How not to decorate ...........Unless you're really, really, bored one day!

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As a science fiction fan I spend rather a lot of my time watching futuristic films and television programs like Star Trek, Farscape, Doctor Who, Star Wars, Firefly, Stargate and many more - usually with the word 'Star' somewhere in them. One thing I always take note of in these productions is the imaginatively designed sets and in particular the constant lack of wallpaper in the future!

Here we are in the 21st Century and when I was a kid this was the distant future. How many science fiction films begin with the classic words 'its the 21st Century'. We're well past 'Space:1999' and '2001' has come and gone and all we have to show for it is the mobile phone! Where are the flying cars and moonbases?

Every time I switch off my television set and return to reality I'm always struck by how boring the modern home is. Plain flat walls are either covered in paint (didn't the cavemen do that) or wallpaper, large sheets of pretty patterned paper glued to the wall - GREAT! At times like these a thought usually drifts through my mind (and I bet quite a few other peoples) wouldn't it be cool if the room looked like something off a science fiction show. Normally this thought floats around for a few seconds, maybe a few minutes, maybe longer if I'm drunk! But usually sanity prevails. USUALLY.

A couple of years ago it didn't and I lay the blame for this at the feet of two people, Kit Bevan and David McLaughlin. This is beacause at several Fanderson Conventions Kit and David had displayed their impressive Moonbase Alpha replica sets (Picture top right). These were true attempts to recreate the Space:1999 full size set pieces and were done to a high standard, including buying all the expensive '1970s' Italian furniture and finding authentic things - like the clocks and monitors.

Having looked at this for quite a while, and picked their brains for tips on how it was done, it made me realise that something like this could be made to a high standard and not look like pure embarrassing rubbish.. This was important because the only room in my house that this mad project could be mounted was the downstairs living room - hiding it upstairs in a spare room simply wasn't practical. So it had to look reasonable good or I was going to have to turn into a hermit and lock all my doors and pretend to be out every time someone knocked at the door! Of course there is a chap, Tony Alleyne in Leicester (UK), that has famously turned his flat into a copy of the Starship Enterprise for 26000 - but I wasn't thinking of spending that much!! So it also needed to be reasonably cheap.. .

The first problem was deciding what Sci-Fi design to build - but as a 'Space:1999' fan my other ideas were quickly discarded and a '1999' feel was the order of the day. Unfortunately a straightforward copy of Moonbase Alpha was not possible because of the size and shape of my room - Alpha wall panels are 8 feet high and my walls aren't. Also the Alphan panels are wide and would not scale well to the room size. Other practical problems were building around the fireplace and the idea of handling/cutting large sheets of MDF. Also if the panels stand on the floor how do you get the carpet under them. And when you vacuum-clean the room how do you not end up bashing into and damaging them? Finally the real problem with building something like this is the fact that it will be perfectly straight and perfectly square - houses are not perfectly square at all - certainly not mine!

So after a great deal of thought, and about 200 plus design sketch's, I decided to take my favourite Keith Wilson 'Space: 1999' set design elements, mix them up, modify them, and come up with my own version - or should that be vision? I started by making a short list of elements that I liked.

1, I've always liked recessed panels. Unlike normal flat walls Sci-Fi wall panels often have a 3-dimensional feel that I really wanted as it creates differing shadow effects depending on the lighting source.

2, A computer covered in flashing lights was a must! Every Christmas period shops will display and sell various types of decorative lights, and whilst 99.9% of normal people think of Christmas Trees I always think of Irwin Allen TV shows that I watched as a child - they always had silly computers covered in millions of flashing lights.

3, I wanted some sort of feature around the fireplace with overhead lighting.

One problem I was still worrying over was handling the large white wall panels. However as the normal 'Space:1999' design featured an upper and lower recessed area per panel it seemed a much better (and easier) idea to make them in two halves and fix them to a frame on the wall. This would mean having a visible join line through the centre that would not have looked very good so I initially discarded the idea.
However one of my favourite design elements from 'Space' was Keith Wilson's fairly regular Black & White rooms, one of which appeared in 'Journey to Where' - where a white room had a black band running around it. As I was having white panels next to the almost-black computer panels it struck me that I could use them to cleanly spit the panels in two and give me two designs for the price of one.

Problem sorted it was now time to begin.

The first part of my project would just be to make the computer - and if I decided that it wasn't going to look very good I could cancel the idea of changing the rest of the room. So I picked out my favourite panel designs from the 1st series of 'Space:1999' and drew up a plan, as with the rest of the project it couldn't be a perfect replica due to size problems. The original panels (see below) were made from 1/8th inch plastic sheeting with a hardwood frame glued to the back for support and fixing to the studio wall. This one is 23 & 1/8th inch's wide, 11 & 5/16ths inch's high (or 587cm x 287cm). The pattern of lights is drilled and cut out, with the round holes having a 1/2 inch diameter and the rectangles being 1/2 inch wide and 1cm tall. The various colours are created simply by inserting coloured off-cuts of Perspex into the holes with white translucent Perspex as a backing plate. My replica panels would be different in several ways. Firstly they were slightly smaller at 22 x 11 inch's and I was also not going to cut out all those lights. I decided to use Perspex and simply create the lights by masking them off before I spray painted the panels; this would be much quicker, easier and neater.

Original wall panel

The panels were made from 4mm Perspex. Each one was placed over a simple plan and then the light pattern could be marked out by placing pre-cut pieces of masking tape into position. (For the circular ones I had a collection of self-adhesive paper screw head covers) The panels were then spray painted with white car primer and the white lines could then be marked in position using thin strips of masking tape. Finally the panels were sprayed with the topcoat of Hurricane Grey paint - with the last coat dusted on for a satin finish. All of the masking tapes were then removed and the 'lights' could be given colour by attaching pieces of translucent plastic to the rear side. At first I thought I was going to have to buy some expensive tinted filters but ended up cutting up cheap multi-coloured plastic wallets from a stationary store. Industrial strength tape was used for fixing the parts quickly although the two wooden positioning blocks and metal plates had to be super-glued.

To support all these panels I assembled a frame on the wall using 3-inch thick timber. A series of magnetic catches were glued to the frame, the first of several hundred used on this project, as I wanted the panels to be easily detachable and not have lots of visible screw heads.

As all computers have to have flashing lights then a bit of wiring was required. Several sets of decent Christmas tree lights were bought and set up behind the panels. In order to get them bright enough many of the lights had to be paired off and tin foil was used to reflect light and stop light spill into other areas. Also even though the final two sets of lights were flickering behind small holes you could still see that there were two separate and distinct groupings, so a few bulbs had to be intermingled to kill the effect. I was very happy with the first version of my 'Computer', but I finally decided to slim it down to two columns for design reasons. All these panels are magnetic so can be removed/changed easily and give access to the lights. The blank panels are 4mm MDF with metal vents from a DIY store. I was going to buy the metal handles from the same store but Ikea sell them much cheaper. A computer keyboard was broken up, the keys spray painted and hot-glued to a plastic sheet backing, to create the replica centre panel - as seen in the episode 'Ring Around The Moon.'

With the computer now considered to be a success I decided to push on with the project and do the adjoining fireplace next. Again the basic frame is blocked out using a decent thick timber, as it needed to be strong and I didn't want it to start warping after a few months. All screw heads that would be visible were counter-sunk and the holes filled and sanded smooth. I decided to continue the black panel effect on the overhang roof section and the centre mantelpiece, although here I used standard household emulsion paint.

I was stuck for an idea for the centre-piece but in the end decided on a painting/picture, that harked back to the 'viewscreen' look from the series, surrounded by some recessed panels.

Recessed panel sections took a bit of effort to construct as I wanted them to have around one to two inches of depth, which meant that I couldn't just cut the shape out of one layer of material and then simply slap a backing panel on. Firstly I had to cut out the shape of the panel from 4mm MDF, then draw in the shape of the centre recess and remove it. Lengths of hardwood were then glued and nailed to the back to give me the depth. In order to get a smooth consistant paint finish this hardwood also had to be covered in thin MDF so a gap was left between the wood and the inner lip. Here the covering strips of MDF were glued to the inner edge of the hardwood and were held in position with masking tape. At this stage gaps are left in the corners to allow the panel to remain perfectly flat.

I decided to coat the MDF in Sanding Sealer to give a better surface for the filler and later paint finish - but I'm not sure if it was really necessary.

The curved corners were made quite easily by applying car filler to the area, then placing a length of thin Plasticard on top and holding it in the correct shape for a minute whilst the filler set. Here I ended up using a plastic cap from a paint tin to provide the correct shape. After the filler had set I removed the plastic pieces and trimmed off any surplus material. The filler was then sanded down until it was nice and smooth and blended into the surrounding wood. The heads of the panel pins, that secured the hardwood, were punched beneath the surface of the MDF and the small holes filled in.

*All the MDF panels were painted using standard household emulsion, in this case white vinyl silk, but the trick is to apply it using a Gloss roller, which speckles the surface, creating a professional quality looking textured finish.

Of course the original studio Alpha panels were actually an off-white colour but I didn't want that.

A picture frame was modified to fit in the centre of the wall, again it can be easily removed and changed. The surrounding black panels include more lights and a digital clock, this was a cheap plastic model that was partially cut up to enable it to fit into place. There's actually very little difference between the black emulsion and the Hurricane Grey car paint, so the room just appears to be black and white.

I spent a great deal of time making sure that the effects lights were working and appearing brightly enough but I didn't realise that they were also showing through parts of the panels where the thin white lines were! So I had to paint the rear of some panels black or just use black electrical tape to stop the problem.

With the chimney area done it was on to the final stage of covering the rest of the wall in recessed panels. Each panel was 22" x 34" and made just like the smaller corner pieces. Only the outer edge has to be constructed as the flat centre area is just a standard sheet of 3mm white plastic-coated MDF.

The original plan was to include shelves in the design, for books and CD's, but I found that any modern day items that stood out ruined the look of the wall. Although there is a Hi-Fi unit, gas fire and television in the mix these items are black and fit in reasonably well.

Note - all the panels end 6 inches above the floor and a semi-recessed blank wood sheet covers the gap and all the various wires and more importantly means I don't end up kicking and damaging the panels..

Right; A finished corner piece. All the recessed panels needed to be screw fixed which required the use of the plastic caps.

After the wall construction was finished I decided that the design didn't look 'balanced', one side of the room was too dark so the computer had to be slimmed down to just two columns, instead of three, and a couple more recessed white panels were fitted. This meant that I had to change all the electrical wiring so it caused me quite a bit of trouble to do.

Next problem was that my blue patterned carpet looked completely out of place. So the carpet was thrown out and plain grey office-style (and pleasantly cheap) carpeting replaced it. The next problem my multi-coloured sofa looked wrong! So out the door with that and a white leather not-so-cheap corner unit replaced it. I also ended up buying a swivel chair from Ikea called 'Luna' which seemed apt.

I also then noticed that colour was starting to become a problem and I've had to become rather ruthless in removing it from the room. My dark blue curtains just didn't look right and also had to be thrown out and replaced with black. No matter how good something is, if it isn't black or white then it probably has to go. Even some of the small colours in the computer sections had to be toned down or removed!

Finally I finished, well just stopped actually as there's still a couple of little bits to do and I suppose another wall.......maybe later with that.

Overall the project seems to have been a success and I have had a few favourable comments about it (and one person even tried to buy it!), although several visitors do seem confused!

Luckily although the wall took around six months to build, and is very solidly made, it can be taken down and removed in just a few hours.

There are a couple of minor drawbacks to it though.

Firstly one of the main reasons I did this was simply to get it out of my system, I didn't want to find myself sitting around as an old age pensioner wishing I had done it and not being able to. Now that I've done it I can go back to normal and forget about this sort of silly thing....or can I? The problem is I am really comfortable in this room, after 40 years of Sci-Fi this is my sort of environment and I really feel at home!

Secondly after saying all that I've been living in this room for a while now so I often don't actually 'see' it. When people come to my house they walk in and stop dead like they're in a trance or having a heart-attack with me asking them 'What is it, what's wrong?'
Then I look round and notice the 26-foot-long futuristic wall with a 'Oh that thing!'

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