You’ve got to cut the rope

It’s the end of an era here at der Greenhaus: the rope lights are coming down from the game room shelves. We’re talking about a lighting scheme that I’ve leaned on pretty hard since the last house I lived in, Game Room 2003so… nine years exactly. And the funny thing is, a lot of these rope lights have been around since then, so at the very least it was time to look at replacing some of them.

But that’s not what the plan is. As with every other room in the house, the carpet has to come out of my room, so everything has to be disconnected, moved elsewhere in the house temporarily, and then moved back in when it’s torn down to a smooth concrete floor. Even that is temporary – at some point when we can afford it, we’ll get flooring put in (but not carpet – never again), so it’s kinda like all the fun of moving repeatedly, minus the fun of actually moving it to someplace new and exciting.

When my room goes back together, its primary function won’t really be “game room.” It’s my intention to get another Wii and softmod it, probably as the prices start to dive during the inevitable sell-off as everyone upgrades to Wii U, and basically mirror the emulate-everything-that-ever-was gaming machine (and the non-gaming media center functions) that the living room Wii now has. That Wii will live in my room and will be the catch-all media gadget, eliminating quite literally almost a dozen pieces of electricity-sucking, heat-generating hardware.

Game Room

Pumping the signal through a bunch of VCRs, distribution amps and monitor throughputs was a cool idea… back when I was going for the idea of a room with a zillion systems hooked up, ready to go at a moment’s notice, and all capable of outputting their video to the Avid to facilitate the production of what became the PDF DVDs. But when you’ve got one machine that can almost flawlessly emulate everything and stream video and music? The heaps of hardware are simply no longer necessary. The steel shelving units are urgently needed in the pantry/utility room, and I’ll probably bring that room’s ex-bookshelves into the game room; without heaps of hot hardware, the steel shelves aren’t needed, and the rope lights need to come down.

But does that mean it’s all over? Aww hell no. The room will simply be reconfigured. All those little white plastic shelves I’ve invested in – you think those are good for anything but backlighting marquees? The “fun” of the room ain’t goin’ nowhere. And I’m planning on borrowing a page from my grandfather’s playbook.

My mother’s dad was a master photographer who mainly did nature and architecture photography, earning quite a name for himself in New Jersey and New York. As a result of taking pictures of architecture, he had some interesting ideas of his own that he put into practice in his own home, which may still be – nearly 25 years since I last set foot in it – the neatest house I’ve even seen. There was so much neat stuff about that house that I could probably take up a whole blog entry remembering it all, even though I have no photos to back it up sadly. (I did shoot video when I was last there in 1988, but go figure, I can’t find the tape.)

One really need feature of my grandfather’s house was the lighting. There was very little in the way of direct lighting. The kitchen, great room and entryway areas did not have walls that went all the way up to the ceiling (an interesting architectural decision in and of itself: where are the load-bearing structures?). On top of these “mostly walls” were lighting fixtures. They threw out a lot of light, enough to read by for the most part, by bouncing it upward off the white ceiling. Once you got back to the bedrooms, of course, you had complete walls for privacy, and more traditional lighting fixtures – overheads, reading lamps, normal bathroom lighting, etc. But that wall of indirect light fascinated me. I never did get the chance to get on a ladder, or just climb up on the freakin’ counter (Flora would’ve chased me out of the house for that), to get a look at what kind of lights were mounted on top of those not-quite-full-height walls. I think they were fluorescents. I don’t know.

I want to try a variation on that. The previous rope lighting scheme was all about mood and color, and that’s cool – that’s doable. I’m not looking to light the whole room bright enough to read. I’m looking to create a moody, relaxing space in which you can’t really tell where the light’s coming from, but you can still see it.

Other objectives with the next reconfiguration:

  • Put my desk in a different corner of the room so I’m facing everyone who comes in, rather than having my back to the door. I wish I could throw out some lofty feng shui crap about approachability vs. turning my back on the world, but my motivation is simpler than that: the boy is getting awfully good at sneaking out of his room when he’s supposed to be in bed. If I’m facing the door, I can see his little sneaky ass every time he tries to get out. And hopefully by then I can have a one-click thing on my desktop that’ll play the Mission: Impossible theme to let him know he’s been spotted.
  • Make it look less like a storeroom. Why? Mainly because, and this is the tricky bit, it’s not a storeroom. Someone lives in here pretty much 24/7. But it’s going to look a bit more like a living space; the removal of the steel shelves will kind of eliminate the floor-to-ceiling-wall-of-stuff feeling and make it less warehouse-ish.

Game Room 2008
Fig. 3: floor-to-ceiling wall o’ STUFF.

  • This is daddy’s workspace. When the tax refund gets here, I will be getting a new desk. That new desk will be where my PC and my Avid live. This is where daddy works. This is not where anyone’s toys or paws need to be. I need a new desk and I’m planning on snagging one with a little sliver of the tax refund, to replace the quickly-falling-apart desk I’ve had since ’99, which has moved several times now and has been the worse for each move. Next desk needs to last even longer.
  • …but this is daddy’s play space. I have two giant shelf units which used to hold a giant CD collection. Most of that CD collection is now gone. What am I gonna put in those shelves (at least the upper ones)? How about action figures? It’s time for one of my last great collections to come out and shine. It’d be nice if the whole shelves could be devoted to these, but I’m trying to be realistic, between the cats and the unusually tall kid. These large shelf units, currently sitting in the closet, will probably have some of the aforementioned indirect lighting behind them.
  • Crate expectations. There’s a freight-damaged grocery store a few miles from my house. How this works is as such: they sell stuff that got dinged in shipping. Cosmetically imperfect boxes of crackers, dented cans of vegetables, bottles of Naked Juice smoothies whose labels were peeling off, you name it. They sell it for, on average, 1/4 normal retail, or less. Sometimes it’s a scarier place to shop than Wal-Mart has a reputation for being, but you know, I can wince and avert my eyes from your ass crack quite a bit for those kind of savings! (Would you believe I used to write and produce TV ads for a living?) Anyway, they also sell their shipping containers. They’ve had a bunch of plastic stacking crates that originally held canned veggies. They started out at a buck a pop; now they’ve got so many left over and they’re ready to clear ’em out, I’ve been able to talk them down to a quarter a crate. They’re in decent shape (and they can be washed), and they stack any way you like. You’ve already seen them in this post, and you’ll be seeing them again in the background of the back-of-the-book author photos. Come to think of it, they’ve been showing up quite a bit lately around here, because they’re really handy, sturdy, and they stack like a boss. Like a stack of bosses, really. And since they’re grated, guess what? They can be lit from behind (like a boss)! My wife’s already gotten a bit tired of the huge pile of crates I’m accumulating in advance of the reworking of my room, but… I’m looking forward to it myself. It’s gonna be neat. And let’s look at the numbers again: a quarter a crate. I probably couldn’t build my own shelving that cheap.

It’s all about hiding some light, and yet having it hit as much crap as possible. This is going to be fun. And if I can bring just a little bit of the coolness of one of the coolest houses I’ve ever seen to my house, all the better. It’ll probably drive my wife nuts… man, this just keeps getting better!

Weep not for the rope-lighted game room of old. It was really nifty back in its day. But even niftier stuff is waiting to happen. And until the flooring thing happens… I’m really digging the concrete floor in the living room. If it was less fugly, I’d say it could stay.

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