Charlie’s Closet

While I was away in California with Charlie (my youngest son, who has a mental illness diagnosis), my husband said he needed to repair the door-frame to the closet that Charlie uses as his “safe space.” (Charlie had slammed and kicked the door – hard, splitting the wood in the old door-frame — AND kicked a considerably large hole in drywall at the back of the closet too!) I said “NO!” and “Remove the door and the frame and throw them away!”

Let me explain: at the time when we purchased the home, the original dark stained wood trim (in our 1905 house) had “passed” a hazard assessment — conducted with a standard issue, HUD-standards-compliant (radioactive source) XRF instrument typically used for testing paint calibrated for simple “pass/fail” (where pass = below 1 milligram per cm square of lead). But then, years later, when I tested it myself with a more sensitive, state-of-the-art (non-radioactive source) XRF model designed to detect with a much greater accuracy [after Charlie was born and he tested positive for lead!], the trim and some doors turned out to actually be positive for lead in the 600 to 1200 ppm range (hazardous by current standards for new paint — but paradoxically not hazardous enough for standards that merit HUD funding interventions in low-income homes). It has to be at least 5,000 ppm before a HUD inspector will label it a “hazard” by current federal standards — think on that one for a bit!

Anyhow – I jumped at the chance to get rid of the door and the trim in the area where Charlie likes to snuggle (and watch a movie or color), even though it was considered “safe” by HUD standards. So while this is still a work in progress (we need to finish the floor (plan to use marmoleum) and reinforce the side walls with wood so he doesn’t kick them in) his little nook is now completely lead-free!!!

While we were out of town Len and my 15 year old son A.J.:

  1. removed the door and original trim
  2. replaced the trim
  3. reinforced the doorway with new wood
  4. rewired the light and switch in the closet
  5. designed and fabricated the Japanes Tosii arch-inspired hard-rock maple facade
  6. repaired the hole at the back of the area with a thick piece of nice plywood
  7. built up/leveled the previously weird two-level sub floor to prep it to install some some new marmoleum (as soon as we can afford it!)

…and I’m really excited to get him a bean bag chair and finish a few other details (a secret shelf, some glow-in-the-dark paint, new white walls painted with cherry blossoms!) to round it out.

Quite a far-cry from Harry Potter’s “closet under the stairs!” [See pics of the original door and trim. lol.]

Note: the reason we originally started this project and called it “Charlie’s Special Space” is because … several years ago …. it WAS a coat closet, full of coats (and sleeping bags stored behind the coats) and one day Charlie was mad and went into the closet and peed all over everything in the closet – on purpose! My (not at all angry) response [truly, I wasn’t angry at all, for some inexplicable reason!) was, “Hey Charlie, you know what it means when an animal pees on something? It means that they are “marking it as their territory”! That means this closet now belongs to you! YAY!” … and then [after much scrubbing and laundry later (and having Avi and Charlie paint the walls with the decorations you see here, including Avi writing his name perfectly – backwards] it became Charlie’s “personal chill space.”

Tamara Rubin​

Here’s what the closet looked like before:

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