ATTENTION: The first few shots are “Before” images !
In the beginning…
No, I don’t mean Microsoft Office, I mean the third home office I’ve built from scratch. The first office was built in the basement room with no modifications made to the room at all. I can’t really say that it was an actual “build” since it was just my moving equipment into an existing room. The setup consisted of two workstations and a couple of servers. I’m almost embarrassed to publish pictures on it but my original intention was to get stuff in the room quickly after moving in then commencing on an actual rebuild. Well, we all know how those things go. The cool thing about the setup was that it was my first multi-monitor setup.
My bookshelf was completely overcrowded since at one time I thought it advantageous to keep ever single book I every bought – boy have things changed.
I don’t even remember the specs on the equipment I had at the time so I won’t bore you with those details. I will say (as the pictures show) that this was pre-widescreen monitor days and even prior to having the ability to throw multiple video cards in a rig to achieve multi-monitor capability. In this setup, I used a Matrox card that was specifically designed to handle three monitors. The downside was that this was the only thing the card can do really well. It was not meant for high-end graphics or even gaming. This is why I initially set up two rigs. The one on the left drive a 21” Samsung monitor which was at the time, the first large LCD that die-hard gamers approved over CRTs.
This room had an open closet in it which is where I placed my two servers. These rigs were hand-me-downs from older workstations. In this closet I placed my hub and my cable modem. The rest of the stuff in there is… well, let’s just say it’s a damn mess. I used a KVM switch so I can control both servers with a single monitor, keyboard, and mouse which I mounted on a wall bracket.
In order for you to get a good image of this “before” scenario, let me describe the room. It’s about 15 x 13 feet but not totally square. Two of the walls offset out about a foot. The carpet was fugly, but at least in good condition. The room has a drop ceiling which later proved to be a great asset. Also, the bookshelves were built into the wall and all the walls were standard off-white.
Accelerate to Office 2.0
The second office was basically a complete overhaul of the equipment in the office, but still in the same room with the same configuration. In fact, this coincided with the building of Superrig, which I fully documented in my old blog.
This was a water-cooled rig which drive three, and later four monitors. I also rebuild the second workstation and the servers and added a second monitor to the second workstation. Under this same configuration, I later replaced all the Samsung 21” monitors with Dell 24” wide-screens. The mess in the server closet still existed, it just moved to higher shelves. The office looked like it was cleaning up a bit, but then something started to happen in our household.
Why I hate cats
I’ve never been a cat person, and now I down-right hate the damn things. If they were edible, I would have chowed this one down years ago. My cat decided, without any formal announcement to the family, that she no longer liked to pee in her litter box. Now gentle reader, would you like to take a wild guess as to where she started to use the bathroom? See the nice shade of light gray that my carpet has? The corner when you first came into the office was no longer that shade. It was several shades darker !!! I’ll save you from having to see that picture. And color alone doesn’t do it. There’s a plethora of new fragrances that I enjoyed while I worked every day. Needless to say it eventually got to the point where I couldn’t stand it. Why did I wait so long you ask? Well, it really wasn’t too long, only about a couple of months; during which time I sprayed and cleaned and did my best to get the carpet back to normal, but no joy. I tried cleaners on the carpet, I tried cleaners on the cat. I cut the piece of carpet out and came very close to doing to the same to the cat. That’s it, it was finally time to do what I should have done to that room when I first moved in – start over !
Third time’s a charm
Luckily, I had just cleaned out and reorganized the garage so I had a place to move all the furniture and equipment (my wife and I have an understanding, the garage and basement are mine and the rest of the house is hers). I have a killer laptop so I was prepared for that to be my only means of working for a while. I moved all the equipment and furniture into the garage and unloaded the bookshelf as well. I tore up the carpet and to my enjoyment I found that there was a layer of plywood underneath. Why enjoyment you ask? Because whoever laid it down, did so before putting the drywall up. And when they did put up the walls, they made sure they came down all the way to the edge of the plywood, which now was about an inch underneath all the sheetrock. I had to take up all the plywood of course. I can hear you now. Why not just leave it so I can lay the next floor right on top of it. I might have be able to do that except for the fact that cat piss is as potent as hydrochloric acid and it when it decides to start eating its way through something, we can have another China Syndrome on our hands. Yes folks, that’s right, the cat corner was wet down to the plywood. Oh, and by the way, I found two other corners that the cat claimed as hers. I’m sure there are some of you who are now asking if I did anything to try to teach this animal a lesson. Now, that would probably be illegal wouldn’t it? Let’s just say that the cat bullets out of whatever room I come into now, so it seems we have an understanding. Think of it as two magnets with same poles coming together. As you move one, the other just moves aside and never touches. She’s really quite an amazing animal. She can go like five days without eating.
The task of tearing up the plywood was difficult to say the least, but after several hours, a possible hernia, and a slew of Cuban curses that would make my father proud, the floor was nothing but concrete. That is with a bunch of plywood nails in it; a fact that a found out the hard way by barefooting in one day.
I also cleaned up the walls after removing the monitor arms. I had to spackle many holes and imperfections to get things smooth. I now had the server closet staring at me in the face and this was a fight I was gonna win. I wanted to open up the room by removing the closet and I did just that. After tearing the sheetrock off the close walls, I cut up and demolished the beams that made up the closet’s frame. In doing so, I tore some pretty big holes into the wall which of course I now had to patch. Fixing sheetrock is not a big deal once you learn how to do it. Luckily, I’ve had a lot of home improvement experience over the years so this was a task not new to me. One piece of the wall was so torn up, I had to cut it out more so that I can replace it with a whole new piece of drywall (shown). The rest of holes nicely accepted wall patches over them.
Let me tell you something about the hole in the wall you see in the picture to the left. In order to patch a large hole in a wall, you need to cut it larger until it meets the edge of the beams, at least on one side. I did that fine. The other side can suffice with a makeshift beam with a piece of 2x4 that sits behind the wall and in the center of the seam. Sheetrock comes in sheets measuring 4 x 8 feet. They also have pieces at Home Depot that measure 24” x 24”. This hole was about 18” high and needed to be cut to a larger width so, which I did. I cut it to 25” accidentally. So much for purchasing a small piece of sheetrock which would fit nicely in the trunk of my car. I had to buy a whole 4’x8’ sheet and cut it down into thirds at Home Depot before trying to get it into my car.
The bookshelves that were recessed into the wall on one side went down in a T-pattern all the way to the floor and I never liked it. I didn’t really need all that extra space so I decided to removed those shelves and cover the whole up with sheetrock (shown).
Of course, you don’t build a new office and not pre-wire it up for everything you need. I decided on a location for patch panel and started running Cat-6 wiring all around the office. In fact, there are 17 drops in this room alone. There’s an 18th drop into the patch panel that goes up the drop-ceiling and into a wall plate in my living room. It worked out great that my entertainment center in the living room was against a wall that came down right into the ceiling area of my office. I ran one cable up there and put another Linksys access point with a built-in four port hub. My TiVo, BD-Live blu-ray player, and Logitech Squeezebox are connected to that hub.
The wiring took some time as I cut wall plate holes into locations all around the office and snaked wiring from the drop-ceiling area, which now was free of all tiles, down the walls in all the places where I wanted LAN lines. Shown in one of those pictures is the wall where the closet used to be. All those little holes are where the wire shelf brackets used to be screwed into. Of course, I had to spackle all that to smooth it out.
We need more power captain
One of the problems I used to have is blowing the office circuit breaker every time I used the laser printer. Unless of course, I powered down the second workstation first. This was no way to live, and hell I was already doing it all myself anyway, why not the electrical work too. Nothing a couple of extra episodes of “Holmes on Homes” couldn’t solve. My office is right next to the garage, and in fact shares a wall with it so I went to take apart the circuit panel and see what I had to deal with. Believe it or not, this task was not difficult. I was able to run electrical wire (romex) from the panel, up into the wall and out the same wall but at the top where it meets the garage ceiling. Then I just ran the wire along the ceiling, promising myself that I would one day place a wire track there to hide it. I ran it to the back of the garage where I made a whole in the top of the wall which came out in the office but inside the drop-ceiling – beautiful. I ran it down the wall to a new outlet, then back up again and over to another wall where I ran it down into a second new outlet. I made sure this was 12 gauge romex so I can handle up to 20amps on it. I found the exact breakers I needed at Home Depot and wired them and clipped then in. I did this not only with a 12 gauge cable for up to 20amps of power, but also with a 14 gauge cable connected to a new 15amp breaker and going into the office as well. This one was for what was going to be a new strip of track lighting and I wanted a dedicated circuit. Even though I was doing all the work myself, I do read up on the codes and follow them folks, this is my home we’re talking about. The lighting of course, required me to run a line down to a new wall switch but that was a no-brainer.
Things are shaping up
This was a lot of work for one person, but let me tell you something: If you’ve ever done any home improvement by yourself, there’s a point you reach, a runner’s high if you will, where a room starts to take shape and you find yourself really psyched about the project. The LAN lines were all crimped onto CAT 6 outlets and the new power outlets were in place. Oh, and by the way, at this point we had just switched our Verizon home phone service to Cablevision, which also runs my internet line. We also left DirecTV and went with Cablevision on TV as well. So I readied the office for the phone lines and made sure they were able to access the cable model with all in-wall wiring as well. I even have a TV cable outlet down here in the office. My second workstation (the one on the left) was always used for entertainment as well, both gaming and movies. This rig needed to have a killer sound system and the old one while OK just wouldn’t do. I picked up the Logitech Z-5500 5.1 system with a sub so big it doubles as an ottoman. This installation needed to be clean so rather than have speaker wires connect to the back of the sub and go to each satellite, I ran speaker wire in the walls for the fronts, center, and surround speakers. The wires terminated down next to the LAN drops for that rig (shown – the picture is farther along than the story - sorry). Now I only had to connect the sub to the RCA plugs that were to go on that outlet. I found a place called DataPro that creates custom wall plates with literally anything you need on them. They even have a great on-line wizard so you can design the plates yourself.
Everything was spackled, sanded, and primed; and now it was ready to be painted.
I’ve never claimed to be an interior designer nor even to have any skills that lean toward that trade. I proved this in my color selection, but I gotta say, it turned out very nice. I wanted the place to look lively and not necessarily coordinated. I succeeded so my heterosexuality suffered not an inkling. The room has five, yes you heard right, five colors in it but looks awesome. Yes, that is a shade of pink on the wall there and purple up where the skylights are; it’s the only places where those colors are used so it actually makes you do a double take when you come into the room.
The first wall you see when you come down the stairs received a grayish-green color and looks great too. It’s this wall where all the LAN drops come into and where I placed a wall rack that holds a CAT 6 patch panel as well as an awesome HP Powercurve Gigabit hub. Why awesome you ask? Because it’s totally fan-less and has pretty lights on it. I also put a small shelf on that wall where I have the cable model, wireless access point, and a Microsoft Disco Light of course. The phone and fax lines in the room, as does the Internet line drop down into this area so the jump to the cable model is only a few inches.
It might all have been for nothing
The office was looking great but the floor was still concrete. And by the way, I had the concrete professionally cleaned to get all the stain and smell out from my friggin feeline!
I didn’t want carpet again but I didn’t want the headache of installing a hardwood floor. I decided to go with floor planks by Dupont with a dark cherry tone. This was gonna be an easier installation… or was it? I’m a computer guy, so I don’t read instructions for anything, including how to lay this flooring down. And I’ve done this before, but it’s been a while. Well, you’re supposed to start in a specific corner, and if you don’t, getting the planks to click in place and stay in place is nearly impossible. No, let me correct that, it is friggin impossible.
I can’t tell you how close I came to kicking in the walls and taking a sledge hammer to the room. That’s how frustrated I was getting with this floor until my beloved wife came down to try to make me feel better. No, I don’t mean that! Get your minds out of the gutter! My wife Elena picked up the instructions which clearly (in a larger font size in fact) said to start in the left corner and work yourself right. You can guess I had stared on the right corner and was attempting to work myself left. It took us about 3 hours to lay the whole floor down and it came out great – thanks honey!. All I had left to do now was to buy the baseboard molding (and the wall molding for the recessed shelves), cut them, paint them, and install them. All these steps were actually quite easy, all but the first one. Well let me clarify that. Buying the molding was easy. In fact, I made it a point to measure out everything I would need so I pre-cut them at the Home Depot (with a little extra of course). Then you whip out your trusty credit card and the transaction is done, right? Wrong. Now you gotta take all of it home. We’re a two-car family and I didn’t think about the kind of cars we have when I went to Home Depot. I had brought my black Mustang GT Convertible and could not for the life of me figure out a way to get this home. No, taking the top down wasn’t gonna do it, besides it was the dead of winter. Whatever I did, it had to be easier with my wife’s car. I left the stuff at Home Depot and went home to exchange cars. I drove our new Honda Accord to the front of the store and stared at the rather long pieces of molding with the same trouble as I had with my Mustang. I really had no choice. I rolled down all the windows and started putting the long pieces in so that they stuck out of a rear window and the opposite front window. The shorter ones stuck out of only one window. The problem was that the so-called “sticking out” was about 2 and half feet on both sides. I drove home like this, careful not to get close to other cars. The other cars were not so careful (typical Jersey) so it was not without its challenges but I made it. The next day I cut the pieces to exact size, mitered them (that’s the angle cuts for you newbies), and painted them. I own just about every piece of tool equipment out there so I had a good miter saw for all this and I even have an air compressor and finishing nail gun. I was not about to hand hammer them all.
The furniture and equipment come back in
It was finally time to start bringing the desk back in from the garage. This was a task for which I had help to get it into the garage, but there was no one else around now. So what the hell, let me give it a try. I’ll make this part short. I was out of commission for a week. During which week I had two visits to my chiropractor. No gym, no driving, and no home office project.
A week later, Elena came to my rescue once again and helped me get the desk pieces back in where I then proceeded to assemble them. The old book cases wouldn’t do, specially since I pretty much destroyed them trying to get them into the garage so it’s off to Ikea I go to get new stuff. The design I came up with warranted new furniture anyway.
I also started to rebuild the equipment, and wouldn’t you know that this project coincided with the release of Windows 7- hurray! I built the second workstation first but before I did that, I brought it up as-is and had my beautiful new HP Media Smart Windows Home Server back it up fully. I can’t rave about WHS enough so I’ll leave that for another posting. I fully reloaded that rig with Windows 7 and put everything in place. The first workstation was my liquid-cooled one and before this project started, it had sprung a leak. I had already isolated where the leak was and fixed it (replacing the reservoir). I use non-conductive liquid so everything was cool, but I did replace the two 150gig 10K RPM Raptor drives with two 300gig 10K RPM Velociraptor drives. These make up my boot partition and are Raided to mirror each other. I also learned that draining a liquid cooled system is a bit of a pain so I installed a drain valve in that rig (shown).
Earlier, I had put up some shelves on the front and rear walls of the office for decor (that’s what you see in the pictures). You’ll see later what I use one of them for.
I also wanted to keep all the monitors off the desk but I didn’t want any fixed to the walls. Fixing so many monitors on the walls means you have to space them perfectly and since you’re limited to the wall beams, it’s not an easy task. I found some great monitor arms by Ergotron and bought six of them. I also bought a seventh for my laptop. Yes, my laptop is on an arm now. This is really quite cool cause that arm has four extension pieces on it so it can come out quite a bit, allowing me to be on the second workstation and extend the laptop all the way out so I can reach it. Oh, by the way, these damn arms are the absolute best and strongest out there, but you bet your ass you pay for that; they’re about 120 bucks a piece.
As clean as I can get it
A fter rebuilding all the equipment and hooking everything up, my project was nearly complete. A new office merits a new office chair so I picked up a really nice brown leather high-back at Staples for about $300, not too bad. I tried to get all the cables and wires on wire guides under the desk so while not perfect, it’s good enough.
I also built the new Ikea cases on top of which are a new Epson Artisan 810 printer and my Windows Home Server. This is the only server I have, and need. For years, I’ve had dedicated servers for things I never used. The most my servers were used for were file sharing and the WHS totally rocks. I upgraded it to 4 gig of RAM and it runs Virtual Server nicely if I need other server products. The area where this furniture sits is where the closet used to be. Can’t tell can you?!? To the right of one of my stations is a drawer roller with a new Samsung CLP-610N Color Laser. Both printers are networked and since each of my stations uses two LAN lines, now you know why I dropped so many lines. I also bought a new cigar humidor (those of you who know me, expected this one) which is actually a piece of furniture and sits in the corner of the recessed book shelves. The wall shelves in the back of the room had some decor on them, including a glass sword-shaped container of Belarussian Cognac given to me by my father-in-law. The shelve on the front of the room holds an MVP plaque and my Samuel Adams bottle collection. Say what you will, it looks pretty cool.
The primary workstation has four monitors attached to it (the photo shows the top one off – it has been replaced by a Dell 20”) and the secondary workstation has two monitors on it. Both machines are setup for development and are used that way, though the second one gets some great entertainment use with its killer sounds system and all.
Also, note that every machine, including the server has a dedicated UPS system. In fact, the box next to one of the rigs (under the laptop) contains a shelf-top UPS that now sits next to the Linksys and cable modem and protects them and the hub from power loss. Also, I’m proud to say I no longer blow the circuit breaker since there are now more than one driving the room.
There are many things I would like to improve for a future office, but this one is done. It’s even got a bar area in the middle of the recessed shelving. All my other ideas would require a different room layout, meaning a different room, meaning a different house.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering what happened to the cat: she seems to have gone back to normal (kitty litter that is). In any case, my office has a gate on it (it’s a sub-standard-sized door way) so she can’t come into it. But believe me, I got my eye on her, or my foot…
Until next time.