When Bruce Kieffer got the opportunity to move his one-man, St. Paul, Minnesota-based operation from a rented space to an addition he was putting on his home, he decided to create the shop of his dreams. He was also determined to keep the shop, Kieffer Custom Furniture Inc., unobtrusive, since it is located in a residential neighborhood.

"I could have made the addition bigger, but I had a goal. When you drive up from the street, you can't really tell this is here. I didn't want to change the look of the house," says Kieffer. "I wanted it to be subtle."

Kieffer's efforts have resulted in a shop that blends into its surroundings, is bright and airy and has no obvious dust collection ducting in view. The walls and floors of the shop are uncluttered and the shop is set up to be relatively quiet.

Kieffer put his 30 years of woodworking and furniture building experience to work for him to build the shop of his dreams, because after this move he has no intention of moving again. It took him three months to design the shop to function in exactly the way he wanted, independent of the house and in accordance with city restrictions. Kieffer builds high-end custom standalone furniture pieces.

Key considerations

Storage has been one of the most important elements in the new shop. To create a tighter shop footprint and downsize, Kieffer built storage areas underneath the shop and in the attached garage in front of the shop.

"When I looked at the space I had in the old place, so much of the space was being consumed by storing things that I didn't need access to all the time, so I realized I could downsize," says Kieffer.

Despite downsizing to get a 1,100-square-foot shop, Kieffer never intended the shop to be cramped or feel small. He wanted to create a sense of spaciousness. The way he achieved that was tall ceilings and many windows. "My first shop had no windows, my second shop had one and when I decided to move from there I knew my next shop had to have lots of windows," he says. There are seven windows in his shop and they all look out on trees and a lot of greenery.

Although the windows were fairly easy to figure into the addition, the nine-foot, seven-inch ceilings that would not rise above the roofline of the house required a little more ingenuity. Kieffer dropped the foundation and floor of the shop so the ceilings would be taller and stay below the roofline. A ramp inside the shop connects the garage to the shop and allows material to be moved easily into the shop.

"About half of the new garage is designed for storage for what's coming in and what's going out," says Kieffer.

Creating separation

To make the shop addition really work well, Kieffer felt it was essential to keep it separate from the house. He put in a separate furnace and a heat pump to handle the heating and cooling of the shop. The heat pump is designed to be efficient down to about 20 degrees F, says Kieffer, although it has yet to be tested. Once the unit becomes inefficient, the computer controlling it shuts it off and switches to the gas furnace.

A hallway with a door connects the shop space to the house. This hallway provides a buffer for sound, as well as contains the dust to the shop. The hallway leads into Kieffer's office, a self-contained room, separate from the shop with a view into the work area.

Open space

Kieffer really wanted to create an open space that would appear uncluttered, and he felt that visible dust control ducting would prevent that. "I hated the look of the dust pipes up above," he says. "I had this crawl space down below, which was perfect for the pipes."

When Kieffer realized that his old dust control system wasn't going to fit correctly, he worked with Oneida Air Systems to get the best system for the machines he had. "It looks great and functions well," he adds. "The Oneida is a great tool and really keeps the air clean." The system itself is fairly quiet, and putting the ducting below the floor helps reduce the sound even more.

Kieffer decided on the placement of his machines when he designed the space, and holes were put in the floor below his Delta Unisaw and in other areas where machines were located. Mobile machines are connected to the system with 12 quick-release, interlocking connectors that Kieffer made himself. There are also three vents placed below the workbench in the assembly area that pull in airborne dust.

Initially, Kieffer had planned to do the electrical distribution himself with his brother's help. When his brother couldn't help, Kieffer changed his plan, which cost him more but added to the clean look of the shop. Rather than put conduit outside the walls, Kieffer decided to have his electricians put the wiring inside the wall, which cost him an extra $4,000 to $5,000. The electrical is set up to make future additions or expansion easy.

"I made plans for where every outlet should be and what amperage and voltage they needed," says Kieffer. "I nearly drove the electricians crazy."

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