How a System Engineer Works and Sleeps

This is a farewell to the best and most functional piece of furniture I’ve ever owned: a homemade lofted bed that I built 6 years ago. Over that time, it grew into an important piece of my own life, combining a sleeping space, a work space (although not a home office), and all the functions of a bedroom in between. (Also, at one point it was disassembled into two pieces and moved across the house in an elaborate shuffle of furniture.)

This highly optimized piece of living space is proof of only one thing: you will not get it right on the first try. There is only one of you, and you are not a finished product; nobody can design your workspace but you.

In my case, it was necessary that the workspace share a room with my bedroom. The foremost challenge was to make the space a comfortable one — otherwise why occupy it? (To that end, yes, that was a blue wrist rest cut in half and zip-tied to the arms of the chair in order to make them softer.)

Comfort Providing

The closet lightbulb was removed, and replaced with a plug adapter. Since the loft covered the area left by the closet, the closet’s light switch was conveniently next to the desk chair.

The lighting was mostly indirect or diffuse, which is conducive to staring at a computer screen for a few hours at a time. The rope lights were suspended on screw-in brass hooks, and the sconce was screwed into the rafter directly.

Building with unfinished wood allowed me to modify things without hesitation.

(Next to the sconce is the morse code and NATO phonetic alphabet, which I was trying to learn at the time.)

For the times that I needed full and direct light, I put a shelf into the corner post by the workspace, then put a lamp on it that could extend over the desk.

As you can see, the shelf mounting is nothing special but entirely functional.

Although I rarely used it, I had an Eclipse “computer light” lying around that i mounted by screwing and bracketing a small shelf to the girder at the head of the bed.

To make the peak of the New England summer more bearable, I mounted this fan (formerly from some manner of telecom or server cooling system) to a flexible mount intended for a podium’s microphone.

For its power throughput, it’s remarkably quiet thanks to its ball bearing design.


Although there was originally a wooden desk with drawers under the bed, I replaced it with a wooden table top that I cut into the desired “L” shape. (The number of times I banged my knee on the desk subsequently dropped to zero.)

The underside of the desk shows the remnants of the framing on the original table. Although crudely attached to the corner post and horizontal members of the frame, it is still square, level, sturdy, and functional. A minimal amount of cable management — a few brass hooks and some ribbed tubing — was sufficient to keep the wires out of sight.

The edge of the desk that was not supported by the frame of the bed relied on a single leg for stability. In order to get the leveling just right, I made an adjustable foot by adding a threaded insert to the wood, and casting the head of a bolt in Instamorph (aka ShapeLock) plastic, using a small spice jar with a flat bottom and sides as the mold.

The bolt could then be threaded in or out as appropriate to set the proper level.


I tried to keep the wiring as unobtrusive as possible. The power and USB cables for the black Dell laptop were tied together and placed so that the length was almost exact. A right-angle USB connector made this even easier.

The extra connector comes from the aftermarket power supply I’m using — it has a USB-charging plug tied to the laptop plug.

The other end of the USB cable was connected to a USB hub, conveniently mounted at the back corner of the desk. This made it possible to plug in USB disks or wireless mouse keys vertically, easily, and out of the way. The white cable goes to the printer.

Similarly, the cables for the MacBook were run in space-efficient style.

The power and networking cables were run to a power strip and switch, mounted firmly to the molding of the closet. For convenience, there is also a power strip mounted at desk level. The lowest plug on this strip is an in-line switch, which controls the plug for the fan.

In an earlier layout of my desk setup, I had installed this 1/8″ stereo extension cord, allowing me to switch between headphones or speakers at a more convenient location than the back of my computer.

The other corner post of the bed has the power for my iPod charger (going up to the bed), printer, label printer, and Dell laptop. The mounting holes on power strips rarely go to waste in my house.


Instead of hanging clothes in the original closet — now blocked by the supporting hardware for the loft — I mounted shelves to hold various electronic parts and projects.

The clothes were moved to closet rods that I hung under the loft. Next to the rods, I tipped a sideboard-style set of cubby shelves on its side to hold folded things.

Deepest under the loft was the garment bag for my nice clothes. Nearer to where I’d get dressed was the less formal stuff. The shelves held the pants, shorts, and sweatshirts that I’d wear regularly. Socks and casual shirts were in a separate dresser out from under the loft, where they’d be most accessible.

In order to cheat a few more inches out of the coat rod from the area available, I took advantage of the height difference between the garment bag (which had an internal rod) and the regular closet rod. It was an extra 5 inches or so altogether, but it added a measurable fraction of space — enough for 8 or 9 more shirts. This helped make up for the space taken up under the rod by the shelves.

On the other side of the loft, I attached a board with some coat rods for winter clothes. To that, I attached a shelf for gloves and hats.

None of this is attached to the wall (which is actually a plastered-over chimney); it’s attached only to the loft itself.

My EDC hangs here, on hooks and in pockets. Also, a mirror designed for a car visor was the perfect size for me, and I attached it here.


Of course, the primary function of this huge piece of furniture was to be my bed. I preferred stairs to a ladder.

The lighting was controlled by a touch lamp that I disassembled and mounted in this blue work box. The yellow wire (connected to the blue wire) was the touch sensor circuit, which was connected to 2 pieces of conduit: one that ran the length of the bed and one along the headboard. (The conduit is visible in the center of this image). This allowed me to just reach over the side of the bed any time I wanted to turn the light on or off. The rope light and a reading light are plugged into the socket here.

The rope lights are red to be easy on my eyes at night, not specifically to be “mood lighting”.

Tucked into the corner post at the head of the bed is a tub of lip balm. Also within easy reach is a pen and paper to write down whatever to-do lists or weird dreams pop into my head at night. They are hanging from a binder clip that hangs from a small brass hook.

Space Conserving

To make more use of the extra space under the stairs, I mounted the charger for my handheld vacuum cleaner and an air filter.

Last (and probably least), I rounded over the tops of the girders and rafters in a few places with molding, so that they’d be comfortable to hang from and do pull-ups.

It’s the little things.