The Champagne Life on a DIY Budget Since 2007

Out of the Cloffice: My DIY Closet Office Revisited

closet office small space solution cloffice original

This week, I kind of died and went to DIY heaven. A girl couldn’t ask for a more fabulous way to revive her “blogazine” after months on the back burner than with the press Shoestring received this week from two of my all-time favorite sites: Apartment Therapy and Lifehacker. (For those of you who just recently found us through Apartment Therapy or Lifehacker: Welcome!)

See what they each had to say about my closet office (aka “cloffice) project, which we featured in Shoestring’s launch issue back in 2008, by clicking on the links above, and be sure to check out all the never-before-published Before & After photos on Shoestring’s Facebook page.

Sadly, I no longer live in that North End apartment, but the wicked spotlight they’ve shown on that dreamy DIY project has made me wonder why I haven’t done more lately, and has lit a fire under my ass to dust off my list of “someday” DIY projects and finally finish styling my current digs.

In the meantime, here are some answers to your biggest questions & concerns about the original cloffice project:

– Renting vs Owning
A bunch of Lifehacker readers in particular weighed in with concerns about the legality of my project in a rented apartment, wondering whether or not my landlord would be pissed off that I painted a wall, let alone converted a closet into a home office. You’ll be happy to hear that not only did I have fabulously open communication with my landlord (who lived next door), my lease was flexible enough to enable me to do any minor home renovations (including painting) that added value to the unit (with approval), and I was also easily able to paint over the “cloffice” wall when the girl who moved in after me said she preferred to use the closet for her clothes, which only took me about 3 hours and $20 worth of paint and primer. To each their own, easy fix! If you do rent, however; review your lease and/or check with your landlord first.

– Cramped Quarters
The majority of the concerns Apartment Therapy readers had were about my closet office space looked too tight — in particular that I should have removed the door and replaced it with a curtain, or that I should have had a chair with a back rather than the storage ottoman. If any of you have ever lived in less than 500 square feet for any length of time (in my case, five years!), you know that you get used to doing more in less, and that includes room to spread out. I never had any issues bumping my elbows against the doors of the closet, though I am only 5’4″. Someone less petite (read: my 6’2 husband) definitely would have (and did have) issues being comfortable in that space. I purposely left the doors on so that I could “leave work at the office” and not be distracted by it — if I can see it, I’m thinking about it and feeling guilty about not doing it — and I purposely wanted a backless chair for health reasons, so that I would work on my posture (my other office chair was an exercise ball) and alleviate back pain. Again, to each their own, and these were tradeoffs that, for me, had more pros than cons!

– High-Maintenance Magnetic Primers
Many readers commented about how much of a PITA it is to use magnetic primer, and I definitely commented at length about this after my original DIY story back in 2008 (found here). I’d read hundreds of reviews about the product before using it, and picked the Rust-Oleum Magnetic Primer chalkboard paint thanks to other DIY-ers tips. I applied 10 coats of primer before painting, thoroughly stirring the primer before each coat to make sure all the metal particles were properly distributed throughout the latex primer (they sink to the bottom quickly), and did use super-strong Rare Earth Magnets glued to the backs of painted clothespins to hold up papers and postcards. As a few Lifehacker readers pointed out, you could opt for a cheaper & more eco-friendly option of using a metal plate covered in chalkboard paint and also save yourself some time and hassle, although I was afraid the cheap drywall in my apartment closet wouldn’t support the weight (or would create huge holes that would negate my security deposit).

– Lighting
Yes, lighting was an issue. Because running an extension cord into the closet proved nearly impossible, I had hoped to put a solar-powered battery-operated table lamp on the little console table, but it proved to take up too much room without providing much light. In the end, I opted for about a dozen LED battery-operated tap lights lining the walls and ceiling inside the closet, which were sufficient for late nights in production, but also thanks to those two huge, almost floor-to-ceiling windows just feet away from the closet in our little living room, the lights ended up being almost uneccessary during the day. I also worked by candlelight a few times which was very romantic in an “I feel like a contemporary of Shakespeare” kind of geeky, writerly way. If I were to do it all over again, I definitely would have focused more on the lighting options.

One-drawer Console Table

– Desk Resources
The biggest investment, other than time, in doing a project like this is in finding the right desk, and I spent months looking for just the right option. Many other closet offices I’ve seen published over the years have used IKEA shelving affixed to the wall, but I found that console tables or occasional tables (generally designed for tight hallways or foyers) with a single drawer are the golden ticket for a closet office desk. The key is to make sure that the legs come off so that you can assemble it inside the closet, otherwise you’ll have a hell of a time trying to maneuver it in without scraping the closet frame (or worse). Places like Overstock, Target, and Goodwill are fabulous resources – just make sure to always have the width, depth & height dimensions of your closet interior handy! I carried mine around in my wallet for weeks before finding the perfect console table at Christmas Tree Shops.

Last, but certainly not least, huge thanks again to my dear friends photographer Casey McNamara and interior stylist Kara Butterfield for all their help and support over the years, in particular for helping me to finally bring my “cloffice” vision to life so beautifully. Look out for more collaborations & DIY features from us, coming soon!

Story & photos: Copyright 2008-2012, Shoestring LLC & Casey McNamara.