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My mom is a motivational keynote speaker, and like many when the pandemic hit, her line of work went virtual. The problem wasn’t that she couldn’t still inspire people behind a screen—it was her office. There was only so much moving around the house she could do to find a suitable background that didn’t include peeling wallpaper or mismatched furniture. Luckily, I (an avid HGTV binge-watcher who believes Joanna Gaines is her soul sister) had two years’ worth of sleepless nights to come up with a clear vision for my mom’s workspace. I was living in the U.S. at the time COVID hit and wasn’t able to go home to Australia until late December 2021. So when I finally touched down in Sydney, it was straight to Bunnings (the Australian Home Depot), and Project Green Room was in full swing. 

The office, before.

Originally, my goal was to build a built-in storage unit from scratch—I’m no Jonathan Scott, but I know my way around tools and carpentry. But due to time constraints (and probably my mom’s fear of my workmanship falling on her), we went down the flat-pack route. By using IKEA kitchen cabinets for the structure, the supplies we needed were pretty much limited to things we already had around the house, like drills and Allen keys. There was never an exact spoken budget, but thanks to the savvy shopper gene I inherited from my grandmother, the total cost came to approximately $1,400 AUD ($975 USD). But the biggest saver of them all was having three generations of my family, as well as talented and skilled friends, happily chip in and lend a hand. That’s something money can’t buy. 

The Color That Took Persuading

Going green took a lot of convincing, as my mom is definitely one to err on the side of neutrals. Every time we passed a green wall, whether it be a neighbor’s fence, the hardware shop, or IKEA itself, I’d make her pose in front of it to convince her it was her color. Eventually, I got there and we went with the shade Black Water by Dulux

Mom was captain of painting because, apparently, my struggles to color within the lines are grounds for not being allowed to touch a paintbrush. While she swathed the wall in the rich emerald hue, I assembled the four IKEA kitchen base cabinets, which we landed on for their sturdiness and deep storage. The Bunnings staff suggested topping them with $100 heavy-duty pine plywood-blend pieces for the tabletop. As the surface would need to span nearly 4 meters across, we bought two slabs, cut them to size, and secured the new full length with liquid nails and wood filler to hide the seams. 

The “Big Problem”

While I had agreed to use stock storage units, I was still insistent on adding my own design to the $35 IKEA doors. A fluted look was something I was very drawn to, and while the design with dowels was simple, what wasn’t simple was the price. With the number of channels I would have needed to cover the fronts, it would have cost me more than $3,000—nearly triple the project itself. 

For weeks I racked my brain on alternatives, and despite my mom’s wishes, I just couldn’t let it go. I finally got it: skewers! Immediately we headed to a barbecue store to buy 1,000 for $20. The only thing we needed to do was trim the pointy ends.

Maybe I’m biased, but my grandfather is the most talented and wonderful man. No matter the problem or project, he will find a way to make it work. However, like his daughter, he’s a perfectionist. His catchphrase for even the slightest issue is, “big problem.” So when I brought over the 1,000 skewers to be cut, I naively thought it would be an afternoon job. Little did I know this “big problem” would cost me tears of frustration and take more than two weeks to solve. I was more than happy to individually cut off the points with scissors, a saw, a knife, or the pruning shears a Reddit thread had suggested—all strategies that mortified my grandpa, who quickly pointed out that they’d never all be even and exact if I did it that way. After testing one contraption after the other, the winning solution starred a $2 sanding disc, and, ironically, it only took 30 minutes to cut all 1,000 bamboo sticks. But the major brainstorming delay meant it was all hands on deck to complete my must-have fluted doors. 

Mom stuck to painting throughout most of the skewer drama. Because the shelves only came in a darker shade, the Bunnings color experts tinted the primer with some of the same Black Water paint shade, so that we wouldn’t have to apply so many coats of green. Looking back, sanding down the bookshelves first would have helped the whole process go even smoother (painting straight onto laminate means it continues to peel off even when lightly knocked). 

The Perfect Zoom Spot

It was my final day in Sydney when everything came together. While my grandma sat and watched in support, my grandpa (who would never allow me to tell you his age, but let’s just say he was born in 1925), was on his hands and knees assisting in installing the doors, the shelves, and everything in between.

This project was a labor of love and truly a team effort. Our neighbor saved the day after I accidently cut off our Internet connection, and my electrician friend installed our light fixture and dimmers. Working with my family is a memory I will always hold dear in my heart, but just know it wasn’t easy. We all have different personalities, visions, ideas, and ways of doing things, and we definitely vented to one another…about one another. But in the end, with communication, high-fives, and a little give-and-take, my mom got her dream Zoom backdrop.