A New Desk for Mama – $60 Crate & Barrel Knockoff

I’ll try not to start *every* post with an apology about how long it’s been, but I really ought to this time. My bad! I promise a lot is still going on here – 2 major build projects (including this one!) and 2 major kitchen projects. Posts coming… eventually? Ish? I’ll get there, promise. It just might not be soon.

Anywho. This desk! OK, we had way too much blank wall space in the dining room, which I rectified in part with this large built-in dry bar right before baby J showed up. But there was still one conspicuously awkward corner – a narrow corner space with a window on one side and a thermostat on the other. Until this project, it housed a dust-and-junk-collecting leftover furniture piece from my husband’s craigslist roommate days. Add to this the fact that my art project habit had started to take over the dining room table… and the thought crossed my mind, is there room for a desk here?

A little Pinteresting and Googling revealed some narrow, minimalist desk ideas, but I fell in love with the Sawyer Desk from Crate & Barrel:

sawyer desk from crate & barrel

Per usual, though, I didn’t really love the price tag: $179. Yikes. It seemed potentially like a pretty simple (and inexpensive) DIY, so I took to SketchUp to figure out how to adapt this to available materials and my preferred dimensions, given the limitations of my space.

sketchup desk screenshot

Happy to share the file if it’s useful, BTW. I was careful to include the baseboards and thermostat in the model to make sure there were no collisions. I designed the whole thing to be made from 1x3s and 1/2″ plywood. I painted/stained the dry bar cabinets with white & walnut, and I planned to use leftovers from that project so everything would match. As shown in the diagram above, I made my cut diagrams from the 3D model and was off to the races!

First up was making the cuts. I didn’t take pictures. This was boring. The only slightly interesting bit was needing to accommodate the desks’s 5 degree lean. The two long leg pieces needed to be cut like parallelograms and the small bits at the top needed to match. This wasn’t too difficult with the miter saw, and it didn’t need to be exactly 5 degrees – the important thing was that all the pieces were cut with the same offset angle to match.

I… also missed taking pictures of assembling the legs. It was a very quick process – I did this with pocket hole screws and only needed to fill two of them with plugs, since the other pockets would be in hidden places, either against the wall or adjacent to the window.

Next up, I assembled the shelves and desk surface – the edges would need some wood filler and the whole pieces would need some sanding:

This was the main desk part – used lots of wood filler before sanding, sanding, sanding, and applying a coat of paint so it would all be perfectly smooth and look like one solid piece of wood. The original desk has a drawer, but a) drawer slides are expensive and b) I didn’t want yet another junk drawer to throw my crud into and accumulate over time… Win-win!

I then took the assembled legs into the basement (it was February after all) and used then General Finishes walnut gel stain that I loved so much on the dry bar countertop.  One coat! That’s it! Time is of the essence when you’re working during naptimes. Sorry for the terrible photo, it was really tough to shoot this:

After the gel stain, it got 3 coats of wipe-on poly, and BAM. done. In the background you can see what else was going on – priming and painting the desktop and shelves:

We took a slight detour next – I realized that it’d be pretty easy to add an outlet under the desk so I could, y’know, run power to my laptop and whatever else… so we took to the tools during baby J’s naptime and went from this:

to this:

We’re pretty good at adding outlets on the first floor in our plaster & lath walls at this point. We’ve got a system – one person works in the basement (husband) and one person works up at the outlet (me). An oscillating multitool is a MUST for cutting the hole for the receptacle. Plaster is extremely unforgiving… this has required some practice but it’s paying off in spades now!

Annnnd…. back to our regular programming!

I decided to assemble the desk on site. First, I attached a bracket to the top of the desk leg assembly to fix it to the wall, making sure it would overlap with the stud:

Definitely use a bin full of hand-me-down clothes as a support.

Then, I screwed this bracket into the stud, fixing the legs in place. Next up was attaching the top shelf, which I did using a level and clamps. I attached the shelf to the legs using pocket holes in the hidden underside of the overhang, and a couple small 1″ corner braces screwed into the legs for the shelf to rest on. I planned to attach everything with pocket holes, but the cramped space meant I couldn’t get enough leverage with the drill to screw in the screws. Yes, this design does create a bit of a cantilever situation. But it’s holding a ton of cookbooks right now with no signs of sagging or fatigue, so I’m not too worried about it.

On went the second shelf the same way as the first, and then the desktop. Because this had beefy sides I could drive 3 screws directly through the desktop itself into the legs. The thing’s crazy sturdy.

And that was it! Cost breakdown – where did the $60 figure come from?

  • 1″ corner braces: $4.22
  • select pine 1x3s: 4 x $9.33/each
  • 2×4′ sheet of plywood: ~$18
  • 90 degree bracket: ~$1
  • Total: ~$60

I hate it when bloggers do things like exclude the materials they already owned in these cost breakdowns… I already had the plywood and some of the 1x3s lying around, so this was actually significantly cheaper for me to build. And this breakdown doesn’t include the finishing materials or screws – so factor that in if you don’t have any primer/paint/stain lying around. But, if you invest in paint/stain, you’ll get a lot more project mileage out of it – this project barely makes a dent since there’s so little surface area.

The final outcome? Well, I’m sitting here right now tip tap typing away:

It’s simple to make yourself the desk of your dreams! Go for it!!


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