DIY Kitty Wall Condo
WHEN WE HIRED, er, rescued, our new CFO (Chief Feline Officer) we had already donated our big old (emphasis on OLD) cat condo we'd had for many years.
Our family room is small, and a giant kitty condo does not work well. At all. So we decided to utilize a small wall and design and build our own cat wall condo. While I doubt we invented this idea or coined the phrase "wall condo", we were pretty excited at the idea, and coming up with a stylish but functional place for the new CFO to lord over his realm was a fun project and something he really needed for kitty exercise and mental stimulation.
The DESIGN: Step 1 is to measure your space, and do a mock up of the overall layout. Its just a starting point but it is an important first step in your design. I started goofing around on my PC with ideas using Sketchbook Pro, and did several drafts before I decided on the one I liked the best. Our CFO is a particularly giant kitten, so considering he is likely going to be a 15 + pound cat, I went with larger shelves, wider spacing, and heavy duty brackets and wall anchors. Other considerations are what is this likely to be used for? Do you want a feeding station? A sleeping nook? Scratching posts or mats? Or just simple shelves for climbing and play?
The DRY RUN: Before we went any further, I used painters tape to mark the shelf locations and overall design on the wall, and stared at it for a few days (forgive the photo!). Decide how far apart the shelves will be by assessing your cats climbing stride and jumping ability. We did between 10 - 12" apart. Besides adding a kitty wall condo, we were also updating the paint and decor in this room. While that was happening I started purchasing my materials. I decided to go with two shelf sizes: an 8" depth for steps, and a 12" depth for hanging out. The size of the "step" shelves was going to be 10" wide, with three longer shelves at 16" and 24". I used a 2" x 8" x 8' board for a 16" long perch near the bottom, and a 2" x 12" x 12' board for two long shelves up higher; one in the middle at 16" long, and one at the top at 24" long.
MATERIALS: Next I started looking for brackets. I knew I didn't want to use standard shelf brackets. I wanted a more styled look, so it didn't look like someone got drunk and hung shelves on the wall. I toyed with the idea of creating my own brackets from pipe, but nixed the idea when I realized the weight and the cost. Not as cheap as one would think, and super heavy. After a pretty exhaustive search, I found these on Amazon. They rated high, and with free returns "just in case", I went for it. I ordered two sets in the 4" size for the smaller 8" shelves, and two sets in the 6" size for the 12" shelves. Note I am using one bracket each for the "step" shelves, and two brackets each on the wider perch shelves. Find the wider brackets here. Something else to mention: the depth of these brackets is about an inch longer than stated due to the circular flange that attaches to the board.
CUTTING: While I was awaiting the arrival of the brackets, I got to work cutting and staining my shelves. Here is what I did: (5) 8" x 10" shelves as steps, (1) 8" x 16" shelf for perching, (1) 12" x 16" shelf for perching and attacking passersby, and (1) 12" x 24" shelf at the top for hanging out, surveying his kingdom, and possibly napping if we add a bed later. After cutting to size, I used a sander on all sides of each board to remove any rough areas, and to soften the edges. Please note I am using construction wood, not furniture grade boards. I chose to use this type for this project because of the rustic vibe I was going for, as well as for cost. If you prefer a more modern, finished look, I would recommend a furniture or project grade board, but be prepared to spend a lot more.
STAINING: Staining was next. I started with a wood conditioner; this really helps the wood (especially construction grade) take the stain more evenly. Next I used a cloth and two stain colors to achieve the tone I wanted. Minwax Special Walnut and Golden Mahogany, at about a 75/25 mixture. You can choose any color you like for your style, and there are colors as well that look great, like black, gray, and red. This wood is soft, and absorbs the stain quickly, so be aware of that before you start. A little goes a long way. Harder, furniture grade woods take the stain much differently and you may need more coats depending on the tone and color you want to achieve. I would recommend some color tests on an unused piece of board before you begin staining your shelves. This is a great way to play around with different colors, just be sure to label each color using a sharpie.
BRACKETS: My boards were ready and waiting when my brackets arrived. I loved them and was very happy with the look, weight, and overall ease of putting them together. A couple of things to note here as well: although I ordered "black" brackets, two sets were more what I would call "iron" in color. A darker steel tone, but not at all a true black. I was ok with this since I always have black spray paint around. After cleaning the pipes and putting them together, I sprayed them black. It took 2 coats from various angles and they turned out great! TIPS: You have to clean these pipe brackets before use as they are oiled. Do not use water, they will rust. Follow the directions on the brackets to clean each piece before assembling.
Once the brackets were ready, I had my husband re-tighten all the pieces together for me before I put them up. A recommendation for this stage - If I was doing this again, I would use some type of adhesive or glue when assembling the brackets to keep them tight. If these were being used to support a shelf to hold books, it would be fine, but since a kitty is jumping on them, the risk is there that the constant pressure will loosen them over time and cause the shelves to tilt. This has happened to one of our shelves, so I actually added a small piece of square trim along the bottom to keep it from moving. Unfortunately with this type of bracket, once they are in place, its very tricky to fix any issues! You will see a star on the "tools list" next to both the square molding and Gorilla Glue - this is why.
Below is the tools list. I tried to be as specific as possible, but if you do have any questions please drop me a line!
TOOLS & SUPPLIES (Home Depot or the Do It Best Hardware)
2 x 8 x 8 (1)
2 x 12 x 8 (1)
Pipe Shelf Brackets (6")
Pipe Shelf Brackets (4")
Stain of your choice (we used Minwax Special Walnut and Golden Mahagony)
Black Screws (#8 x 1.5" for wall / #8 x 1" for shelves)
Wall Anchors (we used wall anchors that hold 74 lbs - they cost about $8.00 for 20)
Miter Saw (The Big Box Stores will cut for you if you dont have a saw)
Orbital Sander or any electric sander (There are small project sanders available for under $30!)
Carpet Tiles (we used Foss Peel and Stick Tile 9 x 36")
Recommended: Gorilla Glue or Strong adhesive for metal *
3/4" Square Molding * I used for support but not necessary for initial install
HANG 'EM UP: Next was the install, and both myself and my husband assisted with this portion of the project! Its easier to have 2 sets of hands. We removed the tape from the wall for each shelf as we hung them so we got the location and spacing just right. We put the brackets on the wall first, then attached the shelves. This was harder at the bottom, but easy at the top LOL. Be sure to use all 4 wall anchors and screws for each bracket! Remember the force of your kitty jumping on each shelf is more than they weigh. Have I mentioned our kitten is a giant? (See the photo of the guy this is all for to the left, note in this photo he is still bitty!)
Once all of the shelves were up, the next step was to add some skid resistance for safety and kitty comfort when climbing. My kitten headed right up (of course!) before we had anything non-skid applied, and he did slip around a bit. That reinforced the fact that we definitely needed skid resistance.
After much research on this front as well, I decided to use peel and stick carpet tiles. I used black since my shelves were darker toned and the brackets were black. At first I thought lighter was better, but after trying out a lighter taupey/gold that was a hard no. Having used these before in my iguana cage, I knew the install would be easy. We cut them to size for each shelf and positioned them carefully and stuck them on. After about 2 hours we went back and used a staple gun to attach them more permanently to each shelf. This is necessary because if kitty is trying to climb or ends up hanging from a shelf, the tiles will slip and likely some off under the weight without the staples. Not safe.
We also added a fun little sign (not shown) to let our "dog know" that she is not allowed on the kitty wall condo per the "rule of mew", a verrry long standing rule in our house Ha. In addition we added a scratching mat on the wall, and a small pad on the top shelf for naps. For top shelf kitty safety I also added a small "railing" so he could feel safe and supported while napping up high, with no risk of falling off the side. For the railing, we simply used stacked 2 x 2's, painted black and sealed with a poly coat. I ran the railing on the back half of the shelf where the bed was inserted. My husband used his nail gun to attach it to the shelf, however you could easily use long, skinny screws like a deck screw to attach it from the bottom.
This was a really fun DIY for the CFO and it is going to get a ton of use! Although the room is still a work in progress, it looks pretty cool in the room, vs. a traditional kitty condo. Purrfect!