start and completion dates, remedies to delays, etc.

  • Requiring an unusually large down payment for the job. More than 20% of the overall cost is a red flag.

Building Permits

Depending on the type of changes you make to the space, you may need to have a variety of work and building permits as well as drawings for the project. While the professionals you hire should inform you of the permits you need, the property owner (you or the landlord) is responsible for obtaining the correct building permit.

A building permit gives you, your insurance company, your neighbors and the City assurance that specific minimum standards are met in constructing, altering, or repairing your home by complying with the Seattle Building Code. These standards are based on well-established health, safety, and environmental considerations intended to protect the integrity of the buildings, safety of inhabitants and visitors, and the overall welfare of the public.

However, if you are not sure exactly what you want to do with your space, keep the following in mind as you plan your project:

  • Some work requires a building permit, and

  • Some work does not require a building permit.

Work Not Requiring a Permit

The following work does not require a building permit to complete:

Minor repairs and decorating such as painting, wallpapering, patch plastering, replacing moldings, laying carpeting, floor or wall tiling, other floor treatments (linoleum, wood), repairing and resurfacing wood floors.

Minor repairs and replacements such as:

  • Replacement of windows or doors (same size, location and type)

  • Replacement of shingle roofing. Roof's slope must be at least 5-in-12.

  • Replacement of siding on residential buildings. Building must be 3 stories or less with 4 units or less.

  • Fences less than 5 feet tall.

Historic Status: If your building is a Seattle Landmark or rests within a Historic District, you will need to get permission from the Department of Neighborhoods - Historic Preservation Program to make any changes to the roofs, windows, doors or exteriors walls which are visible from a public street.

Work Requiring a Permit

Work that falls into this category requires a building permit. Some of the work may or may not require drawings . You will need to check with SDCI about whether drawings are needed. The following work requires a permit:

  • Changing, replacing, or removing walls, columns and beams, as well as required exits or sources of natural light and ventilation.

  • New construction, major repairs, renovations and demolitions.

  • Installation of new boilers, furnaces, plumbing fixtures, garages, additions, porches, and decks.

  • Erecting fences over 5' in height (all fences regardless of size require a permit for buildings with landmark status)

  • Building amechanical, supply or exhaust ventilation system

  • Building, replacing, or enclosing and heating a new or existing porch system

  • Changing from a single family to multiple family building
    Reducingthe number of dwelling units (Deconversion)

  • Complete modernization or conversion

  • Construction or alteration of plumbing systems

  • Demolition ofany building

  • Erecting chimneys

  • Alteration to source of required natural light and ventilation

  • Finishing rooms in the attic or basement

  • Installing new driveways

  • Installation, replacement or extension of warm air furnaces in all building types

  • Replacing siding with masonry veneer or face brick

  • Replacing existing masonry

  • Replacing roof (if slope is greater than 5-in-12)

  • Alteration or expansion of electrical system

  • New additions (upper floor, 1st floor expansion, greenhouse, etc.) or dormers

  • Building an attached garage

  • Building a carport

Live/Work Spaces

Whether or not you need a permit and/or drawings depends on the building type and the project you want to undertake. Read the previous three sections to determine if your project requires a permit.

Key permit issues to keep in mind when rehabbing a live/work space include:

  • You will need a permit for any type of major structural change to the building.

  • If your project is a single family residence that you live in, you may be ale to submit your own plans and/or drawings for a permit.

  • All non-residential buildings require permits

  • If you are in a zoned artist live/work space, you will more than likely need a permit as well as drawings signed by a State licensed architect or structural engineer. This is because most zoned artist live/work spaces are located in commercial and business zoning districts.

Art Space Issues

Artists' workspaces have special needs that should be considered when planning to rehab a property, especially when creating a live/work arrangement.

Depending on the type of work you do, pay special attention to how your art needs can be integrated into the space safely. Ventilation and storage and disposal for hazardous/toxic materials are particularly important. In addition, you can explore ways to incorporate eco-friendly materials and technologies into your space, especially now that they are becoming increasingly available and affordable.


Ventilation is a key component for any space where art activities occur, especially when fumes, vapors or dust are involved. Proper ventilation is needed to ensure that the air you breathe is free from toxic, airborne materials, as well as prevent a buildup of vapors, which could catch fire or explode.

When looking at a space, make sure you find out if any ventilation is already in place. Keep in mind that installing proper ventilation in an existing property is several times more expensive than installing it when the building is first built or renovated.

If you are rehabbing your space and your production methods require special ventilation, work with an industrial hygiene and ventilation expert to design and/or install a proper ventilation system from the beginning.

For more in depth information on ventilation systems and how to maintain them, review Chapter 22: Healthy Spaces

Hazardous Waste Storage and Disposal

Storage and disposal of hazardous materials is a primary concern for any art space, but especially if you are in a live/work environment. As you think about rehabbing your space, pay special attention to where you can locate activities that require toxic practices or emit fumes and gases. You also want to make sure you have a proper place to store hazardous art materials, such as acids, and dispose of waste.

For more in depth information on issues associated with working with hazardous materials, review Chapter 23: Healthy Spaces you should also review Chapter 20: Utilities, which provides information on disposing of hazardous art materials.

Green Living and Working

As you begin thinking about rehabbing a property, you may want to consider how you can incorporate green technology into your space. These building materials and techniques will enable you to have an eco-friendly space that is healthier for you and the environment. Many green design techniques and material choices can be adapted for a variety of spaces.

Review Chapter 23: Green Practice for more information on making your space and art practice eco-friendly.

Residential Rehab

Traditional residential spaces are ideal for many artists. Not only do they provide an instant live/work set-up, but it is typically easier to lease or secure financing for a purchase. With a bit of ingenuity and resource management, artists can incorporate work activities into these spaces either by building a workspace from scratch, modifying the space, or furnishing it wisely.

This chapter discusses three primary types of residential space:

  • Detached single-family homes,

  • Traditional multi-family units (apartments, condominiums, townhouses, etc.), and

  • Commercial spaces converted to residential use.

Multi-family units can be as small as a two-flat, or as large as a courtyard building with many apartment units or condos. Converted commercial spaces often have open-space floor plans, which are typically not divided into individual rooms. The classic one-room "loft" is an example of a converted commercial space. In addition, new zoning laws now allow some commercial spaces to be converted into artist live/work spaces. Each type of residential space can be purchased or leased, and each has it own pros and cons.

Multi-family units can be as small as a two-flat, or as large as a courtyard building with many apartment units or condos. Converted commercial spaces often have open-space floor plans, which are typically not divided into individual rooms. The classic one-room "loft" is an example of a converted commercial space. In addition, new zoning laws now allow some commercial spaces to be converted into artist live/work spaces. Each type of residential space can be purchased or leased, and each has it own pros and cons.

As discussed in Chapter 13 Seattle's Zoning Ordinance places restrictions on the type of work-related activities that can occur in residential districts. Single-family and multi-family residential buildings typically have the most restrictions, while converted commercial lofts, located in business and commercial districts, allow for a greater number of art production methods. This is especially true for buildings zoned to allow legally defined artist live/work space.

In addition to the City's restrictions, multi-unit buildings generally have their own individual restrictions concerning permissible uses of the space. If the unit is a rental, the lease generally outlines any stipulations placed on the space. If the space is purchased as part of a condominium or cooperative, the building will normally have a set of by-laws, rules and regulations, known as the CC & R (conditions, covenants and restrictions), that list any restrictions on activities.

Be aware that by-laws may limit your work-related activities, as well as the type (if any) of signage you can display for your business, if applicable. Review the by-laws and CC&R before purchasing or leasing residential space to ensure your proposed use is permitted. If you are considering a space in a shared live/work or work-only environment, review Chapter 11: Ownership models for more information on space issues associated with this type of organizational structure.

After you have decided on the type of space you want, the next task is to determine the compatibility of your work activities with your living requirements. Think of your artistic production as a roommate that has its own space needs. Just like a human roommate, this roommate has "stuff," and will overtake the entire residential space unless given a designated space of its own. Count each artist who lives with you as two people, in order to accommodate their work space needs.

Make a realistic inventory of your workspace needs. Measuring your present or previous workspace will help you come to a reasonable estimate. See Chapter 1: Getting Ready for worksheets to help you figure out your space requirements.

Once you have found an appropriate residential property, groom the space to fit your needs. The remainder of this section discusses ways to adapt residential space for artistic use.

Floor Plan Options

You can adapt residential space to meet your needs by creating new space, repartitioning existing space, working with an existing floor plan, or using an open-loft floor plan. This section examines the pros and cons of each option.

Creating New Space
This option is available primarily for single-family residential buildings. An existing structure can be expanded, either through construction of an addition or by finishing unfinished areas such as the basement, attic, attached garage or back porch. New construction affords the most design flexibility in terms of creating appropriate workspace, but is also the most costly.

Finishing attics, basements and back porches might mean accepting some constraints in planning, but is less costly to achieve. The primary challenges to these spaces are:

  • Heating,

  • Adequate ventilation, and

  • Fire exits.

All of these spaces will probably need to be insulated, and may require heating and cooling systems. Skylights in attic spaces can capture daylight, which makes them well-suited for work requiring natural light. Basements are well-suited for receiving deliveries, removing material and using large or heavy equipment.

Re-partitioning Existing Space
Creating new spaces is not possible in multi-unit buildings, yet one can still maximize space. If the residential space has multiple rooms, the "work roommate" can be assigned to one. If there are not enough rooms, or the rooms are too small, you may have to alter the layout. One extreme solution involves gutting the entire space and rebuilding an entirely new floor plan custom-tailored to your needs although this is only an option if you own the space.

At the other end of the spectrum, simple changes such as relocating doors or removing/adding a wall can be sufficient. Before you permanently alter your residential space, consider what the future intended use of the space might be for you or the next owner. Combining two adjacent bedrooms into a single studio might give you additional workspace you require today, but reduces the number of bedrooms when it comes time to sell tomorrow.

Common ways to change an established floor plan include:

  • Erecting new walls to subdivide large rooms;

  • Removing existing walls to combine smaller rooms;

  • Relocating doorways to alter traffic flow within the space; or

  • Adding French doors between rooms to allow for separate or combined uses.

Traditional Floor Plan
If you cannot make permanent or physical changes to the space, you will need to stake out territory for your work roommate within the existing floor plan. Until very recently, the living room of a residence was considered the main living space in residential properties. The living room is generally the largest room, has the best windows, and is located closest to the main entry. Putting this room to the best use means evaluating which needs are most important to you -- living or working.

If your personal needs are most important, consider using the living room as your all-in-one eating/seating/sleeping space, and give your work roommate the back area or bedroom. If your work needs are more important, your work enterprise can be set up in the front living room, and your living quarters compressed to dormitory proportions in the back portion of the residence. These choices do not require physical changes to the space, only furniture and storage solutions. If you are in a single-family home or townhouse, then the attic, basement or garage may be a viable option for your workspace.

Open-Loft Floor Plan
Residential loft units created from former commercial buildings generally consist of a single, open space, with only bathrooms and closets enclosed. These spaces can range in size from several hundred to several thousand square feet. Unlike a traditional apartment layout with windows on several sides, this one-room floor plan typically only has one wall of windows.

This set-up makes it difficult to create private and separate rooms in all except the largest units. The City's building code requires all habitable rooms (living room, bedroom, dining room, etc.) to have openable windows that can provide ventilation. This law is based on the belief that fresh air and natural light are necessary for a healthy living environment.

Depending on ceiling height, it might be possible to create elevated sleeping or working areas that divide the space vertically. This can be accomplished either permanently with construction, or temporarily with furniture.

It is also possible to incorporate curtains, folding screens or moving wall panels to divide part of a one-room space to separate space uses. If you use this option, make sure the dividing equipment follows the building code and does not touch the ceiling. These furniture solutions have the added benefit of being easily relocated to expand or reduce the size of individual spaces, as needed.

Commercial Rehab

Commercial space is adaptable, sparse, and available for lease or purchase. Limitations on rehabbing commercial space usually depends more on your and the landlord's financial commitments than on the physical limitations of the space itself. The flexibility a commercial space offers can be a long-term asset for your work or live/work needs.

As a general rule, true commercial space is located primarily in areas zoned business, commercial or manufacturing. Although most work-only activities are permitted in these areas, we advise reviewing the property's zoning to ensure that your proposed uses comply with zoning laws. Also, the landlord might prohibit a live/work use of a particular space.

Often, a wide variety of business and personal activities occur in a commercial property. Therefore, examine other tenants' uses to determine whether your activities will conflict with theirs, or vice versa.

The landlord might restrict certain modifications -- for example, changes to the structural framework of the building, outside walls and windows -- in order to safeguard the bare bones of the building from permanent alterations. Usually, these limits are more flexible when it comes to altering interior walls and mechanical systems.

As a general rule, commercial spaces have open floor plans with structural support columns located throughout. Interior, non-structural walls might have been added to partition the space into private offices, meeting rooms and other individual rooms. Non-structural walls can be removed, altered or extended to customize the space.

In some cases, commercial space may consist of a small, stand-alone building where only you will use the entire building. This arrangement provides the greatest flexibility for making internal modifications to customize the space. In most cases, however, commercial space is available as part of a much larger commercial structure that contains other users and activities. Tenants and owners share common building elements such as entrances, loading docks, hallways, stairs, elevators, and -- in some cases -- restrooms.

Written guidelines, created by the building owner or manager, typically regulate the use and modification of common areas. This is true even if the users are also the collective building owners.

Leased Space

If the space is leased, the landlord might make basic physical changes, such as installing carpet or painting walls, as part of the negotiated lease terms. When these changes are extensive, the tenant usually completes the remodeling with consent of the landlord (who authorizes any proposed alterations) and pays for these upgrades either directly or as additional charges to the monthly rent.

Most people will not need to substantially alter a leased space. Raw spaces, and those that have been unoccupied for some time, are most likely to require modification. This can also be true if you need to incorporate a new use into a space, or have a long-term lease. For example, you have entered into a 10-year lease for your expanding dance school. To bring the space up to par, you might need to incorporate special floors, dance bars, mirrors, a sound system, etc.

Or, say you move into an open-space warehouse with several other artists, and plan to operate a photography studio. You might have to erect walls to partition off separate studio spaces, create a dark room, etc.

In addition, you might find yourself as the first user in a space that has been vacant for a long time, or is being converted to a new commercial use. If the space will ultimately house multiple users with different activities, know where common hallways will be established, and what impact upcoming construction will have on the access, security and functionality of your space during the conversion process. A written or drawn attachment to a lease agreement or purchase contract will protect you if disputes arise.

You will almost always incur costs for "as is" commercial space. While the landlord may factor in your changes as part of the lease negotiations, ultimately you will shoulder the burden. Spending time finding a space that requires the least amount of remodeling is the best financial strategy.

TIP: See Chapter 7: Commercial Leases for more information about renovating leased space.

Noise Issues

If you are new to using commercial space in a multi-user building, you will soon realize that acoustic separation between users is generally non-existent. Unlike a residential property, in which neighbor noise might be limited to footsteps, voices and electronic audio, commercial spaces often have running compressors, wood working equipment, music studios or other sources of loud noise and vibrations.

If acoustics affect your art, find out who your potential neighbors might be before committing to the space. As with residential tenants, commercial tenants move in and move out regularly; ask the landlord how much time remains on the leases for those spaces adjacent to yours. Also, address in your lease negotiations what will happen if a noisy tenant moves in after your lease begins. If you are buying the space, consider insulating the space from noise.

Also, make sure to disclose the amount of noise you anticipate making so as not to cause problems after you move in.

Space Checklist

Ask yourself the following questions to determine whether changes to your potential space are necessary or wanted. This is a comprehensive list and so not all of the items will be pertinent to your situation or needs.


  • Is a freight elevator available? Is it adequate?

  • Does the building have a loading dock? Is it adequate?

  • Are the doors wide enough for you to move in and out of easily?

  • Is there adequate parking and/or transportation access?

  • Is the spaced zoned for patronage?

  • What is the maximum occupancy of the building?

Building Capacity

  • Is the space large enough to meet your needs?

  • Is the building zoned for your intended use?

  • Are the ceiling heights adequate for your needs?

Electrical Power

  • Is the existing electrical capacity adequate?

  • Are there sufficient electrical outlets?

  • Can the electrical system be upgraded, if necessary?


  • How has the property been used for the past 60-100 years?

  • Has the property housed toxic materials? Were they removed?

  • Are there lead paint or pipes? (This is important if you will be rehabbing your space extensively, as you will need to hire professionals to safely remove the materials, and if you will have children living or visiting the space often. Even small amounts of lead are harmful to children.

  • Is there a Phase I Environmental Risk Assessment readily available? (This assessment tells you if any dangerous substances have been used at or in the building.)

  • Does the space have carbon monoxide alarms?

Expansion Opportunity

  • Is there room within the space to expand?

  • Is there room within the building to expand?

  • Is it possible to "downsize" the space through subleasing?

Heating/Air Conditioning/Ventilation

  • Do the heating and cooling systems accommodate your live/work needs?

  • Are natural and mechanical ventilation systems adequate?

  • Can you easily upgrade these systems to fit your needs, if necessary?

  • Can the space support special ventilation, if necessary?


  • Is the amount of natural and/or artificial light adequate?

  • Is additional light required?

  • Is the amount of natural light too extreme? Is interior shading required?

Security and Safety

  • Are the space and building sufficiently secure?

  • Is there adequate fire protection? Enough fire alarms, fire exits, etc.?

  • Does your insurance carrier for personal property have requirements for the number of exits, smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, or other items as a precondition for coverage? If so, does the space meet those requirements? If not, can these features be easily incorporated into the space? ( See Chapter 19: Insurance)


  • Is storage within the space adequate, or is off-site storage necessary?

  • Will enclosed storage rooms be required, or can furniture systems be used?


  • Is access to water available and/or adequate?

  • How many and what types of fixtures are available: bathrooms, emergency showers, etc.?

  • Are slop sinks available? How many exist, and where are they located?

Waste Collection

  • How often and when is waste collected?

  • What type of waste can the collection service handle?

  • Can the service provider handle solvents, paint thinners, metal and other art and hazardous waste materials, such as acids and photography solutions?

TIP: If you are anticipating extensive work on your space, visit the SDCI Applicant Service Center before you lease or purchase a space in order to determine if your intended activity is permitted in the space, and the permits, if any, you will need to acquire before work on the space can begin. The SDCI Applicant Service Center (ASC) website is located at Seattle Municipal Tower in Downtown Seattle.

Storefronts to Live/Work

Life in a storefront can be an unparalleled experience, ripe with many opportunities. Some of the best attributes of storefront properties include:

  • Older spaces offer unique architectural features not found in newer units. These buildings often used more elaborate, expensive and durable materials and ornamentation than most residential buildings at the time, such as cast iron columns, prism glass transoms, colored structural glass sheathing, porcelain enamel metal panels and hand-polished, distortion-free plate glass display windows.

  • Their glass front windows, which make for dramatic, sun-bathed interiors and a distinctive street presence.

  • Size. Most are larger than standard homes, and have high ceilings usually finished with decorative tin tiles.

  • Built-in flexibility that accommodates many uses.

  • Their placement right on the sidewalk, which reserves more space for the backyard than a stand alone house (which has a front yard requirement).

TIP: Ensure that the Storefront is zoned for live/work.

While storefronts have many appealing attributes, designing live/work space in a storefront calls for ingenuity. Some of the features that make this option attractive can be disadvantageous. Issues concerning privacy, moderating internal temperature, controlling noise and security must be considered. The large interior space and lack of side windows can also be problematic in meeting building code requirements for ventilation and sunlight for residential spaces.

You might find it challenging to keep up the exterior ornamentation if the manufacturer of the particular features no longer exists, or a suitable replacement cannot be found.

You will need to keep in mind issues when considering a storefront/live work conversion such as daylight vs. privacy, security, weatherproofing, and sunlight.

Regardless if you are in the market for a residential space, an art studio, rehearsal space or a theater rehabbing a space is a serious under-taking make sure that you fully understand all of the rules, regulations, requirements and costs BEFORE signing and lease or purchasing a property!!

Professional Assistance
Hiring Professionals
Building Permits
Not Requiring a Permit
Requiring a Permit
Live/Work Spaces
Art Space Issues
Residential Rehab
Floor Plan Options
Commercial Rehab
Leased Space
Noise Issues
Space Checklist
Storefronts to Live/Work
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