Before & After: A Boring Desk Becomes a Modern Farmhouse Workstation for Two
By combining ready-to-assemble furniture with a custom-made desktop, we created two large workstations for our home office.
When my wife and I began working from home full time, we knew that a single desk in the study wasn’t going to cut it. We needed something a lot bigger. We wanted a work surface that would stretch the length of one wall, making it broad enough to support two workstations with multiple monitors while providing storage space for files and office supplies.
While this meant we would need a custom design, I wasn’t willing to commit the time and money that a major built-in carpentry project requires. My solution was to combine affordable ready-to-assemble furniture with a custom-cut solid wood desktop made by a local lumber company. The result was a modern farmhouse-style workstation that was easy to build and cheaper than two separate desks.
Supporting the Desktop
The first step was purchasing the ready-to-build furniture that would support the desk. Since the heavy hardwood desktop would run the entire length of a 12-foot wall, we knew we would need ample support to create a stable work surface. We chose IKEA because their ready-to-assemble furniture has a reputation for being sturdy as well as affordable.
After searching through their online catalog, we settled on two white Alex filing cabinets and two black Oddvald trestles. (IKEA recently discontinued the Oddvald, but they have similar sturdy trestles on their site that would work just as well.) The two filing cabinets were more than enough to house our office supplies as our bank statements, bills, and other important documents are archived online these days. The trestles also complement the rustic farmhouse look we desired.
The Search for a Desktop
Finding a piece of hardwood to serve as a 2-foot-by-12-foot desktop was a bigger challenge. The big-box home improvement stores don’t offer large pieces of hardwood. However, most cities have specialty lumber stores within an hour or so drive that offer custom cut hardwoods for carpenters and DIY woodworkers.
We’re lucky enough there is a lumber dealer about 30 minutes away from where we live. Unlike a big box store that has a limited selection of hardwood boards, a lumber retailer that specializes in hardwoods offers 30 or so different wood species that can be cut to a variety of different dimensions.
We wanted a light-colored wood, so we went with a 2-inch-thick piece of ash, which has a light to medium brown color. Ash is commonly used to make baseball bats, so I figured it would be hard enough to function as a desktop.
Ash boards aren’t milled to 2-foot widths, which means multiple boards must be glued together using clamps, then milled to achieve that width. We had the company glue the boards together, and then plane and sand them on all four sides to create a perfectly square-edge 2-foot-by-12-foot-2-inch thick board.
Prepping the Desktop
Once the desktop was safely home, I set about preparing it for life as a desk by coating it with polyurethane. This treatment seals the wood and gives it a hard shell that protects the wood from dents and water damage.
I used water-based polyurethane, which is easier to work with than other types because it dries more quickly and remains clear. Oil-based polyurethane is more durable but develops a yellowish hue over time that’s visible on lighter-colored hardwoods, such as ash. Since we’d be drinking coffee, water, and other beverages on the desk, I applied four thick coats of polyurethane to protect the wood from the inevitable spills that occur on a desk.
Assembling the Desk
Unlike building furniture from lumber, which requires a lot of time, skill, and special tools, assembling IKEA furniture is easy. Putting together each filing cabinet took less than an hour and both trestles were ready in about 20 minutes.
We placed the two filing cabinets side by side to serve as the center supports with each of the two trestles set out wide to support the ends. Once in place, we stuck rubber bumpers–the same kind you find on kitchen cabinets—to serve as a buffer between the filing-cabinet-trestle base and the desktop. Enlisting some help from a neighbor, I positioned the desktop on top of the trestles and filing cabinets. Then we pushed them flush against the wall.
A Custom Built-in Desk…Sort of
Desks are expensive, especially when they’re large and incorporate hardwood. By using affordably priced furniture from IKEA and a local hardwood source, we were able to create our 2-foot-by-12-foot desk for about $500.
The filing cabinets and trestles provide ample support for the desktop, and the mass of the hardwood desktop gives the whole thing a sturdy feel. While you could use fasteners to attach the desktop to the base, there’s really no need as the weight of the desktop coupled with the rubber bumpers prevents it from shifting or sliding.
The nice thing about this project is that we were able to achieve an attractive look with minimal labor and no expensive tools. Building the IKEA furniture and sealing the desktop with polyurethane required about three hours of labor, a simple hex wrench (IKEA furniture!), a can of polyurethane, and a synthetic bristle paint brush.
Getting a 12-foot-long board that weighs more than 100 pounds home from the lumber store is a little bit of a logistical challenge. While we could have paid to have the wood delivered, we were able to slide it in the back of our minivan for the trip home, saving us a delivery fee that helped to keep the total cost of the project down.