Plans For My New Darkroom!

Posted on 12 August 2010 by Brian Auer

New Life in North Idaho: Office/Darkroom

Hey there, strangers! I’ve been away from it all for a few weeks now, but I should be easing back into my online routine soon enough. Long story short: I bought a house and moved back home to north Idaho. If you want the longer version and some pics of the property, check out my article on Epic Edits.

With this new house, a new darkroom must be established (a top priority of course!). And I’m not just talking about using the bathroom as a makeshift darkroom — this is for keeps.

The front of the house has an 8-foot deep porch that just so happens to be enclosed and finished. Essentially, it’s a free-standing (but attached) extension of the house. We could use this extra space for all sorts of things, but I’ve staked a claim on a 19-foot section of it. So here’s the empty layout as it stands now:

It’s not a huge space, but it should work out for what I need. I’m thinking that I could divide the space into a darkroom and a computer office. Having the office outside of the main living space would be a perk for the times that I need to get work done on the computer.

For the darkroom, I’ve got electricity, but I’ll have to run water and drains (so those can be put anywhere I choose). Here’s a first draft at my conceptual layout for the office and darkroom:

The office would be small, but it’s not so bad with a big window directly in front of the desk. In fact, it’s about the size of a cubicle… but most cubicles don’t have the view that I do! I’ll probably build a custom desk along the entire wall with appropriate shelves and cubbies for the printer, scanner, tower, speakers, etc.

The darkroom would be a decent size, though I wouldn’t mind a few more feet on the short edge just to make things more open. Of course, all the windows will need to be sealed or blacked out. Using the two long walls, I think it would be best to have one dry side and one wet side.

On the dry side, a bench for the enlarger with enough room for a 16×20 easel and some extra space for random tools and objects that get used while printing. This bench will probably be 2.5-feet deep. Below the bench could be storage for extra easels, enlarger heads, lenses, paper, and other dry goods.

On the same side, another dry bench for… whatever. I’m sure I’ll use it for something. Checking prints, matting, framing, flipping through my books of negatives, etc. And again, more storage below the bench, and again, 2.5-feet deep.

On the wet side, I’ll probably do one big bench with a couple of sinks near the end. I think 2-feet deep should be plenty of room. The working area should be large enough to hold 4 16×20 trays in case I want to do toning. The sinks should be fairly large too — one for washing prints, and one for additional sink usage while washing. At the very end of the wet bench, an angled slab for drying prints with the squeegee. And below the wet bench, chemical storage and a place for my Jobos to live while not in use.

Certainly, there are a ton of other details to take care of along the way, but I want to get a good basic design in place before we start building.

With the space given, how would you build your darkroom and/or office? Are there any major considerations that I’m forgetting here?

6 Comments For This Post

  1. jojonas Says:

    do not forget to install good ventilation! I might’ve invested in a thin drying cabinet too if I would build something like this. but that’s just from personal preference. it’s probably easier to just put up boards against the windows but I’ve read about curtains that go in rails and shut out light.
    hm… a practical thing would be to make the wet bench in a sink design. we have that in the darkroom that I use now and I think it’s easier to clean and the small edges are good for avoiding to drop things in the dark.
    something like this is what I’ve got:

    but anyway you do it, good luck! it’ll be fun to see how it looks completed :)

    oh, and another thing… have you decided on color for the walls? they seem fine now for as a base (to be able to spread the darkroom lights) but matte black around the enlarger is probably best. maybe you’d like to but up a wall against the pillar too?

    ok I’ll stop now XD


    Brian Auer Reply:

    Ventilation – definitely. I was thinking one or two fans right above the wet bench.

    Those wet benches look pretty awesome… I’ll have to dig around and find something when the time comes to buy/build. I do want a bench that can handle more than a few drips, and just drain off into the first sink.

    For the walls, I was thinking a light to medium gray. Whatever I do, the walls need to be painted — they’re actually a very light purple. I like the idea of having a divider wall at the 2nd pillar… I might just do that.


  2. Steve Says:

    where do you want to store the paper ?


    Brian Auer Reply:

    Paper might go below the enlarger bench, or maybe below the other dry bench. I might also put in a shelf near the enlarger to hold the paper I’m using at the moment (and maybe a paper safe eventually).


  3. Janne Says:

    Considering how often you use an office and a darkroom, I would probably make the division different from a door. I’d do one of these:

    1. Wide folding or sliding doors between the darkroom and office, so that you have free, unhindered access to the darkroom portion when the doors are open

    2. No dividing door at all. Instead, I’d keep the windows and make nice, tight shutters that will darken the entire space. Actual computers, with their LED’s and stuff, would go into light-tight boxes under the desk (which would kill all the noise from fans and stuff).

    In either case it means you have the darkroom portion available for any regular work or play. Even the most enthusiastic home printer doesn’t hit the darkroom more than once a week or so, and it’d be a waste not to have that space available the rest of the time. If it’s open, you can have test prints on display there, for instance, so you and other people can see and evaluate them over time.

    And if you go for #2 above, it means you have the office space available too when printing. You can never have too much horizontal space, whether for photography or office work.

    If I were you, I’d make some kind of easy to use light block on all the windows. Then make a light sluice through the door back to the house proper, with some kind of sign or light alerting people not to bring in a light source when active.


    Brian Auer Reply:

    Hmmm… I do like the idea of leaving out the dividing wall and door all together (less work too). It would certainly make both sections of the room feel bigger and more open. I might just give that a shot, but position the benches and desks such that I could put in a wall later if needed.


  4. Trevor Carpenter Says:

    I’m disappointed there’s no CAD art to accompany this. So old school, hand-drawn plans.

    Well, I guess a film photog should draw up plans on real paper.


    Brian Auer Reply:

    For sure… hand drawn all the way! (though I do have CAD software on my computer)


  5. Trevor Carpenter Says:

    Oh, any consideration for having the main door into this space open the other way? Sitting at the desk and having the door open will quickly become a serious bother. Maybe a pocket door for both!


    Brian Auer Reply:

    I could probably switch the direction of the door, but it hasn’t been a nuisance yet. My temporary desk is in the same location that I’ve drawn, and I usually just lock the door when I’m working on it (plus there’s a door stop that prevents it from smacking me in the head).


  6. Martin Says:

    looks great, congrats !
    I also advise you to take care of ventilation and dust first of all.
    Once you leave your bathroom you will find that dust is a major problem.
    Ventilation must be while at work, because of the bad atmosphere you soon get. You need to spend days in your darkroom if you want to. And especially with toning: in my house it’s called “the cancer department”, so that everyone is warned. I often do that outside anyway (sepia and/or selenium).

    Moreover, depending on the quality of the water, you could install water filters.


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