Here's the background:
We did a large remodel on our house in 2005 / 2006. We didn't remodel the kids rooms and they felt left out. In 2007, we gave them the option to design a theme for their room. My youngest wanted his room to have a "Cars" theme, and the oldest wanted a "Spaceship" theme.
The car themed room was easy - we put down alternating color garage floor tiles, used a toolbox for a dresser, hung an anodized red shoplight, etc. We also did an entire wall with magnetic chalkboard paint (won't EVER do that again!) He was happy and he gets LOTS of compliments on his room.
The spaceship theme was much harder. We also used plastic floor tile, gray in the center and a black border. I put some caged lights up and used exposed conduit to start the mechanical theme. As we were prepping the room, we noticed some drywall damage under the window. I removed all the drywall, but before I replaced it, I asked him if he wanted to put a bunch of lights & gauges on the wall so that it would look like the spaceship's "control panel". He loved the idea.
We headed to Skycraft and proceeded to purchase $300 of misc gear including some analog gauges, timers, LEDs, lighted buttons, a warning strobe, etc. I should have known this was just the starting point. I also bought a Hughes Helicopter keypad off eBay and an old school desk microphone.
I created a concept panel in MDF which consisted of a custom windowsill, a shallow u-shaped panel that covered the entire opening and pulled the panel out from the wall about 4 inches. I cut large openings in the main structural panel and then build "access panels" that were larger than the opening and would bolt on from the outside. This let me make it modular, so if I made a mistake, I could pull just that panel or if we had a new idea, replace a single panel.
This picture shows the a panel opening and how the "access panel" is oversized in front of that opening. It also show my creative process at work - pretty disorganized!
Unfortunately the project sat in this state for almost 2 years. My kid had exposed insulation in his room all that time and didn't really complain about it. In summer of 2009, I got motivated again and dedicated more time to the project.
This picture shows the main back panel (the side piece for the back panel hasn't been attached and is the strip in the middle of the image. You can also see the right side "access panel" and the center "access panel". At this stage (late summer 2009), I'm laying out components before I started cutting.
This picture (still late summer) shows the back panel and right access panel painted, and I've started mounting all the components. The large square hole will have a cool old circuit board from the Hughes Helicopter with a piece of plexi over it. At this point, I still was thinking this would be a an electric / basic electronic panel with no intelligence, so the circuit board would look like the "brains" of the panel.
By the time my MBA program restarted at the end of summer 2009, I'd mounted the back panel and the right side panel in his room, and the black covered switch turned on & off the caged lights. The red switch activated the AC fan at the bottom of the panel (no real purpose, but it makes noise...) and the key switch turned on a multicolor patterned LED mounted behind the fan.
My son thought it was pretty cool just in this form (and the cage lights were finally active after being on the wall for 2 years).
I focused on school, with the intent to finish it over the Thanksgiving break. I thought I was "almost done" - I had no idea...