Climbing the Walls: The Latest Fashion Accessory in Interior Design

Alter Climbing cave
CC BY 2.0. Emma Alter

Emma Alter/CC BY 2.0

Belinda at Fast Company says "Few things say filthy rich more succinctly than an indoor rock-climbing wall." I had no idea; I am certainly not filthy rich, but I have an indoor rock-climbing wall. More precisely, I have a climbing cave, where instead of going vertical, you go horizontal, up the walls and across the ceiling. I have never made it across the room, but my lithe former climbing instructor son can do it easily.

climbing cave

Emma Alter/CC BY 2.0It's in the attic of our house, and is in fact a free-standing structure within the room, not even attached to the ceiling; It is essentially an arch, with the outward thrust restrained by the existing knee walls. The panels are nothing more than 3/4" plywood with a grid of holes drilled and T-nuts stuck in from behind. Easy, really. I think it is a lovely thing, but the rest of the family thinks it ugly and wants it gone, now that my son has moved on. They don't realize what a hot architectural fashion accessory climbing walls have become. This is a great thing; we do go on about how exercise is so important, any activity that gets you and the kids away from the couch has got to be good. The best climbers are thin, light and reedy, and girls rule; it is a terrific thing to have in the house.

schindler climbing wall

© Christof Schindler

Swiss designer Christoph Schindler made his plywood much prettier by running it through a computer controlled plunge router. He printed a pattern of drill holes that created an image of Fitz Roy in Patagonia, but other than that, it is pretty much the same as my wall, a grid of holes.

The plywood is turned and the T-nuts are fixed with a hammer... we have a total of 97 holes and started with a set of 15 climbing holds. The position of the holds can be altered any time and there are enough T-nuts to get more holds or fix other gear like a rope.
Chris Schindler Wall

© Chris Schindler wall

He built it as a present for his son, as did I; a 4x8 sheet of plywood can actually entertain for hours. He used a CNC machine; I used a chalk line, a measuring tape and a drill, and doubt it took much longer. I asked former climbing instructor Hugh for his opinion:

That climbing rope is dangerous and should be removed; the kid could get his leg, or worse, tangled in it. Rope courses and climbing walls don't mix.

More at Core77: Making a Mountain Out of a Piece of Plywood

3 way house

© Naf Architects

In Japan, Naf Architect & Design have built this superficially lovely climbing wall, 7 meters high, up the middle of a house; Dezeen suggests that it "has a climbing wall and ladders, in case the owners get bored of using the stairs."

3 way house from above

© Naf architect.

I have real problems with this. They show a climber well above the floor without a safety harness and a sloping skylight window below. They have stuck bolts in every T-nut on the wall to make it look prettier, but that also ensure that you are scraped and bloody if you ever drag across them. I don't know what they were thinking, other than it would create nice shadows in the architectural photos. Hugh's comments:

The rule is, any climb over 1.5 times your height can result in spinal injuries, that climber should be belayed. Look at the top photo, he is right on top of a door closer! It is not a climbable wall; there is no way through that throat between floors with glass on two sides. Is he going to do an eight food dyno over that door? And then there is that sharp window frame on the right in the lower photo. I would be leery about climbing this at all.

[a dyno is "A dynamic move to grab a hold that would otherwise be out of reach. Generally both feet will leave the rock face and return again once the target hold is caught. Non-climbers would call it a jump or a leap."]

Tato archietcts

© Tato Architects

It doesn't have to be so crazy. In a warehouse conversion in Osaka for climbing enthusiasts, Tato Architects put in a sloping wall where the owners could practice. Note that it isn't that high, and there is a bouldering mat to fall into. That's a real climber. More images in Dezeen. Hugh:

Too bad about the concrete floor.

Nova Lunar Europe/Promo image

At a whole different level is this "personal climbing wall that redefines training at home, making it a celebrated activity through a new take on design expression and a compelling interactive interface" from Lunar Europe in Munich

Lunar Nova Wall

Lunar Nova/Promo image

Normally, if you want to change your challenges, you have to move all the holds manually or stick tape all over. Not with Nova; you just get out your iPhone and program your route, and appropriate lights lay it out. That's clever and elegant; Chris at Gizmag calls it " a near seamless merger of art and sport."

The NOVA wall consists of panels with pattern-cut-outs, which replace the colored holds usually found on regular training walls. To offer a variety of climbing routes and difficulty levels, routes are indicated through light. NOVA shifts the paradigm of training at home, making it a celebrated activity.
Hand Hold

Nova Lunar/Promo image

I wish there was a little more variety in the type of hand hold, they are pretty much all similar crevasses. But it is a thing of beauty. More at Lunar Europe, found on Discovery News.

NOVA - Boulder trainer from LUNAR Europe on Vimeo.

Commenters at Fast Company have complained that it will not look so pretty when covered with chalk. I should point out that if there is one problem with climbing walls in your home, it is that you should not use chalk; it is not something that belongs in a healthy home. As wise geek noted:

Chalk dust can and does accumulate in the human respiratory system, which means it can create long-term health problems due to overexposure. In short, swallowing a piece of white chalkboard chalk won't kill you, but breathing in chalk dust for a number of years can create or trigger respiratory problems.


There is no way to climb this without chalk. You can't climb this without finger-jamming.