Our eight-and-a-half year old son had been begging for a computer for Christmas. We eventually decided we’d “gift” him with my desktop computer since I was due for an upgrade. (He would get the brand-new keyboard, mouse, speakers and headphones, but I’d get the new tower and monitor.)
There was no question about where his computer would go: right in the dining area, in plain view, where we could keep an eye on things from anywhere on the main level. But that meant moving one of our hutches to make room for a new, larger desk — instead of the tiny, rarely-used built-in one we’d tucked in a corner.
We usually build simple, modern desks out of 2x4s and sheets of white melamine, but that wasn’t going to work for our farmhouse-style main level. Whatever we built would need to match the dining table, chairs and nearby coffee table — white legs, stained wooden tops — and mimic the classic, vintage feel of their turned legs.
I sketched out what I wanted and presented it to my handy husband, since he’s better at building anything load-bearing and, um, important. It seemed pretty simple. I wanted turned spindle-like legs to match the dining table and chairs, a thick-looking wooden desktop I could stain dark, and an “apron” under the desktop that could be painted white.
He didn’t see my vision.
I drew another sketch. I explained I wanted “turned” legs, as thick as possible. He purchased skinny-looking ones because the thick ones were “way too expensive.” I was disappointed, but agreed they were fine.
The desktop was another issue. I reminded him that I wanted the wooden top to be nice and thick, but not planked — since the mouse wouldn’t roll smoothly over a planked top. He purchased a thin slab of birch plywood, and I cried out in frustration. No! It’s too thin! He insisted he’d make it look thicker by using 1x3s along the sides.
He’d bought all of the supplies, but getting started was a challenge. He made a few cuts in his shed and brought the pieces inside to show me. He couldn’t visualize how they should go together.
“It would be easier if the base and the top were totally separate pieces,” I kept insisting. “Just build a simple base with the four legs and apron, and then build a separate, thick desktop that fits on top. Think of it as two separate projects.” Finally, he agreed.
He build the base from the four spindles and 1x3s, which I painted a crisp white (Fusion Mineral Paint’s Picket Fence). Then he got to work on the desktop, which involved sandwiching the birch plywood between more 1x3s to give it the appearance of one thick slab of wood. Once that was finished, I stained it dark (Minwax’s Early American) and wiped on many coats of polyurethane — sanding between coats to give it a smooth, glass-like finish.
While this was happening, we’d already taken down our tiny dining area desk and moved the small hutch — and neither of the kids had said a word about the blank space that suddenly appeared in our dining area. They also didn’t ask what we were building in the basement, but they’re used to lots of projects happening and probably assumed it was for someone else.
The final coat of poly was dry on the morning of Christmas Eve — nothing like a last-minute panicky DIY — and I carried both desk pieces upstairs to their new home. The kids even helped me pound on the top to “snap” it in place over its base. (I explained it was “a new console table to display pretty dishes.”)
On Christmas morning, our son opened up his new-to-him computer — along with a note saying it would be set up on his new dining room desk. For days, he laughed and laughed about how he’d believed it was just a console table, like we’d played the best trick in the world. Luckily, he didn’t mind the fib.
- COST: $100
- EFFORT: 4 out of 5
- RESULTS: 5 out of 5
Heather Laura Clarke is a crafty maker who perpetually has paint smears on her hands, sawdust in her shoes and bits of thread stuck to her leggings. She lives in Truro with her husband, son, and daughter. Follow her adventures at HeathersHandmadeLife.com.