The life of two scientists, creating a small home, in big mountains

Category: DIY Built Page 1 of 10

The Man Gets a Gear Closet!

Last time we talked, Slav has installed murphy bed in my retreat room.

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And Roxie has moved in…

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…which brought us into the closet phrase. The plan has always been to finish the left side closet for storage. We briefly entertained the idea of creating a built-in seating/reading area, but quickly realized the necessity for a covered closet. We want our guests to have space to unpack their suitcases and hang their clothes. And with 25″inch depth, a closet will offer much more storage than deep shelves.

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To match the murphy bed alcove, Slav finished the closet alcove with the same plywood sheets at the back and sides,

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and brought the outlet (used to face inside of the closet) out to face the room. This will provide guests an option of charging their phones next to the bed.

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Then Slav installed solid pine trims to finish off the face of this closet wall.

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with matching wood electrical cover plate for the newly installed outlet! Nice detail is always a plus.

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While Slav was working on the wood trims around the guest closet, I started planning the configuration of the inside. Since we only have guests 5% of the time, instead of leaving this closet empty during most of the year, I decided to make it a gear closet for Slav. Slav loves hiking and mountaineering. Since we moved to Colorado, he has accumulated quite a few backpacks for backcountry. Although these gear can stand low temperature, storing them in the unheated and uninsulated garage is not ideal for their longevity. They also get lots of use in winter and often need to be brought inside for drying, so having a gear closet on our temperature-controlled main floor is a much better solution.

The funny thing was, until I brought in his gear, Slav had no idea that the closet he had been working so hard on would becomes his! I’d say it was a nice surprise and a strong push for him to get the closet finished. 😉

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Can you spot Roxie in the middle of all the gear? This little brat has to be at the center of everything…

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What I planned to store in the gear closet includes camping gear (tent, sleeping mats, and sleeping bags), our ski jackets and snow pants (mostly Slav’s), and hiking/backcountry backpacks (I have one and Slav has…5?). To make sure everything is on display and is easy to reach, I chose the simplest design for the closet interior: two horizontal hanging bars.

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After some measuring we mounted the top bar much higher than standard height. This is to allow even the longest snow pants to hang freely. The bottom bar was mounted just above our tallest suitcase, which also allows the backpacks to be hung off the floor. In this configuration, Slav can easily see everything he has with one glance. In addition, everything has enough room around/air ventilation for drying, as the bottom hem of snow pants or the bottom of backpacks are often wet after use.

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The weekend after we put gears into the closet, Slav installed the doors! He simply cut plywood to size and mounted them with heavy-duty hinges. I edge banded the plywood doors and finished the doors with some simple pulls:

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We installed the same pull in a bigger size on the murphy bed panel to make it easier to open and close.

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The narrow shelf above the bed (which functions as a stop for the bed) was perfect for storing all the camping gears. We might cover it with a hinged door down the road… but for now, the open look does not bother me and it is better for venting.

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After everything was installed, I gave the whole closet wall three coats of shellac. It slightly darkened the birch plywood by bringing the wood grain out, but in person, it looks nice and smooth. The photo below was taken after I coated the Murphy bed side, but not yet on the closet doors, so you can get an idea how much shellac darkens the birch plywood:

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I had to remove the mattress and lower the murphy bed during coating process. And soon I found Roxie like this:

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If Roxie could talk, she was probably screaming “I hate renovations” or “give my spot back”. But she could not voice for herself. So deal with it, Pup! Life is tough for everyone nowadays…

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This is how the closet wall looks like now! I think it is nice! The dog bed is back and our two pups are happy. When I work in the room they take turns napping on it and let out cute little snores. Life is good again for everyone.

We still yet to finish the floor on the entire main floor and add baseboards (again for the entire main floor). But my room has become so tidy and airy compared to the before. I think concealing the big guest mattress really paid off! I honestly cannot believe how empty this room feels…So I have been bringing in plants to add life back to the room. If there is anything else I’d like to add to my retreat space, it will be a headboard/cabinet for the murphy bed, so our guests have something to lean against to when sitting in bed, and a horizontal surface for a reading lamp, books, glasses, and water at night. It should be a fun winter project to tackle this Christmas I am sure!

Again, let’s finish with the list. Did I tell you I love lists?

1. Patch missing floor boards;
2. Repair and finish drywall edges against the closet wall and doorway;
3. Reinforce the closet framing;
4. Murphy bed construction and installation;
5. Wire the electrical outlet to face the room;
6. Construct the closet;
7. Trim out the closet wall;
8. Edge banding the plywood doors;
9. Put wood finish on closet wall to protect the plywood surface;
10. Adding a storage headboard for the Murphy Bed;
11. Construct a standing desk with motorized legs and a wood top;
12. Refinish the hardwood floor;
13. Install baseboard all around.

Murphy Bed Installation

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I do not remember the last time skipping blogging for 6 weeks – we have been busy… I am writing a lot for work and from my new desk, while Slav worked solo at the closet wall behind me.

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It has always been our plan to install a Murphy bed into the existing closet. When putting in the new framing, Slav left the opeDoening just wide enough to accommodate a full size Murphy bed on the right. I want a simple wood look for this entire wall, including when the bed is pulled down. So Slav lined the back and the ceiling of the closets with thin (3/8″ thick) plywood.

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The sides of the closets got 3/4″ thick plywood. We choose birch plywood for its simple look, and thicker material as a steady backdrop for mounting the Murphy bed hardware on.

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The Murphy bed kit we got is for a free-standing unit, which requires building a plywood box first, into which the bed portion can be inserted. In our case, we framed the closet as if it is a plywood box, so the bed hardware can be directly mounted to the side of the closet. This approach also allowed us to skip the horizontal bracings between the sides, as the sides of our Murphy bed build are secured directly onto the stud walls.

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Being one of the most popular Murphy Bed kits on the market, our bed kit came with detailed instructions and cut list. Although we modified the outside frames, the bed portion of the build was unaltered. We laid out everything in the living room floor and assembled the frame with the help of an additional hardware kit:

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The frame was bolted onto the plywood face panels with over 100 screws. Besides supporting the mattress, the face panels also helps to keep the frame square.

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The building instructions called for 2 or 4 face panels. We chose to use 3 in order to use up some off-cuts. It does not matter how many panels you use – it can be one big panel or 10 wood planks, as long as they can support the weight of the mattress.

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After the bed was built, Slav attached the support mechanism to the side wall. When the bed is up, all the weight of the bed and the mattress will be resting on these mounting brackets, so we made it as solid as possible using large and long bolts.

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When the bed is down, the foot of the bed will be resting on the floor. So this mechanism only supports half of the weight of the bed/people sleeping on it. Each side of the mounting bracket comes with 9 springs. For our full size mattress we only needed four on each side.

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Then the bed was put in! I helped here since it was only possible with two pairs of hands. While Slav stayed behind the Murphy bed to fine tone the mechanism, I stayed outside of the closet to make sure that the bed would not fall on either Slav or the overly curious dogs.

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I could not wait but putting the mattress on the minute Slav installed the bed. A footer was installed shortly after, so the bed could rest on the floor when pulled open.

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As you can see, there is still plenty of room between the desk and the bed to walk around. One person can comfortably get on the bed from the foot end. We decided the location of the Murphy bed first before designing the desk. The bed also clears the painting and the narrow window sill.

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Since the closet is much taller than the length of the bed, we ended up with a void on top of the bed when it is standing up. Slav added a shelf here for some storage. It is just enough for some camping gears.

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The shelf also doubles as a stop for the bed, so it will not fold over when standing up. Slav mounted the shelf just below the face panel, so you will not see it when the panel is up.

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We brought in a dog bed and Roxie immediately claimed it. I think she like the sound of me typing on the keyboard.

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Slav is in process of finishing the closet on the left side, then all we have left is putting up trims and finishing touches. I still have a couple weeks of busy writing ahead, so Slav will be flying solo for a couple more weekends. But we are much closer to the finishing line!

1. Patch missing floor boards;
2. Repair and finish drywall edges against the closet wall;
3. Reinforce the closet framing;
4. Murphy bed construction and installation;
5. Wire the electrical outlet to face the bed (done last weekend! Pictures to follow);
6. Construct guest closet (in progress);
7. Trim out the closet wall (Slav got it done last weekend! but I have not taken any picture yet);
8. Stain (?) and finish the closet wall plywood;
9. Construct a standing desk with motorized legs and a wood top;
10. Adding a storage headboard for the Murphy Bed;
11. Repair and finish the original bedroom doorway.

Oh My Desk

Howdy everyone! Did not expect to come back so quickly but Slav put in a couple days of effort and made some considerable progress in my retreat room. Here is the result:

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Yup! It is my new desk! A corner desk on motorized legs!!! It is 76″ long and 25″ wide, with the left corner piece doubling the width to 50″. There is lots of space after placing a laptop, as you can see from the first picture.

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This desk is made with a butcher block we bought from Lowe’s. We had the motorized legs and controller in hand.

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Here is the desk sitting at its lowest position. It is the perfect height for me when sitting in a dining chair:

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The picture below shows the desk in its highest position. As a standing desk it can accommodate someone who is 6’2″. I am 5’5″ and usually lower the top for a couple inches.

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The desk top

was made from a 8′ x 2′ Baltic Birch butcher block with just one cut and no waste. I chose a butcher block as table top for its warm and bulky look. And this one is in 25″ width, which is the perfect depth since I only use laptop at home. A friendly reminder: if you use big monitors and additional keyboard, you might want to go for a wider table top to give you the depth needed. Just keep in mind that they will be much heavier and might require additional support.

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We started by cutting a 20″ section off the block. This was the only cut during this construction and it was surely nerve-wrecking! Even I was the one who designed the desk, knew the dimension well, I still measured and measured and remeasured to make sure that we would not make a mistake.

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Due to the heavy weight we decided to use a circular saw instead of a table saw. Slav clamped down a track as a guide and kept the good side of the butcherblock facing down. Circular saw often tear the top edge of whatever you cut, so having the good side downward usually yields better result. You can see the difference from the two edges in the picture above – the left side is the main portion of the block with its good side (the future top) facing down, and its top edge is not as perfect as the short piece to the right, which I flipped over after it being cut off.

The next step is to joining the short piece to the big piece to create the short end of the L-shape. We used biscuit to keep the two surfaces aligned, and lots of glue to ensure a tight joint.

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The circular saw track is the only clamp long enough for holding the two pieces together as the glue dried overnight. I wish we had more clamps! But it worked…phew, thanks to the DIY god. I chose to glue the short piece on its side to keep the wood grain all in one direction, and we kept the good side of the block downward during the whole build so there would be no need flipping this heavy piece when attaching the legs.

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Additional support to the L-corner

After creating the L-shape with the cut piece, the short arm is now twice the width of the original block, about 50″. Since this short arm won’t have any leg underneath and very heavy (the butcher block is 1.75″ thick), we decided to add two 1″ x 1/2″ steel C-channels to support the entire short arm from below.

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Slav routed two 5/8″ void underneath the short arm so we could sink the C-channels into the block. The C-channels are 36″ long, which gives a good 18″ support on each side of the glued joint.

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The C-channel came with no screw holes. With a metal bit Slav created some mounting holes on the C-channels:

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He also put in plenty of glue before setting the channels for good measure:

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The C-channels were screwed into their final place.

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The magic of shellac

The wood glue between the counter tops required overnight drying time but the glue used here dried in a few hours. Since butcher block has to be sealed within 48 hours after being exposed to the air, I jumped onto the sealing step as soon as the glue was dry to touch.

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To seal the block I chose my new favorite – shellac! I’ve only learn about shellac recently from Daniel Kanter over the Manhattan Nest, and only used it once on our master bathroom door. But I liked its ability of bringing out the best wood tone with a dash of sheen. In the picture above was the bare butcher block. And below was after the first coat of shellac:

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Here was after three coats of shellac:

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Then we flipped the block to repeat the sealing steps on the top. Since the edge of the block is a tiny bit rounded, I applied some wood filler at the glue joint before sealing it:

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I ended up doing four coats of shellac on the top of the block, light sanding with 220 grit sandpaper in between. Then it comes the exciting time of mounting the legs!

Motorized table legs, repurposed

Back to our North Carolina days we lived near the University of North Carolina campus. The campus has a surplus store selling retired office furniture and classroom electronics. One day Slav spotted a bunch of drawing tables there, all of which were equipped with motorized legs. They were dirt cheap – I think each desk was $50 a pop? So Slav snatched them up and took all the legs home. We were able to make three office desks for both of us (including one at my work), and gave out a couple pairs to friends. These motorized legs are German production and very, very sturdy. I trust them to hold much more weight than the ones currently sold in IKEA and online stores.

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To set them properly Slav routed two 1/2″ voids to accommodate the motors. Then the legs were attached!

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Taadaa!

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Polished and in use

After moving the desk into its final position (it is super heavy), I sanded the table top one last time with 400 grit sandpaper, then polished it generously with Howard Feed-n-Wax. Although unnecessary, this final sanding and waxing step really created a super smooth shine and added a slightly warmer tone to the desk. Plus the bee wax smells great! It is always nice to conclude a DIY project smelling like lemon and honey. 🙂

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Here is the desk, in its final glory:

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Although a big surface (76″ x 25″~50″ and 16 sqft usable space) this desk is just the right scale for the room. The long arm barely reaches the floor register and leaves a good 8 inches under the east window. The 50″ short arm overlaps with 2/5 of the north picture window and leaves enough room at the foot of the future Murphy bed.

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I added some googly eyes on the controller to cover the worn surface and add a bit fun. This desk is all about fun!

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I could not start using it fast enough. The very next morning after the legs were mounted, I have already moved in some plants and set my computer on it!

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What do you think of the desk? Do you like it or is there something you think we could do to improve it?

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