Friday, July 28, 2017

Summer Project -- My Hobby Room!

The HVAC crew removed the old
radiator from my soon-to-be hobby
 room as my handyman began
constructing base cabinets
I've learned over the years that when a contractor says: "this project will be completed in one week", the majority of the time such will not be the case. Indeed, the new hobby/guest room in my circa 1862 farmhouse in Baltimore County, Maryland, certainly was not completed in seven days. Instead, completion occurred on Monday of this week, 37 workdays after start of construction June 1.

Derek begins construction of the attic
recess into which my daybed will sit 
Now, I must admit that most of the delays were not the fault of the handyman I hired to do the job. Had he been able to work in utter peace without distraction from any other influence, he might, and it is a tentative "might", have been able to finish the job in two weeks. But like the novice general contractor that I am, I arranged for three major construction projects to take place at my home simultaneously this summer, all in the name of lessening the trauma of a lengthy disruption to our routine for me and my three kitties. "Get it all over in one fell swoop!" was my thinking.  After all, isn't that what major building contractors do?  They have electricians working alongside sheetrock hangers and finish carpenters all at the same time. Couldn't they all work together in harmony under (and on) my roof?  Uhm, no.

Derek's son, Jordan, 12, helped his dad
much of the time.
As my handyman, Derek Hahn of Hahn Home Improvements LLC, began construction pursuant to my carefully drawn sketches of how I imagined each wall in my new hobby room would look, the heating, air conditioning and ventilation (HVAC) company I had hired to replace all my old radiators with new, state-of-the-art ductless mini-split units throughout the ground floor, decided they would bore a hole (a big hole) in the ceiling of said hobby room, which would be their central access point for installation of my upstairs units.  At the same time, I hired an electrician to run wiring from a single outlet in the hobby room to the other three walls, and include a CAT-5 cable for hardwired internet access.

And then it was done! The "A-wall"
features shelving above with drawers
and cabinets below
"I'm very familiar with historic homes" the electrician said. "I will fish the wires through your antique joists so nothing will be damaged", he said.  So when I heard the sawsall buzzing away upstairs as I worked at my computer in my home office below, I naturally assumed it was Derek hard at work on my new hobby room. Or perhaps the HVAC crew enlarging the hole in the ceiling to make more room for the new heating and air conditioning system in the attic.  Uhm, no.

When I ventured upstairs to check on the progress, I was horrified to discover that the electrician had sawed and drilled his way through three walls' worth of 160-year-old lath and plaster, joists and framing in order to run the wiring from one side of the room to the other.  "Why didn't you fish the wires as you told me you would?" I practically screamed at him. "Oh, this was much easier" was his reply. Well, yes. Easier, to be sure, but not what had been promised (sigh). At the same time, the HVAC crew was busy heaving two several-hundred-pound units up into my attic, hoisting their 230-pound bodies up and down ladders at a furious pace, cracking delicate lath and plaster with practically every step. It's no wonder poor Derek the handyman didn't get a whole lot accomplished those first few weeks.
The "B-Wall" features a twin bed, the
length of which is recessed into the
attic of my front porch when not in use

Oh, and did I mention that I contracted with a roofing company to replace my entire roof during the same time period? I was hit in the head twice by pieces of nail-filled shingles flying though the air as the roofing crew dismantled the old roof, and so were a couple of the HVAC crew, who threatened, at one point, to pluck the roofers off the roof if they weren't more careful about where they threw their debris (sigh).

And so it went, for 37 days. Installation of the new heating and air conditioning units was completed first, but not without issues that still have not been resolved. The roof was finished second, and despite some unfortunate mishaps, such as the smashing of several of my landscaping plants just ahead of my annual summer potluck party for more than 100 friends and neighbors, and nails and debris strewn into practically every nook and cranny of my yard, the roof caused the least of my anguish over the course of these concomitant projects.
I fit my Singer Featherweight
sewing machine into a narrow
dormer and filled a rack with
spools of colorful thread that
had belonged to my
maternal grandmother

But now, at long last, the handyman has completed my new hobby room. He finished on Monday of this week. So I am here to present to you the fruits of my imagination and his labor. First of all, I wanted storage. So on the wall I designated as "Wall A", I requested a desk with drawers and cabinets below and shelves with pegboard above. "Wall B", which sported a low knee wall above which a frustrating sloped ceiling prevented any practical application, would feature a daybed and wide, deep drawers to hold tools, with my antique sewing machine fitting just so into a small dormer beside it.  "Wall C" would have another desk, more cabinets and drawers below and a cabinet and pegboard above, but this wall would also boast long horizontal dowels to hold rolls of wrapping paper and spools of ribbon.  And finally, "Wall D" would have a workbench-height counter with long flat drawers beneath to hold paper, tissue and wrapping remnants, while shallow cabinets above would store art supplies and paint.

To the right of the sewing machine, my
"C-Wall" boasts another desk and
dowels to hold wrapping paper,
ribbon and cellophane
As I perused the internet for imaginative implementations of daybed ideas in rooms with sloped walls, I came across a wondrous concept. A website in Oregon showed images of a full-sized mattress recessed into attic space behind a knee-wall. I called immediately for the drawings. "Oh, we don't have any drawings" came the response . "We just designed furniture for the room." (sigh). I showed the picture to my handyman. Could we do this?  Derek was game to try, for which I give him immeasurable credit. But when we bored into the knee wall to survey the framing there, it became evident that recessing anything into the attic space would be difficult.  My framing was supporting 12-foot long attic rafters on 16" centers which, in turn supported 900 pounds of roof apiece. Taking out a single horizontal load-bearing board would necessitate the installation of a steel I-beam to support the span -- an I-beam that would have to be special-ordered, and a plan that would have to be certified by an actual architect before construction could begin (sigh).

Because there would only be 15 inches to
spare at the end of my run of desk space,
Derek sawed my door in half and hinged it,
cleverly turning it into a bi-fold.
I resigned myself to plan B, which was to haul my decrepit old twin hide-a-bed back up the stairs and let it serve as a guest bed and couch in my new hobby room. Maybe I would recover it in a jaunty new fabric, I consoled myself.

Then Derek approached me with a novel idea.  The length of a twin bed might be 75 inches, he said, which was way too far a distance to span without an I-beam. But the width of a twin mattress was only 37 inches, and I happened to have forty inches between two of my joists (thanks to the hand-hewn nature of 1862 construction). What if I recessed the twin bed lengthwise into the attic space, so just the end of it stuck out into the room by day, sort of more like a "chair" rather than a daybed? I practically hugged him. It was innovative and imaginative and solved my problem beautifully,  But the attic space into which the twin mattress would be recessed wasn't very deep. The end of the bed would hit the slope of the attic only a few inches into the space.  Not to worry, Derek said. He proceeded to design a platform on which the mattress would rest which was divided into three separate, hinged sections. As the platform containing the mattress recessed back into the attic space on rollers, it would literally bend down into the attic, following the slope of the roof line.  Sheer genius, I thought. And it was!  My uncomfortable old hide-a-bed would keep its position out in my small guest cottage.
Every wall sports undercabinet
LED light strips with outlets
along their length. This chest
of drawers on the "D-Wall"
is flat and wide to
accommodate wrapping paper
and tissue of all sizes

Over the next several weeks the new hobby room came together beautifully, albeit in fits and starts. But now it is finally finished, and I was able to start moving my wrapping paper and art supplies into it this week. An acquaintance crafted for me a beautiful mattress cover for the day bed, with a backrest, bolsters and valances to match from fabric I found on sale at JoAnn Crafts. I found the oversized pencil and ruler wall art at  And now that the room is complete, I can't wait to start crafting in there!
"A woman with organizing skills can run a construction company without ever picking up a hammer and nail." ~Warren Farrell


  1. Wow. Looks wonderful and I truly envy your craft room. We have a 1910 Victorian style farmhouse with a huge wrap-around porch and I love the old nightmare. A house of its age needs something done most of the time so I really appreciate what you went through with your much older home. I always say it's one step forward and one back with every project in an older house.
    Your party looked truly wonderful and how you organized everything for so many people amazes me. I would be a nervous wreck and not do it. If you gave party planning classes and I lived much closer, I'd take one!
    All the best,
    Eileen in Michigan

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Eileen. You are so right about older homes being "lovable nightmares". Mine surely is just that! I really appreciate your words of encouragement!