Not long ago, my wife Vanessa and I had two different “offices” that were separated from one another by only few feet. One was the dining room table and the other was a glider that we bought in anticipation of the birth of our (now 4 year old) baby girl. As comfortable as the glider is (it’s the amazingly stylish and well built Luca Glider and ottoman from Monte Design), it doesn’t make for much of an office! We have a little one running around, and both my wife and I work from home (she runs her Professional Organizer business ‘Get Simplifized’ and I do consulting). Together, we got pretty tired of our temporary offices and the clutter that inevitably takes over. We decided that an actual office was not only necessary to keep the peace, but also to keep our sanity So, we built our own! As you can see, it turned out really well. Well, here’s the story on how we ended up with our dream office…our “World Shedquarters!”
We don’t buy into the whole McMansion lifestyle. Our home is an ample 1800 square feet, 3 bedroom, 2 bath home. Since we have two kids converting a “spare room” into an office just wasn’t in the cards. We’re also planning on being in this home for a just a few more years before we move to some land in the Texas Hill Country, so building an addition was out of the question. I had to think outside the box. Outside the house, actually. I decided to build our “World Shedquarters” in an unused corner of the back yard. OK, “unused corner” is a bit misleading…our entire back yard was essentially “unused.” But I picked the corner of the yard that would be the least obtrusive to our view from the living room and would hopefully allow us to start using the back yard a bit more.
I looked around the net and saw a few designs that inspired me but none captured completely what I wanted. So, I designed my own. I started with a list of what the goals were for our shedquarters.
- It needed to be large enough to have two separate work spaces (for me and my wife)
- I wanted it large enough to host 3-4 clients comfortably
- I wanted it “tech infused,” meaning that I could have all my gear there, have it integrated, and attempt to
have it visibly as “coord-free” as possible
- It needed to be comfortable in the hot San Antonio summer and cool winter
- I wanted it as aesthetically pleasing inside and out as I could make it
- Be able to take most of the “expensive” items with us when we move
- If I had the choice I would choose sustainable options over non-sustainable
Once I knew what my goals were I set out to figure out how to make it all happen. First call was to the city to check applicable codes. Luckily, I found out that as far as structure was concerned, if it was under 200 square feet the city’s only concern was that it be 5 feet from all property lines. Unfortunately, we had to take 2 trees down so I called Matt from http://land-n-lawns.com. As usual, Matt and his crew did a fantastic job and I had them back to do some landscaping later…
I knew I didn’t want the expense of pouring a concrete slab and decided to use the Dek-Block system. I found plans and materials lists at their site. That made things a lot easier. The Dek-Block system was great to use and has proven to be very sturdy.
Did I mention that I built this during the hottest summer in recorded history for San Antonio???
A lot of design went into the shed structure itself, but the structure design was born from the functionality we wanted the inside of the shed to have. It’s the inside “stuff” that makes it a productive office.
So here is a little info on what’s inside the office:
SAYL Chair by Herman Miller: We absolutely LOVE our SAYL chairs. These were a splurge for us but it really makes sense that if you’re going to spend a lot of time sitting you really need to invest in a good chair. We’ve always loved Herman Miller products and took to the modern aesthetic of the new SAYL as soon as we saw it. On a trip to Portland for Chris Guillebeau’s World Domination Summit we popped into a Herman Miller distributor, plopped down into the SAYL, and were instantly sold! Don’t cheat yourself, your back, or your productivity…if you spend a lot of time sitting for work you should really consider investing in a good chair! We opted for the chrome base, adjustable arms, and adjustable lumbar support. We also ordered the chairs with the hard-surface casters, as we knew our floors would be bamboo. When deciding on the right chairs, we took a long time considering whether the cost of the chairs was really worth it. Never again…these chairs are amazing! Plus, they’re 93% recyclable (I dread the day I have to haul these beauties to the recycle bin!)
Standing desk: Yes, as comfortable as the SAYL chairs are, I do like to use a standing desk part of the time. My standing desk consists of a $10 black “pleather” ottoman we bought from Target years back. I put felt pads on the bottom so it doesn’t scratch the desk and simply set in on the desk top. Instant standing desk! I use my Apple wireless keyboard and Trackpad and mirror my iMac desktop to my 42″ Visio TV and I have a whole new workstation. It rocks! More on the Visio below…
Visio TV with Internet Apps: I didn’t run cable for internet or television to the Shedquarters. Our wifi signal from the house’s Apple Airport Extreme/Time Capsule is plenty strong enough to give us good signal in the office. So, I went “old school meets new school.” I put a TV antenna on the roof and dialed in more stations than I really need and I stream Netflix, Hulu, TwiT, etc, via wifi. If there is a cable TV specific show (such as news, a documentary…) that I want to watch I simply use my iPad and the free Time Warner Cable app. So, I have all my viewing bases covered.
Ikea: Upper Cabinets- We don’t have a lot of “stuff” to store so the upper cabinets are really all we need. Ikea stuff looks good, is inexpensive, and easy to assemble (well these cabinets were anyway).
Filing Cabinet- We don’t have many paper files as we’re essentially digital, but we do use the filing cabinet for printer paper, cleaning supplies, odds and ends.
Whiteboard: OK, we like to use a whiteboard for brainstorming, making lists, fleshing out ideas, etc, But whiteboards always seem to leave “ghosting” eventually. I researched alternatives such as Idea Paint, and glass whiteboards. Candidly, I just wasn’t convinced with Idea Paint (although admittedly I never used it) and it seemed pricier than I wanted to go. Glass whiteboards were just outrageously priced! So, I started my gears turning and I began to explore. I settled on the Vika Glasholm tabletop from Ikea for under $80. I just made a couple of oak cleats and hung it horizontally, with the frosted side facing the wall. This works absolutely flawlessly!
Other items we got from Ikea include Vanessa’s shelf, my desk light, our trash cans and recycle bins.
From Amazon: All cords (HDMI, Apple dongles for HDMI, Mini Display Port to HDMI cables), VGA cables, audio cables, grommets, powered outlet grommets, USB grommets, 5.1 surround speakers, Audio/Video Receiver, speaker wire, speaker connection plates, A/V and audio plates, speaker connection hardware, outdoor speakers, ceramic heater, and finally, the security keypad deadbolt and door handle. Electronic cords and accessories were so much cheaper and easier to get from Amazon than from Radio Shack (which charged nearly double for some items), Lowe’s, or Best Buy. As an Amazon Prime member the 2-day shipping was free too. I don’t know how much I really saved in the end by using Amazon.com but it was a LOT!
From Lowes: I bought nearly all the construction materials from Lowe’s, including all lumber, ceiling lighting, fan, siding, low-e doors/screen, plexiglass for clerestory windows, Energy Star window unit air conditioner, HardiPlank siding, insulation, roofing, paint, and the floating bamboo floor.
The only things I bought from Home Depot were the “attic” vents. Seems insignificant but Lowe’s didn’t have the style I wanted. The roof needs airflow to prevent buildup of moisture so I checked to make sure I had proper venting designed in and the little vents I used were perfect for the job.
The “System”: During construction I ran speaker wires for outside speakers and 5.1 surround sound inside the office. I run my audio through a Sony A/V receiver so I can switch between audio from any of the computers, over the air TV, and Internet TV very easily. As I mentioned above, we also use the Visio as a monitor and have connections to my iMac, my Macbook, and Vanessa’s Macbook. We have a “community” hook-up too for clients to tap in to, as well. Clients/guests use a guest wifi network through my Airport Extreme. Using the Visio has really upped the dynamic and functionality when working with clients. They can see what I’m doing (or, if they’re hooked up I can see what they are doing) and easily follow along. This system has worked really well and has really paid off when working with clients and partners. The one thing I’m considering adding is Apple TV…only because I’d really like to be able to use AirPlay Mirroring from my iPhone and iPad as I do in the house. Other than that, the system rocks!
The office took a couple of months to build as I could only work on it nights and weekends. I did hire a master electrician to do all the rough in and a drywall guy. While I can do basic electrical, and certainly drywall, I’m smart enough to call a pro for those. I got some painting help from my wife and ex-wife (we’re all friends…but that’s another post), and some help hanging the doors from my friend Steve, but I did the rest of the job by myself. I wish I had more help with the roof and some of the framing, but otherwise it wasn’t too difficult a job.
It’s hard to express how truly happy we are with the results. The office is a great place to work and lets us separate “work” from “home,” yet is only steps away from our back door. Plus, everyone who sees it loves it. We’ve even had a few tell us they were jealous! It feels great to know we did it ourselves, and for the most part, on the cheap.
So I guess I’ll wrap this up by saying if you’re stuck in a rut with your work station or office, there are options. If you have any questions or comments I’d love to hear them. I’ve always been kind of a DIY guy…but I really learned a lot on this project. I did a lot of foolish things, like standing on the top rung of ladders, holding a sheet of plywood up over my head while clutching a framing nail gun between my knees…but by the Grace of the Big Jumpmaster in the Sky I didn’t make the Darwin Awards this year. I lost very little blood, broke no bones, and still have my eyesight. That said, if you have any questions or comments on the project feel free to leave a comment below.