Building a Magical Refuge

Contributed by Turningtide

Magic is within us and all around us, every day of our lives.  The eyes of wisdom see it in the sunshine, the gentle light of moon and stars, the flash of lightning, the glow of friendly flames.  The ears of wisdom hear it in the patter of rain, the sigh of the wind, the rumble of thunder, the crash of ocean waves.

Yet in our daily lives those sights and sounds are too often shut away.  Magic’s harder to see in the glare of neon and the cold glow of fluorescent tubes.  It’s harder to hear in the sound of blaring radios and TVs, the noises of traffic and the roar of planes overhead.  Even for the wisest, it’s harder.

So what to do?  What to do?

Some may flee the flashing lights, the radio and traffic and all things artificial: head out to the woods, to the mountains, to the shore, to the quiet and the open spaces.  Happy is the witch or wizard who’s gone off the grid, even for a short while, out where Nature’s quiet harmonies can still be heard.

Not all, though, have the time or the freedom for that.  We’re trapped in some nine-to-five cycle, stuck living where it’s convenient for boss or spouse or kids.  A shell of artificiality surrounds us, blinding and deafening us to what we most need to see and hear.

What to do?  What to do?

I’m here to tell you, at least, what’s worked for me.

Yes, I’m that most paradoxical of beings: an urban witch.  I won’t name the city, for it could be any city…except maybe New Orleans, the exception to so many rules!

Alas, though, it’s not.  Here the sunshine filters down through smog, and at night the city lights wash out the stars and swamp the moonlight.  The rain’s patter, the wind’s whisper, and even sometimes the thunder get lost in the noise of a million people jostling in space which in simpler times might have housed a few hundred.  And the magic is hard to find.


My apartment is tiny, but even so it has a few out-of-the-way nooks and crannies.

I tried first using a corner of my bedroom, set up a little altar and put my candles on the floor, but that felt too open.  Light glared through the windows, traffic roared beneath, and I just couldn’t feel much magic there.

So I moved into my closet: cleared it out, set up one of the shelves as my altar, and rigged wall mounts for my candle holders.  It was quiet and dark: no neon glare, and not much sound from outside either.  It was too small, though.  My elbows and rear kept bumping into things, and one night a candle fell and nearly burned a witch.  Yes.  Me.

Obviously I needed more room, and that bedroom corner just kept calling me.  So I decided to turn it into a larger version of my closet.  One with room in it to move around, able to be made dark, and with some sound-deadening stuff in the walls.  I wanted to be able to take it down, though, and store it compactly when I wanted that space in my little apartment back for something else.

Since I’d never so much as driven a nail before I asked Jack Peredur, an original Garret Gang member who used to repair and remodel homes for a living, for help and together we came up with a plan.  Jack tracked down most everything we needed, together we built a prototype one weekend at the Ravenstead to make sure it all would work, then with the experience I’d gained I made another when I got back home.  I had to develop some new skills, but if I could do it so can you.

The drawings below are all Jack’s from his e-mails, but after asking about a ton of questions I’ve rewritten his instructions in my own words.

First, choose a corner that calls to you.  Make it an east-facing one if you can – or north, if you prefer your altar there – but that’s not critical. It’s more important to let the magic guide you. My corner actually faced sort of northwest, so I set up a little table as my altar out in the middle of the floor.

Near floor level, and again as high as you can reach, measure out 80 inches along the wall and make a mark.  Thumbtacks or push pins (bulletin board pins) work well for this, so you don’t have to sully the wall with ink or paint. Landlords hate that!

Go out another six inches and do it again.  Then picture vertical lines through each pair of tacks, or to make it easier to visualize, stretch a length of string or heavy thread between them.

Check to be sure there’s nothing mounted on the wall between the 80” and 86” lines, since that’s where the edges of your refuge will touch the walls. Take down any pictures and such in those areas.  For things you can’t remove, like baseboards, you’ll be cutting the panels to fit.

Next go by the builder’s supply, and get…

(NOTE: All these came from a Lowe’s near me, though of course if you prefer another source, please feel free to use it. Because of inflation, Jack has rechecked the prices and item numbers from as of August 5, 2023. Since a single store may not have all these items in stock, you may find it better to place an order online – this is where you’ll want the item numbers! – and go pick them up when they all come in. You’ll need a van or a car with a roof rack to carry the foam panels. Everything else is smaller and can go inside.)

  • Three foam panels: Greenguard R5 1″x4'x8′ unfaced extruded polystyrene foam board insulation. Lowe’s item #1058785. $29.98 each. NOTE: if there’s a window or part of one between your two outer (86”) lines, get one panel more. Not a perfect sound deadener, but much better than nothing!
  • A roll of heavy-duty black duct tape: Gorilla black duct tape 1.88-in x 10 yards, Lowe’s item #3695053. $6.48.
  • A large package of self-stick hook-and-loop tape: Velcro 180-in hook and loop fastener, Lowe’s item #20027. $19.78.
  • Two retractable box cutters (in case one breaks; the blades are a bit fragile since they're designed to snap off). Allway 1-blade retractable utility knife, Lowe’s item #3846363 $1.68 each.
  • A quart of black oil-based paint: Rust-Oleum semi-gloss black oil-based interior enamel, Lowe’s item #3209525. $16.48. DO NOT USE LATEX PAINT! It doesn’t stick well to the plastic foam. NOTE: A quart is supposed to cover 100 square feet, which is enough for your three 32-square-foot panels including the edges. Depending on the temperature and your painting skill, though, the coverage may vary so you may want to get two cans instead of one. If your source is close, I suggest you get one but plan to go back for another if needed.
  • Another quart of oil-based paint in a color that harmonizes with your room’s décor. I chose Valspar gloss anti-rust armor base enamel, tintable, Lowe’s item #83060 ($24.98) and had them tint it to match a little piece of trim I’d pried loose as a sample. Same note as for the black paint.
  • Two 1” chip brushes: Project Source 1-in natural bristle flat paint brush, Lowe’s item #103407. $1.28 each.
  • Two 3” chip brushes: Project Source 3-in natural bristle flat paint brush, Lowe’s item #104125. $1.98 each.
  • OPTIONAL: Oil-based white or metallic paint or permanent metallic markers if you want to put symbols on the walls of your refuge. Lowe’s has metallic markers in silver only: Sharpie metallic 2-pack fine point silver permanent marker, item #215822, $4.48. Or if you prefer, go by a hobby store and see what else appeals to you.
  • OPTIONAL: flameless LED corner “candles.” After the candle accident in my closet I worry about fire indoors, and using these gives me some peace of mind. One I like is the Sterno home flameless LED electric candle (all weather wax), Lowe’s item #5136262, $11.56 each. These are realistic, battery-powered (2 AA batteries) and have a switch on the bottom. I bought six – four for the corner points, two more for my altar – and in place of lighting and then blowing out I simply flip the switch.

Before you start to work spread newspapers, a tarp or an old bed sheet to protect the floor or carpet. Also, make sure your workspace is well-ventilated. Fumes from oil-based paint can be nasty!

If there’s a window or part of one between your two outer (86”) lines, cut that fourth panel you bought to cover it out at least to the 86” line.

If by some chance your ceiling is less than eight feet high (this is rare in permanent buildings, found mostly in mobile homes) cut the panels so they can stand up comfortably under it. An inch gap at the top is about right. If your ceiling is higher and the gap is wider, that’s OK.

Paint one complete side of each main panel black, and also all four edges. Use the three-inch brush for the flat side and the one-inch brush for the edges. Paint both sides and the edges of the window panel all black.

If you’re short on space, paint one panel at a time. Oil-based enamel dries to the touch in about two hours and is fully dry in 24. I did one panel each morning before I left for work, and it was dry and the place didn’t smell too bad from it when I got back. Wrap the brushes tightly in foil between uses so the paint in them won’t dry too.

When the black is completely dry, with the OTHER pair of brushes (so the black won’t contaminate your other color) paint the other side and – again! – all four edges of each main panel with your room-harmonizing color. This puts two coats on the panel edges, which need some extra since they tend to be a little rough.

You can toss the brushes when done. Jack says he’s tried cleaning this kind with mineral spirits but they’re not really worth the trouble.

Cut eighteen three-inch pieces from the package of Velcro. Leave the adhesive backing on them for now, but separate the hook pieces from the loop pieces. You'll need a total of eighteen hook and eighteen loop pieces.

When all the paint is dry (after at least 24 hours), decide which will be your center panel. Measure down one long edge and make marks at one-foot intervals. Then make one more mark three inches from the top and another three inches from the bottom: nine marks in all. Repeat for the other long edge

At each mark, remove the backing from one of the hook side Velcro pieces and apply it across the corner so one inch is on the panel edge and the other two inches are on the black side of the panel. Press the tape down well so the adhesive grabs hold and stays.

Do the same for each other panel, except use the loop side Velcro and apply it down one side only. Be sure to do opposite edges of the two panels so you have a left side panel and a right side panel.

Stand up the center panel and one side panel edge to edge near your chosen corner, black sides facing it, angled about 45 degrees apart. Mate the Velcro strips together. Then do the same for the other side panel. The three panels will now form a curved (well, really twice angled) wall with the black sides facing inward.

Tear off a one-foot length of duct tape, fold it so the middle two inches or so are stuck together, then stick the rest to the black side of one panel four feet from the floor and a foot from the edge with the tape running vertically. Again, press the tape down well so the adhesive grabs and holds. This makes a handle.

Do the same five more times, so each panel has a pair of handles on its black side about a foot in from its edges.

Now using those handles, pull the curved (angled) wall toward your chosen corner until the edges of the side panels touch the wall, or moldings, or baseboards between your 80” and 86” lines. It’s easy; the painted panels only weigh about six pounds each. Then with one of the box cutters, CAREFULLY (they’re very sharp!) trim away the edge of each panel where needed until it fits closely against the wall from top to bottom.

For the window panel, if you’ve made one, stick small pieces of Velcro on the panel and on the window frame in whatever way works best. The window should be covered so no light comes in around the edges inside your 86” lines.

And that’s it!  Time to decorate and set up.  Find the compass points, and mark or mount an elemental symbol or a candle holder at each.  Two will be on the original walls and two on your new refuge walls.

Jack showed me how to make candle holders held up with Velcro so they can come off and let you stack the panels out of the way when not in use. I’ll share that design later, in another post.

Set up a small table as altar, facing whatever direction you prefer. Practice in it alone, or with one or two well-chosen friends. There’s plenty of room if you’re careful; you can even lie down if you like. Everything else, I’ll leave up to you.

“But what if I want to take it down?”

I asked Jack about that early on, and he laughed because it’s so easy. Just peel the Velcro apart and the three panels will stack against a wall, room-harmonizing color facing out, for easy storage until you need them again. Put a piece of furniture in front of them, if you like, to hold them upright on the wall,

So.  If I can do it, I’ll bet you can too.

Enjoy building and using your refuge.  And blesséd be!

— Turningtide.




I’m that paradoxical creature, an Urban Witch making do the best I can amid all the noise and waste, trying to connect with Nature through weekend forays to the mountains or beach and the stones and shells I’ve brought back or found at stores or online. Strictly a solitary up to now, but who knows what the future holds?