Hi! It’s Mandi here to share with you our newest (and my favorite!) home improvement project. My husband Phil and I knew we were going to have some challenges when we decided to buy a small ranch home without a basement or den. The main challenge I foresaw was finding a place to function as an office when the third bedroom was no longer available.
Recently we considered how nice it would be to work side-by-side (Phil on lesson plans, me on writing these posts!) in the same room where all of our other family activities took place. I had found myself dreading the piles of teacher books which would inevitably accumulate on our dining room table, and I had long despised the seclusion of the third bedroom. My remote work area made it difficult to keep an eye on our toddler, which is obviously a must for a work-at-home-mom. Phil and I decided it was high time we figured out a happy way to create an office space right inside our living room. And boy, do we ever love it!
We knew we wanted a long work surface to spread out our things without getting into each other’s way and also lots of easily accessible storage to stow those things out of sight. A workspace in the living room was always such a scary idea—because clutter! Even if the area is always left perfectly neat (pipe dream!), organizational supplies and such can still visually clutter the room. Sleek white cabinets and a white countertop was our solution to reduce visual clutter in a space where we both work and relax.
Our home sure has come a long way, though, since the days of our haphazard Siamese sofa situation and purple walls (oops!). But I think even more than replacing our weirdly bohemian sofa (which at one time worked great in our apartment), installing this office in the living room has been the best decision we’ve made yet.
The entire workspace was created entirely by IKEA cabinets and a simple faux-solid-surface countertop that I easily whipped together myself. With a little bit of planning, you can build something like this for your own home! Check out how I made our custom built-in office space in the instructions below.
-26″ wide pieces of 1″ thick plywood (combined length to total the desired length of your desktop)
-1×3 lumber (combined length to total the border of your desktop plus the length of the seams between the plywood of the desktop)
-latex wood filler (does not need to be stainable)
-1.5″ nail brads (for softwood) or screws (for hardwood)
-primer & enamel paint
-sandpaper (I used a combo of 180 and 320 grit)
-power sander (hand sanding probably won’t cut it for this project)
-hammer (for softwood) or power drill (for hardwood)
-pencil & tape measure (if you are cutting your own lumber)
-saw horses & wood clamps (optional—I did not use these)
Step One: We decided which IKEA cabinets to purchase based on the width we wanted for each person’s legs under the desk, which was about 24″. We selected cabinet widths to fill out the rest of the wall, deciding on a narrow drawer-filled cabinet for in-between the two workspaces. Phil assembled the cabinets and mounted them to the furring strips he had hung to the wall using toggle bolts and wall studs for support. Then we double-checked the length we needed our desktop to be by measuring the distance from the wall to the edge of the end cabinet, plus 1″ for overhang on the edge.
Step Two: We wrote out the final dimensions we needed our desktop to be (in case we got confused while selecting lumber) and also wrote down the specific sizes we needed each piece of plywood to be to create the top, as well as each piece of 1×3 to form the border underneath it. Some plywood comes in 8′ pieces, while others come in shorter lengths. (Baltic birch, my preferred plywood, comes in 5′ squares.) They can help you select the pieces you need at the lumber yard, and you may even be able to save money by utilizing scrap pieces they have discounted at the lumber yard. Our local lumber yard was happy to cut the pieces down to the exact sizes that we needed, so we didn’t have to do any plywood cutting at home. (We did choose to cut the 1x3s at home because we have a miter saw.)
When we got home with the lumber, we fit the three lengths of plywood (shown in our supplies list) together on our sidewalk, and then cut the 1×3 pieces of lumber to form a border on top of it (though it would eventually be on the bottom of the desktop). I connected the seams with 1x3s as well, and though we only had three seams, I threw in an extra spacer for good measure.
Step Three: Once everything was arranged in a dry fit, I used wood glue to connect the 1x3s to the plywood pieces. If you have saw horses, they would be handy to prop up the pieces of lumber while you use clamps to hold everything together. I laid my pieces on the floor inside my house and used heavy objects to hold them together while I drilled countersunk screws into the 1x3s to keep them in place while the glue dried. If you are using soft wood (like pine), you can just hammer in wire brads to keep the wood in place during the drying process.
Step Four: Follow the directions on your wood glue container for wait time before stressing the joints of your desktop. When the glue has dried, flip over the desktop so that the 1×3 border is now on the bottom, and apply wood filler to the seams on the top and edges of desktop. Try to really smoosh the wood filler in any tiny crevices, and smooth away any excess to make sanding easier.
Step Five: Use a power sander and 180 grit sandpaper to sand away the excess wood filler to create a smooth surface on the desktop and edges. You may notice some spots that still need to be filled, so you’ll want to take the time to repeat steps four and five again until you achieve a perfectly smooth desktop.
Step Six: Once you have finished sanding the wood filler and your desktop is perfectly smooth all around, you can prime that puppy! I did two thick coats of primer, followed by a quick sanding job using 320 grit sandpaper. This sanding step is optional, but it will take away any bumps or grittiness and give you a really smooth surface for your final coats of paint. You may wish to roll or brush on the paint instead of using aerosol spray cans (or a spray gun), and that works too! Just be aware that whatever tool you use to apply the paint will leave a subtle texture on the desk surface.
After painting, be sure to wait at least 48 hours before putting anything on the desktop. I know it’s difficult to wait when you just want to use it already! But believe me—you don’t want your computer peeling paint off the desktop you just spent so much time perfecting.
Another option, besides paint, would be to cover the desktop with laminate, but I decided I really wanted the sleek look of a solid-surface countertop instead—without the Corian price tag. So paint it was! If you don’t mind a little extra visual clutter, it would also look really nice to use some iron-on wood veneer on the edge of the desktop. A long stripe of walnut could be quite dramatic!
Phil and I are so happy to finally have a clean, organized work station we can share as a couple, and I’m especially glad to be freed from the solitary confinement of our third bedroom. People! Light! Television! Man, what a wonderful world it is out here in the living room. (I’m typing this from the new work station. Can you tell how gleeful I am?)
Credits // Author and Photography: Mandi Johnson, Photos edited with Valentine of the Signature Collection.