After writing for years I came to realize that I do my best writing not when I’m slouching on the couch with the TV on, or even at the dinner table, but in my own space. We recently moved into a new house and my wife suggested I turn the closet in the guest bedroom into a cloffice; an office in a closet.
A Custom Built Cloffice
Always up for an adventure, I decided to build the cloffice myself. While I’ve never done anything like this before, I was confident that I could create a pretty simple design that I pull off. I researched cloffices on Pinterest and saw some pretty interesting set ups. I considered buy furniture from IKEA or doing some kind of IKEA hack, but nothing really allowed me maximize my limited space.
Many of the cloffices I came across were either for crafting or very simple with just room for a computer. I knew that I wanted storage for my books and a desktop for my computer. I settled on a design something like the one pictured to the right.
A Manly Nautical, Explorer Theme
I wavered on the look from rustic (weathered grey wood) to industrial (lots of steel). My first pieces of inspiration were a globe Jenn got for me and a really cool map from the World from the 1600’s. The New World (North America) is unfinished. At the time the map was created, this was the undiscovered country. This is a parallel to how I see the Web. Later, at a local antique mall, I found this awesome picture of a boat and a set of nautical gauges. My theme was coming together. It would be an explorer theme. I looked into nautical furniture and noticed a lot of older furniture had a medium or honey stain to the wood with painted black accents.
My mom gave us a dresser that had a mirror and hutch that sat on top. We wanted the dresser, but not the mirror. I decided to use the hutch to elevate my monitor and give my desk some storage. I removed (gently ripped off) the mirror from the hutch. I sanded down the reddish glossy-finished wood and applied a high gloss black latex paint. I sanded down and re-finished the drawers with a more medium brown finish.
Since my desk was a bit shallow (22 inches deep) especially with the hutch taking up about half of it, I wanted a neat way to put the mouse and keyboard away in case I wanted to use the desktop to write or draw. I tried to make one of the drawers have a flip down door, but finally gave up. The hinges and pieces to make it close firmly were a lot of work. Luckily, I was able to salvage all the “work” I had done to the draw and it looks fine and is operational. Last, I drilled a few large, round holes in the back of the hutch so that I could run wires through the back of it for my keyboard and mouse.
I attempted to make one of the drawer doors flip down so that I could easily move my keyboard and mouse into the hutch when I wanted a clear desktop for writing. I bought some cabinet hinges and gave it a try, but later I opted to stick with having the drawers operate as normal.
Measuring & Planning
I knew what I wanted to build and how I wanted it to look. It was time to start planning. I measured the closet several times and then sketched out the dimensions for the desktop and bookcases. I measured the computer, the books, the hutch that I re-purposed, and the decorations and created a mock up. I spent hours researching the type of wood I should use for each part. Because I spent so much time planning, I didn’t run into any surprises, structurally.
I went to Lowe’s where they cut the wood to my specifications. I didn’t have a SAW at the beginning of the process, so I had Lowe’s cut the wood to my specifications. They were also helpful in pointing out which pieces of wood were better than others; even stopping me from the only wood they had in stock because it was slightly warped. I never would have noticed amd I really appreciated the honesty.
I used 2x8x10 pieces of wood from Lowe’s lumber section for the bookcases. They were pretty heavy. I painted the outsides and edges with the high gloss black paint and then came back and applied a Rustoleum Wheat Stain to the insides. The stain didn’t look as good as I thought it would. Later I learned that the quality of the wood can greatly affect how it takes stains. For the moment, I wasn’t happy with the stain, but since it was inside the bookcases where there’d be books and not the most important area, the desktop, I was fine.
I bought a piece of Oak Plywood for the desktop and the bookcase shelves. When I stained the piece that had been cut for the bookshelves, I was impressed by how good the stain looked. This is when I realized that the quality of the wood made a big difference. I also applied a HIGH GLOSS POLY to both sides. Then I cut the pieces and painted the edges black. I probably should have cut them and then stained them, but I wanted to save time.
I screwed together the bookcase sides to shorter pieces that were depth of the closet. They’re connected at the top, bottom, and via a middle support piece that the desktop rests on. Then I drilled holes to for my shelf BRACKETS (picture here). I used a make shift template using a scrap of wood to make sure that I drilled them at the same spot on both sides of the bookcase. DON’T drill just one hole per shelf, like I did here. I went back and drilled two spaced out holes per side and that worked just fine.
I decided to add a back to the bookcases realizing that I’d be looking through the bookcase to the wall if I didn’t. I found the thinnest piece of plywood for the job. It had a pink hue to it. The stain took okay, but it was more like paint than stain due to the wood-like substance it was made out of.
Desktop Corner Cutting
Now, for the desktop. Like the shelves, I used my high quality OAK Plywood for the desktop. With my limited space, I wanted it to be as deep as possible. So, I measured the distance from the back of the closet to where the closed closet doors are. The desktop comes out from the bookcases 6 inches or so. I needed to cut a notch out of the plywood.
Desktop Finish & Paint
Next, I stained the top and later came back and painted the edge black, matching the black edges from the bookcase shelves and sides of the book cases. Originally, I planned on using two pieces of plywood glued together to give the desk some thickness. Then, a friend suggested I just use the one piece of plywood, but add a FACE to the front, so it gave a thick appearance. I wasn’t confident in my straight line cutting abilities and wanted to finish the project, so I skipped this step. With his help, I could come back and add this piece.
Black & Gold Wallpaper
I wanted to give the cloffice a darker, manly feel, but I didn’t really want to paint. I spent hours looking for a good wallpaper and settled on this black wallpaper with gold accents. I thought it would compliment the brass in the globe and the weather gauges.
I can see why people generally don’t use wallpaper. It was a pain and had more than a few mistakes. Thankfully, I’m not a stickler for perfection and some of the botches are hidden by pictures. If I ever want to wallpaper anything in the future, I’ll have a professional do it, or at least get some help. Once the wallpaper was applied and had dried, it was time to assemble the cloffice set up my computer and put away my books.
Assembling the Cloffice
The desk is free-standing (for now) and it’s made of three unattached pieces. The right bookcase, the left bookcase and the desktop which rests in the middle. The desktop is supported by a piece of wood spanning the bookcases at about 30 inches high. The bookcases are 80 inches tall. First I slid them into the closet and pushed them against the walls. Then, I picked up the desktop and slid it in between the two bookcases until it was in place, resting on the support pieces. I placed the hutch on top desktop, and then threaded my keyboard, mouse, and power cord wires. I put up the shelves, and then added the books and bookends.
Lighting the Cloffice
I write in the early morning and prefer a dimly lit room. So, I knew that I wasn’t going to use the room’s main light. I settled on these little brown spotlights I found at Lowe’s to give the cloffice some light. They’re not very bright, just enough so that the monitor isn’t the only light.
The last thing the project needed was some planning boards for the insides of the doors. I like brainstorm with whiteboards. The right door has two whiteboards. The left door has a corkboard and a weekly planning whiteboard.
Middle Support Cleat
When I asked my friend, who’s a professional woodworker, about support, he suggested that I add a kind of support shelf (he called it a cleat) to support the desktop. A piece of wood will be attached to the studs in the wall, then a piece of wood will placed on top of that. The desktop will then rest on top of this cleat using the support of the studs in the wall so that it doesn’t bow over time due to the weight of the hutch, computer, etc. I haven’t done this step, but will soon. Update – After 7 months, there hasn’t been any bowing. I still have the wood needed to create the support cleat, but I’m in no hurry to add it since it seems to be holding up okay.
I want to thank my handy friends Craig, Glenn, and especially Zach. I wanted to do the project myself, but these guys had plenty of good ideas and advise along the way. I also want to thank my Mom, for that “you can do anything” support when I’d never done anything close to this before. I want to thank my wife for being cool with the hours it took to build this thing over the two months it took. Last, I want to thank my Dad who inspired me with his amazing projects like his train room, office, designing a house, and on and on. I felt like he was with me at times as I whistled my way through what was uncharted territory, just as confidently and jovially as he always did; armed with peanut M&M’s and Motown music to keep me going.