From cabinet alcove to office space in an hour

Joan Fieldstone

October 15, 2014

By: Joan Fieldstone, Home Improv Advocate

In: Interior Home Improvement

My darling two-story house came with what for me was a very useless feature -- a squat pair of cabinets in a little alcove overlooking the U-shaped staircase. I guess there probably are a lot of storage uses for a set of cabinets outside the second floor bedrooms -- I even tried some of them -- extra pillows and blankets, games, paperwork from the house closing and assorted odds and ends. Ultimately, it became a catchall for clutter.

built in cabinets

Why I needed a desk at the top of the stairs

What I really needed in place of the cabinetry was a desk for personal work. I was tired of using my bedroom -- having scattered paperwork lying around and all the blinky tech lights at night that go with a modem and wi-fi router. I've been told these kinds of things interfere with a good night's rest. (I've also been told that a house full of crazy kittens does the same, but that's another story.)

Turning the second bedroom into a home office last year only solved part of the problem. I still need to maintain a place to pay bills and socialize online when I'm not working. When it comes to taking tax deductions for working from home, the IRS strictly defines business use of a home office as "regular and exclusive."

I have been contemplating this cabinet-to-desk renovation for nearly as long as I've been in my "new" house -- about three years -- not exactly an instant home improv moment. My ideas for retrofitting the space with desk-like features went through several incarnations. But, to be honest, when it came right down to it there were a couple of other reasons why I put the project on hold for so long:

  • Worrying about the potential renovation problems: It seemed like it was going to be one of those simple projects that can get hairy the minute you begin. Who knew how much patching I might have to do once the cabinets were ripped out? How much would it cost to build a desk into the alcove? In reality, the only snag my BFF hit when removing the cabinetry was one of the screws holding them together. A piece of the builder's drill bit had broken off in the head, making it impossible to back the screw out. She had to gouge out a bit of the wood around it, but was finally able to turn it using a vise grip. As for the desk, a few months ago I purchased a small one from Target online that was exactly the right size to fit the 43-inch space, so no additional construction was needed. The walls, as it turned out, were already finished and no damage was done to them by removing the cabinets. Painting them will be part of the hall-painting project when I get to it. A carpet remnant fits exactly under the desk where the floor was unfinished. For now, all I need are some decorating touches.
  • The imagined guilt at frivolously removing nearly new cabinets: Taking out two perfectly good cabinets that were part of the cost of my new home seemed wasteful, sort of like pulling good teeth. Could I repurpose the cabinets if they remained intact once they were removed? If so, how? They were likely unfinished on the sides, so they couldn't be used as freestanding furniture. Together side-by-side they are massive and deep, so they take up too much space for one-car garage storage. Finally, I came up with the idea of stacking them in the hidden space inside the wall beside the downstairs coat closet. By cutting out the wall to face the cabinet doors into the hall, I can use them as a pantry that will perfectly match the kitchen cabinetry on the other side of the staircase. Another project, but it was one that was started a few months ago by demo-ing the inside closet wall to explore the adjacent space.

Desk in alcove

I was thrilled with the under-an-hour transformation from useless cabinets to functional work space. While this is only phase one -- I need to add an outlet under the desk and change the flooring in the hall after I paint -- I finally have the dedicated personal desk space I've wanted there since I moved in -- and a work-free-zone master bedroom for the first time in years.

Photo credit to Joan Fieldstone

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