I found out at an early age that I’m allergic to white walls. Everywhere I live or work ends up plastered with T-shirts, posters, flags, toys, projects, tapestries— whatever it takes to make it feel more like home.
When I moved to a new city, I knew I’d be living completely by myself for the first time in my life. I’ve been lucky in the past, in that all my other cohabitants have enjoyed (or at least tolerated) the eclectic nonsense that went up on the walls. Starting fresh though, I wanted a decor that was unique, thematic and at least a little classy. I always wished I could have grown up at Hogwarts, so I settled on trying to make my apartment feel as close to the Ravenclaw Common Room as possible. In this post you’ll find the DIY details I managed to document while taking on one of the biggest customization projects of my life.
I knew setting out that this was going to be a lot more time consuming and expensive than just thumb tacking a few items to the drywall, so I started by taking a look at the space as it was, planning out the major components, and budgeting the supplies.
I spent a lot of lunch breaks at work sketching or making lists.
I even went so far as to make a Gantt chart on smartsheet.com to try and have it finished as soon as possible (This was actually helpful because I tend to get side-tracked easily by other projects in progress).
As you can see, I had a lot of ideas, but it boiled down to a few important components:
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Like I mentioned before, covering the walls is normally my first priority. In this case there were a lot of things coming together at the same time, but probably the most ambitious part of the project was finding a non-permanent way to get rid of the white walls and lend a feeling of Victorian elegance to the place.
I started looking at whether non-permanent wallpaper exists, but the best I could find was to buy un-pasted paper and attach it with tacks or staples instead of paste. That quickly got ruled out, as most damask (the fancy floral silhouette designs) wallpaper runs about $50 per roll, easily adding up to a few hundred dollars. Not only that, but without gluing the paper up, the humidity would inevitably have made it sag with any other method of hanging.
The other non-permanent option would have been hanging cloth on the walls. The price problem and sagging problem would both be even worse with cloth. Even plastics, while impervious to humidity, will eventually stretch under their own weight and sag.
Because my landlord was planing to renovate my unit when I left, I considered just painting the walls and giving up on the security deposit. Before it comes to that, I found another option that ended up working great.
I used something called Smart Fab disposable fabric. It’s a non-woven composite that seems to be made of natural fibers as well as some plastic. It combines the best of both worlds, acting like a very thin plastic-feeling felt. It’s what disposable shoe covers and re-usable grocery bags are often made of.
This stuff is everything I needed. First off, it’s cheap. A 40″ by 40′ roll costs less than $20. Second, it’s light enough that it can be hung, even on the roof, and won’t sag. This was helped by the fact that it’s non-woven. Third, it breathes, meaning the AC won’t catch air behind it and cause it to push away from the wall and come off or stretch.
They don’t sell Smart Fab with designs on it, but it does accept acrylic paint fairly well. I decided that the best way to get a damask design I want was to make it myself and stamp it on. I knew how time consuming stamping can be, so I wanted to make a large one that was repeated fewer times. It took a while to combine my own sketches with elements from other damask designs, but I eventually got a nice crisp jpeg.
I projected the image onto the back of a foam tile floor mat, and traced the image with a Sharpie.
The whole thing got glued onto a 2’X2’X 1/4″ medium density fiberboard with rubber cement. Then I started the tedious process of using an Xacto knife and a wood burner to cut/burn away the background and leave a raised stamp.
Mostly I cut away the background out and peeled it off the MDF backboard, but smaller elements that I didn’t want to fall apart were easier to melt. My wood burner was only 40W, so I used blowtorch to keep the tip of the wood burner hot enough.
With that finished, I laid down some plastic and started rolling out the Smart Fab for stamping.
I used a small paint roller to get a light coat of dark blue acrylic on the stamp, then simply stepped on it once or twice. Then I hung the fabric up to dry completely before putting it on the walls.
The genius behind this approach was that the stamp was on the diagonal, so that when the design was vertical when the fabric was at a 45 degree angle. This meant I could use a staple gun to support the fabric between the designs where two pieces meet, then run a ribbon to cover the staples as well as the seams. By weaving the ribbon over/under I could also cover the staples used to hold up the ribbon.
In case any staples ended up showing, coloring them with sharpies of a matching color was the perfect way to hide them. This was a lot easier to do before loading them into the gun.
I used the same material in different colors to cover the ceiling and make drapes going from the light fixture to the corners of the room.
I didn’t have quite enough wallpaper to do the bathroom so I finish it up later after stamping a few more yards.
One of the most annoying things about apartments, in my opinion, is that the main room almost never has a central overhead light. When I thought about what kind of lighting the common room would have, I imagined it being some kind of large crystal-looking fixture that hangs low into the middle of the room. I sketched it out a few ways and started thinking about how to construct it.
When I did the math to see how big I wanted it, and realized I could make it big enough to hide a projector. I’d always wanted a projector and it turned out to be more affordable to buy a decent one secondhand than it would have been to buy a new (much smaller) TV.
Looking at how many sides I want and how big to make it, I initially I thought a heptagon would be cool because of the significance of the number seven in the HP world, but in the end, a six-sided shape worked better to have the opening for the projector, and matched end tables I found.
The projector complicated things significantly though, because it couldn’t be in the way of the light bulb or it would cast shadows on the panes, and there couldn’t be a support structure between the projector and the screen. There was also other lighting and a Google Chrome Cast to consider, so wiring turned out to be quite a challenge.
I wanted to maximize the screen size while keeping the whole fixture in the center of the room. This required a lot of calculations, so to make sure I got the angles and measurements right I eventually resorted to rendering the whole thing in Blender.
The only way to get power to the light and projector was to run an extension cord up the wall to the ceiling. I had to also run cables to the sound system from the projector. I knew it’s bad for projectors to power off suddenly, so the projector went to the outlet directly while the light fixture went through a remote switch mounted by the door.
Cheap foamcore was perfect for the panels because the foam is fairly translucent and the paper is not held onto the foam very well, so I could peel it off in large chunks. If some strips were left on, it sort of resembled marble. I found out later that peeling all the paper off and rumpling the foam a bit results in wrinkles that look even more like marble, but it was too late to re-do.
For the frame I used some of the same urethane trim that I put around the ceiling. The thinner, angled strips were a good width and could be snapped to the length I need, saving me a lot of time. I attached the whole frame to the roof with aluminum drywall cornering. The two panels closest to the wall opposite of the couch got hinges so they could swing up and expose the projector. Fishing wire cables attached behind the pivot held them open, while others went the roof to support the structure where the missing support made way for the projector beam.
This was all nice, but it could be even more magical. I put one of these color changing light bulbs in the fixture, letting me set pretty much any hue, which really looked great through the panels.
I also put some black Smart Fab on the ceiling, then twisted 3 sets of these remote LED lights around the main fixture. I put the IR receivers sticking out on 3 of the corners of the fixture. The first layer of black was to keep the LED light from bouncing off the white ceiling and shining too brightly through a single layer of black.
This would have made it easy to see the outline of the wires. Another layer of black on top and they looked like stars that I could set to flicker or glow at various speeds.
The drapes got tucked under the corners of the fixture. Eventually, I got around to making a smaller, matching fixture for the dining area light.
The lights looked exactly how I wanted them, and whenever I wanted to watch something, I simply opened the front panels, pulled down the screen, turned on the sound system in the end table and cast whatever I wanted to watch to the Chrome Cast on the projector.
Another major element of the project that I knew would have a huge impact on how the space feels were the pillars. They really added a sense of being in a much older and more elegant building.
Essentially, the pillars were just cardboard tubes. The smaller pillars near the mirror and at the kitchen counter were made with 6″ diameter cardboard that my uncle had laying around (I think they were originally carpet spools), but the larger ones were just stacked 4’X 8″ concrete column forms that you can buy at any major home improvement or construction store.
I tested out some cheap marble vinyl on a tube to make sure it would adhere well and look alright before I bought all the supplies. I used floral foam wreath rings and some wood strips to make the base structures/capitals.
The wood was held together with tiny tacks (staples split the wood) and glue. Single ply cardboard provided a top surface. I cut out the inside of the rings and glue them on the top. Everything got a coat of paper mâché to hide the seams and round the edges a little.
I wanted these to look like they were made from cast bronze, so the texture was going to be the hard part. Paper mâché was almost good enough, but showed the lines between strips. I wanted a little bit rougher texture, almost like roughly smoothed over plaster. Of course plaster would have been too heavy and probably chipped off, so I used latex caulk. After spreading the caulk over the form I let it get tacky and pulled it away into a rough spiky texture.
After it dried for a while I sanded off most of the roughness with a Scotchbrite pad and used a wet sponge to smooth it out a little.
This yielded exactly the texture I was looking for, so now they just needed paint. The base coat was a medium brown latex acrylic.
The next coat was gold spraypaint.
This left them a little too bright and flashy, especially to look like bronze, so they got a final coat of watered-down brown acrylic.
One bottom pillar slid into the base and a sandbag weighed it down so it would stay put. The capitol got a cardboard backing to keep it from sliding down, then it was slipped onto the top of the second tube, and the two were stacked up and taped together.
To complete them I simply covered the tubes with peel-and-stick faux marble vinyl.
I knew their placement would make no sense architecturally, but they helped segment the room, provided anchor points for the drapes, and hid some of the wiring to the projector and speakers.
Mirror and Bust
Looking at my apartment when I moved in, I knew I’d need to do something with the mirror and shelves in the corner. The little recessed area had a mirror screwed to the wall and glass shelves on metal brackets. The brackets couldn’t be removed to leave just the mirror, so the shelves would have to stay. A lot of thought went into what would make sense there. Eventually I settled on a potions collection. A little while later I realized a bust of Rowena Ravenclaw would also be pretty appropriate.
I tried to find a bust that looked close enough, but it seems they’ve gone out of style, so I bought a styrofoam mannequin head and ordered this Ravenclaw diadem. For the price, it’s an amazingly well-made metal and glass replica.
I used foamcore and 1″ styrofoam to make the shoulders and base. The top was going to be a lot heavier so I hid an old horseshoe at the bottom. I used a mixture of paper mâché, mâché pulp and latex caulk to sculpt the features of the face and chest.
The hair proved the trickiest part by far. A lot of pictures pointed me toward a bun with curls falling down the back, so I sort of blocked that out with curled up foamcore, then mashed in some pulp for filler. The pulp never gets very smooth, but this project was taking more time than I had anticipated, so I moved on, leaving it recognizable but unrefined for a while.
Looking at the mirror area, the metal shelving brackets needed to be addressed. After the wallpaper and side pillars were fitted to the area, I made some forms out of foamcore and covered them with marble vinyl. I also covered the glass shelves so that you couldn’t see the metal brackets where the shelf met the mirror. I used some of the trim to cover the front, and it started to look really nice. A few trips to thrift stores (and liquor stores) later, and my stock of potions was filling in nicely. There are a few good potion label sets out there that can be printed, but I designed a couple custom ones. After printing, I antiqued the paper with tea in a process I’ll cover in a separate tutorial post.
I wanted some lighting to accent the area so I ran another string of led lights over from the central fixture to the curtains over the door, then behind the pillar capital and into the space between the two capitals. I want this lighting to be elegant and thematic, so it had to have some eagle filigree. I drew up a stencil and cut the pattern from posterboard.
I sprayed this gold and placed gold tissue paper behind it. The light that came through this in a nice soft glow that silhouettes the eagles. I also did the same thing in the bathroom to cover the vanity lights.
I realized that I would inevitably go insane if I didn’t finish the bust, so I sat down with some paper clay and start smoothing out the bumps. You can see how it fills in the cottage-cheese texture really well. Water keeps it workable and makes it so easy to smooth, so that sanding won’t be necessary.
To make sure it looks marble white and smooth I put on a few heavy coats of white, latex-based paint.
Once dry, she displayed the diadem beautify and acted as a perfect centerpiece for the “potion” mixing station.
Thanks to Rowena, what I thought would be a useless part of the room turned out to be one of my favorite features.
A lot of Craigslist browsing went into furnishing this Common Room. One thing I was really hoping to find was a fireplace. Just like with the pillars I want it to create the illusion of being in a castle instead of an apartment. Considering it was the middle of summer with highs in the 90’s, I was surprised to find the perfect little wood-stove heater posted for $30.
The fireplace was obviously electric (although I’m impressed with how good the flames/coals look) so it had to be near an outlet. I wanted something across from the couch anyway so the placement was perfect.
For the backboard and floorboard I covered foamcore board with the marble vinyl and cut a hole for the outlet. Some of the urethane trim went around the edges.
A fireplace doesn’t make much sense without a chimney, so I rolled some black poster board up and made a pipe going into the wall.
Molding, Crests and other Details
Wallpaper and pillars are great, but to create more than just a first impression of fanciness, the devil is in the details.
To start with, I wanted the seam between ceiling and wall to look nice. There were a lot of staples involved in hanging the wallpaper, so hiding those would be easiest with some kind of molding. I happened to find a few widths/styles of a faux cherry-wood urethane molding on sale at Home Depot. Priced at a few cents per 8′ section, I bought all of it I could fit in my car. It was so light and easy to cut that I end up using it in a lot of places around the Common Room.
The only problem with the molding was that, using it to frame mirrors or make fixtures, led to ugly looking joints, unless you had perfectly clean, angled cuts. As an easy, time-saving solution, I simply covered joints with decorative foam shapes.
Craft EVA foam is sort of porous, so a layer of acrylic helped smooth it a little. Metallic spray paint then looks fairly good on it, and I made a lot of gold feathers and squares to use at the junction of all the fake-wood trim.
Even though they didn’t look like real metal, they went a long way in hiding the sloppy cuts of the trim and making the features and fixtures feel more finished.
The pillar capitals also needed some bling, so I worked out a Ravenclaw crest to make for them.
It featured a crossed wand and quill, along with a book and the lamp of knowledge, similar to the damask on the wallpaper. The next step was to sculpt it in clay.
This let me make a plaster mold so that I could make many crests from only a single sculpt. I tried a few different materials but eventually used some extra latex caulk to get the full detail of the mold. This material wasn’t ideal because it turned out to be pretty heavy and takes a long time to dry in the mold, but it did get detail and accept paint really well.
Naturally, it got a coat of gold spray paint and a light wash of watery brown paint. I wasn’t trying to make it look bronze in this case, just to antique the gold a little and take some of the sheen off.
I used the same process to make eagle crests for the kitchen pillar capital
A scattering of battery candles complimented the star lights. I even used some old lamps, some different sizes of PVC pipe and a bunch of latex caulk to make some drippy-looking candle lamps. I had to use adapters to step down the bulb outlet from the standard e27 bulb. I used bulbs about like an outdoor Christmas light. To make it more flame-like, I coverd them in silicone mixed with some yellow food coloring. You can buy bulbs made like this already, but I didn’t feel like waiting for them to ship to me when it only took a second to dye the silicone and spread it on them.
A few other finishing touches included the glass beads on the light fixture and the Hogwarts banner I ordered. I was pretty disappointed to find that I had to paint the Hufflepuff section yellow because it was originally blue!
The Common Room evolved over the months. I decorated for holidays and hosted a lot of great movie nights and parties, but alas, the rent was too damn high, and it will all had to come down after only about a year. I’ve posted a lot of the pictures on Facebook so that others can enjoy part of what I had the pleasure of coming home to. Thanks for reading and geeking out with me. Keep up with Brain Venom Studio for more posts of my past (and surely some future) Harry Potter Projects.
Local News even picked up the story when they found out I was moving out. Who knew this city was so full of Ravenclaws?