How do I hide a computer when I’m not using it?
April 26, 2011 12:35 PM   Subscribe

How do I hide a computer when I’m not using it? I want to use a PC in the living area of my house but not leave electronics in plain sight.

I’m a computer guy, and like to work on various programming projects. However, I’m also married, and like to spend the evenings with my wife. I’d like to find a way to work on the computer in our living area, but not leave a keyboard, mouse, and monitor in full view all the time.

What I have to work with:
- My budget is about $150.
- We have a small room off of our living room that I think I can use, provided I can hide the setup well. From there, I’d be able to see the TV, and talk to my wife. It currently contains a large work table and a chair.
- My computer setup is a netbook (with wifi), with attached keyboard, mouse, and 15” flat-screen monitor as a second monitor. Unfortunately, I need all these attachments, as programming on just the netbook (or any laptop, for that matter) is not ideal. (Big hands, bad vision.)
- I’m open to some new or used furniture, or perhaps some kind of portable enclosure for the computer.
- I am a procrastinator, so I’d like as foolproof a system as possible. If it takes a bunch of steps to put everything away, I’ll likely end up leaving it out, risking a wifely wrath.
- I can handle power tools, but anything I build from scratch/plans will likely end up as ugly as sin and somehow catch fire. I can handle modifications to professionally made things, though.
- I’d like to be able to see “over” the desk, so I can see the TV, others in the room, etc., without swiveling much. So against-the-wall solutions or a desk with a tall back are not ideal.

My lead candidate at this point is this fold-out desk, from which I’d try to remove the shelves and folder slots to make room for the PC parts, and drill a hole to add a power strip. However, it’s a bit over my budget, needs to be drilled into the wall, and I’m not 100% sure there’s enough room inside for everything.

My other thought is to get a case, similar to a sewing machine carrying case, and basically just stuff everything in there, still wired together, and stash when not in use. I’d pull out the netbook, mouse, and keyboard when I want to work. Workable (provided everything fits), but messy.

Any ideas, or improvements to what I’ve come up with thus far?
posted by coondognd to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
The Unclutterer blog has a flickr pool that might give you some ideas.
posted by cyndigo at 12:40 PM on April 26, 2011

Does the small room have a closet? Turning a closet into a workspace you can close a door on is a great solution. Barring that, an inexpensive armoire, secretary desk or cabinet from craigslist can be easily fitted to store your bits and pieces.
posted by iconomy at 12:46 PM on April 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've always thought about (but never actually done) building a computer into a sewing-machine table. Typically, the sewing machine (or your computer) folds away out of site, and I think it would work well with a bit of engineering.

You'd have to find a used one, I'd guess, but that might not be so hard.
posted by JMOZ at 12:46 PM on April 26, 2011

A vintage wardrobe, with the help of a saw and a drill, can have a chair pulled up to it and electronic spaghetti piped neatly out of the back, then be closed away to invisibility.
posted by tel3path at 1:15 PM on April 26, 2011

We have a closet-as-office, and it's great. The closet dividers are nonadjustable wood, but my partner is all excited about simply putting up a cleat or two and running a sheet of plywood across it to do pretty much what you're trying to do.

I'd also suggest the Ikea Hacker blog, which has some neat ideas (that don't necessarily have to be made from Ikea stuff).

I am totally with you on the procrastinator thing. You should definitely start with a wireless mouse and wireless keyboard. Maybe you could get sort of a portable-backgammon-board setup where you can fit both of them in the case and just open it and start.

The main thing that seems to be the issue would be the monitor. My partner and I leave our laptops plugged in at the couch and just lean them up against the ottoman (terrible...), so maybe it wouldn't be so bad if you had a cord long enough to slide your monitor into a cubby or pick it up/put it down out of sight.

Also, did anyone ever have those computer stations in, like, a school library where you looked down into the cabinet and the monitor was there? Some of them are really expensive, but there are some less expensive options that might work for you. I'll bet you might find some at surplus shops, too.
posted by Madamina at 1:22 PM on April 26, 2011

You could look for a little table with drawers on either end (vaguely like this - it's ornate, but the first good example I could find) or even mount drawers under a table, with the wires connected under the table and through the back of the drawers. No clutter on top when in use, and you can tuck the gear into drawers to hide it.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:28 PM on April 26, 2011

More expensive than you're looking for, but what about a roll-top secretary?
posted by coppermoss at 5:10 PM on April 26, 2011

If I'm correct in what you're asking for, you want something that will face the door to the living room, and yet people will not be able to see the computer set-up. Unless the works are completely invisible, when you're tired, you're going to be tempted to leave things out. You also don't want to strain your neck by looking over your shoulder or have to turn to see your wife or the TV.

A friend of mine has a home office in her living room, but it's nearly invisible. The room is longer than it is wide. She put her desk at the south-east end of the room facing into the room, and put a four foot high book case in front of the desk as a divider. There are books and decorative objects in/on the bookcase, and a potted plant sits to one side where the monitor slightly rises above. From the front door, you see the bookcase, but can't see the computer setup and piles of paper. Her two-drawer file cabinet sits to the north side, and is covered with a cloth and has another plant. You walk between the bookcase and the file cabinet to enter the workspace. It doesn't distract from her living room decor at all. Not sure if your current worktable would lend itself to this type of setup, but you could probably pick up a bookcase within your budget.

Post a pic when you figure your solution, please?
posted by BlueHorse at 7:36 PM on April 26, 2011

Roll top desk? Finding one in usable condition for $150 would be a trick, but if you think you might like to own one, you might budget more than that.

My dad bought an old one and refinished it when I was a kid, and I thought it was just the coolest piece of furniture ever.
posted by Bruce H. at 8:41 PM on April 26, 2011

We have a similar setup, and wanted to block off my boyfriend's office so the computer setup couldn't be seen from the front door. What we did was get some IKEA curtain panels and the hanging apparatus that lets them slide back and forth. When he wants the area open, we can slide the panels off to one side, and when he wants it closed, it blocks off the office but lets light in.
posted by telophase at 1:50 PM on April 27, 2011

Posted before adding this - you can see what we've done with the sliding panels here. Since that picture was taken, we've rearranged that area of the living room (turning everything by about 90 degrees) and hidden the A/V rack behind the panels as well, so I don't have to see the spaghetti mess of cables all the time.
posted by telophase at 1:54 PM on April 27, 2011

Not sure if this would work for you, but this is my satellite workspace at home. It does need to be up against a wall, which isn't quite what you're looking for, but hey, it's in your price range!
posted by evoque at 8:26 PM on April 27, 2011

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