Designing the Nerd Cave or How my foray Into the world of unconventional sandbox design taught me to ALWAYS have a plan

     I’m a planner.  Sometimes that can be a bad thing.  I frequently succumb to what’s known as “paralysis by analysis.”  G.I. Joe claims “knowing is half the battle.”  For me, knowing I have this problem doesn’t always keep me from falling victim.  But in the case of my new Nerd Cave, I made a conscious & disciplined effort to keep that side of me down.  It’s not every day a guy’s wife tells him to take a whole room and do with it what he will (except, of course for hanging model airplanes) and I didn’t intend to squander the opportunity.

     A couple of weeks after my wife gave me carte blanche, we sold the headboard and mattress.  The room was empty.  It was time to start making the “making it happen” part happen. I sat down with a pen and paper.

     My first order of business was to decide what functions I wanted the room to serve.  That may seem obvious but how many times have you done something with minimal forethought only to look back and say “it seemed like a good idea at the time?”

     When I think back on my life, there’s one particular, shall we say “idea” that didn’t quite pan out.  And I can’t believe I’m even talking about this.  Much like Legolas soon after the death of Gandalf–for me, the pain is still too near.

     At our last house, a few years ago,  we wanted to get a sandbox for our toddler son.  We looked around locally and came up empty and I couldn’t find one online that wasn’t outrageously priced.

     Not to be denied, I got the bright idea to install a hard plastic pond liner and fill it with sand.  I picked out a spot and scoped out the available liners at Lowes.  But deep inside, I think there was a little voice telling me “don’t do it.”  So I procrastinated.  Until one Saturday a couple months later, my wife said “let’s do that sandbox thing you were talking about.”

     What the heck, I said. It was a slow day, so I took the ol’ Ford Ranger down to Lowes,  bought a nice-sized, kidneyish-shaped terraced liner and a BUNCH of sand, headed home and proceeded to install.  With no planning to speak of, I made my first mistake right off the bat.  I mean, it was a Saturday afternoon and I wasn’t trying to make a career out of it.

     Like the Leonardo DaVinci of unconventional sandboxes, I laid the liner down (upside down—pay attention, that part’s important) and used a can of orange spray paint to trace the outline of the sandbox.  I recall my wife looking down and saying, “Now that’s really smart.” She knows genius when she sees it, right? Survey says?  ERRRRRRRRRR!!!!! You see, it would’ve been smart IF I had been installing the liner upside down. Of course I didn’t figure that out until I’d dug the hole in the hard, dry Alabama red clay (we were in the midst of a dry spell). D’oh!

     I ended up hauling much of the dirt I’d dug out and dumped in the woods behind the house BACK to the hole to back-fill the areas I’d dug out incorrectly. Pride brought me out early Sunday morning to finish the job. In the end, the sandbox looked great and my son loved it so all’s well that ends well. I love it when a plan comes together, I thought as I stood on the edge of my creation gnawing on a cigar butt.

     But again, my lack o’ plan came back to bite me right on the butt.  You see, covering a sand filled hole in the ground?  Not as easy as you’d think.  I bought a tarp and cut it out roughly 8 inches larger all around than the pond liner. I figured, I’d tuck it under the lip and thus keep the sand nice & dry as well as prevent the local stray cats from using the thing as the litter box of their dreams.

     Unfortunately, the liner didn’t “tuck” all that well.  It was a huge pain in the butt and as we all know, we tend to avoid doing things that are pains in our butt.  I “forgot” to cover the thing a time or two and suddenly I had a perpetually wet sandbox.

     And you know who else likes big sand-filled holes even better than stray cats? Fire ants, that’s who.  If there’s one thing we don’t have a shortage of in Alabama, it’s fire ants.  Within a few months, the thing was Ant City and I was the mayor.  And last I checked, a RAID soaked sandbox is probably not an OSHA-approved child-friendly play area. And that was that.

     So, I’m well acquainted with the “it seemed like a good idea at the time” concept. I certainly didn’t want to end up with a poorly planned and poorly executed hovel–the dreaded “Junk Room.”  In the spirit of not fathering another epic fail of the in-ground sandbox magnitude, I set about defining the “philosophy of use” for my nerd cave to be.  “Philosopy of use” is a phrase I picked up from a guy on youtube who has a channel  (which I highly recommend) devoted to gun, knife & gear reviews as well as tactical shooting, etc.  He goes by “nutnfancy” ( which makes it a bit ironic that he rocks such a “fancy” term for asking “what’s it for?”

     So what’s a nerd cave for?  In my case, I came up with five main uses for my home- within-my-home:

  1.  Reading (including maximum bookshelf space)
  2.  Watching movies, T.V. and video gaming
  3.  Model building & miniature painting
  4.  RPG & board gaming
  5.  Blogging, Web surfing, online shopping, and eBaying

     That’s quite a few things for a relatively small space. Plus, the room still has to function as a guest room.  In my next few posts, I’ll break down my plan for each of the above five functions and review some of my furniture & accessory choices.

Next time—I digress a little and drop some knowledge I wish I didn’t have.