It took me several weeks to plan and organise, then three weekends of work to do it, but I’ve revamped my attic workspace.
Before and after:
I still need to put all my books back on the actual shelves, clean and put down the rugs, and get more magnets so I can put more things on the wall, but I’m pleased.
The desk really triggered the whole thing. My old desk (barely visible) cost £35 from PC World or some similar chain in 1996. It was MDF with a flimsy black veneer and, within two years, the cupboard space on the left was being held up by the PC tower and the drawers on the right were held up with my first year notes from uni. The problem, even as I looked for a better one, is that to get into my attic furniture needs to be flat-packed or able to be disassembled. It’s just not possible to get a solid desk up two flights of narrow stairs which turn through 180 degrees four times. Every modern flatpack desk I saw, I loathed as they lacked soul. Every old desk I saw was solid.
Then I spotted an old oak leather-topped desk in the PDSA charity shop near my house. Everyone was looking at it, but dismissing it because there were rips in the bottom of one drawer and sellotape covering the crossbar. I looked. I tried lifting a corner and realised the top part came off, leaving two pedestals of drawers. At £35 including delivery, I decided it was worth the TLC required.
Here it is in the garden as I fixed it up:
Initially, I considered sanding it down and painting it but I decided I liked the scruffiness of the ink stains and worn black handles. I protected the old leather top with newspaper, sanded down the rough bits on the surface, scraped off the old sellotape and sanded down the rough edges of the cross bar, revarnished the top and used olive oil to repair a minor scratch to the leather. The middle drawer has been temporarily repaired using mounting card and superglue. At some point I’ll find some balsa wood and do a proper job on it.
Knowing I had a new desk to get upstairs, and knowing that would be quite disruptive, I decided the time had come to sort out the rest of the workspace.
Not least the minor worry about the ceiling. One of the joys of a listed house is that it tends to list. Given this was originally a farm worker’s cottage, and is as vernacular as architecture can get, I have never expected to have any straight lines. However one ceiling panel in the attic had bowed, cracking the paint and plaster around it and leaving a thin gap between the ceiling and the wall. I rather nervously hit it with a hammer and discovered – to my relief – that the board was sound, just bent. So I pulled away all the loose paint and plaster, used an old piece of quarter-circle dowling to push the panel back up on the wall and trusted to polyfilla to fix the rest and reseal the wall/ceiling joint. Well, polyfilla and some great plaster board tape which is like netting. Looking at the before photos, I’m slightly surprised by how bad it actually looked.
The existing shelves, bowing under the weight of the books, were made from MDF recovered from a skip in 1994, along with some bricks liberated from a building site around the same time. They’ve done a sterling job over the last decade but the time had come to get something a little more grown-up. Having realised that IKEA now deliver in the UK, I picked some heavy dark wood shelves called Markör which would fit A4 folders as well as books and got a delivery date just before the last bank holiday. Thus setting the timescale for all the work.
At the Open House London day last year, the chap and I visited RIBA to see their mix of retro and modern. We ended up having a long and interesting conversation with an architecture student in a library workspace they have. One thing that wowed me was their magnetic wall. This is done using a primer paint with ferrous material suspended in it. You then paint over with whatever colour you want. And use magnets to hold everything to the wall. Given that I always use the wall behind my desk as an ideas/inspiration space, I loved the notion of making it magnetic. No blu tack marks, no pin holes damaging the plaster. I got the magnetic paint from Shaw Magnets via Rapid Electronics, which was the best value (a full litre for under £30, compared to £35 for 900ml for a different brand). And it works!
Unlike my wifi router, which had become increasingly unreliable. As the PC had to come down to the lounge whilst I was renovating, I took the opportunity to send the wifi router off to Belkin under warranty and use a CAT5 for a couple of weeks. Yesterday, I cycled over to the courier depot to collect the new router and today I brought the desk contents and the chair back upstairs.
The chair was made over a few nights ago. I’d got it from my old office and Moosifer Jones used to love sitting on it. And dribbling. Look closely at the photo of the old workspace and you can see the stain on the rather drab grey wool. I’d bought the fabric back in the winter from the Exeter Fabric Centre knowing it would be for this chair. Initially, I planned a full rebuild, then I considered using drawstrings to keep the new covers loosely in place. Finally, I discovered I could use an old set of blunted scissors as a bradle and tightly force the material in the gap between the cushions and the back. Not perfect, but workable. With the scraps, I made a little matching cushion for Sébastian and put it in one of the spaces on the new shelves. We’ll see if he takes to it.
So, there it all is. There are minor other things to do (not least repainting the rest of the attic, and updating the lights) but I’m pretty pleased with how it’s turned out. Especially at a total cost of around £230. I’m sitting at my new old desk, on my elderly but snazzy chair, looking out over the gardens of the neighbourhood and I’m glad I took the time to do all the work.