The Instant Extra Bedroom
Carve out a new room with a wall that goes up in hours, costs little more than $200 and — when you need your old room back — can be taken down in minutes.
After: The new wall affords Michaela Hardy and Cara Hardy privacy without total isolation.
For almost a decade, Cara and Michaela Hardy shared the attic of their family's 1925 Colonial near Boston. At one end of the room sat their beds, tucked under the sloping ceiling. At the other stood their desks and a table with two American Girl armoires, which held the sisters' collections of doll accessories. "They really did get along," recalls their mother, Ann Hardy. But by this past summer, with Cara 13 and Michaela 10, a different dynamic had set in. The girls were often as annoying to each other as a mosquito. Ann could count on constant arguments over whether the night-light should be on or off. And each complained constantly that the other had messed up the room. "It really just started last year, that pre-teen year," Ann says. "And Michaela began asserting her independence too."
Ann knew the real solution was to give each girl a room of her own, but remodeling did not make sense because a bedroom would open up when the eldest daughter, Meaghan, headed off to college in a year. Then Ann discovered a painless way to carve out another bedroom by putting up temporary walls that look perfectly solid— but could be removed without a trace when the family's needs changed. An instant partition seemed ideal, although when This Old House contractor Tom Silva met with the family to discuss the project, Ann still had a few questions. "Will this wall be at all attractive?" she asked, "or will the rooms look like two little office cubicles?" She suggested painting the new walls a subtle shade of white to blend with the rest of the bedroom. Excitedly, Michaela even volunteered to take the small "room" if there was one — just to have her own space away from Cara. Tom assured her neither side would be better than the other, just different.
Tom listened to the family's comments and came up with a plan that satisfied Ann's concerns as well as the criteria he had in mind. The walls would be inexpensive but good-looking. They would need to be so simple that anyone with basic carpentry skills could put them up in a day, using just a few tools and causing minimal mess. And when the walls were eventually taken down, the room would appear untouched. Tom's solution, which cost only $26 in addition to a few fasteners that he had on hand, departs in almost every detail from the usual way interior walls are built. Most striking, instead of using screws or nails to fasten the walls to the floor and ceiling, Tom used pressure from furniture levelers — bolts with flat plates fastened to one end — to hold the wall sections in place. Because this hardware wouldn't work against the angled ceiling of the attic dormer, he fastened the tops of the walls with a new double-stick tape used mainly for affixing hooks and posters to walls. When the Hardys want to remove the walls, they can simply pull a tab on the tape to stretch and loosen the adhesive without damaging paint or any other wall covering. Interior walls are usually a skeleton of 2x4s covered on both sides with spackled, sanded and painted plasterboard. Tom's streamlined walls are just one layer thick, designed to look handsome from both sides. First, he screwed together frames of clear pine. Around the inside, he nailed on a band of quarter-round moulding, creating a ledge for a panel of wallboard that he held in place with a second round of moulding. He painted both sides — no spackling or sanding needed — and the walls were done. Tom's intriguing choice for wallboard: Homasote, which is composed of ground-up newspapers molded with paraffin and which has not changed since it was introduced to this country from England in 1909. Homasote costs so little (about $20 for a 4-by-8-foot sheet) that contractors often buy big stacks of it to protect floors during remodeling. But it has a textured surface that looks rich, and it's soft enough to press thumbtacks into — perfect for use as a bulletin board.
The bulletin board, in fact, became an issue as Cara and Michaela bickered over who would get which side of the room. Cara wanted the back because it would be more private and she could decorate as she pleased, free of Mom's prohibition against posting anything on the walls visible from the doorway. Michaela had said earlier that she wanted the side with two windows that overlook the backyard. But when she heard what Cara wanted, she decided privacy mattered to her as well. With a little coaching in reverse psychology, Cara started talking about how much she liked windows. Suddenly, Michaela switched back to favoring the side with the windows. Ann says she couldn't be more pleased: "The room still has that openness. And because nothing is screwed in, if you want to take the wall down, you can get rid of it without any big mess. And most important, the girls like it."
Before: Michaela and Cara's beds were tucked under the sloping ceiling side by side.
Nearly 16 feet wide and 16 feet long, the attic room shared by Cara and
Michaela Hardy was spacious. But with both beds at the end of the room, neither girl could get away from the other. Now, Cara has the former bed area, with two skylights, for herself.
What's in a Wall
The clear pine frame, 11/8-inch thick and 21/8-inch wide, was ripped from stock sold as "five-quarter by 6-inch." The butt joint is fastened with 3-inch drywall screws. Where screws show, Tom used 21/2-inch trim screws, which have narrower heads. From the bottom up, the wall-tightening mechanism consists of a self-stick felt pad to prevent slippage, a furniture leveler, two 1/4-inch nuts, one of which has wings to grip the wood. Tom used furniture levelers with 15/16-inch legs but wished he'd gotten longer ones to allow for more adjustment. Tom drilled a 5/16-inch diameter hole to accommodate the outer width of the wing nut and screw portion of the leveler. As a further safeguard against leveler slippage, Tom drilled a shallow depression into the coaster, which also protects the carpet.