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Office Update

Brian’s New Custom Desk

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Brian has been working out of our home in the guest suite downstairs and he was in need of a big old fancy desk for his new video production company (yes, he and his friend Chandler do all our awesome videos now and yes, they are for hire). My first thought was an L-shape but the depth would have had to be really shallow in order to fit two dudes there. It doesn’t look like it, but we mocked it up with desks and tape and realized that it would be too crowded. So, instead we wanted one big long desk to go along that wall.

Now there are some readymade options out there. Options that would have cost, say, $250 (ikea counter top on legs and done). But in my quest to make every room portfolio worthy I wanted something unique, beautiful and perfect for the space. So we decided to design something and have it custom made. All we knew is that it was going to be 9 feet long and 30 inches deep. I wanted something dark, strong, durable, and really special. I toyed with a waterfall wood table, something live-edge and ultimately decided to go with marble and steel as the materials. I hadn’t had a steel table fabricated before and it seemed like an interesting challenge that could yield a really great result.

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Here was the inspiration:

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Remi, a new designer that works for me, was the project manager on this job (or else I wouldn’t have gotten it done and the details wouldn’t have been so obsessed over). We started toying with the idea of a green and white marble top (marble is certainly the material of the year, right?), but a slab that big (9′ long) would have been cost prohibitive. Remi went to the local stone yard and found some remnants that were really pretty, so we shifted gears. We started pulling inspiration images and loved the idea of inlaying the marble into a custom made steel frame. Of course the inlay pattern could be anything – stripes, grid, geometric, etc. We messed around with a few of them and then once we settled on a grid we moved on to the drawer situation, which was necessary to provide them with a bit of storage and keep things off that beautiful new marble surface.

We saw these hanging drawers on a piece at the Vegas Design Show we went to earlier this year and loved how simple and architectural they were. Remi got to work on the rendering with our new inspiration.

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The plan above shows the grid and was also used to make sure our builder was able to support the weight of the marble. The thought was that if we made 6 smaller slabs with plywood backing we could get away without welding cross beams beneath– which would compromise the thin, sleek profile. With this design we were able to find some beautiful mid-sized remnants of Alba Chiara Marble at Stoneland. The remnants cost $610 total whereas the whole slab would have cost $1600, give or take.

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The front & side elevation further explains the location of the hanging drawers and square legs. In case you think figuring out all those details was easy and all those numbers just fell into place, you are wrong. I did feel a decent amount of stress knowing that if something turned out looking chunky, generic, or if the drawer hung too low, we would be the only ones to blame for that design mistake (speaking of which, read our feelings on those in this recent post).

We had the legs custom made from a vendor on Etsy (FOR $290) and requested them to be sent in unfinished raw steel (rather than the black option) so that we could have the entire frame and base powder coated at one time so that all the finishes matched.

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Since this is a functioning work desk, we needed to make sure that the inlay would be perfectly flush with the marble: “it should feel like nothing when you run your finger over the seam.” Normally we work with our builder,  Ansel, for new build upholstery & reupholstery, so this was a new venture for both of us.

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When it came down to deciding the color of the frame & inlay, we went back and forth between brass and black. On one hand, brass inlay is so pretty, but on the other hand brass powder coat can go bad quickly. And on the third hand, we felt like the marble made enough of a statement that mixing brass inlay & black legs would feel too 80’s for the space. After much debate, we decided on matte black. It is masculine, yet refined, and the perfect compliment to green veined marble.

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A common misconception about marble is that it’s a very hard and strong material. Greek ruins lead us to believe this, but in actuality marble is a very soft material that crumbles like feta cheese when hit the wrong way. Since we only found this marble in remnant pieces, Ansel had one shot to cut the marble correctly with a hand saw. Luckily he succeeded, but when they went to fit the marble to the frame one of the pieces unfortunately cracked. There was a moment of major panic when we thought we would need to source & buy all new marble so that it matched, but luckily Stoneland had a couple more remnants of the same marble. Crisis adverted and sanity saved.

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The desk was brought on site in pieces and assembled here so we could 1.) fit it up the stairs & through the door and 2.) ensure that we would not damage anymore of the marble pieces. First the frame legs were bolted to the frame, then the marble layout was decided. Like I said earlier, we employed a plywood support system to make sure the marble was supported without having to compromise the slim profile of the desk top. The plywood was dropped into the frame and then the marble was carefully attached with power grab glue.

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The last step was placing bumpers between the plywood and metal frame to ensure the marble tiles were perfectly flush with the black inlay that runs in between the slabs. We designed the ‘metal inlay’ to actually be part of the frame, where as with a traditional inlay a channel is carved from the marble & a strip of metal or stone is placed within which allows for the metal & ply tiles to pop in and out of the frame for easy disassembly and moving, we did this so that we could easily transport the marble and move if necessary, and also because we did not have a huge margin of error when it came to marble pieces and possibly trying to carve a channel in each of them.

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With every custom job there are always some take aways from your project,  things you would have known to call out or do differently. We specified full extension drawer hardware (who wouldn’t want full range of drawer access, am I right?) which is not concealed within the drawer, but instead attached on either side of the drawer. You can see the problem in the image labeled attaching marble to ply (above). Since sliding hardware can not be powder coated (the ball bearings will stick), the final hardware was exposed and silver. An unfortunate eyesore but easily fixed with a couple coats of matte black paint. All in all we’re kinda in love with the final product, what do you guys think? IMG_9640

We LOVE how it turned out. Sure, it wasn’t cheap, easy or fast but its such a pretty piece that we’ll hopefully have forever. IMG_9663

That green in the marble is going to be carried throughout the room. IMG_9666

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The sconces are from Rejuvenation, chairs from Target (for $70) and the curtains are from Loom.

Of course the biggest problem now is that any house that we move into has to have a room for a 9 foot long desk. I’m almost finished with the rest of the room and we’ll have the reveal soon. Stay tuned and have an excellent weekend.

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  1. The desks are beautiful, great job on the design!

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  2. This is amazing! I love the green veins in the marble. It seems like grey and gold are so popular these days we don’t see much else. Your husband is a lucky man!

  3. Complement, complement. 🙂

  4. Ummmmm this desk is seriously so amazing! The inlay is GORGE and the dark steel is so masculine. I cannot believe you made marble so manly. Well done Em!

  5. Gorgeous! Two of my favorite materials. How did you decide between making two independent desks that became “one” when side by side versus one really long one? Just thinking of the ease of placing 2 separate desks in a future home versus 1 so big.

  6. Beautiful! Could you pretty please do a post about how to go about finding (and vetting) people to do custom work? And how you find reputable locations to source materials from. I often wish that I could just have the side table/headboard/insert whatever of my dreams built since it doesn’t seem to exist in stores, but I wouldn’t even know where to start!

  7. This is a beautiful piece, and I’m so interested to see how this room comes together! Typically you work with lots of brass and wood (which I love), so it’s exciting to see how you’ll style this. I have a question about the functionality of the marble. I have my clean, ideal state of my desk, but in reality, it gets cluttered and full of computer equipment which sometimes gets moved around; how does marble stand up to that? Does it get scratched easily or can it take a bit of a beating? Do you have to be really precious with it?

  8. Looks great! I like all of it except the protruding handles. I like to sit tucked up to the edge of my desk, so those would be jabbing me in the gut all day. Clearly not a problem everyone has, though 🙂

  9. Absolutely beautiful! You seem so fearless in taking on the unknowns of a project like this. What happens when the guest suite is in use by guests? Do the boys still work in there or do they plan time off or do they work somewhere else? I have a desk in one of my guest rooms that houses all my postal supplies. I feel weird going in there to get a stamp when I have a guest staying.

  10. Needed office chairs for a custom built in double-desk in our loft office/playroom. These chairs are PERFECT! Officially checked out at Target so those babies are on their way to my house too! Thanks Em!

  11. Visually the desk is great. Marble can look fantastic on almost every surface! I’m curious as to the everyday experience of the desk – particularly the hanging drawers (the corners catching on clothing, or bumping knees/legs), and the protruding drawer pulls as another reader pointed out. Also, while at my desk, I often lean on my forearms and elbows – the cool temperature of marble may not be ideal (or a bonus on a hot day!).

  12. That is seriously gorgeous and I prefer the black. Are those drawers or keyboard trays? As someone who works at a computer all day long, most desks either need a keyboard try beneath the desk surface or a pretty high riser for the monitors to get the right spacing between hands and eyes. I think it is even more so for taller guys [I am 5′ 2″ and I need it so…]. I am wondering about the ergonomics because most designers don’t seem to consider that at all. It would seem sad to cover up that marble with a bunch of monitor risers.

    1. I had the same thought about the functionality of the chairs. They’re super cute, but my husband would flip if I replaced his hideous but highly comfy and adjustable chair in our home office which he uses around 30 hours per week.

  13. Can you pretty please tell me who I can call to sandblast and powdercoat my chinoiserie patio set? I’ve called a bunch of auto detail places in the Valley and no one will call me back!

    The desk is amazing!!!

  14. I can’t believe I’m swooning over green marble!
    Damn your magic powers, Hendo!

  15. Oh, it’s so gorgeous. I love the current slim profile desks, and you took it to a totally new level.

  16. I love all the stuff you do but this feels like a bit of a miss for me. I am personally not a fan of colored marble, I kind of wish the drawers extended the entire length of the desk more like a Parsons would to make this thing less desk and a little sexier and I feel like the drawer pulls will get in the way of working and sort of cheapen the look of the desk (maybe it’s because they are shiny). The frame is cool and I can appreciate the design but just not my cup of tea (nor does it have to be, ha!). Either way it’s awesome to see how the process works and all the gritty details. I can’t wait to see the room in it’s manly glory – please tell me you keep the workout equipment in there since it also has to function in there for you. I love to see designs with real life details (ie the dish rack that gets used daily, the diaper pail or the lotion bottle on the nightstand)…real life design – show us how to make it pretty and work!

  17. Beautiful! I too would love a 1 month or so functionality update after it’s been in use for a while.

    I wonder too about the pluses and minuses of having a custom piece like this in your home when it comes to resale. I assume it all depends on the buyers and how they plan to use the space, but you seemed pretty certain you’d be taking it with you, so it seems like you’ve given it some thought!

  18. I think the desk is gorgeous! I was wondering about how you will work with the cord management. My husband is a an IT developer who also likes to make videos and does lots of gaming in his spare time, so the cords are chaotic. I often see in styled photographs that lamps, computers anf printers are unplugged, but it would be awesome if someone would address how to deal with cords from a design perspective. Between a cell phone, tablet, smart watch, and lamp at a modern bedside, how can we attractively address these needs? It’s something lots of tech-savvy people deal with. I would love to hear your take on it. Is it possible to have elegant cord management solutions, or is it just too real for the reveal?

  19. I’m so grateful for this post… just finished our bathroom renovation, and we have four marble tiles left. And a place where a console would be great.

    I’m unable to do anything remotely as great as what a professional did, but I sure have some very simple ideas based on your project !

  20. Interesting DIY projects and love the step by step photos. Looking forward to seeing more: -)

  21. I kept glancing at my coffee table while reading this post–the top of it is one big slab of white marble and it’s as heavy as a mutha. I’ve moved twice since buying it and was blissfully unaware of how fragile marble is–during the first move the tabletop basically cracked in half. I realized then that it had actually been (professionally) glued and buffed along the crack line (I had bought it used for $40!). I had thought that line was a vein…. All I could do was shove the 2 pieces back together and cover the worst part of the crack with a table runner. After move #2 more material broke off along the crack…ugh! So for the past several years I’ve been hoping for a cheap, miraculous solution. If I do buy another piece of marble it will not be 1″ thick, which is what I have. I guess my question is, “How thin is too thin?”

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  23. as a geologist who works with rocks all day every day, I LOVED reading about crafting a stone piece by hand, and getting to see the material’s journey. that green is stunning. and having hand-cut hundreds and hundreds of rocks myself, I feel you so hard about the piece that cracked.

    that’s actually one of the biggest considerations for using a particular rock as building stone: most rocks that you find in nature have predictable planes of weakness in them, and often those planes of weakness don’t lend the stone to be cut into nice counter-size slabs without crumbling or cracking or splintering. it’s not the case that rocks are just “rock hard” and can be shaped any way you want. rocks have been shaped by forces much bigger than us, and have a mind of their own about what shape they take on.

  24. I second what others have said – the functionality seems a little off. Where do you put the cords? Id bump my knees on the corners of the drawers, plus the drawer handles sticking out. Also, the seams do not look flush. I think they would constantly get in the way and their placement is in an awkward spot. I could see these materials used for something like a console table but not a desk.

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  29. Really interesting to see how a custom design can make a space look different. I think, though, an office space in the corner of a room used for other purposes is always going to look like a bit of a compromise between function and decoration and that’s what this desk represents. It’s really big and demands a lot of attention with its design details. It doesn’t look like generic office furniture but it doesn’t look like it’s entirely at home in a home environment either. I know these images show it at a halfway stage between being technically finished and being in use, but I wonder if you’ll want to keep it for your next move or if you’ll find a reason to leave it behind…

  30. Beautiful marble for a unique desk! Can’t wait to see more!

  31. Since this is a functioning work desk, we needed to make sure that the inlay would be perfectly flush with the marble: “it should feel like nothing when you run your finger over the seam.