Building in basements comes with a lot of problems.
There’s the issue of water damage. Since Meemaw’s basement is a walk-out, that wasn’t a huge problem. There was a little bit of efflorescence under the porch / in my future closet, but more pressing was the water was coming in through the garage. We re-dug a drainage ditch that had filled over time due to erosion and started leaving the garage door shut. We caulked the cracks near the foundation in the old laundry room, and we hired a team to come Drylok the walls. Problem solved.
There’s the issue of accessing necessary electrical and pipes. We studied this problem carefully and came to a few conclusions. One, the back half of the basement, barely had anything running under it. All the plumbing was in the front half. So we put in a drywall ceiling in the bathroom and across the whole back half of the basement, including the bedroom. The HVAC ductwork makes a natural dividing zone, and the front half of the basement has a drop ceiling that was run incredibly tight to the joists. Putting those squares up there took some MacGuyvering, but it worked, and we can now access all the plumbing and necessary electrical if we need to. We boxed around the water main and electrical box and left the drywall there open, and now a lightweight framed poster is velcro’d over the water main’s opening, and a curtain is hung over the electrical box. Easy, hidden access. Problem solved.
Then there’s the issue of some shit being just plain ugly. We still have a cinderblock wall running along the stairs, but my bff painted the blocks the same color gray as the finished walls (Sherwin-Williams Pewter Cast in Satin Cashmere) and all of a sudden they started to blend in better. Win! However, one big eyesore was still left – the house’s support posts. See what I mean?
Originally there were actually three of these babies in the basement, although I only ever knew those two. Sugarbandit disguised the third one years before I was born, encasing it in the far corner of the framing that made up the laundry room. I discovered it when I demo’d out the drywall in there. That inspired us to make sure the bedroom’s dimensions would accomodate hiding the middle support post the same way, as you can see in the picture above.
Unfortunately, that left us with one support beam, smack dab in the middle of our living section. Obviously removing it was never an option as it is a loadbearing structure. I *thought* our contractor was going to box it out – I was planning on painting the wood and attaching hooks for a functional coat rack – but he left without doing that, and I later discovered it wasn’t written into our contract. Uggh. I had never noticed it wasn’t added and so I didn’t get what I wanted.
So we wound up living with that uglyass support post for awhile as I tried to figure out what I wanted to do with it. I didn’t have the proper tools to frame it myself – I don’t have something to shoot bolts into the concrete slab – so I knew that wasn’t an option. Canadian Bacon was under the opinion I should just paint it something unobtrusive, in hopes it would disappear visually like the concrete wall. I kept putting that off since I knew I’d need to take a wire brush to it to clean the rust off, and we’d left an unattractive hole around it in the flooring that I wasn’t quite sure how to fill, either.
Then one day as I was browsing cat furniture on Pinterest, I saw a pin where someone had wrapped a stair rail in sisal to make a giant scratching post. All at once it hit me. It was almost like Bast herself, the cat goddess, stuck her claws in me and purred “If you want to be an excellent cat mom, you need to build your pride the mother of all cat trees around that uglyass support pole.”
Thy will be done.
My cats actually have two cat trees already, but one of them is still unfortunately in Thunder Bay. We couldn’t fit it in my car when we moved back down, so CB’s Auntie Jo is keeping it in her garage until we can retrieve it. Meemaw instructed Mom to buy it in her name when Mom drove up there with me, because she hated the idea of her greatgrandkitties not having a cat tree. See, she’d bought me one for my birthday several years before, and she knew how much my critters loved and used it. That’s the one they still have here, and there is ALWAYS a furry butt perched on it. I was sure another cat tree would get a lot of use, and we might as well turn the support pole into something functional, right? (Ignore the fact that it’s already being super functional by holding up the house, please).
I told CB immediately what I wanted to do, and then tried to figure out how to implement the idea. My biggest hurdle was how to attach the platforms. It seemed like the easiest course of action would be to drill through the post and pop bolts through it to hold brackets for the platforms in place. I discarded that idea immediately, however. I don’t know if putting holes into a pole that is holding up the damn house is a bad idea or not, but it didn’t seem like it would be great for overall structural integrity. Instead I tried to figure out a solution that would not involve altering the structure of the pole in any way.
What I finally hit upon was a combination of Liquid Nails and zip ties (some people call them “cable ties” and they are with the electrical stuff at Lowes). I figured that I could take L brackets and stick them flush on the pole, coat the surfaces that were touching with Liquid Nails, and wrap them in zip ties to hold them to the pole while the adhesive dried.
In my super visual brain, I pictured a platform sitting on top of the brackets. The cats would put a downward force on the platform, which would press against the brackets. The zip ties and adhesive would keep the brackets from bowing out, and the pressure exerted along the top of the brackets would hold the sides more firmly against the pole itself. Now, I don’t know if that is logical or follows the laws of physics in reality, but I can say now that almost two months later, it worked and hasn’t budged. Woot!
You will need to plan out how many platforms you want and how far apart you want them. I decided on two. I didn’t really do any math or anything to figure out where to place my two platforms. I knew I wanted them to be high enough that my cats could stretch out to scratch underneath the bottom one, and I just eyeballed them from there.
Now, on to platform building. This part of the project was 100% on me… although I don’t really know why it was, because CB and I actually differed greatly in our ideas for the cat tree. I originally wanted to do rectangular shelves spiraling around the pole, sort of like a kitty spiral staircase. I figured that would be easier than trying to build around the pole itself, which was what CB wanted to do. Sometimes, when it comes to stuff like this, CB and I have a hard time working together because we’re both so stubborn. Both of us together shopping in Lowes can get volatile at times, and this was one of those times. Finally I was like “screw it, just pick out what you want” and we went from there. I felt like it would be a big pain in the ass to wrap the shelves, and it definitely took more work and money (because we had to get some straight brackets), but it worked well in the end.
We got a couple of 1/2″ sheets of birch craft wood because they came in 2x2ft pieces and it was more cost effective than a larger piece of plywood we’d have to rip down. I dogeared the corner of the top platform with my miter saw so my cats could more easily climb up there from the bottom platform. Then I marked the center and traced out a circle the diameter of the pole (the bottom of a mug was almost perfect – I didn’t do anything fancy like making a compass with string and a pencil, although I would have if the mug hadn’t been the same diameter). After that, I used a straight edge to draw marks from the outer edges of the circle to the side of the panel, keeping the lines parallel. I needed to cut that out so I could slide the plaform around the pole. I used my drill and jigsaw to do this.
The bottom platform was slightly more tricky, because we decided we wanted to leave a hole in it for the cats to climb through. What I wound up doing differently was drawing to lines off the center pole at angles to widen the opening, then going straight out and parallel to the edges. You can see this more clearly in the picture below.
At this point, before going any further, I made sure to take both platforms in to dry fit them on the pole. There was just a little bit of extra space, which I figured would be perfect for cramming full of more Liquid Nails and then covering with carpet. I didn’t bother with sanding down the cuts for smoothness or anything since I knew they’d be covered.
Once I ensured the platforms fit, I took them back out to finish working on them. Keep in mind also that I saved the pieces I’d cut out. I needed the top piece in its entirety, and I cut about 5 inches off of the bottom piece. You’ll see why further on.
Now I needed to build sides for the platforms. This isn’t totally necessary and in fact, once we started to attach the platforms, I wound up taking the top platform back outside to chop off the sides and to take about 6 inches off on each side. It was just too big and we figured it would function better as more of a “crow’s nest” type perch. This was a learning process, remember. The main reason we decided to do sides at all is that my cats are remarkably clumsy. When Stinky sleeps, he’ll roll over and off of stuff. We didn’t want him or the kittens falling off and on to the hard floor. In fact, when I cut the top platform down later on, I made sure it was small enough that a cat falling from it should just fall onto the lower platform.
Anyway, sides. I used some scrap moulding we had left over from trimming out the apartment, but you could use whatever scrap wood you have lying around. I didn’t care what the sides looked like since I knew I’d just be covering them with carpet later on. Honestly, in retrospect I don’t even know why I mitered the sides together other than just for the fun of it and for more practice fitting trim together. You can’t tell in the finished product. If I were to do this again, I’d just slap that shit on there all willy-nilly and ugly.
Next, I slid the bottom platform onto the pole and positioned it where the brackets would support it without protruding into the cutout. Then, I used woodscrews to secure the platform to the brackets. Make sure they’re not too long. We didn’t buy new screws for this since we knew we had a ton, but ours were ALMOST too long. It would have sucked to have to go back to get new screws. Once the platform was in place, I got the cutout pieces and secured them back to the platform using flat brackets. Then all the seams got a healthy coat of Liquid Nails for further support.
Once I tapped the last piece of moulding back onto the side, the platform was complete. That picture is actually the top platform – I apparently didn’t take any good pictures of this process with the lower one. Keep in mind that I left an opening on the bottom for the cats.
Now it was time to start wrapping the pole. I estimated we would need about 250ft of sisal, but I couldn’t find a continuous length of it at either Lowes or Home Depot. Sigh. We wound up purchasing 5 50ft length packs, and we were actually able to return one unopened when the project was done. If you do this, make sure you use sisal. “Manila” rope looks a lot like it, but it’s been treated with different oils and isn’t safe for your cats.
This part CB and I teamed up on, and he wound up doing the brute work here. I ran a bead of Liquid Nails around the aforementioned cutout in the flooring, and nestled the first strand of sisal down in the opening. It filled it PERFECTLY. I’m telling you, this cat tree was meant to be. Ugly hole, disguised! Woo! Then I started wrapping the sisal around the post. It was tough work because you had to pull it super tight. This is where CB actually took over. He’d wrap while I’d slide the rope around, feeding it to him and making sure it wasn’t getting tangled. Every few inches, we’d run a vertical bead of Liquid Nails and also tamp the rope down tightly with a rubber mallet so it wouldn’t gap.
Together, we wrapped the sisal all around the pole until we reached the bottom platform, taking care to wrap it tightly around the brackets and to cover the zip ties completely. I glued it off and tucked the cut end under so it would appear seamless. Rather than proceed up the pole, we decided to go ahead and carpet the bottom platform.
This was a complete pain in the ass and this is where I fail you. I have very few pictures of this process, because CB and I were trying desperately to get things done without killing each other. We had bought some shag carpet remnant from Lowes for $12 – it was from their scrap bin and was a good price and neutral color. We wanted something “fluffy” for the kitties. However, this was a total bitch to work with. I’m not sure if different kinds of carpet would be easier or not. This was also a factor in why we cut down the top platform – after struggling to carpet all the curves on the bottom one, we wanted to make it as easy as possible on ourselves.
Basically though, I cut the carpet piece for the bottom to size, made a slit and hole for the pole, and used the staple gun to secure it in place. That was the easy part. For the top, we added on the height of the molding x2 and then added another 2 inches to wrap it around. Then we made strategic slits to fold the carpet around all of the corners. It got to be so bulky in places that my staple gun wouldn’t work, so we wound up using finishing nails to tack the top part down around the sides. Fortunately, it looks good and not like a hot mess… which is TOTALLY what I thought it was going to be like as we were struggling to make it work.
Not going to lie, after doing the bottom platform we said screw it and took a day or so off. This was when we decided that there was no way in hell we were going to carpet the top platform in the same way… we were never doing sides again. Ever. So I used my utility knife to score the dried Liquid Nails, unscrewed everything, and took the top platform back to my saw to chop off a good 6 inches or so the entire way around it. When we got our will to live back, we took back up with wrapping the sisal, carpeting the flat top platform, and continuing the sisal all the way to the ceiling. That part was much faster. Without a doubt, the longest and hardest part was carpeting the lower platform. If your cats are graceful, I would recommend leaving sides off the platforms. They complicate matters a great deal.
The cats love it. All 5 of them play and sleep on it. We finished the cat tree around the 4th of July, and it’s held up well. It’s quite sturdy, although if you knock into the lower platform (if I did this again, I would raise it up about 6 inches – it’s at perfect hip height right now) it does wiggle a little. The kittens zoom up and down the pole to go through the opening; our bigger cats prefer to just jump straight to the bottom platform. There’s usually always someone occupying it; more than likely there’s a couple cuddled up together. This thing is MASSIVE, guys – probably three or four full grown cats could fit comfortably on the bottom platform, and two adults can lay together on the top. Storm seems to prefer the top, and the others like to sleep on the bottom.
Turn Your Pole Into a Cat Tree – Materials and Cost
If you use your basement to any extent and have cats and exposed ugly support poles, I wholeheartedly recommend converting one into a cat tree. While not cheap, it was more inexpensive than buying a cat tree from PetSmart (tall ones start out at about $120 and more intricate designs can go upwards of $200), and it made a MASSIVE tree. Your cats will thank you.
I already owned the following tools and materials:
compound miter saw
drill / driver set
leftover scrap moulding for sides
staple gun and staples
I had to buy:
2 24″ diameter birch craft wood plywood, about $6ea
6 giant L brackets, about $1.50ea
4 giant flat bracket support thingies, about $1.50ea
Liquid Nails, about $3
4 packs of 50ft 3/8in sisal rope, $8.50ea
scrap shag carpeting, $9
The total cost came to about $75, which I think is pretty excellent for such great, giant, cat furniture.
And to make a long story short, to build it I:
- Attached brackets to the pole with zip ties and Liquid Nails
- Measured and cut my platforms
- Tacked moulding onto the bottom platform to make sides
- Attached platforms to the brackets on the pole
- Reattached the cutout pieces to the platforms with straight support pieces
- Liquid Nails’d all the seams
- Wrapped the sisal rope from the floor to the bottom of the top platform and glued it off
- Carpeted the bottom platform with much crying and cursing
- Continued the sisal from the bottom platform to the top platform
- Carpeted the top platform
- Continued the sisal from the top platform to the ceiling, where I cut it and glued it off
- Took 50 billion pictures of my cats climbing all over it and being adorable
Seriously, I have so many pictures of my critters loving this tree that it’s taking a lot of restraint to keep from putting more up here. I just keep telling myself that this post is already epically long enough. I’ll have to make sure I sprinkle more throughout this blog as I write more entries.
I hope this post inspires someone else to build some kickass cat furniture using their basement supports!
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