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

Category: Projects Page 1 of 43

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?

Resource and Reuse

One thing I did not expect before renovating our ranch, is how much material this rebuild consumes. A 100-ft section fence needed hundreds of pickets and dozens of posts; thousands pounds of concrete were poured into the soil. The roof on our small house took thousands of shingles, each consists of multiple layers of different natural and synthetic materials. Layer of plywood went under our feet, and the amount of 2″ x 4″s we hauled back from Home Depot can only be counted by trailer-load. Before owning this house, I never thought about how much material goes into building a house, nor how much more it takes to renovate one every a few decades, or more frequently, every times it changes ownership.

It prompts me to think in a larger scale, how much we as human, affect the world during our expansion and development. How much we took from the Earth, how forcefully we invaded the Nature, and how many wild life we have terminated, although not deliberately, for our comfort and convenience.

More I think about it, more I regret some decisions I made during the renovation, such as putting in a big concrete patio. Of course, most decisions we made for the house are good for the environment and wild life, such as planting hundreds of trees and perennial shrubs, as well as making our house more energy efficient. But we can do better. Moving forward, I would like to be more conscious on the environmental impact of our renovation decisions. A good place to start, is to reuse and repurpose materials from our own demolition.

I have noticed the amount of solid waste generated during demolition, pretty much as soon as we moved into our houseConstruction and demolition (C&D) waste represents a big part of the solid waste generated in US, and 90% of the C&D waste is generated during demolition. Since we demo by hand, we have an opportunity to save some material by carefully taking things apart. These materials and parts, otherwise going into landfill, is now returning back into the circulation. And reusing our own material will form a even small cycle compared to the process shown below, going from step 7 straight to step 4:

Most of the material we have saved are lumber and occasionally hardware/screws. During our last big renovation project, namely the basement reno, we were left with lots of framing lumber. We took the nails off them, and stored them over the garage roof trusses.

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This Spring, I started using them for indoor and outdoor projects whenever we need 2″ x 4″s. I know, 2″ x 4″s are dirt-cheap (probably cheaper than dirt at this point…have you paid for good dirt lately?) and readily available in big box stores. However, the goal of reusing these lumber is mostly saving them from landfill and conserving the energy and virgin resources used to produce new materials, rather than saving on the project costs.

The addition advantage of using older lumber – in our case, dated back to the 1950s – is how well they match our original framing. The picture below shows a piece of modern 2″ x 4″ on the left, and a piece of old 1950 2″ x 4″ to the right. The difference between them are so apparent!

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Compared to modern 2″ x 4″s, the 50s 2″ x 4″s are 1/8″ wider and thicker and with straight edges. They are also a lot denser and harder than their modern counterparts.

Because of dimension difference, these 50s’ 2″ x 4″s are excellent for creating new framing that has to marry the old framing. Using these lumber with exactly same dimension helps everything line up more evenly. We also notice that there are very little bow on the old lumber.

Old 2″x4″ on the top, modern 2″ x 4″ at the bottom:

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Because of the different density, the old lumber offers the same expansion/contraction coefficient and should be more compatible to the existing framing. I expect less issues down the road joining similar material together.

Over a weekend, Slav and I frame the closets in the retreat room. The old lumber we used came out of our basement, with a few from the very closets during the demo last week.

Before demo:

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After demo:

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In preparation for the Murphy bed installation, we need to add more framing on the lower part of the closet so the Murphy bed has something to attach to.

Before putting in new framing, Slav patched the missing floor boards with leftover from the office project:

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Then we started with the closet to the right. Here is the before:

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With new framing:

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As you could see, another layer of 2″x4″s were added onto the existing framing. We did a short wall at the bottom and created a new stud. At the top and side, we attached pieces of 2″x4″s for future side panel to attach.

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We did the same to the left side of the Murphy bed closet. Since this part of the framing was pretty weak, we added more horizontal bracing to reinforce the structure.

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As you may notice, we also took down more drywall in the left closet. This closet will be lined with plywood, and it does not make much sense to have the drywall sandwiches between plywood and the framing.

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Since the left side will be used as a closet, we just beefed it up by adding 2″ x 4″s along the edges.

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After patching the flooring and framing, Slav repaired the drywall around the closets:

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And repaired the bedroom doorway with drywall:

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Since we plan to move the bedroom door to the hallway opening, this doorway would just become a walk-through. So Slav patched it with leftover drywall and finished the corners.

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We are in process of sanding and painting the newly patched walls, then it will be time for the Murphy bed build! It is nice to cross off four items off the list!

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;
6. Construct guest closet, and shelving unit in between;
7. Construct and install closet doors;
8. Trim out the closet wall;
9. Caulk and paint the closet wall wherever necessary;
10. Construct a standing desk with motorized legs and a wood top;
11. Construct a window seating next to the desk;
12. Adding necessary storage behind Murphy Bed area for bedding and pillows;
13. Repair and finish the original bedroom doorway.

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