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

Category: Renovation Page 1 of 27

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!

Home Stay + The Utility Room is Finished!

Four weeks ago we shared about the progress in the basement utility room. Since then, I was busy at Spring planting.

With all the warm days and cool nights, our yards have greened up nicely. The trees bloomed and all the perennials came back stronger than ever. The lawn remains nice and green, while all the seedlings came up nicely despite of using old seeds.

Gardening really made the home quarantine a lot easier. I am blessed to have a big space to roam around safely. 10 weeks into the pandemic, neither of us feels anxious or claustrophobic. I still look forward to visiting the mountains and public parks though. But to date, gardening kept me calm.

I did go back to the utility room though. During the rainy days I painted the utility room in our go-to wall color – Sherwin-Williams Extra White (SW 7006):


The closet was painted in “Pale bud”, the same color we used in our upstairs bedroom closets:



The ceiling and laundry nook were also painted in white:



The utility closet will be covered by doors so I did not paint the inside. In fact, we did not even mud the drywall inside the closet:


Building the utility closet is truly a good decision! Not only it enables us to soundproof around the furnace, but also we now have a designated spot for all the unsightly cleaning tools and products.


As soon as the paint dried, we moved onto preparing the slab for floor installation. It was an easy decision to extend the vinyl flooring throughout the basement into the utility room. What we used was a cork-backing vinyl flooring called NuCore, in the color of “Driftwood”.


Installing LVP flooring requires a leveled floor. Moving the floor drain left us a low spot in the utility room. So we used self-leveling concrete to level everything and patch small holes.


After the self-leveling concrete dried overnight, we went around the utility room slab with a scraper to clean up any small bumps, followed by a good vacuum around the room.


Then we put the washer and washer back. Not able to do laundry for a whole month, it felt so good to have the laundry set back and connected!


It was also a nice bonus that they were finally out of the media room now. For weeks, our media room looked like this:


Now the washer and dryer were out, I could not wait to clean up the dust:


I stripped away the floor protector and swept away any debris and dust in the media room. Gotta love a mid-project clean-up!


Based on our experience, a clean floor installation requires a dust-free environment during the installation. Cleaning the neighboring media room prevented the underlayment to attract dust and hair due to static electricity. Using the same method, we expanded the flooring into the utility room:


and all the way inside the closet:


with a smooth transition:


With previous experience it only took us 6 hours for the installation. We worked like a well-oiled machine and had a good time.


Shortly after the flooring was installed, the doors were up! We ordered custom doors to match the profile of the solid basement doors. They came in pre-primed and with trims! After a few cuts on the trims, everything got installed in a day:


A pair of french doors are used for the utility closet to ensure full access to the furnace and water heater.


The door on the under-the-stair closet is a pocket door, which slides inside the wall to save room:


After the sliding doors was installed, I was able to finish painting the boundary between the closet and the utility room:


We did not install trim on the side wall. So the two spaces were separated by a crisp paint line between white and pink:


We also took this opportunity to order and install the pocket door for the master bathroom:


It will be painted white on the bedroom side. And the bathroom side will be painted in a darker color to match the tiles.


The installations of the flooring and the doors happened back to back (crazy, I know), and together they made such a dramatic change to the whole basement! I had imagined many times how this space would feel at this stage. But in reality, uniting the rooms with seamless flooring created a look even better than I anticipated:


It helps the whole space to feel so spacious:


I cannot help but feeling that the utility room – maybe we should give it another name now – deserves to have its own purpose, rather than being merely an extension of the media room.


I have come up a few ideas for the space and as you can see, and I put up some makeshift floating shelves made from scrap materials to try them out.


The taller floating shelf is set at 32″ from the floor. At such height, it can be used to display books and collectibles. It also can be used for laptop or tablet if needed.


I kept it narrow (12″) so it does not protrude from the partial wall next to the opening.


I also made a makeshift low table with two simple storage cubes. It is elevated 18″ from the floor, a perfect height for an adult person when sitting on floor pillows. It can be a spot for chess games, tea time, or serving drinks and food when we have movie nights in the future media room.


Being also 12″ deep, the low table can be tucked underneath the floating shelf, if such unobstructed access between the two rooms is desired.


There you go, our finished utility room, and our almost finished basement! Without unfinished surfaces, our basement feels spacious, clean, quiet, and cool – a perfect spot to chill during summer days. It has quickly become Charlie’s favorite space to stretch out and nap. We moved two dog beds down here already, one in the bedroom for Charlie to sleep after breakfast, and the other in the media room for him to nap in hot afternoons. Charlie is a lucky pup.



The next step is finishing the trims and baseboards – we are getting so close!

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