In a Tiny House, every inch needs to have a multiple, functional purpose! ~at least when possible. Since we view the Tiny Life as an experiment that is always changing and always being tweaked for the better, nothing is off limits. If it makes living small a little easier, we try it. Sue’s Granny Sue, (there’s a country song in there!) used this cabinet in her kitchen, and it was passed down as a cherished family heirloom. We’ve always had it in the living room to store all (some) of Sue’s art supplies. The problem wasn’t that it didn’t store a ton of stuff, it just had only one use – storage. After I built our 140 SF art studio, attached to the garden shed, Sue moved her work-space out there, and we realized we could move Granny Sue’s art cabinet out into the studio and turn the vacated space into a laptop workstation. This saved us the money of heating the studio (about $40/month) through our long, cold, brutal Ohio winters, and Sue and I could work together in the cabin in the toasty warmth. I work at my TV tray desk, and Sue works 4′ away at her laptop Workstation – perfect ~ most of the time 😉 So we started the process with help from camera hog, Vlad ~ of course! If there is a camera, he will be there trying to insinuate himself into the pic.
A workstation defined ~
This will be different depending on your needs, but a flat surface large enough for a laptop and a seat is the most basic workstation. You will need a 12″ wide board about 2′ long, a couple shelf brackets, and a stool. That’s it! Maybe $25 if you already have something to sit on, and a quick trip to the hardware. Most places will cut a board to size for you if you ask. If you use a mouse and usually have a phone or a tablet sitting with you, the work surface needs to be wide enough to accommodate them as well. If you need to store some supplies, get a couple more brackets and add a shelf or 2 above the desk ~ cheap, quick, and efficient. You can always get a couple door hinges if you need to fold it up when not in use. Add a couple little chains or trunk lid brackets to hold it open and flat while you’re working, and you’re good to go. You can always look for vintage stuff at your local thrift or antique store and add some real character! I decided on a combination of both. Here’s the basic steps of “How-To” with the details of my personal design for Sue.
Standard height for a work surface is between 28″-30″ but that can vary so much depending on your height. A gorgeous, petite, 5’1″ namaste-butterfly style girl, with long flowing hair, and barefoot in a flowered skirt will not be comfortable at the same desk height of a 6’5″ gun-totin’, handsome, Yosemite Sam style Cowboy that has owned a handlebar mustache long before it became hipster chic! So, sit on the seat that you will use at the desk and have a friend (hippie, hipster, or cowboy, matters not, as long as you love them) hold your laptop for you at different heights until it feels great. Elbows and knees should be around 90º when working. Measure from the floor to the bottom of your laptop whilst your buddy holds it perfectly still, and that’s your perfect desk height! Subtract the thickness of your desktop and that’s how high you put your brackets. For Sue, 30″ high was perfect ~ I subtracted 2″ for the thickness of the desktop and hung the brackets at 28″. Measure and put up one bracket level and at the correct height. Then run the level across the bracket you just hung to set the second bracket perfectly for the pair. If you don’t have a level, there are apps for your phone. You can use your phone and a ruler or straight board for a level 😉
Ours was about 38″, and I had a top about 34″ wide so that’s what we used. That’s good for working with a mouse and a phone off to the side. I had a 16″ x 2″ thick maple slab in my wood pile so we cut that to 34″ long, sanded it down with some 120 grit and then finished with 180 grit, added a couple coats of rub on clear finish and it was ready. I left the natural edge from the tree, minus the bark, on one side. This is called a “Live Edge Slab.” I already had this, so it’s what we used. You can use whatever you may already have, like a nice piece of plywood or some wood boards you can glue together. Even cutting an old door or coffee table top to size will work. Get creative with how you see used things or stuff you already own. Screwing the brackets to the wall depends on what your wall is made out of. I was lucky because Shiny Tiny Mansion has all solid wood walls ~ Easy for me ~ Wood screws! If you have drywall, you will want to try and hit a wood stud hidden in the wall. If you have plaster or cement walls you can use anchors. Talk with your local hardware guy, a friend in the trades, or get a basic remodeling book from your library. Easy stuff but you gotta match the screw with the wall. A couple screws through the brackets and into the bottom of the desktop will secure it. Make sure they are not too long and come through the top.
Sue started using the desk that night and of course Vladamir Pussin’ was there to help with the installation inspection the entire time. If anyone is wondering where I got these beefy brackets, I had a welder friend of mine make them up to my specs. They are FAR too heavy and there was a misunderstanding on the upper shelf brackets,but that notwithstanding, you can stand on these!! My only recommendation would be to try and find beefy enough brackets for the desk that do not need the angled brace that we have on the shelves. That can be a real knee banger on a desk! Any local metal guy can bend these up for you out of 3/8″ thick steel. That’s perfect for the desk part~ no angle brace.
Step #3) Add the extra Zazz! Sue never seems to have enough places to put all her stuff (she’s got a problem ;)), so we needed to add storage above the desk. Remember function? I can never do dead simple. For a while, we looked for small, vintage wall cupboards, but never found anything the right size or cheap enough. Finally, we gave up and I decided to do open shelves. We already had an old treadle sewing machine drawer I’d put up for sticky notes and such. We happened to find 2 more sewing cabinet drawers at our local antique shop for less than $10 for the pair. I worked those under each shelf by using the little drawer rails they already had and BOOM! Coordinating, but not matching, designer shelves that have some real ZAZZ instead of boring old flat shelves. On top of that, Sue immediately filled them with hippie trinkets and other precious paraphernalia.
That concludes the lesson in its entirety for today, wink*, wink*.
Always happy to answer any questions you may have and if anyone has any other ideas or wants to share what kind of desk you have, please share them here or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org . I’m even open to making up some desks and shelves with little drawers if there is a need for them. If it’s easier for you to just buy them as a ready made kit, let me know and we can work together to make up some “Shiny Tiny Mansion DIY Laptop Workstation Kits.” As a furniture designer, I’m always looking to fill the under-served Tiny Community when you can’t find what you want and need.
Cheers and as always, Stay Tiny!