Setting the Stage for a Workstation

A theater designer turns a dingy closet in his guest bedroom into a flashy multipurpose space where he can work on his laptop, store his clothes and display his collection of cool pop culture goodies.
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Original_Hollis-Smith-closet-homeowner_s4x3

Husak II

Photo by: William Psolka

William Psolka

Husak II

When Hollis Smith bought his midcentury modern house in Decatur, Ga., in 2008, he loved everything about the place except for the closet in the guest bedroom. "It had a teensy-weensy, reach-in closet, an awful, mustard-yellow paint job and three feet of wasted space," Hollis says. A theater designer by day and stage actor by night, Hollis wanted a spot in his house where he could read scripts, create schedules, check emails and get lost in his collection of theatrical design books.

The 1,475-square-foot house built in 1955 lacked adequate storage or a home office. The guest bedroom got a lot of natural light, so Hollis saw the room's potential to be more functional and more lovely. He decided to turn the guest room's closet into a workspace with clothes hanging rods and floating-style shelves where he could also display and store his clothes, his books and his collection of pop culture ephemera.

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Shelves built from 4X8 sheets of medium density fiberboard (MDF) and strips of 1X2 MDF trim house Smith’s collection of pop culture memorabilia.

Shelves built from 4X8 sheets of medium density fiberboard (MDF) and strips of 1X2 MDF trim house Smith’s collection of pop culture memorabilia.

Hollis, a pop culture junkie, had boxes full of collectibles stashed in the closet. With a minimalist style throughout his two-bedroom, two-bath house, displaying keepsakes like a vintage Bionic Woman lunchbox in the home's main areas would look more like clutter than sentimental decor. Keeping the more juvenile things confined to within a concealable area was really the best way to go.

To expand the closet into a useable workstation, the existing hollow-core door and casing needed to be removed, the drywall needed to be opened up, the adjacent swinging bathroom door needed to be replaced with a space-saving pocket door, and a new side wall had to be built. "The project was a lot messier than I'd anticipated," Hollis says. "Tearing out door casings and opening drywall is a major pain."

Doubling the amount of hanging space was one of Hollis' biggest objectives when transforming the closet. By hanging two chrome rods, one spaced three feet above the other on each side of the central workstation, it provided ample room for his business wardrobe as well as space for overnight guests to hang their own clothes.

Hollis lives and breathes all things theater and stage design, so adding theatrical touches to the closet/workstation was a given. To make his clothes and collectibles stand out, he had the interior walls of the closet covered with black patterned wallpaper. "Just like actors on a stage, a black backdrop helps anything in front of it truly be the star," Hollis says. The paper had a lacquered finish that reflects the room's ample natural light. Draperies are also a huge element of theatrical design. Hollis decided to have custom panels sewn and installed instead of traditional closet doors. There's still a bed in the guest room, so he can close the drapes to keep his workstation private.

Flashy Multipurpose Workstation

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From the sloppy, mustard-colored paint job on its walls, doors and trim to its wasted space and inefficient reach-in closet, Hollis Smith's guest bedroom was in need of a major makeover.

In its previous state, the small reach-in closet was overflowing with sports coats, travel gear and books. The cherished objects he wanted to display were shoved into boxes on the floor.

To make the back of the closet workstation recede, the homeowner installed black wallpaper with a graphic, lacquered pattern. "The black wallpaper really turned the back of the closet into a focal point," Smith says. "My favorite thing about it is how the lacquered surface reflects the light. It's very theatrical. Like me."

Shelves built from 4x8 sheets of medium density fiberboard (MDF) and strips of 1x2 MDF trim house Smith's collection of pop culture memorabilia, including a Bionic Woman lunchbox and Six Million Dollar Man coffee mug. Smith had a carpenter friend build and install them in a few hours. "They're super sturdy and can be used for just about anything," Smith says.

Doubling the amount of hanging space was one of Smith's primary objectives when transforming the closet. Hanging two chrome rods on each side of the central workstation provided ample room for his business wardrobe, as well as space for overnight guests to hang their own clothes. "I wear a ton of purple, gray and black. The combination of the black wallpaper with the chrome rods, white wooden hangers, and my purple and gray wardrobe pieces looks like an art-directed scene from a stage play or movie," Smith says.

To keep items for overnight guests such as bath towels, extra sheets and throw blankets contained and within arm's reach, Smith stores them inside woven carry-all bins, which tuck right under the lower hanging rods on each side of the closet, "This also makes laundry super easy. Once my guests leave, I just toss everything in the bins and carry them down to my laundry room."

To put the outside wall of the newly expanded closet workstation to good use, Smith had hooks meant for bath towels installed below salvaged letters from a demolished local diner to hang up his everyday items. "An old Huddle House was demolished not too far from where I live," Smith says. "Sitting next to its dumpster were remnants from its old storefront sign, which, coincidentally, included the initials of my full name: Hollis Eugene Smith."

Custom draperies hung outside the closet workstation add a sense of privacy for Smith or guests who need to stay focused on their work. The heavy lining of the draperies also helps muffle noise from other areas of the house.

What was previously a corner packed with four feet of wasted space and an inefficient reach-in closet is now a fully functional closet workstation complete with ample hanging space for business attire, a desktop area fit for a laptop or desktop computer, chunky modern shelves for display and open storage, floor space for luggage and custom draperies to add privacy and help muffle outside sounds. The new color scheme of plum, black, gray and white starts on the ceiling, then carries its way down the walls and into the closet.

When work time is over, Hollis and his guests can keep all business matters completely out of view by drawing the draperies closed.

Before making over a corner of his guest room, Hollis Smith was storing his work wardrobe and his treasured pop culture memorabilia in a small, reach-in closet with only three feet of usable storage space. Just outside the closet was three feet of wasted space.

Color was a big factor in the design of the closet workstation. Since the hanging rods would hold work clothes, he took his favorite wardrobe colors into consideration. "The majority of my wardrobe is made up of black, gray and purple. This combination of colors seemed rather unique so I just went with it," Hollis says. He painted the mustard yellow walls plum and added a Saarinen desk chair upholstered in purple Knoll boucle fabric. To play up gray and black, he chose a geometric print fabric sporting the two colors for the custom draperies.

Hollis consulted with an interior designer friend who gave him realistic numbers for the project. "I was hoping to only spend $500 max on expanding the closet and building it out," Hollis says. "It turns out, $500 would only cover demolition and drywall labor costs." By increasing his budget to $1,250, he was able to pay for all of his must-haves: a custom workstation, four hanging rods, wallpaper and wallpaper installation, draperies and drapery hardware.

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Original_Hollis-Smith-closet-before-mustard_s4x3

BEFORE

BEFORE

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Original_Hollis-Smith-closet-after2_s4x3

AFTER

AFTER

There was an unexpected step in the project: Patching the hardwood floors in the guest room. Unfinished hardwood floor was exposed when the contractor demolished the old closet and removed its original wall framing. The quickest and easiest solution was to install shag carpet inside the closet and over the mismatched areas. "It ended up being a happy accident since the luxe shag feels great on bare feet, and also helps with noise control," Hollis says.

In its new state, the corner for the guest bedroom has been transformed into a fully functional closet workstation that has a 6-foot-wide opening and 7 feet of usable, interior space. To make the space more efficient, the original swinging door was replaced with a pocket door.

Hollis is giving his new work space plenty of use. "My dog loves curling up on the shag carpet," he says. "Too bad I can't get him to use a laptop. I'd get my work done in half the time."

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