before & after: wendy’s home and a swanky seat

this amazing before & after comes from RISD professor wendy seller. along with fourteen other artists, wendy converted an old elementary school into beautiful live/work studios called “the claflin school studios” in newtonville, mass. this particular section is wendy’s space, which took her six years to build (between 1988-94) single-handedly. i can’t get over what the space looked like before and how much she’s transformed it into a livable space- great work wendy! [and thanks to anne for sharing this!]

[have a before & after you’d like to share on design*sponge? shoot me an email right here with your (low res please) images]

wendy after

CLICK HERE to see nina of swanky swell’s loveseat makeover after the jump!

this beautiful wrought iron loveseat makeover comes from nina jizhar of swanky swell. she updated this piece by re-lacquering the frame with an antique white finish and reupholstering the seats in her own fabric called “doiliez” in a soft robin’s egg blue. great work, nina!


  1. Amanda says:

    I love the loveseat. And hello, Wendy’s studio! Jaw, meet floor.

  2. Christine says:

    That is amazing! What a transformation!

  3. Wow that is absolutely amazing. I love when people take old buildings and convert them to a home or a studio. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it done with a school before. Brilliant!


  4. Stella says:

    I feel like I have seen this loveseat makeover before…

    I used to have a vanity chair of the exact same type, but faded purple velvet instead. Bah! Every time I throw away a piece of furniture, I seem to find it here on Design Sponge, given new life and looking fantastic.

  5. Oh my gosh, if I were single and childless, that work/live studio space would be my dream space! Gorgeous! Love the layout, the openness, the light, the way the two areas work together. Love, love, love it!

  6. Amy says:

    WOW! That elementary school transformation is incredible! My husband and I would love to be able to do something like that for my live/work space.

  7. Barb McMahon says:

    I have always wanted to live in a converted school (guess what I daydreamed about during boring classes). I love the open airiness of Wendy’s space. Well done!

  8. Oonafey says:

    Gorgeous! Both the loft and the loveseat!

  9. Stella says:

    Chiming in on the praise for the live/work space: I think removing that awful tiled ceiling really improved the space. I am curious to know where the doors in the back go to now. In any case, it is wonderful and looks just the right size. It’s hard to make a Nordictrack work in ANY space! Also, I think it has a lot of potential for other tenants as well. It could become a dance studio for a choreographer, easy.

  10. Jeanee says:

    What an improvement! I think it’s amazing what people can do with spaces.

  11. kimberly says:

    That seat is so cool! I love it!

  12. Candice says:

    This is a jaw-dropping before/after – I too have always wanted to live in a school (are we weird?) … thanks for sharing this Wendy.

  13. tyler says:

    I love the 80’s graffiti. The floor buckling is pretty wild.

  14. monica says:

    Ever since middle school PE, I’ve fantasized about living in a converted gym. I remember doing warm-up stretches on the floor and looking up at the vast space. It’s so amazing to see someone who actually made that dream real. thank you.

  15. natalyn says:

    WOW. That is amazing. And beautiful.

  16. Sarah says:

    While the after is amazing, I do have a soft spot for the graffiti.

  17. vadjutka says:

    This is my dreamflat….I love it! I hope one day I will have something like this.

    Wonderful work!

  18. amanda says:

    yay risd! love that risd professors and alumni seem to be a regular staple on the blog.

  19. kellie says:

    How AMAZING! Go Wendy – and how good does that feel! WOW & CONGRATS!!

  20. carina says:

    wow! wendys space is AMAZING!

  21. Camille says:

    I LOVE Wendy’s studio.. I remember when she showed us those same pictures in class, everyone’s jaw dropped… same effect this time!

  22. Jena says:

    What a lovely home! I really really love it!

  23. Jacqui says:

    Jealous. That’s all I can say about the live/work loft.

  24. That studio transformation is incredible! I would love to live there.

  25. Nina says:

    Thanks for posting the loveseat and all the great feedbacks!

  26. Amy@AQ-V says:

    Good gosh, what an amazing transformation all around! So smart, both beautiful and fabulously pragmatic too. Yes, I echo other sentiments in being envious of the live/work arrangement. Props to you, Wendy!

  27. It’s hard to believe that’s the same place! Great work!

  28. I love before and after pictures. The space however is pretty standard loft fare.

  29. Cindi aka oldblackcatboo says:

    There are TWO closed schools in my town, if only I had the finances!

  30. Rosa says:

    faaaantastastic house

  31. Donna Sanderson says:

    The loveseat is beautiful but I must say, am I the only one that preffered it before???

  32. Janick - Nea says:

    That’s an INSANE B&A! Wow! A Gym! How incredible!!!

  33. Colleen says:

    SUCH a dream house. How could I not want to live there? Very, very nice.

  34. pink mist says:

    who knew a gym could be transformed into such a cool space. love it!!! so inspiring to see the years of hard work :)

  35. Sonia says:

    love so much the studio!!!!! its like my perfect appartment! <3 sooo fresh and sooo amazing! definetly an A++!

  36. Jen O says:

    The wire loveseat conversion is adorable, but has anyone else noticed that this week there are 2 makeovers with removal of the original velvet tuck-and-roll seating? The lux Hollywood Regency feel of that vintage upholstery style may be worth keeping an eye out for as a coming trend.

  37. Jayne says:

    Love, love…LOVE!

  38. agnes says:

    So delightful – both before and after. What’s the trick to finding all this great vintage stuff – when we try, we end up cursed and lost in the wilds…

  39. shayne says:

    wow this is amazing, wow

  40. The first time she showed me the empty space, I was depressed it looked so hopeless. But then – I have watched her convert spaces all her life from a little tiny room in a rented basement and more until this. And all were inspiring. Marvelous! Mom

  41. Sharon says:

    OMG I remember I used to always daydream as a kid; “What if I had to live in my school?” and here’s the answer! Gorgeous!

  42. Wendy Seller says:

    Thank you all for your kind words on my studio. Stella, re the gym doors, I have incorporated them into the unit. They serve as the entryway from my smaller drawing studio (under the loft) to my larger studio (the gym). As for the NordikTrack, it’s great for hanging my coat. (I go to the gym).

  43. Wendy Seller says:

    One more thing: this space will never be a dance studio as long as I’m alive. It would be very hard for me to relinquish the place, which has become so much a part of me. It was great to hear from Camille — I’m glad you remembered my pictures — and a warm hello to RISD alum Amanda.

  44. Jeni Ann says:


  45. Alicia says:

    I was raised in Newton and never heard of these! Really nice. I used to live in a converted middle school on Washington Street, we had similarly tall ceilings which let in so much light, as seen here.

  46. Wendy Seller says:

    Hi Alicia — a bit late in responding, sorry. I know the middle school on Washington Street, and someone who also lived there. I believe it is the place where kids play soccer out on the field. I am always happy that abandoned schools are put to good use. In Newton, back in the late 80’s, it was important to Mayor Mann to have these buildings go for housing.


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