Brian’s New Custom Desk
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.
Here was the inspiration:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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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