Arthur strives to balance aesthetics, functionality, and quality with costs when planning DIY projects in the home and garden.
It’s been ten years since we last decorated our home-office, last time it was done on a low budget, and it’s given us time to see what works and what doesn’t work.
Originally, when we bought the house, what is now our home-office was a spare single-bedroom; complete with built-in bed, bedside table, built-in wardrobe, and the original bedroom fireplace.
During the first makeover over 20 years ago, when we did the conversion from a bedroom to our home-office, the major modifications I made were:-
- Dismantle the old fireplace to create an alcove next to the built-in wardrobe; making the room bigger by creating more usable space.
- Recycling salvaged ContiBoard (veneered chipboard) as shelves in the new alcove.
- Relocating the built-in bedside table to below the shelving in the alcove.
- Removing the doors to the cupboard above the built-in wardrobe; because they restricted access.
- Dismantling the built-in bed and replacing it with a wall-to-wall kitchen worktop; to create an office desk.
For the office desk I used kitchen worktops and made the desk three feet in depth by cutting one worktop in half (along its length) and joining the two worktops together.
During our last makeover about ten years ago the additional changes I made included:
- Adding a side work surface with shelving underneath; blocking access to one of the built-in wardrobe doors.
- With part of the access to the wardrobe blocked I compensated by dismantling the Pigeonhole shelving on the left-hand side and replacing it with new shelving on the right.
- I modified the remaining wardrobe door into a folding door for easier access e.g. takes up less room space when open.
- We had a skylight installed.
- Then finally, being on a low budget makeover, we just emulsioned the walls rather than wallpaper and paint.
Overview of Current Project
This time round we decided to make it a major project with the following objectives:
- Make everything just right; to our taste, including the décor.
- Make major modifications to the electrics and storage, based on our experience of the last ten years; to better suit our needs and make better use of the space.
- Modify the alcove storage space to accommodate the writing desk bureau I’d been given.
- Recycle and upcycle where possible.
As this is such a major project which incorporates several mini-projects, rather than cover every aspect in detail (and present it as a step-by-step linear guide), I shall cover each aspect of the main project modularly, and give just an overview of the key mini-projects. The mini-projects will be covered separately, in more detail, in further articles.
The main areas of the project covered here include:-
- Rationalisation of electrics & electronic equipment.
- Various DIY Projects
- Painting & Decorating
- Fixtures & Fittings
Normally we would strip a room down the bare essentials, so as to start with a blank canvas e.g. if it was the living room we’d just leave a TV and settees to work around, and move everything else to storage in another room.
However, with all the computer equipment and Internet access, the office is the heart of the house these days. So it was imperative to keep the office functional, and work around the equipment without causing any damage to it.
Therefore we boxed everything up that we could, leaving the equipment in situ and covering it up with dustsheets for protection whenever working over it.
Rationalisation of Electrics & Electronic Equipment
The five main elements of this part of the project, all done at different phases of the office-makeover, were:-
- Relocation of speakers
- Modifying electrical sockets
- Chasing phone line into wall
- Cable management
- Desk management of equipment
Relocation of Computer Surround Sound Speakers
Plugged into the computer are the 5:1 surround sound speakers. Prior to the start of the office makeover the centre and two side speakers were on the desk, the bass speaker underneath the desk, and the two rear speakers hung to the outside of the built-in wardrobe.
As part of the office makeover:
- The bass speaker would stay where it was, but as part of the office makeover the storage unit it was sitting on would be replaced with a proper shelving unit.
- The centre speaker and two side speakers would be fixed to the wall at the back of the desk; once the room had been redecorated, and
- The two rear speakers would be recessed into the cupboard above the built-in wardrobe.
Having the two rear speakers hung on the outside of the wardrobe made the room look a bit untidy, and with my plans to refit doors to the top cupboard above the wardrobe the speakers would be an obstacle preventing the cupboard door from fully opening. Therefore I rewired these speakers, and modified the top cupboard to accommodate them, so that they fitted into the wardrobe cupboard, as follows:
For the right rear speaker:-
- Added an extra length of speaker cable, so that I could raise the speaker up higher.
- Used a sonic saw to cut a section out of the cupboard frame, for the speaker to slip into.
- Used scrap wood to make a platform for the speaker and a brace for the frame.
- Recycled a piece of varnished pine, salvaged from an old shoe rack, as a decorative facing to the platform and brace.
For the left rear speaker:-
- Used a piece of scrap wood to brace it into the corner of the cupboard.
- Cut a blanking plate from a piece of scrap 4mm (1/6th inch) plywood to cover the gap on the side and above the speaker; and fixed it in place with wood glue, using a small clamp to hold the wood until the glue was set.
- Faced the brace with the same recycled wood used as a decorative facing for the other rear speaker.
Recessing Rear Speakers into Cupboard Above Wardrobe
Modifying the Electrical Sockets for Better Ethernet
Prior to the office makeover the mains electrical wall sockets were all underneath the desks; out of sight, out of mind, and difficult access. Convenient power supply was provided by wall mounted extension sockets. Generally, that wouldn’t be an issue in that these days all extension sockets, and all electrical plugs, are each individually fused to prevent overload.
However, powerline Ethernet adaptors are more reliable if they are plugged straight into the mains power and not plugged in via an extension cable. So I specifically wanted to replace the wall mounted four gang extension on the side wall with proper sockets wired into the ring main circuit.
Prior to the days of Wi-Fi I’d already hardwired part of the house of Internet connection e.g. a LAN cable from our router switch to an RJ45 socket in our living room, and another LAN cable to a router switch in our son’s bedroom/office.
Although our modern router does have Wi-Fi capability we don’t use it because British homes are brick (including internal walls) making the signal unreliable and weak throughout the house.
Therefore, with the advent of powerline adapters we’ve installed one into our mains supply in our office, near our router so that it can be linked to the router via an Ethernet cable. This provides an excellent hardwire link via the mains to the paired powerline adapter plugged into the mains in our living room; giving a strong Wi-Fi link to all portable devices used in our living room, and a reliable cabled link to the fixed devices e.g. TV, cable box and Blu-ray player.
How Does Powerline Ethernet Work?
Although we get a good connection with our powerline adapter most of the time, on occasions when we plug other equipment into the extension socket it can sometimes cause signal interference. Therefore, by replacing the extension socket with a wall socket wired into the ring mains (in accordance with the manufacturer’s advice) that issue will be resolved.
What is a UK Ring Main?
In the UK you can do the electrics yourself provided you get it checked and signed off by a qualified electrician before it’s connected to the mains power supply.
Before making a start I first made a check list of everything required, buying what I needed. The items I needed included:-
- A couple of double sockets; and being for an office I chose sockets with USB charging points.
- A couple of galvanised steel back boxes to fit into the wall.
- Suitable electrical cable; which for the UK ring mains is 1.5mm twin and earth.
- Earth sleeving.
- Tools: Electrician tools, plastering tools, power drill, chisels and mallet, water, bucker and sponge.
Once I got everything I needed together the steps I took to replace our wall mounted extension socket with ring main sockets was as follows:
- Deciding the location for the new sockets. Which would be to the right of the existing extension socket; so that once the office makeover was done I could make better office use of the side desktop.
- Drilling holes into the brickwork at regular intervals, to make it easier to chisel out the required hole for the metal back box.
- Use chisels and mallet to knockout the required hole, regularly testing the back boxes for fit. As I would be adding two double sockets side by side, and they are slightly wider than the back boxes, it was essential to make the hole big enough to leave a suitable gap between the two back boxes when fitting them in place.
- Channel out recess in the wall, below where the sockets are to be fitted, to allow for cables and ducting to be embedded into the wall.
- Knock out holes to be used for cabling in the back boxes, and fit rubber grommets to protect the cables from being snagged.
- Moisten the brickwork to give better adhesion of the cement.
- Screw the back boxes in place if possible, and cement around them. On this occasion it wasn’t possible to secure the back boxes in the hole with screws, so I fitted them in place with cement, and left it 24 hours for the cement to dry.
- The following day, make good the wall with plaster.
- Normally, for a neat flush finish, you would want to chase the new cables and ducting from the other sockets into the wall. However, as most of the new cabling would be under the desks and out of sight I opted to surface mount the ducting.
- Finally, for UK wiring, wire up the new sockets to the previous and next sockets in the ring main; so that the new sockets become part of the ring main. For other countries that use radial sockets rather than ring main, the wiring will be different.
Replacing 4-Gang Extension Lead with Ring Main Sockets
Chasing Phone Line into Wall
When I originally converted our spare bedroom into an office faxes were still in common use, so at the time I wired in an extension phone line for the fax facility on our computer and printer. At the time I didn’t chase the cable into the wall, I just surface mounted it; and when we last decorated the office ten years ago I just painted over the cable.
Since then faxes have become redundant, and these days we use a set of four cordless landline phones that doesn’t require a landline other than the base station in the living room. Therefore the phone line in our office is now redundant; so optionally, I could remove it. However, I decided to keep it (as a backup) and just chase it into the wall for a neater finish.
The bane of any modern office is ‘spaghetti junction’; as soon as you start to cable your equipment up the cables have an automatic desire to tangle, making it impossible to properly vacuum or sweep under the desk.
Last time I put a folding table under the desk, to put the cables on, but the table itself got in the way and cables didn’t stay on the table anyway.
Optionally you can use cable ties, or buy various types of cable management aids; from quite cheap but effective cable management gizmos to more elaborate and expensive cable tidy aids.
However, I decided to recycle some of the wood from the old corner desk shelving unit (that I was replacing) to make my own under desk wall mounted cable management trough.
The full step-by-step guide to making the cable management trough will be covered in a separate article; but below is a pictorial guide.
Making Bespoke Cable Management Trough From Recycled Wood
Desk Management of Equipment
Originally, as well as the two double sockets, I also had a four-gang and six-gang extension sockets under the main desk to power all the computer equipment; and apart from the computer itself (which is a large tower that sits on the floor) all the computer equipment scattered around on the main desk.
As part of the cable management, and to better utilise the desk space the changes I made included:-
- Replacing the four-gang extension socket with a four-gang wall mounted power surge extension lead under the main desk.
- Replacing the six-gang wall mounted extension lead that was under the desk with six-gang individually switched wall mounted extension lead (plugged into the surge protection extension lead) and fitted on the back wall above the desk.
- Moving some of the equipment, including the router switch and radio to storage space under the side desk
By uncluttering the desk, it provided the additional space needed for my graphics tablet.
DIY Projects as Part of the Home-Office Makeover
The six main DIY projects that formed part of the home-office makeover, some of which will be covered in more detail in separate articles, were:-
- Modifying built-in wardrobe and storage
- Addition of folding doors to cupboard above wardrobe
- Replacing alcove shelving and furniture
- Replacing corner unit
- Modifying under desk storage
- Addition of desk drawer
Modifying the Built-in Wardrobe
Originally the whole of the front of the wardrobe would open, and on the left hand side was a large pigeonhole storage unit. When during the last office makeover I installed a side desk in the office it blocked off the right hand wardrobe door; and by doing so the pigeonhole storage unit blocked access to the clothes rail. So I dismantled the pigeonhole storage unit and replaced it with large shelving on the right.
The main issue with that was that the clothes made access to the shelving difficult. Therefore, for this makeover:
- I turned the clothes rail around 90 degrees and fitted it around the corner, on the right hand side, and
- Built a small bookcase at the back of the wardrobe, on the left hand side; to maximise on storage space.
Also, as part of the makeover I also:
- I repaired the damaged plasterwork inside the wardrobe,
- Redecorated the plaster walls in white emulsion, and
- Laid some spare laminate flooring.
It’s always been our policy to white emulsion the inside walls of built-in furniture, to maximise light reflection; and the laminate flooring was spare boards, leftover from making repairs in the alcove, which happened to be just enough to cover the wardrobe floor and top cupboard.
The full step-by-step guide to the wardrobe modifications will be covered in a separate article; but below are some of the before and after images.
Modifications to the Built-in Wardrobe
Adding Folding Doors to Cupboard above Wardrobe
The cupboard above the wardrobe originally had doors on it, but they only opened so far and restricted access. So I removed the doors and left it as an open cupboard; but having it as an opened cupboard just made the office look untidy. So for this makeover I decided to design and built folding door to match the folding doors I made for the wardrobe below.
The full step-by-step guide will be covered in a separate article; but below are some of the before and after images; and highlights of making the folding door.
Making Folding Doors for Cupboard Above Wardrobe
Replacing Alcove Shelving and Furniture
What is now the alcove was originally the bedroom’s fireplace and chimney breast; which with the advent of central heating are now redundant these days. Therefore, when we bought the house I dismantled the brick fireplace and chimney breast and utilised the space for shelving. At the time I recycled salvaged ContiBoard (veneered chipboard) for the shelving; and relocated the built-in three-drawer bedside table, that was in the bedroom, to the alcove.
However, last year a friend bought me an old writing desk bureau to renovate, and the only place it would fit in the house would be the alcove. So as part of the office makeover I decided to:
- Dismantle the alcove shelving, and old three-drawer cupboard, in order to fit the writing desk bureau into alcove.
- To install the narrow four-drawer storage unit I’d recently made to fit in the space beside the writing desk bureau in alcove, and
- Replace some of the old shelving with pine wood recycled from a pine table that had recently become redundant.
The old three-drawer built-in cupboard was relocated into the alcove before I laid the laminate floor. So by removing it, to make way for the writing desk bureau, I also had to buy a pack of laminate flooring (of the same thickness) to make good the floor; and in the process of doing that some of the skirting board around the alcove became damaged, and thus needed replacing.
The detailed step-by-step guide to this part of the office makeover project will be covered in a separate article. Below are images giving an overview of some the steps in this process of modifying the alcove.
Replacing Old Veneered Chipboard Shelving with Wood Recycled from Pine Table
Repairing the Laminated Flooring After Removing Old Fixed Furniture
Making Good the Skirting Board
Replacing Desktop Corner Unit with Wall Mounted Unit
To maximise storage in a small office I previously made a desktop corner unit from pine floorboards. The design worked well for the room except:-
- The side panels restricted access on the desk.
- The filing trays were a tight fit under the bottom shelf.
- The back shelving was a little too wide, making it a little bit cramped behind the monitor.
- As common with old British homes, the walls are not straight, square or level, so the unit did not fit flush against the wall.
Therefore I decided to redesign and rebuild the unit to meet the following criteria:-
- Make the unit wall mounted; to give freer desk access.
- Make the back shelving a little less wide; so as to not encroach in the monitor so much.
- Make the unit fit the space, rather than being square.
- Make the bottom shelf slightly higher to give the filling trays a better fit.
In remaking the corner unit I opted for plywood as the shelving, rather than pine boards, so that I could get the angle of the shelving to fit the angle of the wall. Albeit, I used pine for the side panels and middle supports.
Using plywood also allowed me to be more creative with the design; allowing me to add a curved inner corner, rather than the usual straight edges.
A detailed step-by-step guide will be given in a separate article, but below are the before and after photos, and some of the images giving an overview of the main stages in its construction and fitting.
Replacing Desk Mounted Corner Unit with New Bespoke Made Wall Mounted Unit
Rationalising Under Desk Storage
Other than proper desk pedestals, of which we have two (one for me, and one for my wife), or similar e.g. the paper storage cabinet we kept from when we had a photocopier years ago, under desk storage tends to be less accessible.
When we did our last office makeover I took the wheels off of a redundant metal teas maid trolley so that it fitted under the desk. I then shoved it in the corner under the main desk to put the bass speaker on, and to use it as a dumping ground for stuff that we don’t often use.
Also, at that time we bought a cheap Ikea computer desk as a prop for a video our son was making as part of his university degree in ‘Media Broadcasting’. Once he’d made his video the computer desk was redundant, so I placed it next to the photocopier table as support for a piece of scrap kitchen worktop which I recycled to make a side desktop in the office. The office waste bins sat under the desk, and the shelf became a further dumping ground.
As part of this makeover I wanted to rationalise the storage space under both the main and side desktops; to make better use of it, as follows:-
- Remove the teas maid trolley, and relocate it to our conservatory where my wife can make better use of it as a sewing trolley.
- Remove the Ikea computer desk from under the side office table top, and after making modifications relocate it to under the main desk.
- Recycle some of the old shelving from the alcove to make bespoke shelving, to better suits our needs, to fit under the side desk top.
- To fit a drawer under the main desk; the drawer having been salvaged from the redundant pine table used to make the new shelving in the alcove.
The full step-by-step details will be given in a separate article, but below are images giving an overview of the changes I made.
Steps to Modifying Under Desk Storage
Painting & Decorating
Previously, as the office makeover was on a low budget, we just painted the bare walls; which was ok, but this time we wanted to do the job properly, and give a good finish. As part of the office makeover some phases of the tasks described above were done before painting & decorating, and others were done afterwards; as appropriate.
The basics steps to the painting & decorating were as follows:-
- Empty the room as far as possible.
- Take down all the fixtures and fittings, placing nails in any existing screw holes that would be required later; so that once the room was redecorated the holes are not hidden by wallpaper and paint.
- White emulsion the ceiling first e.g. the principle of working from top down.
- Normally you’d need to strip off all the old wallpaper first, and make good the walls. But as we didn’t wallpaper last time, it was one step we didn’t need to take.
- Hang the lining paper and leave for 24 hours before papering.
- Hang the wallpaper, ensuring the pattern matches, and that you don’t hang any of the sheets upside-down; then leave for 24 hours to dry.
- The following day, emulsion paint the wallpaper and leave for 24 hours before refitting all the fixtures and fittings.
- Wash down all surfaces with a damp cloth, and
- Wax all existing woodwork with beeswax polish.
Lining paper helps to give a smooth even surface for wallpapering. They come in different grades of thickness, and with our home being an old British house I like to use thick 1400 grade lining paper as it’s exceptionally good at covering up rough and uneven walls.
However, in using such a heavy lining paper (which is almost like thin cardboard) it pays to check all the corners and edges the following day, and lift and re-stick (with fresh paste) any areas that didn’t stick proper overnight.
Wallpapering Around Electrical Sockets and Light Switches
When hanging lining paper and wallpaper around recessed electrical sockets and switches; to get a neat finish:-
- Turn the mains power off for the appropriate circuits at the fuse box (Consumer Unit).
- Partially unscrew the mains socket or light switch from the wall.
- Nip about half an inch of paper in behind the socket or switch.
- Re-fit the socket/switch to the wall.
- Turn the power back on.
Optionally you could just buy patterned wallpaper, which doesn’t need painting; but we prefer to use paintable embossed wallpaper.
For a proper job you will need to apply two or three coats, leaving a few hours between each coat in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations. Most people prefer using rollers, but I’ve never got on with rollers and so prefer to use brushes. Besides, provided you don’t put it on too thickly, brushes do give you a thicker coating which I think gives a better finish.
On completion of the painting and decorating, all wooden surfaces were polished with beeswax polish, containing no silicone.
Fixtures & Fittings
At the start of the makeover I removed all the fixtures and fittings, which included the mirror, noticeboard, window blind, and picture.
Where I’d be rehanging a fixture in the same place e.g. mirror, noticeboard and blind, I put nails in the screw holes so that I wouldn’t lose the holes during decorating.
After we’d painted & decorated we had the fun of deciding which picture and painting to hang where (making sure we didn’t nail through the wall into any cables when rehanging). Also, we’ve rehung the pictures closer together to create additional hanging space which we can utilise at our leisure.
Recycling vs New
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Arthur Russ
Arthur Russ (author) from England on August 21, 2020:
Thanks for the feedback Doris. Likewise, in the UK, houses that haven’t been rewired in years are still on the old fuses, while new homes and houses that have been rewired in recent decades have fused switches in the Consumer Unit Box.
In the UK the domestic voltage is 230 volts, regardless; the only difference is in the cable thickness e.g. in the UK Ring Main (Sockets) is 2.5mm cable, lighting is 1.5mm, and cookers and showers require 6mm to 10mm cable dependant on the appliance. For reference there’s 25mm in the inch.
In our house (as is typical in British houses) our clothes dryer is on the kitchen’s ring main circuit, the cooker (which I assume the American word is electric range) is on its own separate circuit; and of course we don’t have ACs in the UK, we have gas central heating instead.
I understand, from speaking with other Americans, that in the USA clothes dryers are separate to washing machines and requires an air vent to the outside, and that both are kept in a different room to the kitchen.
In the UK, because homes are much smaller, the dryer is built into the washing machine as a single appliance (to take up less space) and doesn’t require an air vent, and they’re usually installed in the kitchen.
How Combo Washer/Dryers Work (in common use across Europe & Asia): https://youtu.be/iqchVamthh4
The current Consumer Unit in our house (which we had installed a couple of years ago) has 10 fused switches (protected by 2 RCD’s) as follows:-
On 1st RCD:-
• Lighting circuit on Ground Floor = 6 AMP fused switch.
• Power to the Conservatory on a Radial Circuit = 16 AMP fused switch.
• Ring Main (sockets) on 1st Floor = 32 AMP fused switch.
• Cooker (electric range) = 32 AMP fused switch.
On 2nd RCD:-
• Lighting circuit on 1st Floor = 6 AMP fused switch.
• Power in the loft on a Radial Circuit = 16 AMP fused switch.
• Ring Main (sockets) in the kitchen = 32 AMP fused switch.
• Ring Main (sockets) on 1st Floor = 32 AMP fused switch.