For legal reasons, and the dangers of power tools and improper electrical wiring I have to begin with the legal disclaimer WARNING: This is for informational purposes only, do not try this at home. Improper use of tools may result in property damage, injury or death. Improper electrical wiring may result in electrocution, fire, property damage, injury or death.
Now with that out of the way, let’s talk about building a makeup table. With decision of clearing out the garage and parting with nearly all my worldly possessions (I haven’t seen for 2 years because they were boxed up) to make way for a photo studio, I decided room needed to be made for a top notch makeup area. I wanted it to be in the style of a Hollywood dressing room: a table with drawers and shelves, a tall mirror, outlets for a curler, blow drier, makeup airbrush compressor, etc, and lights running the full length of the sides and top of the mirror. Many compromises had to be made in the studio due to space limitations. My grand schemes had to give way to the need for practical access to items used on a regular basis and find places to put some things I just plain didn’t want to get rid of but didn’t have anywhere to put. Quickly my studio was becoming narrow.
I figured out where I would have enough wall space to put the makeup table if I moved the sprinkler timer from one side of the breaker box to the other. That gave me an extra 13 inches I needed on the wall.
With that out of the way, I could get back to planning. I knew the key elements I needed: a computer desk, mirror, and bathroom light bars. I already had some spare romex, all the tools I needed and miscellaneous items such as wire nuts, electrical tape, and screws. I would need a couple outlets, and a couple switches, one for the lights, one for the outlets, and mirror mounts. Since the wall this was going on was CBS construction (Cinderblock & Stucco – Welcome To Florida) I would have to take an existing outlet and use a build-out box to pull it out of the wall then get some PVC for electrical conduit to run it farther down.
The whole time I was planning the designs I had to consider the needs of everyone else using it and how the practical applications can give way to some design elements I may want. For example, the primary makeup artist I deal with is particular about the Kelvin temperature of the bulbs she applies the makeup under, and rightly so. She likes to make sure the light she applies the makeup tones under matches the light the pictures are being shot under, or the colors will appear different than she intended. It’s an artistic integrity which I respect, and as her art affects my art, I also highly agree with.
Unfortunately most flashes and strobes run about 5900k in temperature, and no matter what the situation, I pretty much very never take my camera out of Cloudy white balance, which is 5650 on Nikons which I feel is truer to daylight colors VS the Daylight white balance setting of 5000k, which I feel is much colder than true daylight. The fact remained that no one really makes bulbs in this color range. Compact Fluorescent bulbs that are marked as daylight are 6500k, putting off a much colder light than true daylight. Nevertheless, the next step down in Kelvin temperature is 3500k. It’s possible to get into 5500k lights but they are oversized bulbs for putting on umbrellas stands and taking the pictures. I had to settle on the 6500k CFLs. Also, in consideration of the same Kelvin issue, I decided I would also replace the overhead light with a 6500k 13w bulb. This would be bright enough to walk around in any time of day, but dark enough that 1/200 of a second @ f/3.5 would not show up in the pictures at all. Even still, I was going to stay particular about the Kelvin of the ambient light. In the end, to compensate the 500-800 Kelvin difference, she will end up making the skin tons slightly warmer, which I like anyway.
Next, while still planning in my head, I mentioned to my friend that I was going to build this and he suggested putting it on wheels. His friend Mike Kubeisy in Hollywood, who shoots for NCIS, House, Law & Order, Chuck, etc, built himself one and loves that it is on wheels. It would be useful, but would make the design and construction much more difficult and expensive. I decided it was worth the extra effort and that I was going to do it. I knew before I decided though that that one aspect would completely change the wiring, construction design, and I would have to buy several more items. I considered the easier option of just using a power strip and having the lights plug into it, but I decided against it for aesthetics, opting to keep the outlets and switches in wall plates.
And with that, I headed off to my local Habitat For Humanity Re-Store. I picked up the computer desk for $10 that was a little less than 2 inches wider than what I wanted but well within acceptable tolerances, a 42.5″x27.5″ mirror for $5, a full sheet of OSB for $5, and (2) 47.5″ light strips with 8 bulb sockets each for $5 each in what was luckily the exact square chrome style I wanted. This was a key design element that I would’ve bitten the bullet and bought it at full retail to retain the styling I had in mind. The light strips did make it much taller than I would’ve liked, but you just can’t beat the price.
I already knew the dimensions of the wood backing that the mirror and lights were going to mount to, so next I hit the local fabric store and got a 90×60 cut of vinyl. This was another aspect I was not going to budge on. The wood needed to be covered and I was not going to settle for a fabric that would soak up dirt and be hard to clean. Vinyl has a nice sheen look and can simply be wiped off.
Just down the road from the fabric store is the home improvement store, where I grabbed the 2″ casters which were actually less expensive that the 1.25″ and 1.5″ and have a higher weight capacity, junction boxes, wide style light switches, tamper resistant outlets with the plastic guards inside them to help keep the dust out, spray glue for the vinyl, several boxes of bulbs (19 + 1 for the overhead light), and a few other odds and ends.
Since it’s going to be mobile, it needs a good extension cord, and I already had the perfect candidate in mind. My old dog Grace chewed the end of this one off but it still worked great so I never threw it out or even replaced the female end (I actually kept using it). Now was the perfect chance to chop that end off and repurpose it I went ahead and did most of the wiring ahead of time: I wired up the switches and outlets, everything but the lights which means everything that could be wired without the unit already built. Once it was all together I made sure to test out all the outlets with a circuit tester.
Next we had to add the casters. I mentioned the price, size, and weight bearing capacity earlier, but now it’s time to mention a personal pet peeve: one way casters being put on anything. As such, all 4 corners will be swivel casters, not 2 swivel and 2 fixed. To add those casters, we put in 2 more full length front to back sticks of 2×4 which also significantly stiffened the body of the unit making it more stable.
During our test we kept getting an open ground error. I ripped apart the wiring over and over but couldn’t find the problem. I even considered the possibility of a dead bulb in the tester (2 orange lights need to be on for GOOD signal, 1 orange light is OPEN GROUND). I tried by backup tester which gave the same results, and tested both testers in a known good outlet, they both worked fine. Frustrated we started tapping things to see if we could get an intermittent connection, when dad got shocked by the extension cord. We swapped out the bad extension cord we were plugged into (not the one wired into the box, remember this setup tested fine earlier) and that fixed the problem.
Next on the agenda: Mirror and lights. Because this unit is mobile, I went with a full length J-channel with rubber stopper along the bottom instead of clips to add more stability.
With the lights attached, it’s now time to wire them in, screw in all 19 bulbs, slap on the switch and outlet covers, and declare victory.