Divide and conquer

Screens are easy to make

By Debbie Travis

King Features Syndicate

Dear Debbie: A small area at the end of my living room has gradually become my home office. I’d like to put up some kind of screen to hide my desk from the sitting area, but those I’ve seen are too expensive. Any ideas would be appreciated; I’m fairly handy with carpentry. — Conrad

Dear Conrad: Screens are easy to make, and you can build one that enhances both your office and living area.


The simplest model is the one you see here — plain, flat, wood panels hinged together. Painted vivid chartreuse green, it makes a bold statement in a living room that has dramatic black walls and wonderful pieces of whimsical art. Of course, you can decorate it any way that suits your lifestyle.

When you build your own screen, you have the latitude to be imaginative with the size and shape as well as the decoration. Here’s all you need to know to fashion the perfect screen for your room.

Visit your lumber store and check out what’s available. Flat-faced, hollow-core closet doors (18 inches wide is a workable size) are a good buy and come either finished or unpainted. Plywood and MDF (medium-density fiberboard) are easy to cut to size, and you can often ask the store to do this for you.

If you are going to cut a shape in the top, such as a stepped or rounded arch, MDF is easier than wood or plywood to cut with a jigsaw, and it leaves a smooth edge that requires little or no sanding. If you are cutting your own panels, finish the raw edges with 1/2-inch-by-1-inch pine strips. Join the panels with 2-inch hinges and screws, 3 or 4 depending on the height.

Decorating ideas are limitless. If your decor is modern, any bold color will make a statement, and silver or one of the new metallic paint colors is very trendy. For a truly stunning finish, you could apply silver leaf over a black base coat. Another contemporary option would be painting color blocks across the panels. Have some shades spilling over from one panel to the next.

For a more traditional space, frame the side that is facing the living room with molding to match the room’s trimwork, and paint the panels to match. Fabric that complements the room’s soft furnishings can be glued or stapled onto the panels.

If you enjoy painted detail, stencil or draw a picture inside the panels, or mount a series of favorite photographs. Think of the panels as a blank canvas that you are free to fill with whatever color or design you love. They aren’t large, so if you change your mind, it will take little time to refinish.

The side of the screen that faces your work space can be completely different. Here you can glue on cork or screw on a metal sheet to hold business-related cards and messages. Choose an energizing shade of paint that will lift your mood. Yellow, orange and bright green are upbeat; soft blue, creamy white and warm gray are peaceful.


Customize this most versatile of furnishings to work double time. It’s an addition that you’ll be proud to show off.

Debbie Travis’ House to Home column is produced by Debbie Travis and Barbara Dingle. E-mail your questions to

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