Condo Living Essentials: Converting the Unused to Usable

Converting the Unused to Usable

Let’s face it, there is a fundamental change occurring in Vancouver and the lower mainland… the value of land is through the roof and first time home-buyers are leaving behind the dream of owning a house and flooding the condo market to break in. While condos provide an affordable alternative to detached housing, they often lack in square footage, especially in the city centre. So it’s important to take advantage of any awkward spaces that may be at your disposal. Here’s a couple of quick projects that we undertook earlier this year to make the most of otherwise wasted space:

Recycled Ducting Wine Rack

The wife and I are wine drinkers and one thing we found lacking in our new digs was storage space for wine. After months of keeping the bottles in beat up cardboard boxes I finally got around to planning a better solution.

In the corner of our apartment, tucked behind a bulkhead, is a little nook about 13 inches wide, 24” deep. It was such a tight space that no off the shelf furniture would fit. I wanted to build a simple, open cabinet with an industrial feel. A lot of our current furniture has an eclectic feel, so I wasn’t worried about clashing aesthetics.


The frame is constructed out of shop grade birch ¾ inch plywood I had left over from another project. I left the cut edges of the plywood untreated (no edge banding or finishing) since I was going for an industrial look. To keep the weight of the cabinet down I elected for a stick frame design. In the past I would have opted for closed box construction but as I gain experience I have learned that less is more, especially when I’m often on my own lifting awkward pieces of furniture into place.


The individual bottle holders are pieces of 4 inch DB2 PVC piping that were left over on a jobsite and destined for the trash. I originally wanted to use standard 4” PVC sewer piping but the exterior walls were too thick and thus I couldn’t fit a set of three pipes wide within the narrow opening in the wall. The DB2 electrical conduit has thinner wall construction and made a perfect fit for this cabinet. I cut them to length with my chop saw to fit a standard wine bottle. I constructed the cabinet to sandwich the individual pieces of piping together so that they float freely within the frame.


The project itself took about a day to complete in my shop and an hour to install. It cost me nothing directly as all of the materials were re-used/existing, Overall I am happy with the final product; it is both functional and has a clean look which was the original intention… And now our wine is on display and ready for a party!

 Indoor Hanging Herb Garden


The tangible satisfaction that I feel when I complete a successful woodworking project is something that I look for in other parts of my life. It’s the same feeling I experience when I complete a high profile project at work and, interestingly enough, I feel it when I am cooking. Cooking to me is about gathering ingredients and building a meal from scratch. The outcome, much like when I finish a build, is rewarding because I see the combination of ingredients married together as a dish. And if I want to make a great pasta sauce or a piece of roasted meat I need fresh herbs at the ready. After growing tired of paying a premium for store bought herbs and finding that they weren’t always fresh I started searching for a solution closer to home. Much like the spot the wine rack now occupies, there was a short wall near the window in our apartment that was under utilized. After perusing the internet for herb garden plans I came across a simple idea that hung from the ceiling.


The pot holders are just planks of oak plywood left over from another job that I cut to fit three small Ikea galvanized plant pots each. I cut the openings with a 4” hole saw chucked into a cordless drill. Then I wrapped the plywood planks with solid white oak trim to make the edges more durable and resistant to impact. The stain is a medium walnut colour and then a satin finish clear coat to protect the wood from any spills when the plants are being watered.


To hang the planks I bought some 3/16” twine from a local hardware store and set some eye-hooks into the ceiling with drywall anchors. The overall weight of the hanging garden is less than 15 pounds so I wasn’t concerned about the drywall anchors holding.


The twine was fastened under each plank with simple zap straps, which made it easy to set each level. After, I trimmed the excess twine from the bottom of the three planks and tied it off. The plant pots slipped right into place and just like that, it was finished – herb garden complete!


The plant pots cost approximately $20, the twine was another $4 and a small bag of soil cost $10. I had the plywood, stain, zap straps, eye-hooks and drywall anchors in my shop already so those were basically free. Comparable kits online will cost $50-$100. If they fit your needs then great! But my wall was so narrow this one had to be custom.

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