After my first year of college sharing an eight-foot-wide dormitory room with three roommates, five of us rented a house with substantially more space and an unfinished basement. The empty basement became my longest and most involved personal project, and was an exercise in home automation several years before the Alexa.
The basement became a two-year project that gave me some great hands-on experience with power tools and wood construction. More than anything, I had a lot of fun - not many people get an opportunity to literally build their own room from scratch. Here's the story of how it became what it is.
The basement, a 20' x 20' cement space with a brick pillar and furnace in the center, was first made livable by adding carpeting and rudimentary furniture. The walls were bedsheets stretched around a wooden frame, and the closet was a plastic garage storage unit. This was easily accomplished with a couple hundred dollars and a rented minivan. There wasn't any lighting in the basement besides a single dangling light bulb, so all lights were installed myself and eventually became a basic home automation system. You can see the first version of the room in the video below.
When the closet broke
I bought a cheap closet and the shelves quickly broke under the weight of what I was storing. I took the opportunity to customize a closet and bought some ClosetMaid shelving units for $15 - $30 each and some wood laminate planks and screws to put it all together.
The hardwood laminate boards were a great material and easy to work with. Within a day, I had constructed a new closet, complete with a metal rod for hanging shirts on.
In a second trip to Lowes, I got some power tools and the materials to make wooden work tables. I don't have many pictures of the early workshop, but it looked something like the one below.
I'd go on to spend many hours in the workshop building things. It gave me the ability to pursue interesting projects like the touch screen table.
Framing the first wall
My next project was to replace the hastily assembled fabric walls with a real wall. I watched some Youtube videos on framing walls, and picked up some laminate panels to attach to the outside of the frame (drywall was too intimidating at the time).
I first built the frame, then used metal L brackets to attach wooden panels to it.
I would later insert insulation within the walls. With about a hundred dollars of paneling, some black foam board, and Lunch Atop a Skyscraper by Charles Ebbets, the first wall was complete.
I installed lighting by drilling a hole in a panel and mounting a light fixture directly to it. I would then have to run electrical wire to the central power source for all the other lights.
Installing new lights was my favorite part of building the room, because I could hook them up to my customized home automation server and start voice controlling them right away.
Adding a mirror
I started another wall with extra building materials from the first wall, and added this mirror I found on craigslist to it.
I then added a small meal preparation area around the mini fridge, and planned out a multi-stage construction process with much more accurate measurements.
For example, I built the table as its own component with LED lighting, and used metal brackets to ensure the final assembly involved inserting a couple screws.
Framing the next wall
I did a much better job of planning the next wall, so the entire construction process took only two weekends. On the first weekend, I framed the wall with the straightest beams I could find, and added some supports to evenly space them.
I then started mounting panels on the frame using what I had learned about L brackets and clamping panels into place, and compensated for the unevenness of the floor.
This is a picture of the wall as it neared completion.
The bed backdrop
The cityscape is actually a shower curtain stretched around a wooden frame. I improved the first version of this bed backdrop by building an entire 8 foot section of wall behind the bed on the floor, then lifted it into position and attached it to the ceiling.
There are lights attached to the bed section to illuminate the backdrop and make it feel like a more natural element of the room.
Covering the stairway
I wanted to add one more wall to reduce the amount of sound that came down the stairs from the rest of the house. I started by building the frame and attaching panels of a different color.
I was much more intelligent about my use of brackets and positioning, and fabricated the entire wall with greater precision. Once the wall was in place, I assembled the rest of the fragments and moved my desk in front of it. I later got monitor mounting arms that I attached to the wall to make a more sturdy computing setup.
I created a ceiling using two 4 x 8 laminated panels, which I initially purchased for their remarkably low price of ten dollars each. I managed to single-handedly lift a pre-fabricated 8 foot by 8 foot square to the ceiling by first hanging one side of the square to the ceiling with hooks, then lifting the other side and attaching it with screws.
I added some LED lights pointing inwards, and more wood paneling to match the style of the walls.
Building a bookshelf
I built this bookshelf in an hour. By this point, I was planning out a construction project from start to finish, getting exactly the amount of building material that I needed, and completing the entire project from my plan in one go. While it seems like a pretty ordinary bookshelf, the level of planning and stepwise execution put into it made it feel like assembling Ikea furniture.
The final wall
The final wall was built around the bookshelf, and involved some behind-the-wall wiring and tight fitting parts.
This was the last unfinished segment of the wall.
This is a picture of the finished corner of the room, which I used as storage for school-related things.
This electric projector screen came down from behind the screen, and was completely hidden when retracted. I used an Arduino to virtually press the remote for the projector screen, so I could use a voice command to turn on the projector and bring down the screen.
Touch screen switch
This was my first attempt at making a physical interface for controlling the lights in my room. Until this point, I would either have to speak a voice command or open my computer to change specific lights. I wanted to make something that anyone could use to control the lights, and something as natural as a light switch. I go more in detail about this project here. TThis panel would become part of the final wall, near the entrance to the room.
Refining the closet
The poster got damaged, and I didn't feel like mounting a new one. Instead, I converted the space once taken up by the poster to food storage shelves and cabinets.
The food storage area, which I later expanded to include two additional shelves in the unused space at the bottom.
The kitchen got a microwave and storage for an electric skillet. I also got a plastic sheet to protect the table top from damage.
The closet, with clothes arranged in chromatic order.
I added this towel rack, and built a hidden door to the workshop. The door itself blended perfectly with the wall, and was easily the most tricky and intricate part of the entire room (the picture below shows the door when open).
I built the door using the same framing/paneling technique as the walls, and drilled precise holes for the hinges so the door would gently swing shut when not being held open. Finally, I had a way to keep dust from the workshop out of my room.
Using what I learned from the workshop door, I built another door outside the room, and added a fingerprint lock to it. The room was finally complete.
But of course, no high-tech room is complete without a robot that can bring you things.
After the basement
Since the basement was also my home I avoided the temptation to make it a spectacle. Therefore it was only a limited number of people who actually experienced the basement and who saw the project take place over two years. The skills I picked up from this project were invaluable in creating an above-ground version of my basement through the the space for my first business.