Home office refresh 2009

I’m starting on another “refresh” of my workspace at home: this is becoming a distressingly regular (annual?) activity that I’m hoping to put an end to soon. The objective this year is pretty much a total rebirth: minimizing/reducing, painting, and possibly re-flooring and new furniture. The first step was to excise a bunch of “stuff” from this rather small room, and to get ready for the painting which I intend to do myself.

My office had become “home base” for a lot of different purposes in our house over the last eight years or so. Just accounting for work, I spend an average of fifty hours a week in this little area. Add to this the leisure hours I spend in the room playing computer and console games and any flaws or bad choices become apparent rather rapidly. Even good ideas break down under such conditions.

Last year’s effort was intended to “open up” what had become a rather oppressive space, and the changes were largely successful. I invested in a lot of thought in clearing up space, removing things that blocked the walls and single window, and changing the direction I faced to make my time in the office less like I was in a cave. The change based simply on removing the “hutch” on my desk was pretty phenomenal: suddenly the looming detritus of my life wasn’t so proximal to my face.

After living with the changes for a year, I’ve concluded that there is a lot I still want to do. The 2008 layout makes getting to my desk feel like traversing an obstacle course, and once I sit in my chair I had about four inches of “freedom” to move before I ran into a wall. Switching to playing on my XBox or to sit by Irene involves acrobatics that just aren’t pleasant at my stage of life, and thus I’m discouraged from relocating or moving around. So the main “furniture shift” I want to make is generate a single linear “desk surface space” and a coherent “chair mobility area”. I’m sure some design person would have special technical terms for these things.

Two things are basically “mandatory” in this update, and two are dependent on how our money situation looks.


  • simplify: I had a huge bookshelf and a massive filing cabinet in my room that, even with 2008’s restructuring, still made the room seem crowded. The room is crowded as my “computer center”: trying to squeeze in bookshelves, filing cabinets, and the like on top of this pushes it over the edge. I also want to re-orient my desk again, essentially putting all of the main furniture on two walls and leaving the other two walls more or less open
  • repaint: good gravy, I’m tired of the pink walls. That has to go, and the room is small enough that I can manage the work more or less myself. I’ve already more or less settled on a pair of greens that will hopefully be less offensive


  • new furniture: I’ve had these particle board/laminate “office furniture” desks for over a decade now. I bought two originally back when we were still in Alberta, and I’m down to one now: they are solid, functional, but pretty ugly. I really would like something a bit more classic using real wood or a better approximation of wood, although I’m by no means aiming for some sort of pristine or pure appearance in a given style. I’d just like a bit more of a theme E.G.:
  • hardwood floor: Carpeting and cats don’t go together- the long term goal I have is to reduce carpeting in the house to a minimum. Carpeting, cats, and rolling chairs definitely don’t go together, and the office carpet is definitely suffering


The mandatory part of the work is cheap: it is basically grunt work, some thinking, and a bit of paint. I’ve already removed excess furniture and moved everything off/away from the walls so the painting is almost ready to begin. Funny fact: the new organization is more comfortable even with all the furniture jammed into the center of the room to clear about two feet around the edges for painting. Regardless of whether we do the flooring this year, I don’t want that to start until the painting is done. And if we don’t do the floor, I don’t particularly want to buy the furniture since it would all have to be moved out all over again if we do.

The furniture and flooring I don’t have firm prices on yet. However, based on the preliminary furniture selections and my recollection of a brief chat I had with our flooring guy four years ago, I think we are looking at about $3,000 for both. Ouch- in this economy and in my life, that’s problematic, but I’d really rather get this done in one sequential effort while my thinking and motivation are clear. Emptying the room is challenging, especially since it houses my network switch, firewall, web server, and massive amounts of wiring. Effectively having to empty and reconstruct the room twice a year or so apart, with damage and disruption each time, is something I’d like to avoid if we can afford it.

This won’t be a quick process- so far, it has taken me three weeks to accumulate about ten total hours of effort into getting the room ready to paint. I’m taking a few days off starting in a week and expect to complete the painting during that span: by mid-March that should be done, and I’m hoping to get flooring estimates done and scheduled (if we can afford it) during that time frame. If we go for the flooring, I have probably another ten to twelve hours of work to get everything off the floor. This will disrupt my workspace and gaming area and can’t be done until after the painting as I’ll need to put shelves on the wall to support my networking equipment. I’ll order furniture at that time if we are going that far: looking into my crystal ball, I’d guess this won’t be entirely complete until May.

I’d also like to use this smaller space as an experiment in preparation for the future redesign of our living room. Sort of like starting with 5 mile jogs to get ready for a marathon a few years in the future. Except nothing like that 😉

10 thoughts on “Home office refresh 2009”

  1. Have you ever thought that maybe since you spend most of your time there, that you shouldn’t be using the smallest room in your house? At least not for everything?

    Just a thought, but maybe you should leave that as your office / work space, and move the “games room” and “server room” up over the garage?

    And, although I would normally not suggest this, since it is such a small room, and nice and square, you could actually do the flooring yourself. Generally it costs a certain minimum to get a contractor to come out just to take into account the hassle of lugging equipment and setting up. For a tiny room like that you will be wasting a fair bit of cash. Or, if you don’t want to do it yourself do another room or two at the same time … it actually won’t cost much more than just having that one little room done.

    A personal request: better cooling! You, me, couple of computers while gaming … it’s a sauna! 😉

    Bravo on finally getting out of touch with your feminine side and nixing the pink 🙂

  2. I’ve given thought to pretty much everything you suggested, but it is good to re-examine my analysis.

    Some stuff is going upstairs, but I don’t want my games near the bedroom. Irene gives me a hard time if I’m making any noise, and typically I’m playing games after she has gone to bed. If I was on the same floor as her while gaming, it wouldn’t work well at all. Basically, although I don’t want to make the room too cave-like, it *is* my man-cave, and getting my basic necessities in there is desirable. I want my stuff there so I can enter my fortress of solitude, safe in the knowledge that I’m not disturbing Irene… much.

    That said, I’m going to be observant of the space issue, and if things look out of whack the game console might go upstairs even if it bothers Irene. Another downside: that room is hot like an oven in the summer and cold like an icebox in the winter: easily 5 degrees worse than my office at both ends of the scale. So if I put anything there that I want to use for several hours at a stretch, like my XBox for example, that would be uncomfortable. Note I don’t include the exercise equipment in “things I want to use for several hours at a stretch” 😉

    The server and switch/routers takes up very little room, actually, and the networking gear needs to be near all the wire runs in any case. Besides, the room over the garage is nearing capacity now as it has become our gym. You haven’t been here in a couple years, so you don’t know that 😉 Instead what we are doing is making the gym into an extension library: my book shelves are going there.

    And as for cooling- well, I don’t think that is going to happen until we can afford built-in AC, even though it is definitely something I want. Those wonderful little window air conditioners don’t work in top hinged casement windows, which is what I’ve got. Even if it did work, it would be a true pain in the backside to have to remove it every year due to the bush outside the window and so on. I tried one of the “in room” air conditioners: they are twice the price of an in window AC, and don’t cool much better than a fan. One day there will be air conditioning, but not this year, unless you want to pay for it. Getting a built in, even setting aside central air, is likely several grand: central air likely runs into the $10k+ range. This is speculation on my part, but I doubt it is cheap. That’s tough to swallow when it is really only warm enough to justify it for maybe a month a year. I regret this each year when we get a month of +35 temperatures, but the dollar can only stretch so far.

    Regarding doing the flooring- I don’t see me doing that, although I did contemplate it. I could manage a kit or something, but that wouldn’t work very well butting up against the rest of the hardwood. I want the flooring to match in quality if not in finish, and it is 3/4 inch oak in the rest of the house with a clear coat. I’d rather have a pro do it to get the fit, staining, and coatings right. I’ll check regarding the cost, but my recollection of the estimate was about $4,000 to do our living room, and about $1500 for my office- not exactly “not much more” 🙂 I’m sure if I did it all at once, I might save $500 or something, but there is no way we can afford that this year even if we were ready to empty the living room.

    I didn’t actually mind the pink walls overall- its no different than many other off whites I’ve seen. But in my office- it’s just a bit much. I do want to get rid of the pink throughout the house at some point, but that is more a matter of refreshing the place than a strong dislike of the colour.

  3. Well one thing “good” about recent economic trends, is that people are willing to do small jobs again. Here, at any rate, for the last few years you just couldn’t do that. Any contractor would have a choice between doing a little room like yours or doing a full house, and very few would not choose to do the bigger project.

    One of the reasons I suggested moving the computer equipment out was heat generation… though when it gets to be 35 nothing short of full AC is going to make much difference anywhere. Most of the time you and I were broiling it’s been much less than that outside… have you thought of putting an exhaust fan in the room to dump hot air outside or into the garage? Were are only talking of something like a washroom exhaust fan, and you can get those fairly quiet. In fact, you only need a hole in the wall for the duct and the fan motor can be in the garage.

    Just getting the hot air out is over half the problem as usually the air outside or in the rest of the house is a good 5 – 10 degrees cooler

  4. Yeah, contractors aren’t so hard to get. The floor folks I was dealing with are generally pretty available- all they do is hardwood flooring, so they have several crews. They were the ones who did the refurbishing of our floor a few ears ago and I was pleased with their work.

    As far as putting in an exhaust fan: most of the time, I just set up a floor fan near the door to push air from the rest of the house through the room. It usually works pretty well, but obviously can’t deal with the really hot days that approach or exceed 30 degrees. A/C is the only way to “fix” that, and if I’m going to start punching holes in walls then I’ll be looking at AC.

    I should at least make the effort to get an estimate on A/C for that room. I’ve hesitated thus far partly because I wasn’t sure how I wanted the room laid out (I am now), because I thought we’d go with central air one day, and because I thought even single-room “built in” cooling would be too expensive. Maybe, though, it wouldn’t be too bad.

  5. How about a beer fetching robot?

    I’ve recently turned to floor to ceiling cabinets/wardrobes to help organize stuff in small places. With a two bedroom house with another on the way, space is a precious commodity.

  6. Welcome to my blog, Jen!

    Beer fetching robot… now there’s something a guy who loves beer and is carrying around about 20 pounds too many probably really doesn’t need 😉 But it might make me forget about the lack of air conditioning…

    Space in a house is a funny thing. A lot of the time it isn’t how much space you have, but how that space is located that matters. Clever use of vertical volume like using cabinets and such can make a big difference: using that third dimension. Other times, just shifting things around can turn “wasted” floor space into something you can use. And then there is the tough one: getting rid of things you don’t need.

    I think that doing something new with my office each year does a lot for how I perceive my day. For at least a few months afterwards I feel “refreshed” or invigorated, even if all I do is tidy up the wiring or toss out some boxes. Ugh, boxes- that’s how I know I’m a gadget freak- the poundage of cardboard, plastic and styrofoam I recycle/dispose of is frightening.

  7. I found the picture of your existing space. BTW, clicking on the photo 404’s (what kind of geek are you? 😛 ) It’s way less cluttered than I imagined after reading your description. You’ve got nothing on my parents who still have commodore 64’s, and Apple IIC’s kicking around. (They have the mentality that if they spent money on it, it shouldn’t get thrown out). Don’t get me started on their magazine subscriptions! I’m not looking forward to clearing their house.

    I still think that your space could benefit from a mini-bar or mini-fridge. Isn’t one of the advantages of working from home, being able to enjoy a bevvie without being scrutinized? (This coming from a prego-girl with a toddler that hasn’t had a bevvie in years). Oh, and a sound system…you can’t blare one of those at the office. My personal preference would be a dart-board or punching bag to release anxiety from dealing with IBM hosting.


  8. Ugh… sorry about that broken link. I’ve had to perform a few “emergency” updates on the site for security reasons (yes, folks are even now trying to hack into my sad little blog), and apparently something broke with the WordPress=> Gallery integration. That particular picture should work now, but I suspect other similar links may also be broken. I’ll have to do some checking when I’m feeling less dead.

    A punching bag sounds good: some days maybe a gun range 😉

  9. But Kelly, don’t you know that he who hacks your blog shall have reknown all across the cybersphere, and all will bow down to their Uberness. Bank vaults will open to them and great nations shall tremble in fear, for no longer will they be simple script kiddies, no once they have broke into Kelly’s blog they will have proven their manhood and be uber hAcK3rS!!!!!

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