This is a pearl of wisdom that I received years ago and wanted to bring back right now. When in need of a really simple, nice, natural material desk, use IKEA butcherblock countertop (which is cuttable, sandable, stainable and paintable) and some cool legs (like the Vika Inge style seen here, which has been replaced with Vika Runtorp). I've been building them in all of our offices and for clients, and I thought they'd be great to bring back out during our January CURE as folks dig into their homes and make them better than ever.
The Basic IKEA Countertop Desk
This is from 2008:
Over the weekend I had the distinction of assembling six desks for our expanding new office space. While many may think of turning to desks from any one of a number of office stores when in need of good workspace, I am fond of a totally alternative solution that works well in home or office.
IKEA sells desks, but they are usually chipboard and melamine. They also sell solid wood counter tops, called Pronomen that come in many widths and lengths, so that you can make your desk as big as you want. Pronomen are solid beech tops that are strong and heavy. They can also be painted or oiled to suit. A good basic desk size of 50x25 will run you $49.
For legs I use Vika Inge [discontinued and replaced with Vika Runtorp], which were designed by the amazing Olle Lundberg (visit Olle Lundberg's Cabin). They are chic and simple AND will only run you $12 for each one.
This means you can get yourself a really nice modern desk that isn’t made out of crap for $98. And if you want to do an office, it gets even better. We did six big 73” long desks for $650, assembled them in about two hours and we’re done!
The Faux Bouroullec Joyn Desk with IKEA Countertop
This is from 2010:
The basic concept here is that when you are starting with a good, solid material you can do ALOT with it. Melamine won't give you this freedom. IKEA's Lagan countertop is solid beech. You can really work it — through cutting, painting and/or staining. I've been building desks out of it for a few years, but this was the first time I attempted a more "high rent" solution.
The Bouroullec's Joyn system is lovely in its simplicity and reads like a big family table that hovers in the air. To get a similar look, I first built one long worktop and then carefully set IKEA's Vika Inge legs back from the edges and end to give it more of an appearance of floating lightly above the floor. I stained the desk white to preserve the natural grain and then painted the legs white to pull it all together.
Here are the instructions for one of the big desks I built. I also include a picture above of a small version.
What You Need
4 Lagan Countertops — I used 96" and cut them down to 68"
6 Vika Inge Legs
Pickled White Minwax Stain in Matte Finish
Minwax oil based Polyurethane
China White Enamel high gloss paint
2 Media Grommets
2½ Grommet drill bit
Sandpaper — rough to fine
Plenty of rags (for staining and cleaning)
The Top - I used a bunch of old desk tops and a few new, and while heavy, it was pretty easy to cut them all down to 68" and then lay them flat on the floor like puzzle pieces (I had some good help in the form of Bill Skinner from Astech Closets). In order to tie them all together we used the end pieces that had been cut off and drilled these into the bottom like big bandaids. With many screws and three big slabs of wood pulling the four tops together, it worked.
Be careful when cutting the ends. The cleaner and straighter you make the cut, the tighter your tops will fit together in the middle. Put the cut ends in the middle as well, so that the nicer finished edges face outwards.
The Legs - Screwing the six legs into the bottom is pretty easy. Just be sure to place the middle legs right on the seam, so that they support the tops in both directions. I set the legs back 7" from the sides and 10" from the ends.
TURN THE BIG DESK OVER CAREFULLY. It's heavy and you don't want to crack the joints (which are fragile), but you can do it with four people.
Drill your holes at this time for your cord control.
Sanding & Staining - The time consuming bit is sanding and staining. You really want the tops to be as smooth as possible before staining, so a good bit of time was spent using varying grades of sand paper with a palm sander. In the middle where the seam was rough, I used wood putty to fill the gaps and then sanded this down as well. It worked nicely and the putty stains well.
Staining requires more patience and lots of open windows. I recommend finding a green alternative to the toxic stuff I ended up using. To get a really solid white look, I used a rag to apply the stain and followed the directions closely. I applied two coats and let it dry thoroughly between applications and gave it a light sanding in between.
Polyurethaning - Simply follow the directions here and find a green alternative as well. I applied two coats and sanded inbetween to ensure a strong, smooth surface.
Painting the Legs - With the metal legs, I gave them each a light coat of spray primer first and then painted them with a small brush. If you can spray prime your legs first, before attaching, that would be a good idea.
To finish, you want to give the desks one last really light sanding to take off the nicks of dry poly and then drop your plastic grommets into the holes.
Voila! Instead of thousands of dollars, you've got a lovely modern Bouroullec inspired worktop for four people which only cost around $350 (labor not included :-)).