Initially, my dad suggested that I should just get some used furniture – we have a thrift store that’s a two or three minute walk from where my dad lives. I didn’t want to do that. I’d already spent a lot of time inspecting the room, and I all the room’s quirks were going to make it incredibly difficult for me to use that space efficiently if I was just going to slap random pieces of furniture together. I had a different idea…
I decided to build all of the desks and storage spaces I needed, by myself. Sure, I had no experience doing this kind of thing… but I’d done the math, and it was going to cost the same as just buying the stuff I needed used, give or take 10%. And I’d already determined that putting random pieces of furniture together would make very poor use of the available space in that room, and I really wanted to get the most out of what little space I had.
I had already started taking room measurements back in January. I took a lot of measurements. Here’s a free tip for anyone else planning to do this sort of thing: almost no room is actually perfectly rectangular. As the case happens to be, the room my dad “gave” to me as my hobby room ended up being an absolute nightmare in that regard. There was nothing remotely straight, square, plumb, level, or any other quantifiable and desirable building metric. I’ve frequently joked that the room contains was built in lovecraftian geometry. Measuring the width of the room every 30cm, I’d get different values for each measurement. Everything that could be wonky, was. the Outside. So if you’re doing anything like this… don’t just blindly assume that your corners are all square, and your walls are straight, and your floor is level. Take your measurements two, even three times. For a long time I’d been using measurements that were off by almost 30cm in one axis and to this day I still don’t know how I could have been off by so much. I could have saved myself a lot of time and trouble if I’d known how poorly built most houses were before I’d started. So hey, learn from my mistakes!
When I finally had the right measurements, I had to figure out how to plan out the drawings for my furniture. Again, I had no prior experience doing anything of the sort. I was going to have to improvise… again. I knew that I wanted to do this digitally, but I really wasn’t sure how I was going to accomplish what I wanted. There’s a lot of specialty computer-aided design software for this kind of thing, but those software packages are all incredibly difficult, and incredibly pricey. And it’s not like I have any experience with them, anyway. I had some experience with GIMP, but I felt that wasn’t going to work. I ended up settling on InkScape, which I hadn’t used much before, so there was a bit of a learning curve – but it wasn’t nearly as difficult to get used to as you might think. Between configurable grid settings, mm scaling, geometry bounding boxes and auto-snapping, I really felt I’d made the right choice for my project.
The first thing I decided to work on was a top view of how I wanted to lay out the room. After all, there wasn’t going to be much point in trying to design individual furniture pieces in-depth before knowing for sure what dimensions they should be. It took a lot of tweaking, but in the end I managed to come up with a design that let me use the same size horizontal planks in the left and right side of the main desk as in the storage area. This wasn’t really necessary, but it was definitely a nice-to-have. It means that I can move planks around to re-divide areas quickly as any plank from the storage can go in the desk area, or vice versa. Here’s what I ended up with, after about two months of tweaking things, on and off:
I did make some minor last-minute tweaks out of necessity and convenience while doing the actual building, but this is remarkably close to the final result. The two largest items are the desk at the top-center of the image, and the storage area in the bottom right of the image. This leaves the top-left and top-right of the image unexplained. I designed them both to be raised platforms. The top-left blue rectangle is raised above both the insulated heating pipes and the mystery protrusion, and helps make that entire corner area more usable. The top-right blue square does much the same, creating a raised platform above the insulated heating pipes, giving me a corner to storage large-ish materials, such as foam rolls, plastic pipes, pieces of wood, and so on, that wouldn’t fit in the 67cm-wide desk or storage areas. Speaking of the desk and storage, here’s how their designs ended up:
Once I had all of my designs, and I was happy with them, I wasn’t done yet. I was on a very tight budget (when aren’t I) so it mattered how I was going to cut the wood boards (I went with a prelaminated OSB boards). I decided to draw out all the full-size planks and then draw every single plank again on another drawing so I could divide them up over the full-size planks and use each full plank with the least amount of waste. This is also why I labeled everything — so that I could check and double-check that every piece is covered. If you’re curious: the number indicates the large furniture part (eg “desk” or “storage”) and the letter indicates the individual piece (eg the center horizontal plank, etc):
If you look at that cut overview image, you’ll notice that there’s very little waste material. That might seem impressive, but it was about more than just shifting pieces around. I actually repeatedly tweaked the design for individual pieces and parts to minimize waste (and cost!). This was made all the more challenging because my home improvement center offers a free wood cutting service, but because of the hardware they use, nothing could be smaller than 10cm, and that included ‘waste’ parts. Everything had to be designed around those restrictions. But I got there in the end!
I did have one remaining problem to solve: I don’t drive. And nobody in my immediate, nearby family does. My dad drives a minicar but that’s tiny, and couldn’t possibly carry all those planks. Luckily, the boss at my fauxwork decided to help out. It was such a large cutting job that I called up ahead of time to schedule and it took then almost a full hour. I’m so glad that they don’t charge on a per-cut basis, or that would have gotten prohibitively expensive!
With the plans made, and all my wood cut, I could finally get started with the actual building.