Thursday, June 23, 2011

Creating an office

After making some progress on the areas of the house where we spend most of our time - the master bedroom and the living room - we're starting to branch out to the other rooms that have previously been ignored, aside from guilty glances.

Toward the top of our list was setting up a functional office.  Well, when I say "top of the list," I actually mean kinda toward the upper half of an insanely long and intimidating list, somewhere between "paint over the awful lime green bathroom" and "are we someday going to have a yard that doesn't consist primarily of dirt?"

In any event, having a good work space was important.  Even though I'm only an easy 10 minute drive from my office, I end up working from home quite a bit because sometimes it's just nicer to be at home in the late evening or weekend when I have work to catch up on.  I consider myself fairly lucky as a young lawyer not to be crazy insanely busy, but a "normal" week still involves logging 40 billable hours - which means I'm actually spending about 50-60 hours each week staring at my boring office walls. 

Effectively working from home at our last apartment was just not possible.  Since our main living space consisted of essentially one open room, there was nowhere private and quiet to go, especially if Sean was home and wanted to watch TV.  There was also nowhere to put a decent-sized desk, so on the off times I worked at home I'd usually be in some awkward position scrunched up on the couch with books spread around me.  Not good.

So, one of the things I was most excited about in the new house was the idea of having a designated office space.  Dorky, I know.  We thought the layout of this house was a great fit because it had three bedrooms (a lot of houses we looked at had 2) and even though the third one was tiny, it was big enough for an office or a future nursery/child's bedroom.

Now, when I say tiny, I mean tiny.  This room comes in at a whopping 8'x11'11".  It has a smallish closet, which is actually where I keep all my work clothes since our master closet is fairly small.  Sean has dibs on the closet in the other guest room, which works great for now.

If you've checked out our "before" pictures, you'll remember that the previous owners had knocked a doorway into the wall of this bedroom.

It's hard to tell from this photo, but having 2 doors in this small, narrow room made it feel like a wide hallway with a closet.  It felt much smaller than it actually was.

Where did this door lead?  To the garage turned 4th bedroom, of course!

We quickly converted the garage back into a garage immediately after we moved in.  Although the previous owners drywalled and put some carpet down, it was a yucky "bedroom."  Not to mention it was all done without permits.  We decided we would much much rather have a functioning garage than a 4th bedroom we would never use.

We pondered keeping the doorway open so that we'd have direct access to the garage from the house, but eventually decided to close it off.  Although it would be nice to have direct access, it seemed strange to have an entrance from the garage into a bedroom.  Plus, as I mentioned before, the door made it look much smaller than it actually was.

So, we paid the guy who refinished our floors for us $250 to fill in the doorway - put up drywall, plaster off, etc.  This was something I think we could have done ourselves, but with so much work to do and only 2 of us to do it, the cost-benefit analysis weighed in favor of having someone else do this.  Plus, we wanted it done quickly so that the house was sealed off from any dust and debris from the garage expansion that would be going on.

Once the room was all closed off, it became a storage room for all of our odds and ends and boxes from moving.  It was really a mess.  I don't think I have any pictures of this stage because it was really just ugly and stressful for someone as type-A as me to look at.  Just imagine a small room with a big mess and lots of random crap thrown everywhere that we didn't have a place for yet.

We were in no rush to set anything up because we really had nothing to set up - no desk, no office furniture, nothin'.  We had a couple of Crate and Barrel Sloane leaning desks from our old apartment, but they didn't work in the space so we sold them on craigslist.  We casually looked around for desks for a while, but with so much else to find it wasn't a top top priority.  Our big requirements were that it was big enough to spread out our stuff on, big enough for 2 people to sit at (although we rarely work at the same time), and I we both wanted a fairly simple design.

We saw a few that we liked but weren't crazy about, and I had it in my mind that I'd like to try my hand at building one if possible.  I wanted to build our dining room table as well so I thought this would be a good starter project.  Still, like I said, this wasn't a top priority so I wasn't even thinking of different plans or designs, and I definitely wasn't anywear near the purchasing materials stage.

Then, on a trip to Ikea, I was poking through the as-is section (a dangerous obsession) and saw a stack of HUGE white vika amon tabletops.  They were all marked as scratched and dented, but Ikea must be pretty picky because most of them looked perfect.  Best of all, they were cheap!  Just $20 for a huge 79"x24" tabletop that was originally $45.

As soon as I saw them I started thinking about the desk I could build.  I immediately thought of Young House Love's DIY desk project and thought the Ikea vika amon top would be a perfect substitute for the old door they used as their desktop.  The vika amon isn't solid wood and has a plastic-y finish, but I thought this was perfect for a desktop because it's easy to clean and not easily dented.

I ran to Sean with my desk building idea, and his immediate reaction was to think I was a little crazy.  I mean, who sees an Ikea tabletop and thinks "I could totally build something with this!" rather than "gee, I could just go buy the legs that come with this."  Ikea does have a wide range of legs for the vika amon tops, but none of them were really what I had in mind.  I love me some Ikea but I just can't get behind their desk legs - we had 2 super ugly vika amon tables in our first LA apartment that I ended up hating and I think I'm scarred for life.

Anyhow, Sean told me that I was crazy to buy a random huge desktop without a plan, and I actually left the store without it...before having a change of heart in the parking lot and running back in to grab one.  I'm pretty sure I looked a little crazy carrying a 79" table top out of the store by myself (I'm only 61" tall), but when I put my mind to something I'm pretty determined.

The lovely tabletop home made it home in our little Civic...and then sat in the future office undisturbed for quite a few weeks until I mustered up the energy for my desk build.  

The hardest part of the actual building process was finding the right wood.  The YHL plans called for 3x3 legs, which I couldn't find anywhere.  I went to a local lumber yard, and the smallest they had were rough looking 4x4s.  Home Depot was the same, so I ended up buying some 4x4 pine fence posts, which actually measure about 3.5"x3.5".  Some of the posts were really rough wood, but a very nice Home Depot employee helped me pick out the best looking ones from the stack.  I also grabbed some 1x3 pine boards, which were much easier to find.

The total lumber cost for this project was MUCH lower than I anticipated, I think because I bought the cheapo wood:

2 1x3x6 pine boards: $10.96
1 4x4x12 pine post: $12.48
Total wood cost: $23.44

Now, I'm not an expert at all, and I'm sure there's benefits to buying more expensive wood grades, but all I could find for the 4x4s was pine.  The only obvious downside is that they were rough cut, and also that one leg is now leaking sap through a coat of primer and 3 coats of paint.  Hmm.  Otherwise, they're great!

I had Home Depot cut the 4x4s to size for me, but I kept the 1x3s at their pre-cut length since I needed exact cuts and could easily cut them with a handsaw at home.  I decided on 28" for the 4x4s since we have another table about this height and it works.  Very scientific.

I had everything else I needed at home - my Kreg Jig Jr. for attaching all the pieces, and primer and white paint for the final project.

I got to building pretty much right away, and got almost no progress pictures.  I need to start taking more pictures when I'm building, but I'm usually just focused on not drilling through my hand and forget to grab my camera.  There were workers at our house building the fence as I was working on my table in the garage, and I think I was entertaining them with my building skills.

Here's a quick rundown of my process:

1) Sand down the 4x4s.  Since the wood was pretty rough, I spent some time with my electric sander smoothing it down so that the desk wasn't so rustic looking.  I didn't need perfection, but I didn't want them to look so funny next to the sleek top.

2) Prime all the wood - I think paining is much easier when everything is laying flat and hasn't been attached yet.  I primed the night before to give everything plenty of time to dry.  I don't think you need this much time, but I thought I'd get the priming out of the way one night after work.  I used leftover Kilz oil based primer from the guest house painting (which was a little bit too dry, I think, and actually left pretty bad brush marks).

3) Measure out where I was going to screw in my legs.  This was a big issue with the Ikea vika amon tabletop, because I'd been googling and discovered that the table top is actually hollow and filled with some kind cardboard.  Not exactly conducive to drilling into.  However, there are certain re-inforced portions of the tabletop where the Ikea legs screw into, so I figured I could screw my legs into approximately the same locations that the Ikea legs were supposed to go.  Each leg ended up being inset about 3/8", which is what I wanted anyway.

4) Figure out which leg was going to face which way.  Since my 4x4s were still a little rough and dented after sanding, I figured out which way I wanted them each to face so I could hide the worst defects in the back.  I just marked with a sharpie on the bottom of each leg so I wouldn't forget. 

5) Pet cute assistant.

6) Drill my 4x4 pocket holes with the Kreg Jig Jr.  I drilled 4 holes per 4x4 - 2 holes each on the 2 inward-facing sides of wood.

7) Screw the 4x4s into the desktop, hope it doesn't crack (it didn't!).  I must have guessed correctly as to where the reinforced portions are, because it seemed very solid.

8) Measure the length I needed for the 1x3s to fit between the 4x4s, then cut to length and drill 2 pocket holes on each side to screw into the 4x4s, and evenly spaced pocket holes on the top inner side to screw into the desk.

9) Screw the 1x3s into the 4x4s, and then into the desk itself.  I'm pretty sure at least some parts of the 1x3s were screwed into hollow parts of the desk, but since it was re-inforced by screwing into the 4x4s it seems pretty solid.

10) Start filling in the pocket holes with wood putty.  Remember to take some pictures, even though it's getting dark.  You can see from the yellow wood putty areas where I drilled my holes.  I probably didn't need to fill all of these in because they're underneath the desk and not easily visible...but I'm anal.

Putting and sanding was probably the most tedious part, because it required a few applications of putty, then waiting for it to dry, then sanding.

10) Paint all the legs and supports with 2-3 coats of Fresh Aire semi-gloss paint in off the shelf white.  I used a combination of a small foam roller and a brush for this part.

The paint application wasn't super smooth, but I decided not to be a perfectionist.  I think the primer I used was a little too dry because it left lots of brush marks, but given that my 4x4s were already pretty rough I decided I didn't care.

I also realized at this point that the desktop was a different color from my paint, because all white paint is not the same.  Again, decided not to be a perfectionist.  As I've mentioned before, we got a bunch of Fresh Aire paint for super cheap ($5 a gallon), but I'm not sure if it can be tinted with regular tint so we're just using as much of the white as we can for now.  So, I can deal with a slightly mismatched desk for now and pretend like I meant it this way.

I've written wayyyy too much in this post already and I need to actually do some work in this office tonight, so I'll save the rest of the office reveal for a later date.  Stay tuned!

1 comment:

  1. Man all that building stuff is super neat! You just have visions and make them happen--good for you!