Chris’ Office: Progress

February 11th, 2013 | Posted by Chris Nicholas in Before | Home Renovation | Office

As a radiology resident, I spend a large amount of my time outside of work studying. We planned from the beginning to convert one of the three bedrooms into an office so I would have my own place to work (the other bedroom was turned into a “getting ready room”). It’s been a long process, but we’re just about finished the construction phase.

Planning “The Look”
Becki and I always start with the final look of a room and work backwards. For this space, I was torn between concepts. Originally, I was set on ultra modern – like lights in the floor spaceship modern. Think bright white, shiny, minimalist. I gradually, however, started to like the idea of having a dark and “manly” (as Becki says) space. More along the lines of dark navy, grays, wood tones, gold – definitely “yacht” inspired. Ultimately, I ended up going with the latter, as the kitchen was white and the basement studio will probably also be too. See the photo below for an early colour scheme. I since have put less emphasis on the creams and browns and went more with grays.


Construction Planning
Once the interior design side of planning was complete, I got to work out the logistics of how to make it all happen.

The stucco ceiling would be the first thing to go. I planned on dropping the center of the ceiling to create an edge recess/alcove around the perimeter of the room. A portion of the ceiling above my desk would partially continue down the wall. The ceiling would definitely be a focal point of the room. Having the ceiling dropped would also allow me to more easily run wires for in-ceiling speakers and use non insulation rated recessed lights.

I decided I would frame up a small wall to create a cubby that would house a natural wood built in floating desk and drawers with matching floating shelves. All the pieces would be stained a rich saddle brown.

The walls and trim were to be painted a dark navy. Initially I wanted to go trimless (I dislike trim and crown molding especially), but due to logistics, it would be easier to just paint the trim the same color as the walls for a similar effect. For flooring, I chose a dark cork. I planned on painting the ceiling medium gray with a high gloss clear coat. This didn’t quite work out so well – more on that later.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, lighting is very important for setting the mood in a space. A single tit light in the middle of the room wasn’t going to cut it. I drafted many different lighting schemes and finally settled on three main lighting circuits. Two separate recessed lights on their own dimmer would be directly above my desk area. The remainder of the room would have matching recessed lighting on their own dimmer. All recessed lights would be square trim, single or double housings. Finally, the alcove around the perimeter of the room would conceal ambient mood lighting.

The new wall next to my desk would contain high and low voltage wiring and wall plates – ethernet, speaker wire with volume control, outlets and light switches. There would be a run of stereo speaker wire from the main entertainment centre that would terminate to a banana plug wall plate. Another adjacent wall plate would proceed to a volume control and then finally on to the in ceiling speakers. This would allow me to toggle between audio feeds from the main home entertainment center or alternatively from a dedicated amp in my office if I were to choose to use one. All lighting would be part of the home’s Insteon network, allowing programmable scenes and remote control of the lighting from our phones.

I first started with the ceiling. Since I was dropping the center and leaving the original ceiling around the perimeter of the room, I scraped the stucco in these areas and smoothed it out with a skim coat of plaster plus a bit of sanding.


To create the dropped ceiling and alcove, I measured everything out and framed up the structure with 2×4′s. At this time, I also framed up the small wall that would house my built in floating desk and shelves.

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Once all the required high and low voltage wiring was complete, I moved on to the drywall. For the ceiling I had 12′ sheets delivered and was able to cover the entire ceiling using just over two sheets with all recessed joints (no butt joints). I purchased a drywall lift last year from Princess Auto; it was 50% off so I jumped on it! I’m glad I did because it’s proven to be a great investment time and time again. Being able to hang 12′ sheets by yourself is huge.


Plastering was really exciting. Just kidding, it actually wasn’t. For your viewing pleasure, I have compressed this step into a four photo montage (cue inspirational music). Note that since I was planning on doing a high gloss finish, I did a final skim coat over the entire ceiling, to give the smoothest surface possible (see: level 5 drywall finish). In the last photos below, it actually looks like the ceiling was primed, but that’s just the final sanded plaster. Note that I actually sanded through three grits of sandpaper to make sure the ceiling was immaculate.


Sanding is the bane of my existence. I look like I work in a coke den.


First Coat of Paint
I chose a nice shade of navy for the walls and gray for the ceiling. Becki took to the walls while I painted the ceiling.


This is where things started to go horribly, horribly wrong. The gray was way too warm and the navy too light and saturated. In search of the perfect navy, I went back to the Paint Shop and purchased five samples that I picked out of our colour deck and painted some test swatches on the wall. In the photo below, you may count seven swatches on the wall – that’s because I created two custom colours by mixing some of the samples 50/50. I ended up going with one of the custom colours; the recipe is printed on top of the can in the photo below.

The Paintshop guy actually said to me, “Benjamin Moore makes over 3000 colours and you couldn’t choose one?!”

“No goddamnit! Now mix my paint! …please.”


Once I nailed down the wall and ceiling colours, it was time to attempt the high gloss finish. I purchased a waterbased high gloss clear coat called “Stays Clear”, as recommended by The Paintshop. I like it because the font on the can has a remarkable resemblance to Star Wars. For the undercoat of color, I used their paint/primer combo product “Ben” in a matte finish.

I read that to get the smoothest finish with high gloss products, a mohair roller should be used. This is supposed to minimize the amount of “orange peel” texture. Unfortunately, even after using said roller, there was still a fine speckled texture. Not nearly as much as what you get with a high nap roller, but it was still noticeable. I coated the ceiling in gloss anyway, thinking it would be alright. Huge mistake. The gloss REALLY made every bump in the texture stand out and it looked like cheap high gloss paint from the 70′s.


The rest was down hill from here. I lightly sanded the gloss to roughen it up a bit, reskimmed the ceiling with plaster to fill in the texture and resanded through all three grits of sand paper. Back to my immaculately smooth ceiling.

This time however, I planned to spray the latex paint through an HVLP gun for an ultra smooth finish. After much trouble shooting (read: trying three different HVLP systems from Princess Auto and finally using a bastard hybrid I made out of various components from two of them), I finally got the latex to spray.

As soon as I applied the new paint job, however, the ceiling bubbled in a few areas where the plaster didn’t adhere to the gloss. Much swearing ensued. I peeled away the pieces and replastered the trouble areas (requiring 3-4 coats plus drying time in between) and resanded (through three grits). Once the ceiling was smooth again, I tried repainting. Again, a couple bubbles, this time in different locations, requiring another round of spot repairs (plaster, plaster, plaster, sand, sand, sand).

I must’ve spot repaired and repainted that ceiling 5 times, with it peeling in a different area every time. I finally gave up on the high gloss, sanded the whole thing back past the gloss and repainted it in a matte gray. Rarely do I admit defeat on these projects (I may have a bit of OCPD…), but I had at that point wasted too much time to risk trying the whole process again.

In retrospect, I think it would have worked if I did the same initial level 5 drywall finish, but sprayed the paint right from the beginning and then sprayed 6 or so coats of gloss. Or if I just used this product. I’m out of energy though, so it isn’t happening. I’ve accepted that the high gloss ceiling was a colossal failure.

Since I had my HVLP gun setup to spray latex already I figured it would be quickest just to use that for the walls. I used painters plastic sheets to wrap around the dropped ceiling to protect it and I sprayed the walls with my custom navy, in a matte finish.

I should mention that I ran low voltage wires to where my floating shelves were going to be mounted for under shelf lighting. Except I realized that my computer monitor wouldn’t fit under the lower shelf so I ended up having to refish the wires to a different location and patch, replaster and repaint the wall. I’m pretty sure I ended up doing more plastering and painting on this one room than the rest of the house combined.

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Built In
The shelves were made from 1×3″ pine and 1/4″ birch plywood. They are comprised of two parts: a stud mounted wall bracket and a plywood covering that slides over the wall bracket to simulate a solid block of wood. The desk and drawer supports were made from a floating a 2×4″ frame and the desk surface itself from 3/4″ birch plywood. I had stained and clear coated all the wood I was planning on using for the desk and shelves beforehand.


Unfortunately, after dry fitting the shelves and desk in place, I realized I really didn’t think the brown stain worked all that well. Damn it. I sanded all the pieces, primed them and painted them with a pearl white cabinet paint. I had glass cut for the desk top and shelf surfaces by the boys down at Newfoundland Glass and Service.


After planning out my circuits (drawn on the floor, see below) I measured out exact LED strip lengths, soldered all connections and bench tested the whole system before installation. I recommend bench testing any time you can because LED lighting is insanely cumbersome to trouble shoot once it’s installed. A bit of extra effort up front will save you time in the long run.


The next step was to install the recessed lighting which turned out to be a fairly simple task when one considers the endless mishaps this project has experienced thus far. Installing the lights is always my favorite part of projects because it’s one step that totally transforms the mood and look of the space.

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The flooring I chose was a deep burgundy floating cork. I spread out installation over three sessions so it wasn’t too overwhelming. I extended the flooring up the back wall underneath my desk alcove to add a cool little extra detail. Even though I factored in an extra 10% on top of the square footage of the room, I ended up using every piece of flooring down to the last board. Once the floor was down, Becki’s dad gave me a hand trimming everything out. The trim, as previously planned, was painted the same matte navy as the walls.



Stay tuned for a final before and after once the room is fully furnished!


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