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

Category: Projects Page 4 of 45

Inspiration, Details, and Preparation

Happy July 4th everyone! This extra day off came in handy as we started working on the retreat. Today, we will get into the detailed plans,  reanalyze our decisions, as well as discuss problems we have to solve to get the look we want.

The big picture

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I’ve shown you this image before. This is the inspiration photo that sets the tone for the entire renovation. The layout works for the room, and the contrast between the floor-to-ceiling closets and the low-height desk is adorable. The color of the walls, floor, and windows already match what we have in this space, which makes it a breeze to imagine the outcome of the renovation.


Due to the size of our room we will not have the chairs in the middle of the room like in the inspiration photo, only the closets and the desk. Above is a photo of the room I took today. As you can see, we have already cleared out the room and marked where the furniture would be.


The desk will end just outside of the floor register, leaving 4′ of space at the southeast corner. I’d like to create a built-in seat there, similar to the image below:

The design of the window seat without the chaise. use grey curtain to make the curtains and bolster pillows

Our built-in seat will end at the wall without a chaise. We need to leave the south wall empty for the sake of the future bathroom renovation. At the mean time, I would like to try a yoga wall as shown below.

The room is mostly empty when the Murphy bed is not in use. The desk only comes off the wall for 2′, which is nothing compared to the 10.5′ depth of the room. But having a mostly empty room is precisely what I want, both for guests to relax and for e to focus.

The closet wall

After deciding on the layout, it is time to look closely to each major elements in the room. The first being the closet wall. I prefer the look of built-in and have applied this concept to the library wall in Slav’s office. It is always the first thing people comment on when we have visitors.


Below is my inspiration photo. Compared to the look of two closets, The key is difference is that the built-in look utilizes the same material to cover the entire wall, as opposed to just installing closet doors within a boundary of dry wall. It does not only unite the Murphy bed closet with the clothes closet, but also make the space less like a bedroom.

Color of the closet. Lower drawers in the middle shelf unit. One of them can be a faux drawer with table top to serve as a nightstand extension, which can be lined up with the nightstand cove inside.

Above is the main inspiration photo for the closet wall. Below are photos I am drawn to:

Floating closet

Keep Murphy bed and adjacent closet floating? Can finish the floor and appear lighter.

I initially considered floating closet design. It is more common in eastern cultures and creates a calm feeling effortlessly. However, the Murphy bed construction prevents us from raising the bed that high from the floor. After more research, I discovered another look I like:

Color of the build in, and the idea of building a display shelf in the middle with light color wood. It can become the side of the bed and also can open to the side at one level to serve as a nightstand.

Instead of having void at the bottom, the “shelves in between closet” design incorporates shelving units vertically in the closet wall. It offer a different way to break up the closet wall and make it visually lighter and more interesting.

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I adore these shelves. They adds depth, shadows, and a place for accent colors. Having small voids really makes the closet wall more interesting.

As of inside the closet, I would like to try the look of lower drawers. I found this image online without the finished product. I like the look of the drawers with variable heights, and appreciate the utility of them as storage.

The light wood color inside. can be build all with wood

Due to the limited width of the closet I plan to leave the middle divider out, only keep the two sets of drawers at the bottom of the closet.

The Murphy bed closet will be kept very minimal. Similar to this:

DIY light

The desk and window seating

The design of the desk will largely follow the main inspiration photo, in which the desk is in a L-shape and sitting at the corner of the room between two windows.

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We plan to use motorized legs on the desk, so it will have no drawers or storage units underneath. However, I do want to add side to the desk to conceal the motorized legs, similar to this:

Desk has a side or the seating has a side?

Similar to the image above, a low bench seat will be installed next the desk, in our case, to the right. Contrasting the desk, the bench seat will have drawer storage underneath, similar to this design:

Having sofa-like inserts on either end of the bed, making it more like a deep seating than a bed

A small “C” table similar to the one below is desirable for the seating area, which can also be used as a nightstand when the Murphy bed is down.

Window seating with light grey cushions

From the three pictures above you can see the color combination I have in mind. The desk and window seat will be kept in light color wood color, and the seat cushion will be in grey. Both wood and grey colors will be used on the closet wall, similar to the photo below. It provides enough variation for such a large piece of furniture without being too busy. I want the color in the room to create a calming feeling without being too light, and feeling minimalist without being too sterile.

Color of the closet. Lower drawers in the middle shelf unit. One of them can be a faux drawer with table top to serve as a nightstand extension, which can be lined up with the nightstand cove inside.

The Demo

I am sure we will be modifying our plans as we go, but you get the idea. In preparation for the Murphy bed installation we need to do a little bit demo, mostly on the closet wall.


I started by emptying the closets:


Took off the curtains:


Then removed the trims and shelves:


To get the built-in look the drywall around the closet opening also needed to go:


The Murphy bed kits calls for a wider and taller opening than the current framing, so I took the drywall facing the closet as well:


Then marked with tape where the framing needs to be for the Murphy Bed:


At this point, the man came in with his sawzall and took down the framing within the blue tape mark. He was not interested in all the drywall demo but you can always count him to show up when cuts need to be made. 🙂


I also removed the bedroom door and some of the door trims during this process. It makes demo easier and we will be refinish this doorway nicely as part of this renovation.


Unlike other demo mainly done by Slav I took my time taking everything down. It is fun to pause to assess, think, and redesign between each step.


Revealing the framing behind the wall really helped in planning the details in this bed construction. As you can see, we have a bit floor patching to do before the bed installation.



And we got to peek into the exterior framing! The right side of the Murphy bed closet is our exterior wall and taking the drywall down there confirmed our guess that our brick house was not insulated. We will be filling this portion of the wall with insulation before closing it back up.


With the demo done we are almost ready for the Murphy bed construction. Here is a rough list of what’s in store for the retreat. I know that every line is a lot of – a week or two of – work now we are both working full time. But I am looking forward to the finishing product. Wish us luck guys!

1. Patch missing floor boards;
2. Repair and finish drywall edges against the closet wall;
3. Murphy bed construction and installation;
4. Wire the electrical outlet to face the bed;
5. Construct guest closet, and shelving unit in between;
6. Construct and install closet doors;
7. Trim out the closet wall;
8. Caulk and paint the closet wall wherever necessary;
9. Construct a standing desk with motorized legs and a wood top;
10. Construct a window seating next to the desk;
11. Adding necessary storage behind Murphy Bed area for bedding and pillows;
12. Repair and finish the original bedroom doorway;
13. Get seat cushion, pillows, blackout curtains for the room, decor and doorway.

A Retreat in the Making

Welcome to another room renovation! During the last three years, Slav and I have been upgrading our 1964 ranch room by room. While some space received complete overhaul (see the basement archives), lots of other spaces got incremental changes to keep the disruption minimal. One of such places is a main floor bedroom.

The Past



This is how the space has looked for most of the three years we’ve lived here. A king bed occupied majority of the room, and two closets housed all of our clothing. It was our bedroom for two and half years, until we moved into the new master last winter.


This room has gone through several basic changes. The wall-to-wall carpet was removed, and the aluminum windows were upgraded to new vinyl windows. When renovating Slav’s office, we reversed a closet to face the bedroom, doubling the storage space in this room.


After moving our bedroom downstairs, this room has played music chairs. It was a guest room, Slav’s TV room, plant room, yoga room, and most recently, my makeshift office. You can watch videos from different stages of this room from my IG stories saved in “Guest bedroom” highlights. This is how the room looks like today:


Maybe familiarity is the key of affection, after being stuck in this little space for 11 weeks, I fell in love. I appreciate the energy of morning light, the calming scent of backyard blooms, the remoteness of blue sky perfectly framed by the picture window… It is just detached enough from our living space to gain focus, and sitting on floor pillows brings up a liberating feeling I’ve not experienced since childhood.


More time I spent in this room, more I want it to be mine. But my… what? I do not need a home office, we already have a library wall, and downstairs there is a dedicated media room for watching TV. I am so used to renovate rooms for specific activities, which are really clear for a bedroom or an office. Without a well defined function to use this room for, I am having a hard time pinning down what to do here. All I know want this room to be is a retreat, a place for anything I feel like doing to relax, including writing, reading, yoga, growing plants… in peace and solidarity. So I guess this is gonna become a… womencave? What I do know is the vibe: to be less serious than an office, more airy than a library, and more energetic than a sitting room. Is it too much to ask?

The Current

Before jumping into the plans let us look at this room in context. The future retreat, labeled as “3” below, is about 11′ x 10.5′ plus two closets.

Ranch main floor_3D

This room sits at the northeast corner of our house and has two windows. The east facing window overlooks our backyard. I love looking out of it and often keep it open for fresh air. It is also the brightest place in the entire house, which is incredibly useful in winter months for keeping houseplants happy.


There is a smaller window facing north. We keep it closed most of the time, only open it in summer nights for cool breeze. Although not offering an appreciable view, it is very functional without sacrificing privacy.


The wall shared with Slav’s office has two closets. They are side-by-side and extremely valuable to have when this room was used as a master. But for guest, we can get away with having just one closet.


While not a fan of bi-fold doors, Slav never liked the curtains either. The bedroom door location prevented us from installing swing-open doors in the past, but this will be fixed during this renovation. I am working on something that is a better fit with the space and our design plans.


This room and the adjoining bath both open to a tiny hallway. With a small linen closet this hallway is hard to maneuver. However, it does provide a sense of separation from the main living space. We will keep the hallway and the linen closet intact.


The wall on the left side of the bedroom door is shared with the hall bath (labeled as “5”). I purposely did not put any furniture here. When practicing yoga it is very helpful to have an empty wall around.


The Design Plan
The guest bed and closet

Now onto the plan of attack. This retreat does need to perform as a guest bedroom 5% of the time. So the first order of business is to hide the bed. 🙂 I want the bed to be completely tacked away when it is not in use, but when in use it needs to be comfortable and solid with a high quality mattress. The solution? A Murphy bed.

“Panel Bed” DIY Murphy Bed Frame Kit

I never liked the usual Murphy bed construction, which includes a big cabinet flanked by often two bookcases. It happens that both of closets are big enough for our full size mattress and a full size Murphy bed frame! It is God’s will, people. Murphy bed kit here comes. And the right side of the closet wall will get some serious DIY soon!


Thanks to the depth of the closet, when in use the bed will only come out to where the mattress currently is, leaving plenty space for other furniture.


That leaves the closet on the left for storage. It will get an upgrade inside with pretty storage options, and cabinet-like doors that match the bottom of the Murphy bed, creating a build-in look for this wall.


A New Entry

Being an add-on, this closet does not work well with the bedroom door. To solve this problem, we will be relocating the bedroom door to the opening of the hallway, flush with the office opening.


This minor change offers a big advantage – it will enclose the bathroom entry inside the bedroom entry, therefore creating a private suite. Although we never renovate for resale, having a second master suite on the main floor is undoubtedly a profitable upgrade to the house.


The Desk

I do not usually bring work home, but I do spend a lot of time at home reading, researching, drawing plans, and writing for house projects. I work the best on big surfaces. And since a kid, I always dreamed of a big L-shape desk:

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I can see this layout working for this room! Just imagine the Murphy bed and closet covered on the left, and a desk situated between the two windows:


The Timeline!

I proposed my vision to the head of the household and my proposal was approved! Funding has been issued and Murphy bed kit has been ordered. I wish all the grant application at work were this easy – of course without any of the flirting I had to do for this one. Optimistically we aim to complete this renovation by the end of summer, but it will be totally OK to take it slow since this project will be isolated from the main living space. There is no real deadline to get it completed, and I would really like to get the details right to take this room up a notch.

To be honest, I am very tickled by this renovation project – there is almost no dusty demolitions, only minimal structure changes, lots of customization, and DIY heavy. I will come back with inspiration photos and a more detailed plan for the Murphy bed wall next week. At the mean time, do not beat me up for starting another project…I knew I had told everyone in my life that we are done with the 2020 renovation!

New Climbers + Recent Cedar Build

You may remember the climbing roses I planted. This Spring, I decided to add  a few more climbers around the house. Some for scent, some for beauty, and some for function. Although these are perennial vines and will take years to grow, I want to show you their baby form today. Hopefully when we check back a few years later, we can see some good progress!

“Scentsation” Honey Suckle


Planted on the front of the house is a honey suckle called “Scentsation”, a very showy vine with extremely fragrant yellow flowers. It has a longer blooming time compared to other honey suckles, from mid-spring to late summer. I planted it near Slav’s office window, hoping to add a nice touch of scent to the room he spends most of his awake time in.


Although tiny, this particular honey suckle is expected to grow to 9’~10′ tall and 5’~6′ wide, covering the big trellis behind it. It is deciduous which means losing all the leaves in the Fall. By placing it on the west wall, at maturity, it should shade this corner of the house from strong afternoon sun during summer months, while allowing sunlight in to warm up the house during winter.



To keep the honey suckle close to the wall I built this cedar planter. To protect the foundation we graded around the house and put down a layer of gravel over 6-mil plastic around the foundation. I scraped away the gravel, set the planter directly on top of the 6-mil plastic, then added more 6-mil plastic to prevent soil and water sipping out of the planter.




After filling the planter with soil I planted the honey suckle and transplanted some sedum here.



As a rule of thumb, container plants or plants situated in raised beds need to be more winter hardy than the zone it is planted in. This honey suckle is rated as zone 4-9, which means it should winter over just fine in our zone 5B/6A.


We secured a big trellis onto the house for the honey suckle to climb on. If it likes the spot, it should climb to the top of the trellis in a few years! An additional advantage of this plant is the bright red berries in the Fall, which are favored by birds and other wild life.

Climbing hydrangea


Although popular in Europe, climbing hydrangea is not well-known in US. It is also a deciduous vine, famous for its ability of growing in full shade. These plants are true climbers, using the holdfasts (suckers) on their branches to scale walls and other structures. In Europe, you will find this plant covering north-facing walls of old stone buildings up to several stories tall with their large, “lace-cap” flower flowers in early summer. In theory, a climbing hydrangea can reach 50 feet tall at maturity. In our cold climate, it often tops at 20 feet.


I planted this flower on the northeast corner of the house, right next to the AC unit and outside of the master bedroom window. I want to it to be a screen plant, not only adding privacy to our bedroom, but also beautifying the north side of the house where small windows are swallowed by a sea of brick. As you can see, this spot gets 3~4 hours of morning sun, then shade for the afternoon. Although not an ideal location for most of the flowering plants, climbing hydrangea will be one of the few climbers to perform in such situation.


Shortly after planting it I added some support from two sides – one being a metal trellis, which we got from Lowe’s as a 3-pack and used all around the garden. The other one being a short cedar fence between the bedroom window and the AC unit.


I built this cedar fence all by myself! To be honest, among all the big and small projects I did this Spring with the cedar boards (the patio planter, the honey suckle planter, and the outdoor kitchen), this build is my favorite. From setting post, planning board layout, to attaching boards, it covered all the steps for a fence build, yet remained manageable for me to complete over one afternoon.


I started by setting a leftover post, which is just tall enough for shadowing the AC unit! Love it when I am able to use up leftover materials without any waste.


To keep the post straight I used a pole level and several clamps. They were so helpful when working solo! I made sure that the post aligned with the side of the window and stood straight before backfilling.




After securing the post, I marked the length of the boards and cut them all at once.


Attaching all the boards went pretty quick. A scrape 2″ x 4″ was set next to the house for the other end of the boards to attach on.


This is the final product. Besides supporting the climbing hydrangea, this fence also hides one of the eyesore from the bedroom window – the AC unit.


The view from the bedroom window without the fence:


With the fence:


Climbing hydrangea is known to be slow during the first few years, but after it puts down a good root, it should take off and cover all the unsightly pipe and outlets on the north side of the house in a few years.


Passion Flower


Passion flower is another rarely seen flowering vine in Colorado. Being tropical looking passion flower seems to be too delicate for our winter. But it is actually a zone 5 plant! I put mine on the east side of the house, protected from harsh wind and bitter cold.


After planting I added some string and a leftover wire panel to help it to climb.


Since planted, it has grown a few inches! This is what it looked like a few weeks ago:


And this is today!


Cucumber and Pole Beans in the Veggie Garden

I also planted some climbing veggies! I’ve been growing cucumber for years, and always let them spread freely on the ground. This year, I tried to grow them vertically. I set a trellis on the end of a veggie bed:


And planted two seedlings at the base of this trellis. The have been flowering for a weeks now and I hope to see cucumbers really soon!


I also grew two climbing beans: Red noodle, and Limka.


It is fun to set up the support for my bean babies. Slav lined some T-posts along both sides of a path and I tied some trellis netting to these posts for beans to climb on:


I also tied the top ends of the netting together over the path, allowing the beans to create a tunnel.


Look at the beans go! It has been a month since they came up and they are growing an inch per day with the recent heat.


This is the first year I set up a bean tunnel. In addition to support the beans, I also want it to shade the veggie bed behind. The garlic here will be harvested soon, and I want to plant greens and radishes here hoping the tunnel can provide enough relief from the hot afternoon sun.


Climbing roses

At last, I want to show you how our climbing roses are doing! I planted four “awakening” climbing roses along the back fence in 2018. They are all doing very well.




I started training these roses this Spring. After a good trim, I guided the longest branches of each rose towards the back fence using plastic stakes:




It might look dramatic but are actually good for the growth of these roses. Bending the branches horizontally eliminates apical dominance and should encourage side shoots and more flowering along the branches.



I also did the same training to the “iceberg” climbing rose planted in the front yard:


This rose was planted only last Fall, but has already flowered for us. I got all my climbing roses from High country roses and they all came with their own root and are very healthy. I know it won’t be long before this climbing rose to put on a splendid show on the front fence.


Training climbing roses is a scary thing – you should see how much I trimmed off these poor roses…But in the end it is for their own good. I am looking forward to the growth of all the climbers. Given time, they shall become the stars of my garden and for decades to come. Let us check back next season together!

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