I promised every one on twitter a comprehensive post about the basement office project. There are a few tweaks I want to do still, but now that I’ve spend a week working out of it, here you go:
My basement and I have a complicated relationship.
In 2007, it was mildly flooded during the great 2007 flood. Mold ended up taking off and it ended up costing us whatever was stored down there and paying a professional crew to rip out all the old wood paneling and do water damage remeditation and mold killing. They installed a sump in a canning room that kept seeping water and causing water to pool on the basement floor.
In 2008, while working on remodeling the basement to reclaim it I had a cardiac event that put me in the hospital for a bit and was how I found out I have a genetic heart defect. The damn basement almost killed me.
In 2012, I think, I hired someone to clean up the bare brick walls and floors and install some doors and lights in hopes of reclaiming the basement. But we mainly used it for storage and secondary space while I used a room upstairs for primary writing.
Spiders used the basement as an office, mainly.
Recently one of my daughters started advocating for a room of her own. She had a lot of good reasons, but we didn’t bite. It wasn’t until said daughter explained to me her plan to move into the spider-filled basement on her own (she explained how she planned to clean it up, and where she would keep her stuff, and how we could get the mattress down there) that I realized she really, really was all in on the room of her own department.
I told her I’d figure out what it would take to move out and give her the room, whether staying upstairs and carving space out of lesser-used living room. She started sleeping on my office couch right away.
I spent a couple hours staring at the basement. Some of the fluorescent tubes we’d installed five years ago had gone out. But last summer we spent a large chunk of money to have our front yard landscaping all pulled out, on the theory that the previous owners fancy large beds up against the front of the basement were keeping water against the basement, increasing the water seepage. Over the last year, as far as we could tell, the seepage had decreased a great deal.
Enough for me to make the basement not a storage place for stuff but my primary working environment again?
I like being up near the large windows as I work on sun. Being away from the sun depresses me.
But since regrading the front lawn, the windows along the sunward side of the basement were dropping more light into he basement. And if I put in some replacement fluorescents, even though I hated the flicker, I realized I could do something.
Another thing had been bugging me the last few years. I moved away from physical books to eBooks on my phone. But, as my kids were getting older they were assuming that time I spent reading books on the phone was me ‘playing’ on the phone. So I’d started ordering physical books to read so that they could see me reading a lot.
To my surprise, I found that I was enjoying being away from screens. No distractions or temptations, just a book and me and a moment of time.
Which meant that the 80% of my library that I’d donated I now missed. I wanted books on shelves again. And I wanted all my own books that I’d been published in, or published, to be around me. I’d had all those books stored away. With a large basement, I could have a lot of shelves.
Plus, now that I was playing frisbee outside and walking more I was getting sunlight. Maybe I could risk a basement office again. Then a friend of mine gifted me a 4K monitor large enough to display full editing documents side by side on, and a sitting to standing adjustable desk.
So three weeks ago I got busy and took a broom and cleaning supplies down into the basement to do battle with the spiders.
I scrubbed walls, attacked webs, and killed many spiders on day one.
I took out sixteen or so bags of things that could be put on the curb or donated.
In the canning room where the water seepage was the worst I purchased quick dry mortar repair and stuffed all the gaps I could find. I then painted two coats of DryLock paint over the walls in there. I also sealed the wooden ceiling of the canning room with Thompson’s water seal. So here we go from open cinder block and spider heaven to clean and dry to the touch:
I went over the walls where I planned to put my office with primer and sealant where moisture had seeped through and discolored the paint.
Then I cleaned the windows. That actually boosted the light into the basement a bit, they hadn’t been cleaned in over a decade, I had to scrape dirt off the outer glass. So 50% more sunlight comes in now. I also went outside and pulled the metal wells free, giving more sun a chance to come through.
Of six four-foot flourescent tubes, four were still working. I found out that LED lights are being made for those same fixtures. I ordered them off Amazon.com. Not only did I get a boost in light from getting the two missing light tubes installed, but the LED lights are like 20% or so brighter than the fluorescents were. It feels like the artificial light doubled. Also, the light doesn’t flicker and feels ‘bright’ to me. On days when it’s dark and gloomy in Ohio outside, I’m often not noticing in the basement until I look out the window.
I was on a tight budget for this, I had been hoping to get the entire remodel done for under $500. That was my goal. But as I looked at bookcases everywhere I realized quickly that I wouldn’t be able to get rows of shelving for books and all the things in my office to sit on easily for that.
After wracking my brains for a while I started thinking of affordable shelving that people wouldn’t anticipate for books. I spent some time in food service, and I knew that NSF certified chrome shelving was sturdy, easy to assemble, and cheap. Further, the chrome shelving would fit with the industrial look of the basement, with the exposed ductwork and brick walls. I could get a sort of aesthetic that all fit together.
Along the 13″ back wall I decided to use an eighteen inch wide NSF chrome shelf that was almost as high as the basement ceiling, which came with six shelves. I would use two shelves to create an ego shelf and one shelf to create a desk area against the wall. I then figured out I could use pieces of a shorter fourteen inch wide shelf to create the legs that two of the other shelves left over could create another desk and general storage area on the right. Then I could use some hooks to create a desk in the middle.
Here it is:
I then had four shelves left over from using the legs to create that eighteen inch deep area, that meant I could take the four shelf, fourteen inch chrome shelves and make them all five shelf shelves perfect for books:
The wires run the length of the shelves, so books sit very nicely on them. If I do get worried, I can eventually cut and stain wood planks to add some warmth and sit over the wires: just drill a one-inch wide circular hole on each corner of the plank.
Here’s a closer look at the desk behind my computer desk:
I purchased some cheap plastic sheets that sit on top of the wires for these shelves, as the wires run in the same direction as the books. They can fall through on the eighteen inch deep wire shelves, so that’s necessary.
On the first shelf I have books that I have published an original story in for the first time. They’re in order of year. Underneath are my novels, book ended by bookends made out of Bermuda Cedar, which is rare to get. Those were a gift from the government of Bermuda Department of Community and Cultural Affairs, and I’m super proud of them. Under the shelf I have hooks and binder clips holding some quickly drawn art that says “CREATE.” Emily is designing some more colorful letters for me shortly!
To the right is an extra desk where I keep some office stuff, a spare chrome book that the kids use, my iPad, and hanging above it is art from my first novel, Crystal Rain, that Todd Lockwood gifted me a print of and that I’ve always wanted to have hanging but didn’t have a place for. Until now!
Okay, so here’s the office as you entire the basement and turn to the right:
I created a little area for reading, thinking, and editing on work. I have a surprisingly comfortable slatted (not uncomfortable rods) futon that converts into a queen for visitors or passing through family. It used to be upstairs, but now splits the office into two different parts and functions. My friend Ross Kaufmann came over to help me move it downstairs. A cheap $15 rug from a dollar store really ties the room together. At that point I had been over budget, so I don’t have a rug for the computer desk area or for along the bookshelves. One day, though!
Again, a Todd Lockwood print hangs by the futon.
Here’s the angle from the walkthrough area:
I’m hoping to get a tiny dorm fridge to put soda water and protein bars in that little space along the wall there down the road.
I keep all my currently reading and magazines on the little red table that I appropriated from the kids. One of the kids is reading Muse and left it down there, so I’m not the only one using this is a reading zone.
I was super psyched to get this extra shelf from my friend Brandon Rhodes, python programmer extraordinare:
I unpacked all my extra author’s copies and loaded the shelf up. Again, this was stuff all packed away in storage that I had no idea what I had and what I didn’t.
The basement is divided into half with the use of a Kallax four cubby by four cubby shelf on casters (I will be getting casters for all the other chrome shelves, so that walls are easy to get to and clean, spider kill, and dust, but again, I went over budget slightly and will get to that in a month or so) next to another two by four Kallax on casters.
I ordered a sheet of Shoji paper to cover the back of the Kallax and let some light through as it’s translucent.
Side note. I had always thought rice paper was made of actual rice, why else call it that? Turns out it’s ‘rice’ paper like a Japanese car is a ‘ricer.’ It’s seems to be a western ‘we use rice to describe anything Japanese’ thing. Ugh. So it’s actually called Shoji paper, I found after a minute or two of looking for the paper, and it’s made of mulberry bush (Kozo). It should be called Mulberry paper, if anything.
Here’s the other side:
Anyway, here’s the desk where I work:
I’m hoping to add some art, cool books to the cubbies. I also have five plastic stands along the top of the divider, and I’m hoping to add W R I T E in colorful letters to them. Behind them is some Ivy, known for helping clean the air. To the left the other side of the basement is peeking out, a bunch of stuff is stored there that I need get to the curb/donate and clean out so that I can start to use other side for a small gym.
Here is the writing area with the standing desk up. I’m going to put in a glass dry erase board along that wall under the window there when the budget gets back in my favor. And a rug for my cold feet.
I’m pretty excited about the desk, as Skype sessions should be more fun. I can stand for them, and the area behind me will be framed by my written books and some colorful art. CREATE!
Another thing I might toy with is seeing if that one duct by the window can be flattened with a rectangular duct there to give me a little head room and allow more light in through that window.
I pulled this together in a little over a week and a half. It’s full of light, clean space, and I’m really happy with it. I spent a day going around smearing essential peppermint oil and spraying it wherever there had been spiders two weeks ago, and they’ve taken the hint. Plus, it smells very refreshing down here! I also purchased an ozone generator and have run it to kill anything down here like mold, mildew, annoying small insects. I’ll run every once in a while to keep the air fresh.
I’m hoping to make this the center of my operation to launch a whole new act of writing great things from down here. I’m surrounded by books, my achievements, and lots of great creative space.