Andrew's Ingenious Floating Monitor Home Office

Andrew's Ingenious Floating Monitor Home Office

Range Govindan
Oct 29, 2009

Name: Andrew Flynn
Location: Chandler, Arizona
Type: Home office

When we saw Andrew Flynn's amazing home office, we knew that we had to do a tech tour of his place. The great DIY features really set this home office apart from all of the rest. A faux-wall to hide cables and wires, a Mission Control center console to hide and store peripherals, and three floating monitors are what makes this home office quite ingenious.

As a web developer working from home, Andrew Flynn sought to improve on the cubicles which are prevalent in most IT offices. Having struck out at finding something compatible for his needs, he decided to make his own. This was also prompted because he wanted to keeps costs under control. It's possible to have someone come in and craft everything you need, but it would have been really expensive.

The DIY components of his home office include the Mission Control console, a sort of box on his desk that houses some of his peripherals, a faux-wall box to hide all of his cables and manage them, as well as the incredible three floating monitors give this home office something extremely unique. Even if some of his friends are overwhelmed when they see this, we can only assume that it's partly due to jealousy. Andrew used some great furniture from Pottery Barn to give his home office a strong wooden look. He didn't feel that ultra modern was the way to go for his design. He wanted something harkening back to old studies filled with books and wood.

Unplggd Tech Tour Survey:

My style: I don't particularly have one style. I always liked modernist interiors, but my wife is more of a traditional gal, so this my office has a touch of modern, with some (hopefully) elegance. I do prefer function over form, and you can probably tell I'm not a fan of clutter. Current projects may take up space on my desktop, but there's no reason for cables, wires, and peripherals to be laying about in full view, gathering dust.

I went through a lot of potential desks and home office furniture sets that didn't meet the grade. What most general furniture stores stock as "home office" is entirely unusable from a web worker perspective, and I was pretty disappointed in my initial search. I hate to say it, but I was actually looking for something that functioned as well as an office cubicle - at least in terms of access to files, ergonomics, storage, and lighting. I thought that if I could find something with nice wood with all the component pieces, let's set that up on the existing walls and have a highly functional area. Unfortunately the ones that really were interesting were very high-end and out of my price range, and didn't work well with the placement of my one window and storage closet.

Inspiration: Actually, there were three.

When we had purchased the house, the original owner had set up this room as a home office. Unfortunately, their design tastes left a bit to be desired, as the room was originally painted dark hunter green, with wallpaper accents. My initial inspiration was actually from Italy - not from the ultra-sleek Milan design houses, but from staying with my wife's family in the Bergamo area of Northern Italy. The folks there have some ultra-modern interiors, and historically accurate exteriors that are trending towards ruins, with WWII bullet holes in the walls. The first step of the office was to re-create the special faux trim paint effect near the ceiling. Basically, the white ceiling paint comes down onto the walls about six inches. It's subtle, but to me, it really sets a tone. I then tried to find rich, warm, modern wood pieces to offset the technology I would be putting in the space.

The second inspiration was the purchase of my desk. It's a quasi-Mission style hunk of clear walnut from Crate & Barrel, and it was assembled without any screws or bolts - all mortise and tenon joinery. It's incredibly solid, looks great, and has been amazingly durable. Plus, it was a great upgrade from working at the kitchen table for several months before we started the renovation.

The third was when my wife went to check her work email, my then dual-monitor set-up (on normal monitor stands) bothered her. The black frame of the monitors were doubled right in the center of her field of vision. She suggested that I might as well get three monitors to have one smack-dab in the middle. She didn't bargain that it would lead to all of this, but she's happy with the result.

Favorite Element: I'd have to say that my "Mission Control" console is the centerpiece of the room. It's designed to be subtle, but upon closer inspection it provides a jarring second-glance to those seeing it for the first time. It sits on the desktop, inches below the bank of three monitors, and is connected underneath to the false-wall "box", which hides the ganglion of cables and power supplies. It looks as though it's an integrated piece of the desktop, and the smoke-tinted window with router, modem, and KVM switch blinking lights give it a great look. Even when we're entertaining, I leave the screen saver going across all three monitors, with just the rope light and the console lights for ambiance.

Biggest Challenge: Actually the design of the desk unit itself (console, desk and wall box) was the most difficult. It affected the purchases and the implementation over several months. Each weekend that I was able to work on it, I would have to disassemble my working set-up, and give the new design a go. Sometimes I'd be up until 2am on Monday morning trying to get everything back together again so I could actually work the rest of the week. There were countless decisions that had to be made based on what I had done up to that point. I had to ensure that peripherals would fit in the console. I specifically chose Router A over Router B because it would fit nicely and had big bold blinking lights that would look cool (when they were equal technology-wise). I had to select a wireless keyboard and mouse that were different brands because my USB KVM switch couldn't reliably handle integrated mouse/keyboard receivers. I opted for AC-powered USB peripherals because I knew none of the three machines would be the "primary" for power and need to be on the majority of the time. It wouldn't be accurate to say cost wasn't a factor, but if there was a $30 difference between components, I would likely go with the one that fit the design best. Fortunately, I didn't break the bank on any of those decisions.

What Friends Say: Most are actually quite speechless. It takes them a while to grasp it, and I've had to give small "tours" of the set-up. They can't really believe that something like this was done, that the time and money was spent. One was actually put-off and said, "So, a single monitor isn't good enough, eh?" It's actually been a bit of a downer, but the virtual community response has been tremendous, which helps make up for it.

Biggest Embarrassment: During the installation of the wall-mounted triple-monitor bracket, I could not for the life of me get the bracket level. The part that connects to the wall stud is only about eight inches overall, and each attempt I thought I had it perfect, only to find that once the pieces were assembled and the full weight of the monitors was on, it was off slightly - maybe by 5-6 degrees, which causes your text to run downhill (or uphill, depending on which attempt). I think it took me four or five days to get it perfectly balanced and level.

Once the comments started coming in, a lot of folks commented on whether the through-the-wall cabling was up to code. Unfortunately, it's probably not, and I'm going to rectify it in the near future, but it will take some additional design work and collaboration with my electrician to get everything back up to snuff.

Proudest DIY: I'd have to say the console. To look at a shelf unit, and to see the potential for creating a housing for peripherals with a window to view status lights - I'm pretty proud of that. My wife was a bit upset that I had taken an $80 Pottery Barn shelf and progressive chopped it further past the point of no return each weekend. I mastered the router attachment for my Dremel on this project, and sourced my materials from art supply and auto parts stores.

Biggest Indulgence: The Creative Labs speakers were the big indulgence. I have two ten-year-old Altec Lansing speakers buried in the wall box for the laptop, but I wanted great sound for the main machine, which I've been increasingly using for watching online video. I didn't need these speakers, which were pricey, but they would look cool with my system, mounted outboard of the triple monitors. I really shouldn't have drilled into them to mount them - before ever using them, but that was a risk I took, and fortunately it paid off with great looks and great sound.

Best advice: The best advice I can give is to really look at your current workspace and then decide - what must I have, and then needs to be seen? We all have a particular set-up with the basics (monitor, keyboard, mouse), but beyond that, what is wasted? Do I really need to see that USB hard drive in my peripheral vision (with its two cables) 24/7? Or can I tuck that away out of sight with no impact to functionality? Do I need to see the display on my laptop? In my case I didn't, so I could effectively put it anywhere I wanted, so long as I could reach the power button.

Home Tech Resources:



Technical components
Console:

  • Pottery Barn "Modern" shelf, gutted, flipped upside down, the former "top" trimmed back
  • Strip of Plexiglas from a framing shop, 2" x 24" strip
  • Automotive windshield strip window tinting - applied to the Plexiglas


Console contains:
  • 2 4-port USB mini-hubs - one for each machine
  • Motorola Docsys 3 Surfboard cable modem
  • Cisco Linksys 802.11n wireless 4-port router
  • Microsoft wireless 3000 keyboard receiver
  • Raritan 4-port USB KVM switch


Wall Box:
  • 1x8 painted pine sides (left and right)
  • 1x2 clear pine top slats (for support, covered by console)
  • 1/4" AC plywood front face, fitting just less than the desk height, and to fit in-between the desk legs
  • 1 piece of base molding to match the wall molding
  • Access hole cut out about 6" x 8" for access and cable routing


Wall Box Contains:
  • 4 APC surge-protected power strips
  • Power supplies for all peripherals, monitors, speakers
  • 2 USB external hard drives
  • 1 Dell C840 Latitude laptop (only for emergencies)
  • 1 set Altec Lansing speakers (for primary laptop)
  • 1 USB-DVI adapter (for Dell XPS 3rd monitor)
  • 2 USB-VGA adapters (for ThinkPad 2nd and 3rd monitors)


Desktop:

  • Pottery Barn brushed nickel old-timey clock, tape dispenser and stapler
  • Motorola cordless phone
  • Ikea brushed nickel desk lamp
  • Logitech MX Revolution mouse and mouse dock
  • Coffee mug for pens/pencils
  • Ancient Texas Instruments calculator
  • BlackBerry dock


Hanging Monitors:


Other components:
  • Canon Pixma multi-function printer/copier
  • HumanScale CPU600 CPU bracket for Dell XPS tower
  • Custom-made sheet metal "J" bracket for wall-mounting of ThinkPad docking station
  • shoe-hanging bag on back of closet door for all cables and accessories
  • iHome woodgrain iPod/AM/FM dock

Artwork:

  • 2 watercolor paintings from my mom Patricia Flynn, a professional watercolor artist
  • 1 framed artwork from my 3-year old daughter from Father's day
  • 1 photo box of my grandfather's old boat with a captain's log excerpt, put together by my wife Marcia
  • 2 antique maps - an 1850 USA map above my desk, and an 1819 USA map (such as it was)


Photos: Andrew Flynn

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