Lavish Sprawl: a Multipurpose Workspace Hack




Swedish design and good old fashioned plumbing utensils join forces to create a generous adjustable workspace. Most importantly, it's a spacious art/design desk with a tracing window and a place to put your coffee, which won't put you out 400 bucks. Unless you spend WAY too much on end tables. Mine were 5 Euros each.

Many thanks to the people who helped me with this, in order of assistance:

Carmelita " Greg " Regan " Liz " Mom " Maia " Drew

Carmelita was instrumental, because in addition to being a diligent union shop inspector, she also gave me the idea for this project. Mostly by sitting in the middle of whatever I was trying to do, which sometimes happened to be wet paint.

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Step 1: What You Need

- philips screwdriver
- drill
- drill bits in 2mm, 7mm, and 10mm diameter
- adjustable wrench
- a sturdy utility blade

- Your friend will NOT help you with heavy lifting!
- Do NOT phone IKEA customer service when you become confused!

" 1x VIKA Blecket desktop (or similar)

" 2x FLAERKE end tables (or similar)
- Flaerke end tables are discontinued, by the way.
- This should work with any smooth-sided end table of an appropriate height.

" 2x common household cup plungers with wooden handles
- A smaller cup is better, but the must be handle is long enough for the tilt you want.

" 4x wood screws with a 7mm thread core and a 10mm smooth shaft.
- The smooth bit must be as long as the width of the side wall of the end tables, but no wider.
- Hex head optional. The important thing is that your screws and drill bits match up in size.
- The specific size is not critical, as long as the screws can support the weight of your desktop.

Step 2: Drill the Desktop

Drill the left and right outer sides of the desktop, centered from top to bottom, and the same distance back from the leading edge.

In this case, 17mm down, 17mm from the front edge.

Your measurements may be different if you are using a different desktop.

Drill a starter hole with the 2mm bit, then the final hole with the 7mm bit.

Step 3: Drill the End Tables

Caution: Check the position of the hardware already involved in the end table! You should not drill through it, nor too close to it. If you don't know what "too close" means, don't even attempt this project. In fact, sell your drill on eBay right now.

Drill inside the front/top of the end tables. Drill from outside to inside, if your laminate/surface splits, the ugly part will be hidden from view.

Measure down 0.5x the thickness of the desktop, in this case, 17mm.

Again, make a 2mm starter hole, and then make the final hole with the 10mm bit.

This hole is tricky to drill, because you are drilling both the side wall of the end table, and the underside of the end table top at the same time.

The starter hole is very helpful here, it will keep your larger bit from bouncing off the underside of the table top and skewing your drilling.

Drill the inside wall of the back/top of the end tables. Measure down 1.5x the thickness of your desktop, in this case, 52mm. 2mm starter hole, 10mm final hole.

Step 4: Drill the Rear Support Posts

By "rear support post," I mean "plunger handles."

Drill through the handle of each plunger, centered from side to side, with the hole 0.5x the thickness of your desktop down from the end of the handle. In this case, 17mm. 2mm starter hole, 7mm final hole.

Except for the upper/front holes in the end tables, the 2mm starter hole isn't absolutely required, I just found it easier given that I was working with laminate materials that were likely to split badly if I just went chewing in with a fat bit. It also allowed me better precision for where the holes were centered, as my drill bits are cheap, and don't have great tips.

Step 5: Mandatory Shop Inspection

This is a critical step in the construction of your new workspace; do not skip it!!

Give the union inspector 2 treats.

This is the minimum quantity necessary to assure her that your workplace is free from hazardous conditions.

Technically, this is not a bribe. It's just a non-taxable gesture of goodwill.

Step 6: Gouging Out Space for the Front Screw Heads

Use the utility knife to gouge out space from the underside of the end table top.

This allows the head of your wood screw to turn freely. I needed a bit more space using a hex head screw than I would have if I'd used a domed head screw, but I couldn't find one with the smooth part of the shaft matching the width of my end table side wall exactly.

It's probably best to wear goggles for this part particularly, because if the tip of your utility blade breaks off, it WILL go in your eye.

Some laminate materials are very tough. If your utility knife isn't digging into the end table material easily enough, try perforating it a bit with your small drill bit--outline the area you want to remove with small holes, close together. Just be careful to mark the bit or secure it in the drill such that you don't drill too deeply or through to the visible surface. You just need a bit of a starting point for your blade to grab into.

In theory you could use a router to remove this material smoothly and easily, but let's be honest here. If you have a router and know how to use it, you're probably not tearing up your pre-made Ikea furniture, are you? That's what I thought.

Put the end table top back on from time to time to test the fit of the screw. The screws should be able to turn freely in this space, but not wiggle. The shaft should stay aligned with the hole you drilled.

Note: If the screw wiggles in the hole, your drill bit was wider than the shaft of your screw. (Boy, that sounds crude!) Your desktop will not sit stably, nor will it be level with the end table tops and you'll have to throw away this end table and start again.

Step 7: Putting the Screws to It, Pt 1

WARNING! This is the single most complicated step in this whole project. And, it's not all that complicated. It's just surprisingly hard to describe with clarity. Be brave, read all the way through before you start, and it'll be OK.

Remove the tops of the end tables, set them aside.

Your union inspector will probably sit on them for safekeeping, and in case there are further goodwill tokens forthcoming. It may be necessary to actually bribe the inspector to get OFF your end table tops when you need them back.

Maneuver your desk so you have things in this order: end table-desk top-end table, with the end tables both facing the same direction, parallel to one another, tops removed. The desk top rests at a slight angle, upside down, with the bolts you screwed into it resting in the open notches at the front of the inside wall of each end table. You know, the bit that matches the part you had to dig out of the underside of the top, in the previous step.

The top of the desk should be facing the floor, and the back edge of the desk touching the floor in front of the front of the end tables.

Got all that? No? Well, just look at the helpful illustration, then.

The fat part of the screw heads should be on the interior of your end tables.

If that's not the case, you should most likely hide all the evidence of your attempt at this project, and walk away whistling nonchalantly.

If your project looks like the illustration, move on to the next step.

Step 8: Putting the Screws to It, Pt. 2

Note: At this point, the desktop is already in place, but I left it out of the diagrams so you could see the parts I'm talking about. Go back one step if you forgot what's going on. If you still can't work it out, I'm not sure there's any hope for you.

Insert one wood screw in the hole at the back of each end table, with the head inside the end table and the pointy threaded bit on the outside of the side wall... which is to say, pointing inside the knee hole, toward the other end table.

Thread a plunger onto each screw, and tighten securely. The plungers should rotate freely at the smooth portion of the screw (inside the side wall of the end table) without becoming unscrewed from the threaded bit.

Put the tops back on the end tables now. The second picture here shows what the back/inside corners of your table should look like when the desktop is in the flat position. Except, yours will have the pointy part of a screw poking out the plunger handle. Mind your eyes!!

Note: If the plunger handles split or crack when you tighten the screws, your drilled holes weren't big enough; they didn't match the core diameter of your screw. You'll need new plunger handles. Good luck convincing the hardware store that there's nothing freaky about buying two plunger handles a couple days after you just bought two plungers. Maybe you should go to a different store.

Caution: If you find you have sharp points of screws exposed because the threaded part is longer than your plunger handle is wide, you can paint it safety orange, cut it off with a hack saw, or simply affix two of the soft toys that your union inspector hates to cover the sharp bit. You shouldn't encounter these sharp bits in normal desk use, but I don't want to hear about how you were crawling under your desk looking for your Hello Kitty eraser and the phone rang, and since you have it set to the Imperial March, you always flinch, and so you bunged your head on the sharp bit and needed 4 stitches and a tetanus shot. I really don't wanna hear it. Safety first and all that.

Step 9: In the Home Stretch, Baybee!

Lift the top of the desk up and flip it over onto the back supports.

Your spacious new desk is done. Allow the union inspector to give it a thorough going-over, or she will report you to the SPCA.

Step 10: Jerry's Final Thoughts

Someday I'm probably going to install a bar of some sort connecting the two end tables at the back, somewhat near the floor. This will provide additional stability so the end tables can't angle away from or toward each other, and also give me a place to put my feet when I'm slouching down in my chair.

(Shhhhh, don't tell my mother I slouch at the desk sometimes!)

My major requirements for that are light weight, sturdy, cheap, and... No, that's it, actually. Should be easy enough to just drill more holes and screw a thing on. Like a shower curtain rod... but... sturdy. Maybe one of those wooden cafe curtain poles.

If I were clever, I would even figure a way to attach a light to that or the inside of the right end table, so the tracing window has a built-in light source--right now it's an upward-pointing table lamp. You *bet* it's from Ikea! :D I kinda want to install permanently some kind of desk lamp at the top edge of the desk, but that would suck if it blasts my eyes when the desk is in the flat position. Still working on that part.

Also, I'm thinking about putting a power strip into one of the end tables, so I can have one cord going to the wall, but be able to have as many lamps as I need, my laptop, and other geegaws plugged in.

If you have ideas for further improvement here, let me know! I'm thinking someday I'll reinstall this desktop in tall shelves on the sides, that will give me more options for lighting and accessorizing. I just have to find tall, attractive shelves for 5 Euros each.

Maybe Ikea has something........



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    20 Discussions


    10 years ago on Introduction

    So... how many hands do you need to flip the desktop from flat to raised? Surely you have to raise it up, hold it there while you somehow manoeuvre both plungers upwards and then rest it down? Do you end up using a knee? Are union labourers or small children at risk of knocking one of the plungers out and being swiftly decapitated by a falling desktop?

    For the lamp attached to the pivoting surface, you just need a fixture with a banker's lamp shade on it, then it won't get in your eyes in either orientation.

    3 replies

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    I've been doing this entirely by myself, so... two hands. It's easiest to lift from the center of the side that lifts, but it's possible to lift from the left or right back corners. In any case, once it's lifted (which is pretty easy, the screws/pins work great!) I just swing the plunger up and lodge it in place, then bring the other one around. It has to be lifted slightly to get the 2nd plunger in the right spot, but not so far that the other plunger drops out. Once they're both in the right general position, I nudge the rubber cups inward a bit, so they have better grab.

    It's been *very* stable so far. The union rep is a real climber, and there hasn't been any kind of incident. I would NEVER have this thing around kids without a stabilizer bar in the back. And, do the thing about the pointy ends of the screws, too.

    re: decapitation... it should be OK as long as they don't knock BOTH plungers out. One plunger can hold the thing all day long.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    clamp braces between the two plungers so they lift as one. you could either drill and add dowels or use pipe braces from the plumbing dept. You can also glue a piece of rubber shelf liner to the back where the plungers rest for extra grip. nice instructable.


    10 years ago on Step 10

    How about a picture light, like Ikea's Piccolo. Mounted underneath the front of the desk but facing the back, it would illuminate the glass but not be directed to your eyes. Would make it easier to find that pesky and elusive Hello Kitty eraser, too. I applaud the clarity of your drawings: by far more comprehensible than photos. Were there a category for wit, you'd score the highest. Look forward to more posts from you.

    1 reply

    Reply 10 years ago on Step 10

    Thanks, appreciate the feedback! I'm actually working on another post right now. The Piccolo is a good idea. I admit, I've mostly been focusing my light fixture research on the clearance table at my closest big hardware store. ;)


    10 years ago on Introduction

    It looks as though any movement of the two end tables could cause a lot of damage...I'd recommend using those to hold something of significant weight, eg books.

    3 replies

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Yep, got all my portfolios and drawing paper in there now, seems to be OK so far. Also, non-skid feet under the end tables. Working on getting a bar across the back.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    I'm having trouble finding good images of the desktop you used...could you tell me the approximate size of the transparent part. Is it flush enough with the surface that a line drawn on a piece of paper with pencil across the joint, isn't disturbed?


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Ikea's own picture is the best one I've seen. ( You'd think they could put the dimensions, eh? The window is about 13.5"x17.5" (34cm x 45cm).

    The window isn't that flush to draw smoothly across, if you've got a single piece of paper on the desk. Either you draw on the desk, OR you draw on the window, kind of thing. There's a slight groove where the glass transitions to the desktop finish. The surfaces are flush, though-- if you lay a thing on it, you won't see a step between one surface and the other.

    Although, that little groove could make a handy straight edge tool, or even something good for scoring paper....


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Wow, i like the final thing. Looks really good. It shows just how easily one can use cheap ikea furniture to create something better. I suggest adding a photo of the final thing as the first image on the intro step. Then people can a getter idea on the thumbnails, on the browsing recent page.

    1 reply

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks! If only the desktop had been on deep discount, it would've been perfect. I've never seen Ikea's a la carte desktops in clearance area, though. I might do that, about the photo. I debated, but I figured the line drawing might actually be easier to 'read' than the photo from the same angle.


    10 years ago on Step 10

    Use galvanized pipe. It's easily strong enough, and you can get brackets for it that can be screwed right on to the wood.

    2 replies

    Reply 10 years ago on Step 10

    Good suggestion! That has the added bonus of probably being already the right length, so I don't have to worry about cutting it or getting it cut down.


    Reply 10 years ago on Step 10

    Well, you might have to cut it, but if you buy it at a hardware store they can usually cut it for you for free.