How I Made Myself A Closet Office for $25

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closet office 1For about $25, I transformed what other tenants in my building use as a “bonus storage cubby” into my second office. I’m proud of my little transformation because I think it proves something I’m passionate about, in that it’s easy to do a lot with just a little space and a little money.

As micro-homes become the urban rage, we’re learning just how little space we really need. In the case of my great new workspace, this is definitely proving to be true.

Simplify, simplify, simplify

I’m sure Thoreau wasn’t thinking about desk design when he wrote Walden, but his motto of simplicity certainly applies to my new office. It’s a 40″x84″ room, basically a closet, and I’ve got the top for storage, and slipped a small bookshelf into the back end of it, where I keep my photography gear and reference books.

The last tenants had a little work desk a little narrower than the room, and they sure didn’t have a bookshelf. Instead of spending all my time looking for a desk that was a maximum of 40” wide/long, and forking out possibly big bucks for the “perfect size” convenience, I decided to design it myself. Bonus: More workspace!

Before you go “Oh, but I don’t have wood-working tools” — I didn’t even need a saw. I didn’t sand a thing. I bought already-finished wood that just needed some oil rubbed into it. I had the boards cut to size at the lumber yard. Investigate. Lumber yards will charge between 50 cents and a dollar per cut, always a straight cut, but the first cut is usually free. It’s a great service, and it’s fantastic for those of us who don’t have the tools we’d like to have.

I pre-drilled a few holes in the 1×4 trim because I’m fancy like that, but that’s the extent of the power tools used in this project, and you could skip pre-drilling if it’s not an option. Have screwdriver, will make desk.

How to make crazy simple desk

A desk is really just a flat surface you can work at. This “desk” accomplishes that. With a simple screwed-on ledge made of 1x4s and a cut-plank top, making a built-in custom desk doesn’t get easier.

You want the finished lumber that doesn’t need sanding, if you’re lazy like me. Look for interesting grain that’ll stand out with oiling.

Now, how deep do you want your desk? (Mine, 28″ deep.) Subtract 3.5″ inches. That’s how long you want your side-rail 1×4 cut. You want it shorter so the rail doesn’t show at the front of the desk. It’s the ledge your “desk top” planks will sit upon. How wide is your space? Take ¼” off, maximum of ½”, and that’s how wide you want the back 1×4” rear-support rail, and it’s also how long you want your desktop planks. My desk wasn’t deep enough so I added a 1×4 piece and also used another to run along the back as a decorative flair and protect the wall.

closet office

You’ll need to measure where your studs are, and then the 1x4s need to be installed at the proper height, keeping in mind the planks will add 1″ thickness. How high should you to put your desk? When you’re seated with legs bent at perfect 90 degrees, feet flat on the floor, where your 90-degree bent elbow naturally hits is the height your desk top should be. For me, that’s about 28”, which is a fairly average desk height. 27-30″ is about average.

The back rail will run the width of the wall, the side rails will butt against the back. Ensure they’re all completely level before you make the commitment screw and mount the rail for good. Don’t be afraid to use a pencil on the wall, you’ll be covering it.

Securing the planks

Use 1×8″, 1×10″, or 1×12″ planks, as many planks as is needed for your desk top’s depth, and have them all cut to the same length as the rear-support rail. Oil them nicely with Tung or Lemon oil a few times before you put this together. You’ll have to oil them periodically as the wood dries out in the months ahead. Lay your planks on top of the installed ledges, which you’ve mounted at the right height for you.

The front board, the one you’ll lean on when working, is the only one you need to nail down. Use a couple 2″ finishing nails on each side and securely mount it. It’ll hold the other planks in place but you’ll be able to remove them for oiling outside, if you like.

Like finding hidden treasure

There’s a joy to realizing you’re not using your space well and there’s something more you can do with it. Sometimes, it’s best to stand back and ask yourself what you need your space to be for you, and what the minimum it needs to accomplish your dream would be.

In this case, my minimum turned out to need a little closet and $25 for a 12-foot 1×8, a 12-foot 1×4, 12 screws, 4 nails, and one tin of Tung oil, and little lemon oil at the end too. An hour or so of my time, and that’s all she wrote, with a new office to prove it. One office for the day job, one office for my creative pursuits. It turns out, you really can have it all.

Maybe this space will never make Better Homes & Gardens, but I know I’m happy with it, and in the end, isn’t that the point? Is your home being all it can be? Would a little clutter purge and a freed-up closet give you the chance to have a great personalize workspace like this? It’s time to rethink your home, because you never know what $25 transformation is waiting to happen.

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Steffani Cameron

Steffani Cameron is a Victoria BC-based writer on a variety of topics. Here on the BuildDirect blog, she specializes in writing about smaller, urban spaces. How do you make the most of your smaller space? How do you decorate it to suit you? And how do you wage the war against clutter and win? This is Steff’s specialty.