The new office
When Martin hit the six months mark, we had to evict him from our bedroom. Instead of putting Ethan and Mia in the same room or putting Martin with one of them, the only logical room available was my office. So as it goes, I was voted off the island. And I needed a new space.
Looking around the house, there wasn't a lot of extra space. Our small "garage" is an active termite conference center slated for demolition. I could have probably stolen a small corner of the dining room, but that would cause more problems than it would solve.
My office needs to serve several purposes. It needs to be a quiet (at times) place to work. It needs to be creatively inspiring on some level. And it needs to house all my camera stuff.
The process of elimination turned my curiosity to the basement, aka Spider Haven, aka Cricket Central, aka Clutter Mountain, aka The Dungeon, aka Mildew Meadows.
I cannot overstate how unappealing the basement was as a potential office space. Since moving into our house, we had used it as a dumping ground for, well, everything. I kind of had a workshop down there, but it was a disaster. The basement was overrun with these horrifying jumping cricket things that looked like big spiders.
The basement did, somehow, have two things going for it. First, although there were a lot of ducts haphazardly criss-crossing the ceiling, I didn't have to duck much to get around. Usually old basements and I don't agree. Secondly, we didn't get any substantial seepage down there, even during heavy rains. A little water in the back sometimes where nobody goes, but it was pretty dry, as far as basements go.
So I thought, what if. What if I could get rid of the bugs? And the darkness? And the impending sense of doom that accompanied every trip to the basement? Then, could I possibly foresee the space being maybe inhabitable by the bravest of humans?
No. Certainly not.
But I didn't have anywhere else to turn, so one day I just kind of started clearing away the clutter. And then the next day I started demo'ing everything in sight. And before I knew it, I had a project on my hands.
Early on, the deadly cricket spiders would jump out at me randomly without warning. I'd be moving something or looking in a box, and BAM. HERE'S A CRICKET IN YOUR FACE. Good times.
The crickets started becoming less of a problem when I started finding house centipedes. Yes, that's plural. Many plural. Too many. If you haven't encountered one of these magically terrible creatures, Google them. And know that in real life, they're larger and way faster than you'd expect.
It was pretty terrible at first. It was kind of a joke how many living creatures I uncovered. I also feel a slight bit of guilt about causing their demise, though let's be honest. They were freeloading devil-creatures sent straight from hell, and the neighborhood (and world) is probably better off.
Anyway, let's get into the photos. That's where the story is.
The "before" photo. You might want to come back to this at the end. Over on the right is Clutter Mountain. In the back, you see a door. That's what we called The Dungeon. Nobody ever went in there and came out. Nobody ever went in there, but the previous sentence is still true.
I was spending too much time in the basement (upwards of 10 minutes), so I decided to do some computer modeling instead. I recreated the basement space (minus the fire-breathing insects) and built what I thought might work as an office. At this point, I was a little weary of the dark, dungeon-esque feel of the basement, and I thought it would be a good idea to put a fake window down there. Like they have at IKEA. I was going to put a panel of diffused glass in the wall, put some daylight-balanced LEDs behind it and hang a curtain or blinds in front. GENIUS IDEA DAVE. Thank you.
There was some interesting work done by a previous owner. I think it was kind of some retro workout space (at least I hope). There were a lot of ropes on the ceiling, along with this sweet mirrored wall and rope lights. Yeah, a workout space. That's what we'll call it. Anyway, I had a good time deleting it.
This is almost the same angle as the first photo above. The clutter isn't gone - it had just been consolidated over on the other part of the basement. Part of this remodel had to include some sort of better storage than the old system, which was basically just, "run downstairs and throw crap on the floor and try to get out before the bugs get you."
I took out the wall on the right (which wasn't really a completed wall anyway) for a couple reasons. One, it was sketchy. But more importantly, it had about a foot of room between the wall and the cement basement wall. Know what loves dark places like this? That's right, satan's spawn. So the demon incubator had to go. It wasn't insulated, so I wasn't losing anything there.
The best $225 we spent on this project was seeing all of that crap leave our property.
After the walls were gone and the basic space was cleared, my attention turned to the ceiling. What I didn't realize before this project is that our basement was a living museum of bad electrical decisions. Open slices. Junction boxes not connected to anything. Frayed wiring. "Grounded" outlets being fed with no ground wire. So many issues. So I fixed all of them. Like, every single one. I traced everything back to the panel and re-wired everything that was sketchy with all new cable.
I had been wondering what to do about wiring the new office, and a solution presented itself. There were two dedicated circuits running out to the garage. We didn't use or need either, and the garage was slated to be demolished anyway, so they had to be disconnected sooner or later. So I borrowed one of those circuits for the office and wired up a feed that I would later use when putting in electrical in the new walls.
With the electrical problems fixed, I removed the ducts that were in the ceiling of the office space. They were duplicate send / return lines that terminated under a couch that was likely making them mostly ineffective anyway. I capped them off and would later re-route them to my new office, to at least give it a fighting chance of having climate control to some degree.
I should probably mention a note about that here. There are a lot of things people do to control climates in their basements. Basements are cold, and damp. Tying it into the HVAC system is good. It circulates the air, keeping it fresh, and controlling the temperature a bit. Most people put insulation on the exterior walls and drywall over that. I really liked the concrete walls and the brick corner though, so I decided to keep them. Will I regret that in the winter? Probably not. I'll just get a space heater if I have to. But they add so much character that I really wanted to keep them.
Haha good idea Dave, let's keep the brick wall. Oh by the way, that means spending like a week patching, filling, re-patching, re-filling, priming, patching... until at some point you think maybe? it's done. It's not. So repeat again.
Seriously, this wall took forever. It had a ton of tiny holes and crevices that I wanted to fill. Because, spiders. I don't want spiders to have a good home in my office. So I went to great lengths to fill everything and replace some bricks as needed.
I had been ignoring this window for the most part, but I knew that I would have to address it on some level at some point. Well, that point was now. I thought, maybe I can salvage it. Just clean it up a little and move on. That was a mistake. Too much lead paint. Too much rot. Too much icky-ness.
And the bars. While I appreciate keeping people out, I don't want to feel like I'm in a literal dungeon, nor do I want to be trapped in my office with no way out in case of emergency. It was too easy to image a scenario where the house was burning behind me and I was stuck at the window, shouting to concerned bystanders, "if only I had taken the time to properly address this window during remodeling! Oh, what folly. Does anyone kindly have a hacksaw I can borrow for a moment?"
So, like the rest of the basement remodel, I kind of just started hitting things with a hammer until stuff stopped falling apart. I still didn't have a plan.
And this is where we ended up. A big hole in the house. Isn't that where most home improvement projects end up at some point though? If you're doing it right.
I still didn't really have a plan, but I felt like a good place to start would be to pour a new sill. I fastened some wood on either side (repurposing the window bars) and poured some concrete, angling it slightly towards the outside (thanks, This Old House!).
Hannah's dad, a professional windows & doors guy, came over and helped me install this cheap window that I picked up at Lowes. This was the only help from a professional I had on the whole project, and it was much appreciated. We got this installed in one day no problem. The frame is built out of this plastic-like stuff that won't rot. It begins with an A but I forgot the name and am too lazy to open a new browser window and do a simple Google search.
It was at this point that I decided to install recessed lights. I had been planning on only installing a couple accent lights on the ceiling, as that's the look I prefer when editing video or photos. But sometimes bright light is good, not just to scatter the demon spawn bugs, but also when packing gear or cleaning. So I decided to install two separate circuits on the ceiling — one for six recessed lights, one for two accent lights — both controlled by dimmer switches at the door.
Feeling good about my progress, and being terrified about moving onto the flooring stage of the project, I decided to dilly-dally a bit by doing some more computer mockups. I wanted to see what a large logo would look like on the brick wall. I kinda like it but decided against it. I still like the record shelf and might build that sometime soon.
I also experimented with a reclaimed wood pallet wall. But with that and the wood (looking) floors, it was too much.
While the palette wall was out, I still wasn't sure what to do about this wall. I liked the aqua wall on the left. But I can't have bright colors behind my monitor. It throws everything off when trying to color correct. But gray felt boring. I ended up going with gray, and I'm glad I did. I realized all I have to do is hang art on the left part of the wall to bring it to life. I have no art yet. But I will get some someday.
Anyway, back to the basement. The flooring was a source of much internet research, and I ended up going the direction that I thought would be best in the long run. The first layer is a plastic material with lots of little dimples on it. It's called DMX or something (not the rapper). The building material. Anyway, that's a good underlayment for subfloor, because it acts as a vapor barrier and creates a gap of air between the concrete and your floor. This air helps dissipate the water vapor that comes through concrete basement floors. On top of that, you can put standard OSB subfloor (again, not the rapper), which you screw straight through the DMX and into the concrete subfloor. Every hole needs to be sealed though, in order to maintain the vapor barrier. Let me tell you, this was a blast.
With the subfloor in place, it was time for walls. The DMX + OSB combination is meant to support the weight of framing, so it was pretty standard stuff at this point. Frame it out and wire it up. This was the fun part, and of course, it went super fast.
I should mention that by this point in the process, the bugs had disappeared. I had killed the last house centipede on the block, and the spider crickets had all jumped into that great burning grass field in hell. A few tiny bugs came out of the cracks as if to say, "thank you, oh thank you, friend, for defeating those evil bugs. Now we may finally come out and rejoice in the peace and harmony that is this wonderland..." I killed those bugs too.
With the framing done, drywall was just around the corner. Fortunately, I thought to install some wiring for surround speakers just in time. I also installed line for rear speakers in the living room above, because as soon as the ceiling was in place, that wasn't going to happen.
It was officially time for drywall. I started on the ceiling, since that sounded like the absolute worst part of the project. It wasn't really that bad though. I came up with a good system of installing the panels myself, using a helper 2x4 block thing on the ceiling and another helper stick thing I built that was just long enough to hold up the panels while I screwed them in.
Oh I should mention soundproofing. So, up to this point of the project, you could literally talk to people in the living room at a pretty normal volume. It was like they were in the same room. So I wanted to soundproof the ceiling as much as possible, knowing that it was never going to be perfect. You can see two things going on in the photo above: one, I put audio insulation between the joists. Two, I installed the ceiling drywall on metal resilient channels instead of straight to the joists. The insulation helps reduce airborne sounds, and the resilient channels help reduce vibrations that move through the floor. It was kind of a pain in the butt to install the ceiling like that, but I can't overstate the difference that it made. While I can faintly hear loud sounds from above, I can't hear voices at all (expect the ones in my head). It's amazingly insulated from sound pollution now. And it helps keep my sound in the room as well, which is nice when I'm editing interviews. If you've lived with a video or audio editor, you can appreciate what this means.
Here's a terribly distorted iPhone panorama of the office walls being installed. I know a lot of builders like to install drywall sheets horizontally on walls. I've read really good arguments on both sides. But I was vertical the whole way. No butt joints on these walls (other than a small one over the door).
Ethan helped me out a few times during the project. I always enjoyed watching (and occasionally helping) my dad do stuff around the house, so it was great having him down there with me. He seemed to enjoy wiring outlets the most. He did one of the double conduit outlets on the wall all by himself (got it right first try).
Final look before mudding all the joints. I was pleased with the installation of drywall and felt that just maybe I had a fighting chance of having a smooth ceiling and walls. I haven't done any large-scale drywall work before, just little bits here and there. It's amazing what you can pick up watching YouTube videos though.
I should also point out that I am aware that my recessed lights aren't fully recessed. I opted for these specific bulbs because they are really bright, are daylight balanced and don't hum when dimmed. The fixtures I have are adjustable, but even at their most recessed setting, the lights stick out a little. Not a bad tradeoff for a brighter high end.
I don't have a lot of photos of this process. It was tedious as hell. I don't know if I would do the drywall myself again if I was to do this over. It would certainly be worth hiring out. But I'm glad I got the experience.
One of the last steps is to sand everything. Boy is that fun. So much fun. You know what else is fun? When the sandpaper you bought for your pole sander doesn't actually fit into the clips, so you decide to just use a small, handheld sanding block to SAND THE ENTIRE ROOM just to save one more trip back to fucking Lowes. But I did it. And it is done. And it is sufficient.
After sanding, you prime it all. Then all of the imperfections are easy to spot. So you fix them, and then sand and prime again. YAY FUN.
Finally, I was done with the drywall. It was like a dark cloud had lifted, and for the first time, the light shone down into my new office, and it was lovely. It felt like an actual space. A room. My room. And it was so hard to remember what the basement felt like back when I started this project. Still, lots of work remained.
I made some nontraditional choices with this room. But they all serve a purpose. The most "normal" finish I went with is on the exterior cement/brick walls and on the column that is exposed on the right section of the blue wall above (and would be used on trim). For this, I went with a semi-gloss, creamy off-white color. It's beautiful on the concrete and brick texture, and it feels like plastic to the touch. Which is a million times better than the chalky feel they had before.
For the walls, I went with aqua for one and gray for the other. The aqua wall is to give the space some life. A bright hit of color. But I can't have that behind my monitor when I color correct, so that wall is gray. Both walls have an eggshell finish.
The ceiling was a tough decision. It was white or black. I mocked up both on the computer, and the black just felt better. It was cool. Mysterious. The danger would be making the room feel like a dark dungeon. But I did it anyway. I went with a color called "Noir" in a flat finish. And I love it.
Flooring was a tough decision. There are some nice vinyl and tile options. I also considered engineered hardwood. But in the end, I went with laminate. There are lots of good options, it's easy to install, cheap enough to replace if needed and fine for basements. I debated several different finishes but chose this one primarily because it was in stock and I'm impatient. Also I love the warm but dark finish. Looks great with the walls.
Installation was a little tedious, but I got it done. Finn came down to give me his defeated stare of approval.
Once the office was nearing completion, an interesting thing happened. All these people started showing up. What had previously been an unwelcoming, inhospitable environment suitable only to devil bugs and science experiments was now not just approachable but, dare I say, attractive.
For the accent lights, I got a couple of these monstrosities from IKEA. I love them so much. Of all the things I could have screwed up on this project, I got the lighting right. Not only did I put in enough options for a good array of lighting combinations, the placement of the lights is thoughtful. This light goes over a sitting chair, otherwise known as my "idea chair" (which is the name also shared by the upstairs toilet). The other light sits over a drawing table (which has its own desk lamp). But what was also intentional is that they are in the corners of the room. I feel like putting soft lights like this in the corner gives your eyes something to grab onto and eliminates dark corners.
Here's the finished gray wall, with all trim in place. I trimmed the window to match the other windows in the house, which was its own little challenge, seeing how they don't really sell trim like they did 100 years ago. I ended up shaping my own trim with a table saw and router.
See all those outlets on the right part of the wall? Two of them are power, one is ethernet and the other is to connect to my surround speakers.
Of all the details in the office, this doorknob has to be one of my favorites. This was my first new door installation, and it went very well. It closes like a dream. We'll see how that changes with the seasons.
These are the main light switches for the room. I am really glad I went with two circuits. Photos don't do the lighting justice at all. You'll have to come over for a tour to get the real effect.
I have only hit my head on this once so far.
This exposed support column took a bit of work to finish, but I'm glad I didn't just wall it over. It also delightfully leans to the left a little.
Here's an attempt to show the extremes of the lighting circuits. Of course, at night, it's more pronounced. And I am planning on some sort of window treatment for privacy / security. Just working out the kinks on that now, but that'll have to be another post.
The workshop is (still) a complete mess. But part of this project was building the workbench in the back and adding new lighting. So when I get around to cleaning it up, it should be a much more usable space. But that's for another day.
Here's the drawing table corner. Also pictured: the rear speakers. Which add a subtle but very enjoyable richness to the room sound.
Part of this project was also rebuilding the black shelf thing behind my desk. The old one was a mess, and this one stands on its own, has a little bookcase on the left side (not pictured), has a hinged top and has more outlets.
Oh and also, you can climb on top of this thing and get out of the basement window in an emergency.
This was my final computer visualization of what I wanted the finished space to look like, long before any drywall had even been installed.
And here's the same angle of the completed office. Not too off target. Someday I'd like to hang the TV on the wall and replace my aging "L" desk. But for now, it's home.
This project took almost exactly 2 months from start to finish and cost roughly $2,500. I couldn't be more pleased with the finished space. It's hard being a creative person without a space. But it's the best thing ever to get a totally new space that's customized just for you. There's so much work I want to do down here. Like edit the next Studio Show and the short film I shot months ago. And finish the Keil drawing. And a ton of other stuff. It's a good start to just get this blog done though.
I have intimate experience with the dark side of nature that develops in basements. Glad to hear that good and light triumphed!
Dude - you knocked it out of the park.
Wow Dave! Very very impressive! Enjoyed reading and looking at the pics. You have done an amazing job. Looks like a great work space. Now I bet, eventually, you'll get kicked out of there as well when some older teenager decides the basement is the perfect private place for them :)
First, house centipedes (we call them thousand-leggers in these parts and, I know, I know centi means hundred!) are certainly the spawn of Satan. Talk to me the day one crawls up your leg as you’re sprawled out on the living room floor watching a movie (the house I grew up in had a dirt floor basement so just imagine the vile creatures that hung out there). Second, I spit water all over the kitchen when I read the line “I killed those bugs too.” Third, go Ethan! I’m so glad you guys worked well together. My stepdad and I would spar, and spar often, when I helped him on his job sites and home projects. Haha They were the best times though. Fourth, is there anything you can’t do?! I’ve seen it all from you over the years. You’re like superhuman. Fifth, I know you want to visit your brother really soon and when you’re down this way I could use someone to help me replace my bathroom subfloor before I end up in MY creepy dungeon while on my thinking chair. Seriously though, that’s amazing work and I know some awesome, creative stuff will come out of it. Enjoy!
Your perseverance is amazing!
Hey! That's a good milk crate in the dumpster!
Looks great. Working in a dark area is always my go to when I need to concentrate.
Great write-up, man! Found myself chuckling several times and reading aloud to my wife the many passages which reminded me of our own misadventures in basement rehab. The space looks inviting, comfortable and beautiful. Well done!