When my boyfriend and I impulsively decided he should move into my L.A. studio apartment after dating for just a few months, we had to downsize our possessions to fit into a mere 350 square feet. The potentially fraught process of deciding what to keep went pretty smoothly – we really didn’t have all that much – until, that is, we came to his desk. A long, narrow, hideous piece of warped black particle board slapped on two planks, it happened to “fit perfectly” (his words) in the space between the bed and the window. For sure it was not the spindly-legged antique writing desk of my dreams. I wasn’t even convinced it would be fit for the dump.
My anxiety about cohabitating – and committing to a relationship that was moving so quickly – gave every last small thing large import, and his ugly desk became a major disaster. Could I be with a person who had such disinterest in home decor? Could I live with a guy who could live with that desk? I had reservations about our compatibility. I focused on my reservations about the desk. Perhaps fixing the latter could ease the former? It was worth a shot.
So, we shopped. We looked at micro-desks, giant desks, used desks, and high-end desks, but we didn’t find a single desk that fit our needs or space or budget. Eventually, my very practical boyfriend proposed we just keep his.
Defeated, I suggested we could at least paint the thing – and that’s when I found out he’d never spray-painted anything in his life. He didn’t even know what Mod Podge was! (What else was I going to have to show him? How to be in a relationship?) Still, his response was enthusiastic, and that was encouraging. I found myself Googling “how to paint fake wood.” When I came across an image of a desk covered in maps – sort of interesting, I thought – I was heartened that he wasted no time ordering vintage atlas pages online.
The project took over our studio apartment for weeks. We dragged the desk outside and back in, held flashlights while painting in the dark, arranged the maps, applied clear lacquer, ran out for more paint, and lived in and around our DIY mess. More than once, I expected him to get frustrated with the process and regret taking it (and maybe me) on. But he didn’t.
It was stressful, but it was also fun. And rewarding. And revealing. We made decisions together, shared the work, and joked about everything. And we were even pretty pleased with the finished desk. The high-gloss white we chose for the base made the piece look lighter overall, and the maps disguised its warped surface. The design wasn’t one either of us would have picked on our own, but, then, it existed precisely because we weren’t on our own. I felt we’d seen a preview of our future together – and it looked like we could really make it.
A year later, we moved into a larger apartment, where we have since made our own coffee table and embarked on numerous other design projects. We’re married now. And yes, of course, we still have the desk.