This project has been a long time coming, but it’s finally completed. So I’ll stop being such a tease and show you up front. I built a desk!
Yeah, I’m handier than you. Deal with it.
If you don’t want to hear about the process or how I made it, stop reading here. I’ll hate you, but I’ll understand. This is going to go on for a bit. I’ll try to be short on words and long on pictures, but you know me.
So I wanted a desk. Admittedly, I’m not big on actually working at a desk, but in the interest of pulling my life together and becoming a responsible adult, this seemed like a logically symbolic place to start. Plus, my window has a nice view of our rich neighbors’ charmingly overgrown (hey, it’s green) backyard. And their windows (spying). But while my room is pretty big, it’s not big enough to accommodate that enormous PAX wardrobe, a full bed, and a desk. At least none that I could find. I’ll spare you a run-down of my research, but trust me, I’m well informed. They were all too deep. I wanted something long and narrow to make the most of this space on the window wall in my bedroom, but for the life of me couldn’t find anything. I’m not really sure why desks need to be so deep– in my mind, that’s just more room to clutter up– but apparently somebody decided they should be.
Looking around, I realized I already had the beginnings of a pretty simple DIY. Do you recognize the drawers on the left side of the desk? You’ve seen them before. No? Well, it started out as the stupid little nightstand I pulled off the street for my dorm room way back when.
In the dorm, this thing was fine. To review, I found it on the sidewalk, dragged it back, pulled off the remaining ugly hardware, stained it Minwax Jacobean 2750, and affixed new hardware purchased at the Home Depot. Quick n’ dirty.
In the apartment, however, I knew this little piece of shit wasn’t going to fit in. In the dorm it looked good because– let’s face it– all the other furniture was a gazillion times uglier and it’s pretty hard to develop some kind of style around that crap. But here, I wasn’t about to have its sad, boring lines drag down the apartment’s decor just because I was too stubborn to put it back out on the curb where I found it.
I actually liked one thing about it: the wood. I think the wood, in all its beat-up, “character”-ridden glory is kind of cool. Refer to the first picture and you might see what I mean. So I realized, without the traditional trim on the bottom, there was nothing holding it back from being more workable. And so the saga begins…
I started by lopping off the trim pieces with a hammer. It was sort of exciting and more than sort of messy.
While trim that matched this profile was glued and nailed all the way around, the underlying structure of the sides was also cut this way. Like a moron, I thought maybe I could just use a manual hacksaw to trim it all down to the right level. Boy was a wrong. Stupid, stupid, and wrong. After a while of sweat-inducing, frustrating sawing that yielded nothing but crooked cuts, the blade broke. I cursed the damn thing. I pouted. My plan wasn’t working.
Then I pulled myself together and brought in the big guns.
I rented this puppy for $25 from my favorite hardware store, which I’ll shamelessly plug now. New York Paint and Hardware. They’re awesome. And as their website plainly and randomly states, “WE LOVE AMERICA!!!” Always a plus when renting power tools.
This is what happens when you use a circular saw indoors. Sawdust EVERYWHERE. Is this really what people do when they don’t have balconies, driveways, or yards? I feel like it isn’t, but I couldn’t come up with anything better. Those big wood pieces are from the top, which I also beat at with a hammer until they flung loose.
Once I had that bitch of a frame sorted out, it was time to deal with the drawers. I’ve always quite liked the two-tone look– usually white laminate with wood. Like this desk George Nelson designed up, probably my favorite (or at least in the top ten) piece of furniture ever designed.
Well, now my actual desk looks like crap. Pretend you didn’t see that.
I also wanted to change things up with knobs instead of handles. Mostly because I was dying to use these adorable, cheap SNODD knobs from IKEA that looked bad in the kitchen when I tried them on for size in there. Anna used them over at Door Sixteen in her kitchen and I got jealous. Wow, I’m a creepy shelter blog junkie.
So I gave all the drawers a good coat of wood filler. I used a spackle knife to skim over whole thing, including the old screw holes, so that any imperfections in the wood wouldn’t mar the painted finish. Then I sanded, primed, and painted.
I used this clever little trick revealed to me by Benita at Chez Larsson to make painting easier. Put little nails in the bottom and the paint won’t pool, puddle, or stick to the ground. Then just rip them out when you’re done. It made painting much easier! I used Benjamin Moore Simply White in semi-gloss, which I had leftover from the trim paint I used in the living room and bedroom (and, soon, everywhere else).
Since I destroyed the bottom of the cabinet, I needed to prop it up on something. I toyed with hairpin legs, but I realized I’d be better off with something that was designed to have a height adjustment since the cabinet is an irregular size and the desktop needed to be level. Fortunately, IKEA came to the rescue again with these CAPITA legs, adjustable within a half inch, made for kitchen cabinets.
Once the cabinet was on its way, I went to the Home Depot and got 3/4″ MDF cut for the top. The Home Depot employee might be a total dick about it, but it’s a free service that’s part of their job. So suck it.
This idea was also furnished by Chez Larsson. That’s it, I’m adding it to the blogroll. The top is 5′ x 17″, an inch deeper than the cabinet for some overhang and about a foot shorter than the space between the radiator and the corner, so my new desk would have some room to breath on either side and wouldn’t look too cramped. Ignore that trestle leg, I stupidly bought it from IKEA before I decided on the desktop dimensions and it was too wide– oh well, a $10 mistake. Since a 3/4″ thick desktop would look pretty lame and skimpy and would probably bow over time, I sandwiched two pieces together with a mess of wood glue and some cheap-o clamps.
I clamped in the middle of all four sides. I don’t have any idea if that’s the proper way to do this, but it seemed to work.
After letting the glue set overnight, I rented this sander for $15 from New York Paint and Hardware. A router would have been more awesome, but they didn’t have any for rent. I still love them.
Since the two pieces of wood didn’t join perfectly, I sanded the sides a lot until they were all smooth and even.
I used regular wall spackle to camouflage the small gap where the two pieces of MDF join. In retrospect, caulk might have been a better choice. I sanded, primed, and painted according to instructions from Young House Love, who have lots of really useful tutorials. The basic rundown is two coats of primer, three coats of Benjamin Moore Simply White in semi-gloss, and three coats of high-gloss water-based polyurethane. I wanted the desktop wipeable, water-resistant (since MDF absorbs water and swells up), and shiny.
I picked two VIKA INGE legs from IKEA to finish off the desk. I really considered real hairpin legs, but from a budget perspective, these were a better choice. They have a similar shape to hairpins, and I actually like that they’re a little bulkier to help visually balance things out a bit. Unfortunately the finish is really fugly– like a suggestion of chrome but much less classy– but it was nothing a can of matte black Rustoleum couldn’t handle.
Then I just put it all together and SHAZAM, desk!
Some glamor shots because I’m vain like that:
Hey, you can wake up now. The post is finally over. Except the BUDGET BREAKDOWN. The juicy part. I’m too lazy to put together ALL the factors– every paint brush, piece of sandpaper, etc. I also don’t feel like that’s useful since most people have all that crap already. So here’s the materials breakdown. I already had all the paint, so don’t get your panties in a bunch.
1 4’x8′ sheet of MDF: $30
4 Ikea Snodd Knobs: $8
1 small can water-based poly: $9
2 Ikea Vika Inge legs: $24
1 Ikea four-pack of Capita legs: $12
TOTAL (sorta): $83
Of course, the whole project cost a little more than this for me since I had to buy things like wood glue ($2.72) and clamps ($19.08) and a decent paintbrush for the polyurethane– don’t skimp on this one ($13.97). And the tool rentals ($40). But if you’re cooler than me and have all that stuff on hand, more power to you and can I please move in. What? Nevermind.