I know it’s been for-ev-ah since I posted last – various health problems, freelance gigs, and just ordinary life wouldn’t stop happening. But we all got healthy and summer slowed down, and the constant mess around my “work area” had been under my skin long enough.
There were a few factors contributing to the mess. One was that as long as we’ve had this house, we’ve been denying that we are nerds. We don’t have a TV and are obsessed with our computers. My son watches his shows on whichever computer is not being used, though obviously we limit how much and what he watches. It is a crisis when a computer breaks and we have to share computers around here. We had been fighting this room ever since moving in 5 years ago and not structuring it to fit our needs. We’d simply been in denial that this room has functioned as a work area, as obviously there are 2 computers in here and a desk, and sort of passive-aggressively struggling to make it into another living area separate from work. Why, we don’t really know; we have 2 living areas in our home, so it’s not like we really needed this to be a living area.
The majority of our time at home is spent in this room, on our computers. We carry on deep conversations here in this room, on our computers; before we had our son and started eating at the dining table like normal people, we did what you’re not supposed to do and ate on the couch in front of a computer. Our other living area has become my son’s play room and general relax area, and I prefer that room over the pictured room; for one thing, it’s not a hot mess. Another, it has windows and faces our street, so it has a lot of natural lighting.
The room in this post has very little natural light. It has a sliding back door that leads to the patio and it opens to the “breakfast area” (I put that in quotes because I think it’s a stupid concept, at least for our house. It’s not like we eat our other meals in another room. That was before Mr. Kid came along). Anyway, the eating area does have a window. But our patio has a beautiful, ginormous oak tree right next to it that blocks a lot of light. Unless you’re sitting at a computer, in which case the sun sends death rays right into your eyes. Even then, that room is still very dark, and in either case, you’re blind, whether from the sun burning your eyes out or you’re at the other end of the room where there’s no light.
Another factor was that desk. That particle board, teeny tiny desk I bought in 2002 from Target. I think it was the first piece of real furniture I bought with my own money. As I had graduated from college the year before and had been working as a freelance classical musician for less than a year, cash was a precious commodity, and I didn’t have a lot to spend on furniture. It was part of some crappy modular fake wood system that Target hasn’t carried in years, and for whatever reason, I had to have that desk. Seriously, my list of adjectives describes all the reasons not to buy this desk. But whatever. On top of it being small, I had nowhere to put stuff, so it all just went into an abyss on top.
Then on top of all that, my husband didn’t have a workspace out here because there was no room for one. He had a sort-of office in the back of the house, but didn’t really like being isolated. His laptop was on the coffee table with wires leaking from every orifice (on the laptop) in seemingly every direction. I really felt like I was drowning in cables every time I walked through this room. It was like the Blob had taken on a new incarnation as technology in this room and was eating up space.
If I sound like I’m complaining, I guess I kind of am, but also acknowledge that this was a FWP. After all, we have multiple computers in this room alone and more elsewhere in the house (I wish we did not have a computer cemetery because we pay a lot in electricity, but that’s not up to me). But it is hard to be efficient when I can’t find anything and feel stressed just walking through this room.
Again, time to stop complaining and time to start doing. Ana White to the rescue again.
I had long had my eyes set on Ana White’s Eco Office plan. It was just a matter of convincing Husband that he did, too. This particular room is about average, maybe 10′ x 12′, with a hearth/fireplace cutting a little into the dimensions. In discussing a plan for this room, we agreed that the current configuration was not working because we were fighting its true function, which had become a work space. So why not just make it a nice work space. He requested I create, on paper, a reduced scale outline of our room, complete with the proposed work area and current furniture. I think he did that to see how motivated I was, because I am famously lazy.
Because I am married to an engineer who would otherwise never agree to anything without a hard-coded plan, and I was highly motivated to stop wanting to grit my teeth every time I entered this room, I actually did it. I took a large sheet of construction paper out of my son’s giant drawing pad, measured the room and all the existing furniture, and actually cut out reduced-scale drawings of my furniture. They were more like rectangular blobs because I have the crafting skills of a turnip, but they were accurate. Unfortunately, I tossed them out in glee once I completed the work space (“Pics or it didn’t happen”, I know). He was uniformly impressed that I actually did that during my kid’s nap. So like a 2-dimensional, all-white doll house, we moved furniture around and discussed where to put our work area, came to a plan, and moved forward.
Several months ago, I had the good fortune of reading a post from a friend on Facebook who just happened to have a garage filled with lumber that he wanted to get rid of. I jumped on it, and he happened to have a full sheet of 3/4″ plywood in red oak. Red oak!! So he gave it to me and it sat in my garage ever since then and I had been wondering what to do with it. I mean, I felt like it would be a waste to paint over a sheet of red oak ply. So when we decided to build the Ana White desk, this seemed perfect for it.
Ok, so why this desk – it’s 8′ long. It’s huge. It’s meant for 2 people. It had plenty of storage. I could build it with drawers or without, and with adjustable shelves. This plan just called to me when I first saw it. And the sheet of oak I already had would cut down on my expenses since this plan in its entirety called for 3 sheets of plywood. I even had the finish I wanted in my head – white bases with a dark stained top – and my husband more or less gave me carte blanche to do what I wanted with it as long as his requests for his half was worked in.
Pictures of the journey:
The Open-Shelf Base plan, pictured above on the left, is meant to stand without drawers, and I had originally planned to use that one for my side because I hate building drawers. Husband had asked me to build him the Office File Base (pictured below)so he could have a file drawer, so I did using these drawer slides from Woodcraft, which were actually pretty easy to install.
The problem arose when I looked at these smoothly-running drawers and became madly envious. But I already built the open shelf base and I couldn’t use the Woodcraft slides because the shelves were in the way, so I constructed what were more or less boxes with a drawer front for the top 2 compartments. As this post is already a verbal vomit, I’ll spare you the details of how I tried multiple times to install a wood slide for those boxes and failed because I suck at installing drawers. So they just sit inside the open shelf base and work fine.
(So yes, I realize one side is kind of wavy. I don’t have a table saw, so I had to have my husband help hold this sheet steady while I ripped it down with a circular saw. i am really not that bad with a circular saw, I promise. I use the Kreg Rip-Cut tool and again, I won’t bore you/embarrass myself with details, but suffice to say that my advice is to always make sure it is securely attached to the saw before using. Otherwise the above happens.)
The red oak ply was in pretty good shape with a few dings, so I went off to Woodcraft to find something appropriate to fill them with. I was planning on staining it espresso, so I needed something that would match the original wood. One of the guys there recommended Famowood putty in red oak and I was initially sceptical, but it was $5 and I needed putty anyway. It looked like chocolate when first put on, but when dried and sanded, actually blended in really well.
I didn’t want to use edge banding for the table top trim, so I bought some 1x2s in red oak, mitered the corners, and nailed it on. It’s also stronger that way.
I used General Finishes water-based stain in espresso, which I had on-hand already, and GF water-based polycrylic to finish. Paint was Valspar’s paint+primer line in Antique White from the oops bin. Drawer handles are from Lowes. I bought them a couple of years ago when they were having a blow-out clearance sale on drawer and cabinet hardware. I bought over $100 worth of hardware for about $30. These were originally in a garish The-80s-Called brassy finish and I spray painted them with a Rustoleum iron color. I covered the insides with contact paper. I also used Band-It iron-on edge banding.
For the Large Bookshelf middle unit (below), I used the Kreg Shelf Pin jig to install 2 adjustable shelves. Then when we actually moved it in the room, husband saw it and requested a slide-out tray for one of his old monitors instead and a grommet hole for the cable. So I somewhat grudgingly dragged out the drill and appropriate bit, and later on, the vacuum. But I admit we’re not good enough planners to anticipate every single one of our needs.
But I have to admit, I think it’s pretty creative and out of the way.
Instead of having a bunch of crap on top, I got these boxes from Ikea for the inside of the drawer.
Some things to keep in mind if you take this on:
It’s a bit of a tight squeeze between each base unit and the large middle unit. My desk chair (not on their website any more but from Ikea) won’t fit under the tabletop. The sliding keyboard tray on the left has a mouse platform you can attach, but there wasn’t enough room for it. Given that Ana’s plans are structured to give you the most bang for your buck, I don’t think there’s much you can do about that. Maybe if you used 10′ planks for the top, but if you’re a hack carpenter like me, that may not be practical if you need to use this as a writing surface.
I’m not a fan of edge banding, but I have neither the tools nor skills to make my own frames. Wish I did. I think it looks kind of chintzy and is annoying to work with, but I guess it doesn’t look that bad once you paint it. Making your own out of solid wood pieces is, as I understand, more permanent and adds a lot of strength. It was easy to add solid wood to the table top with a nail gun. I used Band-It from Lowes and it was fine, but I didn’t like the trimmer that they sell with it. I had better luck with a box cutter (and super-sharp blade).
Plan grommet holes accordingly.
That’s all I can think of. I used pine for the bases and beech for the drawer faces on the right, red oak ply for the table top. Now that Hub’s laptop is on top and the wires are hidden, I no longer want to cringe when I enter this room. I just think, “How many clowns will fit in a car…” when I see all the monitors. We also had 3 track lights installed in here at the same time that we redid the space, so it’s a little hotter in here than it used to be. But it’s a lot lighter and I can find stuff. We both love this space now. There is much truth to the belief that a cluttered space is far more stressful than necessary.
Next up – shoe cabinet. Til then, hug your kids and drink coffee.