New Desk!

When I was young, my parents became possessed of the notion that we needed to have all of our personalities tested. There wasn’t anything terribly dysfunctional about my family—at least not more so than most other families, which are mostly all dysfunctional—but the tests held a certain alluring promise. Before the tests, we were free-falling in chaos, but after the tests, we would know things about each other. We would regard each other with understanding and compassion, communicate more clearly, and we would be better for it.

I was twelve at the time, and I remember sitting in my bedroom and answering simple, repetitive questions for two hours. It was fun and relaxing and, when the results came in, made me feel exceedingly special. Here was a written report explaining in scientific-ish terms that I was, essentially, a terrific person. Of course, everyone’s results come out this way, so I’m not bragging, but the test told me specifically why I was terrific. The test had a way of putting a positive spin on all traits. Instead of being needlessly and irrationally emotional about the problems of other people, I was just very empathetic. I could give up on the dream of pursuing anything very practical or profitable career-wise because ultimately I was just too literary for all that. I was an intellectual, and this made me feel as though I was more interesting than my siblings, which was more or less all I wanted at 12.

The biggest takeaway for my family, though, was that instead of just being a lunatic spaz, I had a high change score. I was the kid who was constantly rearranging my furniture and always questioning why we couldn’t just move some stuff around in the house or paint a room or four. Prior to the tests, this sort of behavior was interpreted by mostly everyone as simply irritating. But after the tests, I had a label. There was a chart in a folder that said this was just who I was, irrevocably.

Because permanence and stagnation freak me out, I often try to avoid them. I don’t mind permanence much where my life is concerned (oh hey, live-in boyfriend and two dogs in the space of a year), but it drives me crazy in my living space. I like things best when they’re easy to reverse and modify. It drives me crazy that each room in my apartment only has one truly viable furniture layout (trust me, I’ve tried everything!), and I don’t like feeling married to certain pieces (with the notable exception of my grandparents’ Eames lounge chair. I’ll marry that.).

desk1

Oh hey there. Lookatchu.

The only reason anyone reads this blog is probably because I once made a desk. It was one of the first things I ever built, and I was really proud of that thing. I had no idea what I was doing or the best way to go about anything (some of my advice in that post is, uh, really bad), but the point was that I had an idea and I made it happen and it totally worked and it looked cool. And then Anna blogged about it and I felt really cool, which led people other than my mom to read my blog and led me to eventually counting Anna and some other people I met through blogging as some of my best friends.

So that desk meant a lot to me. I’ll admit that. I’m not made of stone!

But while I loved that desk in my old apartment, I could never really make it work here. I schlepped it from the bedroom (where it was NEVER used) to the living room (where it sat for months and was rarely used). It took up precious space and provided so little storage. Eventually, the desk just became frustrating, and I realized I was keeping it around mostly out of some weird sense of obligation and sentimentality. But it had ceased to be very practical (which was the whole goal when I built it) and when the MDF top started to bow slightly and some of the paint chipped, it just didn’t look so great anymore.

Enter the light of my life, fire of my loins: Craigslist. For a while I just wanted to get rid of the desk and replace it with some kind of small, low dresser on this wall next to the sofa or maybe a smaller desk, and then I realized I could have both! I quickly found a listing for a cute Swedish secretary-style desk for a couple hundred bucks. Oddly, there was another listing for the exact same desk for like $1,200 at the time, which is a total rip-off.

desk2

I totally love this cute little desk, but it’s a piece of crap! The teak veneer is pretty, but I think the entire thing is made of just chipboard and cardboard and some little dowels and wood glue. It seemed like the entire thing was going to fall apart when we dragged it up to the apartment, and it had little floating storage compartments inside the desk part that did totally fall apart and now need repair. Whoops. Anyway, not all things vintage are synonymous with quality.

Oh well. It works. And now that it’s in place, I don’t think it’ll fall apart as much anymore. Also, I KNOW that arrangement on the top is not working, but I need to rearrange the art to make room on a wall for that painting. I guess. I don’t know. High change score. Don’t rush my process.

Anyway! The desk is super cute, super Swedish, super vintage, and has a lavish amount of storage space. When you live in 500 square feet with one small closet, it’s amazing how much a change from 4 small drawers to 4 less-small drawers just feels absolutely spacious. The desk holds all of our office supplies, electronics crap (extra cords, chargers, external hard drives, etc.), and most of my tools (thereby clearing up space in the kitchen cabinets!). It’s great.

widelivingroom

I don’t have any pictures of the new lounge chair and the old desk in the room at the same time I don’t think, but trust—it was feeling very crowded and dumb. Here’s a before-ish picture for reference-ish? I’m shitty at this.

wide1

I love how the new desk has totally opened up this end of the living room. I moved the Fiddle Leaf Fig (still going strong!) out of the corner and it seems to be pretty happy there in the middle. The proportions of the desk are small enough that it works off to the side of the sofa in a way that most other furniture (including the old desk!) just looked really awkward. Feeling it.

corner1

I moved my Patrick Townsend String Light from the kitchen to the corner behind the chair, and I LOVE IT there. It’s the perfect lighting after the sun goes down, and is just so soft and beautiful. It’s unfortunately exceedingly hard to photograph well, but it really is one of my favorite things. Like, in the world.

I kind of wish we could get away without a side table next to the chair, but I’ll admit that it’s nice to have something to put a mug or a book down on. It’s a vintage knock-off Saarinen tulip side table from the amazing Maya! I kind of want to replace the top at some point (it’s just wood with a bullnose edge), but I don’t know. It’s feeling very mid-century-modern-museum up in here, so fake tulip might have to be relocated. Hmmm.

I want to change all the things always.

string

I love String.

desk3

I love desk.

I’m out of words.

 


81 Comments

  1. Never, ever run out of your words. They make my days and are beautiful.

  2. Please come rearrange my apartment and my kitchen and my life. Love it and love you and your blog!

  3. I first found your blog from that desk, I think. The new desk looks really nice in the space, even if it is a piece of crap.

  4. I have a very similar desk, mine has 3 drawers and legs. But the same rolly top thing. How do you open it without the key??? I have to shove my little fingers between the bottom of the rolling thing and the tabletop part and its getting pretty annoying! I’m thinking I’ll need to just buy an old key that will fit just to use as a handle!

    • Oh, those a so pretty! I actually have the key, but I just push on the curved wood part? The hinges aren’t sticky or anything so it’s easy!

      • Oh ok! Yeah I don’t have the key. It is so pretty, but I agree with the made of chipboard and cardboard description! The top of mine gets knocked crooked if I mess with it too much, haha! I guess I’ll have to suck it up and buy lots of keys on eBay until I find one that can I can use!

  5. Looks nice!

    Any idea what city is that in the painting above it? I never noticed that one before.

  6. This is breaking my heart…shortly after we moved to VT last year I found the exact same desk at Anjou and the Little Pear in Burlington for (weirdly) $675 (I.e., halfway between $0 and $your higher priced listing) and fell in total love. Same badly finished interior and all. Spouse wanted to get it for me, but we had just finished a lot of work on the house and I just didn’t feel we could swing it. I visited it every week until it was sold, and I still regret not saying “yes” to it.

    • Oh, don’t feel bad! Trust me, you would have overpaid!! It’s REALLY not worth that much. It doesn’t seem like a very rare piece, I bet you could find another one at a better price if you keep your eyes out.

      • You’re the empowerer (is that a word?) of dreams…thank you! It’s harder to find this kind of thing in VT than it was in BK, though. OTOH, when one does find such things, it feels even more like a victory.

  7. I was going to ask about the painting, too — it looks like Holyoke, MA. I love the high change score thing — do you remember what personality test it was?

  8. I also have the 3-drawer version of the desk, found on Craigslist for $75. http://www.redtelly.com/2012/10/mid-century-swedish-teak-roll-top.html
    Mine didn’t have the key either. But I did have a key for an old chifforobe that had once belonged to my grandparents, then used in my childhood bedroom and finally for my children. The day finally came when we no longer had a use for it and I sold it (with much guilt I might add), but I kept the key so that I could still have a little part of it. By some serendipitous coincidence the key fits the desk and locks (but doesn’t unlock…oops). It apparently was meant to be…or so I like to think.

    • Wow, that’s crazy!! The 3-drawer ones are so pretty. Mine had cubbies just like that, too, but they got all messed and broken! :(

  9. I love your blog and the desk – and feel exactly the same way about the Eames chair- and I’m already married.

  10. why is one of the windows so close to the corner of the wall that there’s no room for moulding? Is that just the way they chopped up the apartments.

    • I’ve spent so much time thinking about that, and I have no idea! I suppose it’s POSSIBLE that at some point the kitchen and the living room were one large room, but the wall that the couch is on in the living room also has all the original moldings, the inlay border on the floor, and the crown molding on the tin ceiling. So I actually think the layout is original and it might just be a strange construction quirk. It’s kind of a mystery!

  11. Hi, I love your wall color!! Is it as perfect and serene as I see in the picture? :) What color is most dominate blue? green? gray? I want to paint my bedroom and thinking also about Horizon (BM) that seems to be similar, is it? Thank you

    • It’s Benjamin Moore Paper White! I don’t know what Horizon is like…Paper White is a very pale blue-grey. I actually hate it for this room, but it would be nice color somewhere else I’m sure!

      • I’m sitting in a room coated in Paper White right now. I know what you mean. It’s really pretty, but very specific. For what it’s worth, it’s not a good color for a well lit office, either.

  12. So… What happened to the old desk? Will it get hacked apart and become something ELSE, or will someone else love it now?

  13. Hi David-

    I have that desk! It was originally from a store in Massachusetts
    called Scan and in 1979 it cost about $300. It was the first piece of furniture I ever owned. I still have that desk and use it every day. However, two years ago I sanded down the veneer, removed the finger pulls and replaced them with oversize Shaker round knobs and painted the whole thing a Maine Cottage color called Good Egg. I still love the desk but it suits my style much better now. Yours looks awesome exactly as you have it. Some things, even if they are manufactured cheaply, manage to stand the test of time. Love your blog! Thanks for the walk down memory lane.

  14. Drat! Typed David when I meant Daniel! Please excuse me, I didn’t mean to be rude. I always look forward to your posts. I think you are an amazing writer and very talented at interior design.

  15. I am OBSESSED with secretary desks. Someday I will find one…

  16. Agree with other posters, your writing far exceeds standards of blog writing.
    Love your decorating sense as well. Keep it up. Fame is in your future.

  17. That painting deserve to be on a wall! Love the desk, we now see both windows, even though the old desk did not hide it much. I want the string light. Every time I read your blog, you make me want things! Please don’t be out of words too long, reading your blog with a coffee in hand is one of my greatest pleasure! Long live the desk!

  18. OK, I am going to Birkman my family STAT (thanks for the info Daniel’s mom!). Apparently, I too, have a high change score that my parents have never been able to comprehend. “What do you mean you don’t want to keep all the same furniture in all the same places for the rest of your adult life?” But, it’s not too late to explain it to my kids, who still get irritated with things changing ALL the time..maybe one of them is a secret HCS!! Love the new desk even if it isn’t stellar quality. You know the next best thing is lurking out there, and you will again, upgrade.

  19. Daniel,

    Last summer, my co-worker Erica introduced me to your blog and I am ever so grateful to her because when I’m having a partcularly crappy day, I’ll look over to see in my RSS feed a new update from you. Your blog is a brightspot in my otherwise dreary corporate life. I am an art school drop-out (Old School Art School). Back in my day, art school consisted of paper, pen, materials — there were no Macbooks! But I digress…

    I gave up the dream of doing anything artistic for a cubicle. Thanks to your blog, I can live vicariously through you and your artistic abilities. I love the way you write and inevitably you always manage to make me laugh.

    Have a great day,
    Susan

    p.s. I hope you had a wondeful Seder and Passover.

  20. Daniel – I love that desk! Great score even if it has some down sides.
    And – I was hoping today when I was getting blog reading ready that you had new news to share with us. I love reading your blog, your sense of style & your humor. Your 2 cutie pups don’t hurt either :)
    I know you have a life but I’m hoping with summer coming you have more time to share more of it with us :)

  21. What’s that tape dispenser? love it

  22. I love secretary desks. There’s just something about having that roll top closed that you just know there’s going to be some magic when you open it, right?! Plus, no clutter! Magical AND sensible, all in one pretty package.

  23. marvelous desk :)

  24. I always get excited when I see a new post from you in my blog reader. I always jump to your website to get the full experience too! You are a terrific writer and so much fun to read. I always love seeing your projects, both new and old.

  25. do you know that you made me crazy with every post?! you always find such lovely things and i really like your new desk. and now i know why you rearranged things where i said “oh, i liked the old combination – and the new one too!” :) cannot wait to see more projects.

    traedraum

  26. I love your blog, I love your posts! Your writing is amazing and your skillz are mad. I read every word and analyzed every photo. The desk is awesome, the fiddle leaf fig is beautiful and the string lights seem to be in the perfect spot. So good.

  27. I almost bought something similar, but balked after sensing the cheapness– it just seems wrong when a piece is disconcertingly too *light* for its size. They come in so many cute shapes and configurations though, I might have to get over myself and go for it! Thanks for the inspiration – looks great in your space!

  28. First of all, I just love your mom. Such sweet comments, and then, chiming in with the name of the test? Having the family DO the test? I’m charmed. She did a good job with you.

    I am fascinated by your having a “high change score.” I think I have that too, because it’s all I ever think about, really–but it’s coupled with an extremely “low actually do anything score.” I’m more of a dreamer, I guess. At any rate, I’ll miss your desk, which does have sentimental value and which looks extra awesome in the good-bye photo, but I am anxious to hear about its new adventures. The new desk find is a good one, so that helps.

    jbhat

  29. Sorry if you’ve already specified this elsewhere, but what is the source of the painting on the desk? I really like it a lot.

    I suspect I would have a negative change score. When my mom would rearrange the furniture in the house when we were kids it made me feel anxious and displaced for days. I’ve never really grown out of that, much to my chagrin.

    • The painting was actually from my grandparents’ house as well, the artist’s name is Mary Livoni.

  30. Hi Daniel
    While everyone has been loving the desk, and it is nice, I have been going all ga-ga over your magazine holder. WOW!! Can you remember where you got it from.
    Love Felicia xoxo

    • It came from my grandparents’ house! Thank you for appreciating its wackiness! I have NO IDEA where/when it’s from, though, sorry!

  31. Every time I pop over to your (amazingly, cleverly written) blog, I spy something that makes me even MORE jealous than the last time, and my poor furniture always ends up getting looked upon with scorn by the time I’ve finished reading.

    This time – the lucite suitcase/magazine rack! OMG!

    *sigh*

  32. Nice find. Your high change score is rocking my world.

  33. Please tell me you’ve seen the crazy drunk lady in the Lipozene commercials? My boyfriend and I have been saying “lookatchu!” in the same slurry way she did in the commercial for years and no one else understands. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, please YouTube “Lipozene look at you” and prepare yourself.

  34. Ah, the secretary desk! Aren’t they just the greatest? Just close the lid and all work and disorder is out of sight!

    I really like the change, works much better than before.

    Getting rid of my husband’s desk and my own, and getting two vintage secretary desks was the single best change we ever made in this apartment. I looked at a number of 70s danish teak secretary desks, but they were all tiny and sort of too light. Like they were meant for some dainty danish lady for writing letters in her morning room. So I ended up buying a very 50s german desk, much larger and sturdier with copious storage space and a very generous writing surface. Although I wanted something a bit more modern and scandinavian initially, I love my secretary desk to bits.

    I also love the the string light. Sadly I don’t think it’s available in Europe. You and your puny 110 V system, so inconvenient (sour grapes, sour grapes…)! And that tape dispenser is gorgeous. Is it italian? Where did you get it?

    I always think the Eames lounge chair looks best with the Eames walnut stool, but that’d be even more mid-century museum, no? Maybe it’s just that the very sophisticated black leather combines nicely with something vaguely earthy and ethnic looking. Anyway, I’m writing this sitting in the Vitra Slow Chair by the Bouroullec brothers with NO side table beside me, so the glass holding my rhubarb soda is resting on the floor. Not very convenient, but the bay window looks much better without a side table, so there. Less is more, or something.

    Thank you for your very frequent and as always extremely gorgeous and entertaining posts. Keep on keeping on! I know you still have some lights sitting around somewhere, you wanna hang and post about, innit?

  35. Thanks for the info on the painting, Daniel. For those who were asking about it above, I googled the artist and came up with this:

    http://marylivoni.com/home.html

    “All of my inspiration comes from very specific locations in Chicago, but I have never been interested in pure representation. To keep them based in reality – for instance, using some light and shadow references – but also to give them an element of mystery, to make scrap trucks, water towers and bridges suggestive of other things requires extreme tweaking and editing. This process is instinctive and really gratifying to me. Because I work with such basic elements -charcoal and paper – I have found over and over again that less is more. When it works, I’m telling a gothic urban fable in the simplest, strongest way.”

    Mary Livoni
    excerpted from an interview in Factio magazine, 2009

    It seems she works predominantly in charcoals now, so maybe your grandparents, and now you, have one of her earlier works.

  36. I don’t know…
    To me, both arrangements look great.
    You just have a talent for making what you have look fabulous.

    I was also one of those kids who spent my entire Saturday rearranging my bedroom. Multiple times.It’s killing me that my current home doesn’t allow me such freedom.
    I live vicariously through blogs. Thanks for feeding my obsession!

  37. I had the same rip-off experience with CL too. I bought a table for $300, and then the next week I saw the same one for $1,500! You can see the table here: http://makinglittleadventures.blogspot.com/2013/01/table-revival.html

  38. I love the vignette of painting and pony. Sings to me.

    And I have that stapler! Inherited it from my Grandpa!

  39. That’s a nice desk, I nearly got one myself. The room looks so much bigger now. I’m really loving the pillow on the eames and the gold-lucite lamp, where are they from?

  40. Hi Daniel,

    Love this post and your blog – so inspiring and full of great ideas. I love the scale of the desk and the amount of storage. In the ’70′s roll top desks were hotly sought after and expensive, but When desktop computers came in, their auction value dropped hugely. Now with wireless and smaller computers I think we will see a big revival, though it was always difficult to find smaller desks suitable for apartments. Much as I love the size of your desk, the finish is not great. Are you going to redo it?

    I really like the side table next to the Eames chair, by the way. Looks perfect (and practical) to me. Can’t wait to see what you are planning for the “old” desk, though it is pretty great as it is and almost a shame not to sell it on to someone who will love it.

    Say hi to your Mom for me.

    • Thanks, Sandy!

      By the finish, do you mean the veneer? That’s my favorite part of it! I think the wood grain of the teak is really pretty, and it really doesn’t need to be restored or anything. I might try to patch in a couple pieces of new veneer or edge banding to the missing bits down the line, but for now it doesn’t bother me.

      The desk wasn’t holding up so well…I would have had to put in a fair amount of work just to make it OK to sell to someone! But it’s getting reinvented and reused to fill another practical purpose, which I’m happy about.

  41. Great read, finding out my personality type was definitely empowering for me too. Also I couldn’t help noticing Your plant is still alive, nicely done!

  42. I can completely relate to your need to change things! I’ve been the same way since I was a kid. My husband thinks I’m crazy and I just sent him your post to show it’s not just me! :) Love your blog!

  43. Aha! Now I know that my compulsive re-arranging of furniture and objects on shelves (Which started when I was around 10 years old) is A THING. Phew.

    Love the new storage and desk combo – joyful when something that wasn’t quite right or working is remedied.

  44. I had to recently give up a piece of furniture I couldn’t make work in my flat too. A lovely chrome and glass ‘Merrow Associates’-style trolley. Very classy, but not quite the style of anything else, and despite loving the idea of a mobile bar in my house (I mean, who wouldn’t?), I didn’t really have the space. Sold on ebay! And now I have a nice big cupboard instead so I can hide everything away!

  45. I found your blog via Anna’s and I continue to read it because it is fabulous. I love the way you express yourself in words, your content is completely original and you have great taste in all things, including your boyfriend and your dogs!

    I also love that you mention the B-word – BUDGET. It’s important to me. I too am constantly changing my space around and now I want to paint my apartment and DIY some more. I must be a lot like you – but I was never tested, so I just thought I was crazy all these years!

    Thanks for the awesome posts! Keep them coming!

  46. Daniel,
    I found your blog through Design Sponge (and a certain Maxwell Tielman). Just a quick note to say how much I enjoy your writing. You have a real talent. This may induce some eye-rolls, but your narrative style reminds me of David Sedaris. (It doesn’t hurt that your mother comments on your blogs posts, either). Thanks for the fun read!

  47. I hate you for your amazing Craigslist finds and your beautiful apartment in which I covet all of the things. My jealousy knows no bounds. Buffalo’s Craigslist is where ugly goes to die.

    • Haha! Buffalo has PHENOMENAL thrifting, though!! Max is from Buffalo and we always end up dragging stuff home when we go to visit!

  48. I completely feel you on the high change score thing. My bedroom growing up was two (2!) rooms, so I can’t tell you the number of times that my tiny pre-pubescent self dismantled my twin size trundle canopy bed (oh yes) and moved it and the two mattresses from room to room as the spirit seized me. One problem I have found as an adult is when you redo a piece of furniture and your partner loves it so much (and it’s his dresser), so even when you are over it and would totally replace it with some magical NEW craigslist or curb find, you can’t, because he loves the stupid thing so much and it would just be too rude. Clearly I should just be happy that he is so impressed by my handiwork, but no.

    • Oh, we have that issue ALL THE TIME. I know exactly what you’re talking about! Max becomes more attached to any of my projects or things than I really am, and it makes changing stuff around difficult! I solve it by constant pestering to wear down his will, and then I strike when he is weakest. Or we cut bargains. Or sometimes being very specific about what I want to do (not “I want to replace this thing” but “this is exactly what I want to replace it with, and can’t you see how it would look amazing??”) also works.

  49. Hi Daniel, I love the desk but this question is about your Fiddle Leaf Fig Tree. I just bought one at Ikea…it’s small and sitting on a table. I’m hoping it will grow into a tree. My question is: Did you prune yours into that shape or did you buy it like that? I”m not sure how or when to prune to get that shape. Thanks. P.S. Love your blog!

    • So, I am soooooooo not a good person to ask about plants! Ours was already pretty large when we bought it, although it has undergone some new growth since we took it home. I know there is a way to prune fiddles, but it is a little science-y (has to do with the growing cycles and stuff), but there are much, much better resources online than me! All I can really say is that if it gets plenty of light and isn’t over-watered, it seems happy and willing to grow!

  50. this is perfect and amazing and I’m dying.

  51. Love the Lana Del Rey shout out. Your new desk looks great in that space.

  52. I’m seriously in love with your apartment. If we were in Jerry Maguire, you would have me at opening the door.

  53. Where is your fiddle leaf pot from? Gorgeous apt!

  54. Ugh, boo. Thank you :D

Comments are now closed for this article.

Back to Top