Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Mudroom Lockers

Well, we've reached a momentous point in our mudroom project.  The lockers are usable.  That may seem like a small thing, but for a family who have had no good place to store coats or backpacks for several weeks now, it is a wonderful thing to see a dining room chair with nothing hanging on it.  The one moment when I cleared all the coats off of the dining room chairs and the backpacks off of the dining room floor and hung everything up in its own dedicated space made me realize that I would never regret undertaking this project.  To a disorganized mom like myself, mudroom lockers are as a soothing balm to sun ravaged flesh.

Okay, maybe a little dramatic, but I can say that I really, really like having a mudroom!

Now, I said that they are usable, but they aren't finished.  Let me show you where we started, and how we got where we are so far.

This is the former entry room, taken from our kitchen.  The passage to the dining room is on the far right side of the picture, and the door to the side porch is on the other side of the entry, out of view on the left.

This is a closer look at the wall inside of the entry.  There used to be floor to ceiling cupboards here, but they were not well-designed or well-constructed, and they were covered in lead paint.  We had them removed during a lead abatement a few years ago.

The first thing that we did was to remove most of the wall that separated the entry from the kitchen.  This opened the area up a bit, and gave us about a foot more length of wall to work with.  Since space is at a premium here, that extra foot was desperately needed.

When we realized that there was no way that we would finish the lockers before school started, we hung up a two by four on the wall as a temporary measure to contain backpacks.  That vertical beige line is some very old wallpaper that was behind the wall that we removed.

Here's a side by side.

Now, there wasn't a lot of space to work with.  From left to right, there is 79 inches, and from the wall to the edge of the trap door is only 15 inches.  We would have to work within that footprint, which didn't leave room for any wasted space or luxurious elbowroom.

I did what I always do when I come up with an idea but am not sure how to make it work.  I pulled out my graph paper.

It may seem like a waste of time, but I need to know that something is going to work before I go tearing out walls or buying building supplies. Sketching out a basic layout reassured me that there would be enough space for four fairly comfortable lockers, at a reasonable height.  I also wanted to make use of the space above the lockers for some much needed dinnerware storage, so I sketched that out, as well, making sure that the cupboards would look good, be at a reasonable height (I don't want to climb a ladder every time the table is set), and be a useful size. This isn't a complete plan.  There have been a few changes along the way.  But the important thing is that we had a basic plan that we knew would work, before we even got started.

Jeff decided that it would be best to get the first set of cupboards up first.  They kind of defined the wall, and the rest of the unit could be built to fit around them.  We hung them a while ago, but we are waiting on the shelves and doors until the rest of the framework is in place.

Then we needed to finish the floor.

Finally, we were ready to tackle the lockers.  While we used the graph paper layout as a guide, we also have let the details change as inspiration comes.  I never liked the boxy look of straight dividers between lockers, and since each locker has only about a 19" width and 15"depth, I thought that the straight dividers would make it uncomfortable to sit and change from boots to slippers.  We could have done an open bench with a straight line of hooks on the wall, not unlike the picture above.  However, I liked the idea of individual lockers, because then everyone has (and is responsible for) their own space.  Plus, dividers would give us more hook space.  Then I thought, why not have partial wall dividers?  They could define each space, give adequate area to hang hooks toward the top, and yet open up around the elbows, giving more freedom of movement.  Plus, I had a feeling they would look better.

After explaining what I wanted to do to Jeff, he felt like we would have better luck using birch veneer plywood than the MDF that we had used up until now.  He got some advice and borrowed some tools, and asked me to make up a template.  Again, I went to my graph paper.

First, I figured out the total height from the floor to the bottom of the cupboards.  I determined the height of the bench by measuring the height of a chair seat, and subtracting an inch.  I didn't feel like it would be uncomfortable to sit a little lower than a dining chair, and I wanted as much room as possible for the locker space.  So I subtracted 17.5" from the total height.  Then I had to decide how much room to save for the cubbies that would go above the lockers.  I wanted it to be big enough to hold a 9.5"x11" notebook, or a few other things, none of which needed much space in height.  So I decided to make the cubbies about 6" high.  Then I subtracted the 6", as well as 1 3/4" to account for the thickness of the  top of the locker (3/4") and the top and bottom of the cubbies (1/2" each).  That left me with 36.5" of space between the "ceiling" of the locker and the top of the bench.

So, using the graph paper with each section=1", I started drawing my design.   A straight line representing the 36.5" tall back of the divider gave me a place to start.  I decided that I would like to have a little variation in depth between the different components of the unit, so I inset the locker space 2 inches from the total depth available.  That would allow me to do some fun stuff with crown-type trim.  So I drew a line out 13 squares at the top of the other line.  From there, I needed to figure out how low the widest part of the divider would need to be in order to hang hooks.  I thought that the hooks would work well about 4" from the top, and so I added another 3" below that, and drew down 7 spaces.  From there, going downward was really a matter of choice.  Now I needed to start from the bottom.  Along the bench, I wanted the dividers to give the impression that they are providing some support to the rest of the unit.  They don't, as everything is well secured to the studs, but I wanted it to look that way.  Therefore, I wanted the dividers to rest on the bench, and I decided that 6" would look about right.  From there, I decided to go up about 7.5".  Now I had a basic size and shape that would serve the purpose that it needed to serve.  The rest was just freehand shaping to connect the top section to the bottom section.  I'm no artist, but I gave it a whirl, made a few minor adjustments, and realized that I was lucky enough to have a shape that I liked.

Now, transferring that onto a large piece of wood was a different story.

However, because of the handy graph paper, it was pretty easy.  I marked all the dimensions of the shape.  When the line curved, I marked how many inches I needed to go to the left or right, and how many inches I needed to go up or down.  So when I took the paper to the wood, I was able to just use a ruler, mark a dot where the next stop in the line needed to be, and draw an easy curve from point a to point b.  It wasn't unlike completing a dot to dot puzzle, except that I had to map out where the next dot should be before I connected them.  Let me tell you, while it was a bit fussy to go through all those steps, it was so much easier than trying to freehand it all on a big piece of cardboard or wood.  If you're not visually artistic (as I am not), I can tell you that this method is helpful.

This is actually a piece that we didn't end up using.  I tried cutting it out with the borrowed jigsaw, but I didn't hold it straight up, so the cut edge was slanted.  Jeff would have let me try again, but I didn't want to waste the wood!  Instead, I held it down while Jeff cut them out.  After that, they just needed a few spots of wood filler and a good sanding to get the edge smooth.

Next, we needed to get the sides and top attached to the back, and then get the dividers attached.  We laid the back on the floor and marked out exactly where each divider would go, so that they would be evenly spaced.  Ugh.  There is so much math involved in building! Don't get me wrong;  it's very basic math.  But still!  I had to remember to subtract the thickness of the sides, and include the thickness of the dividers when determining how to center them.  My brain isn't used to considering all of those details. Dividing 32 7/8 by 2 and then marking the center, then marking half of the 3/4" thickness on either side of the center so that we could line the 3/4" thick dividers exactly where they needed to go.....Bah!  Oh well, I guess my 40 year old brain needs a tiny little workout now and then.

Finally, we were ready to put the pieces together.  This became a family affair.  Jacob helped me hold the top flush with the edge of the back while Jeff drilled holes and then screwed the pieces together.  Then came the sides, where Nora and Max stepped in to hold one side up while Jacob and I held the other side flush with both the back and top.  Then we switched.  Finally, the kids held the whole thing up while I held each divider in place while Jeff attached it.  Somewhere along the way, Jeff thought to try using the borrowed nail gun to hold each piece steady while he drilled the holes and attached the screws.  It worked like a charm.  It was far easier for us to hold everything flush while he popped a few nails in than against the force of the drill.  That's a lesson we won't forget.

Finally the basic structure was together.  And I was happy.

Next came the bench.  Jeff wanted it to be good and sturdy, so he decided to build a 2x4 frame that would rest on the floor and be bolted to the studs.  This is what he built.

Since the legs of the bench would be visible, we used 1/4" oak veneer plywood to "skin" the legs.  Why oak?  Because we had some left over from the piece that we covered the trap door with.  It was painful to paint it, but it needed to be done.

After adding some baseboard moulding (which I'll detail in a later post), adding some extra support for the hooks, and a bit of caulk here and there, everything got a coat of primer and two coats of paint.  Finally, we were able to attach the hooks and lay the first part of the bench down.  Until the rest of the bench is ready, I can't finish trimming it out, so I can't call it done yet.  But it is supremely usable, and to steal a phrase from that maven of home organization, that is a very good thing.

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