Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Office Closet Desk Shelf Cat-Climbing-Gym Project

Well technically this project is not actually "done" yet -- I've still plenty of organizing to do, and probably some more wall shelves to put up, but as the main cat-relevant parts of it are now functional I figured I'd blog about it.

It all started with two realizations: (1) the fact that the closet in the room Matt and I call the "office" (basically the computer room where we do work, filing, and hobby stuff) was really not being very well utilized, and (2) my corner-style desk (purchased about six years ago to fit a particular niche in my old apartment) was bugging the crap out of me.

Unfortunately I can't seem to find a picture of how awful the closet looked before, but trust me, it was bad. Bad as in "there's a bunch of random stuff crammed in here that has nothing to do with the functionality of the room". [UPDATE: I found a "before" picture I'd forgotten I'd taken; see below. The doors are off, but the random crap and old saggy shelves and meaningless clothes-bar-holder-thing are still there, and there's so much wasted space!]

Taking off the closet doors (which were GIGANTIC and MIRRORED) helped make said random stuff more immediately accessible, but there was still just a ton of useless/wasted space. Not to mention the fact that every time I so much as ventured near the closet I risked having a roll of wrapping paper or a piece of old inherited photography equipment fall on my head (and that was on a good day.

As for my desk...while the corner design had worked okay in my old place, it was really cramping the potential of the new office (at least my corner thereof). Plus in the chaos of moving in last year I hadn't thought very well through the orientation and location of my primary home work-area and had managed to put the desk so that my back faced the door into the room. This sort of arrangement is invariably bad for me due to the fact that my peripheral vision is both very sensitive and seemingly wired directly into my "fight or flight" brain-circuits. It had gotten to the point (in around November 2010) where I was actively avoiding sitting at my own desk to use my own computer because of the constant on-edge sensation I got from sitting with my back to the door (and seeing little flickers of shadow at the edges of my visual field constantly from Matt and the cats moving around).

(Picture shows my old desk, sitting in the corner. Sure, it looked "nice enough" but I couldn't stand sitting there. Also, that nifty vintage power supply on the top shelf? Managed to fall down and almost crush my hand one night when one of the cats jumped on it. Bad news all around...)

Anyway, though, to make a long story slightly less long (and pull it back to the subject of cats where it belongs!) after gleefully getting rid of my old desk via Craigslist and pulling all the crap out of the closet and painting the walls inside a lovely-to-me shade of grey, it occurred to me: why not build feline-friendly functionality right into the new office layout? I mean, the cats already habitually climbed my desk and leaped about in the closet at night (which had me springing out of bed to see what that terrific crash had been on multiple frantic occasions), so at the very least I needed to fortify the room to be cat-safe.

(Picture shows the office closet when it was basically emptied out, post-painting)

One cool thing about making an environment cat-safe is that in doing so you've often laid the groundwork for also making it fun for your feline housemates. Cats, after all, revel in freedom, particularly freedom in three dimensions...and emptying out the office closet revealed quite a bit of vertical space that might be able to provide Cora, Brodie, Shadow, and Nikki with a fair amount more of this valued cat-commodity.

All that said, I didn't want to go out and buy some sort of expensive closet-organization or desk system. Even when I've got decent income coming in I tend toward the "cheapskate" end of the frugal spectrum, and my unemployment last year had me even more embedded in the "how can I kludge this?" mindset than usual. And in the end, I only ended up buying two more Ikea shelves (GORM units, which are inexpensive untreated pine), a few shelf brackets, a wood panel (also from Ikea) modular desktop and legs, and some miscellaneous small hardware-store items (wood stain, rope, etc.).

The rest was all scrap wood from the garage or IKEA shelves we already had (but that were not being efficiently used; basically I stripped them down and re-purposed them. Which is one thing cheaper Ikea stuff is great's like parts of a big wooden Erector set.) And I have to say that wood stain is now my new best friend when it comes to projects like this. While I suffer no illusions that my new office arrangement would win any design awards, it does look significantly nicer and less patchwork-y than it would have if I'd left all the wood I used untreated.

The photo above shows the closet roughly as it appears now. The shelves still aren't really organized and the cabinet in the middle -- just an Ikea IVAR cabinet I stained and added legs to -- is actually still empty, but the basic structure is there. Note as well the orange mesh "curtains" in the lower left...these now help contain scatter from the litter box without blocking the cats' view of the surrounding area or creating a nasty "stagnant air" environment as many covered litter boxes do.

Now for the cat-friendly aspects of the closet: observe this photo, taken at a slightly different angle than the previous should spot two tabby tails seemingly hanging out of the ceiling!

Moving in closer (flashlight in hand), lo and behold...'s Coraline! Unsurprisingly, she was the first to explore the new "catwalk" attached to the inside of that little overhanging bit of wall above the closet opening.

...but Brodie eventually got curious too!

This angle better shows how the "catwalk" is attached. Brodie demonstrates how to get down from the little cat-nap platform at the end of the catwalk:

As for my desk area, it now looks like this:

...and it is SO much more functional and comfortable now than the corner desk was! Not to mention sturdier. I think I've managed to find every wall stud in this room as a result of this project, because this thing is SOLID. When it comes to fortifying against the forces of both feline and earthquake origin, I tend to apply the Mythbusters' philosophy: "anything worth doing is worth overdoing". So yeah. The cats can run up the sides of this thing, climb the shelves, scale the walls, etc., to their hearts' content now.

(I still need to clean up the wire mess under the desk and organize some more of my work and hobby and craft materials onto the shelves, but again, the basic structure and cat-relevant bits are in place here.)

Finally, here is another view of the desk area, showing one of several possible routes for the kitties to get up to the top shelves, while also serving an important function as a scratching post (which all four felines here now use regularly):

Oh and for those curious about such things, the desk uses legs only on one side...the other side is attached to the IVAR shelf unit adjacent to the wall, which is firmly bolted to studs. Also, since the IVAR units tend to be a bit wobbly even with those metal X-things installed on the back, I used a piece of oak floorboard (stained to match the shelves) and some metal angle brackets (which you can't see at all unless you look up inside the shelf) to maintain the shelving unit's rectangularity even in the event of enthusiastic kittyclimbing.

So far I am very happy with how this new office layout is improving my own productivity and cheerfulness levels in this room, and the cats seem extremely pleased with their new climbing/play/sleeping structure. I've still got a fair mount of work to do organizing the human stuff, and will perhaps be able to get some nicer pictures when that happens, but the cat components are pretty well in place, at least until I think of something else to add!


  1. that looks great! I've always wanted to make a kitty walkway around my lounge too.

    one idea I had - Plain wood can be a little slippy for claws, so maybe you could use some spray glue to stick some old carpet to the tops of the shelves to give their claws somethign to grip if needed?

  2. Your cats are very lucky you are so resourceful!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. This looks excellent. I envy your closet space and desk.

    And of course the mindfulness you have toward organizing your living space around your cats. I haven't been able to do that since like three houses back (no space), although it wasn't quite as cool as this.

  4. Freya's Staff: Yeah, I was pondering putting some sort of non-skid material on the walkway. Nobody has slipped yet but of course it's good to minimize risk when it comes to that sort of thing. I probably wouldn't attach anything with spray glue, though...I found out last summer in the course of another project that it's actually very difficult to get anything to stick to *wood* using spray glue. Maybe if it were polyurethane-coated wood or something, but in my experience trying to get spray glue to adhere to unfinished or merely stained wood is an exercise in frustration. Most likely if I found carpet squares or something I'd just use small screws, installed in a sort of rivet-like arrangement. That's what I did to attach some sisal rug material to my cat platform in the kitchen and that material is still firmly attached almost a year later. And if I didn't go that route I might just try some self-adhesive sandpaper-like material, like they sell at hardware stores (the kind used to make non-slip staircases, etc.). The adhesive on that stuff tends to be much stronger than spray glue.

  5. Lisa Harney: One of the main things I am loving about this house is the freedom to customize the space somewhat. After 8+ years of apartments where I wasn't even allowed to paint, it's refreshing to be able to put up things like wall shelves and kittywalks. Every so often I wish the ceilings were higher than 8 feet because that would mean even more vertical space to play with but really I am just happy to be able to do *anything* in that regard for the cats!

  6. Imagine what you could do with a ceiling at 10 feet, it could be like a big kittywalk thing with paths and toys all over. It'd be amazing.

    I am not sure it would be practical, but it would be entertaining once it was finished. If it could be. If it's safe and wouldn't fall on anyone.


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