How to build an etagere

A few days ago, Megan decided we needed an etagere for our bathroom. So she bought one from Target…

…Upon setting it up, she discovered two things: 1) due to the placement of the sink and the wall it would be sandwiched between, the etagere would not actually fit, and 2) It was not flush against the wall, because along the bottom of the wall, there is a 2″x4″ little extension back into the room, probably for pipes.

She brought this to my attention, and we brainstormed on solutions.
The brainstorm went like this:
Me: I can build us one.
Her: OK.

And why couldn’t I? I have tools. I can put together most things we need for art shows. And most importantly, I have opinions on furniture. And not the kind of opinions like “boy, that thing looks small” or “I like the tan color” but more along the lines of “The design of this is completely fucked. This guy is fucking lying to the world with his veneered wood-a-like plastic shelf. It’s a perpetuation of the spectacle of suburban living, hinged on the backs of third-world workers. I will not have my furniture telling first world lies! This isn’t even real fucking wood!“.

And thus I decided to step into the world of etagere, le manufacture.

The first thing to remember when building an etagere, is that this thing will be sitting behind the toliet. So it is important to not have your furniture being a piece of shit, behind where you are taking one. Many things could contribute to it attaining the title of “piece of shit”, but here are some basic rules to avoid such states:

1) Make it out of a material that is consistently the same material at all levels of depth. So this means, fuck the melamine, compressed particle board, etc. Have you ever seen a piece of Ikea furniture go up in value? No. The reason for this is they are made to solve problems now, at the expense of looking good, at the expense of being well made. So grab some wood, or steel, or something that can be described easier, later, if when perchance asked “what is that thing behind your toliet made out of”? Wood.

See, it’s easy.

2) Make it have some character.
Just because you can make a bookcase by screwing two sides to four shelves does not mean you should. This is what Ikea does. I know, you think Ikea has a modern appeal. But you are so wrong. It has a lazy, we can ship this in a flat box? appeal. I don’t like furniture where the main design goal is in how I am going to pick it up. Delivery is only the first part of the journey, not the full design concern. When designed for only the first part of an item’s existence, the rest of the journey, the majority of it’s existence, it sitting behind my toliet and me looking at it and hating it, is just going to be a miserable experience for all involved…

So, make it out of electrified fences. Make it twenty feet tall. If I like it, I will find a way to transport it. Don’t make it fit perfectly in the back of my car. Aquiring furniture should be an experience.

To give it character, I decided to give it a waist. The thought is: People like people, because they look like people. So, give your furiniture a human quality, and you will like it too.

As people have a waist, so does my etagere…

…And it’s functional. Theoretically, this should give the structure more strength, supposing it’s all going the correct direction with the grain of the wood (not sure mine does). And, after watching Yankee Workshop a few too many times, I just wanted to make a proper joint.

Now, the correct tool to do this with would be a jigsaw. But all I had was a circular saw. So, cut up to around where the notch should end. Then grab your hammer and a flat-head screwdriver and chisel out the rest of the cut. You will quickly discover the softness of the wood you are working with. If it is a soft wood, chiseling will be easy, but it might all fall apart. If it’s hard, you will feel much accomplished with the sturdy joint you have just made…

I really dislike cabinets, as I really do not like our keepeverything society. Cabinets are just an aide to this. Why have things that you don’t even want to look at? It boggles my mind…

So in the interest of not making this the most depressing wood project I have ever embarked on, I decided to make something I actually like. A Secretary.

But isn’t a secretary supposed to go in a nice room, you may ask? Well, yes. Growing up, My father had one in the room we were never allowed to go in.

You may also ask, Isn’t the funtion of a secretary as that of something like a fold-away desk?

Well, yes as well. And so, when contemplating what kind of structure should go behind my toliet, the secretary has a grand appeal…

…and with some angled cuts I created a secretary. But upon fitting the door, I realized this may be a bit boring. And perhaps a bit dangerous. What if, in the excitement of using the bathroom, you were to jump back into the piece, and give it a jolt? The secretary’s door would surely crack you upside the head. I didn’t want this for Megan. After all, she wanted this piece to help us, not attack us. So I rethought my approach to having a heavy door, closed by gravity, sitting above our heads. I decided to mount them from the side, per cabinet tradition.

Also, the single piece door looked very boring. Almost Ikea like. And while the Target one had louvered doors, I’m not about to put shutters on my furniture. My toliet paper doesn’t need to see out, or protect itself in a storm. Some other remedy must occur…

…And thats when I remembered Arhaus, at the mall. They sell all these old-looking things at a high price. Ever been in there? It’s hard for me to go there. I’ll be like “oh, thats really cool, for two thousand dollars” then remember that the thing I’m looking at actually isn’t old, its just been beat by a child with a chain for a few hours, then sanded of it’s paint to give it some kind of patina. To create a story of inherent experience. To make it look like an heirloom. To have been through life, scarred by life’s moments…

…And I thought, I can do the same thing! So I grabbed the circular saw, and without measuring, cut the panel into five strips…

…Then I grabbed whatever scrap was around, a pair of 1×3″s, and tacked the boards to those, as a frame. Then I tacked another pair…

…Then I cut the cobbled-together panel in half, and flipped it around to it’s backside…

…Hinges, knobs…and it’s looking pretty awesome…

…then I flipped the unit around, and with the same process as the notch for the cabinet’s beltline, I cut the recess for the box of pipes running along our floorboard…

…and it was done!

Is it awesome? Yes, it is. It is made out of wood, and it’s lighter than the Target etagere was. Also, as it was designed as a secretary, with it’s top half situated at the requisite reclining angle, the doors tend to close by themselves with very little contributing effort required. It also cost half the price.

Also, you will not sleepwalk through life with this device behind your toliet. The unit is a bit…askew. You won’t drearily ignore this the way you would an Ikea piece. Also, in most parts, the screws actually keep going through the wood. So it may stab you. And over time, with it being in bathroom and all, the screws may begin to rust and may give you something of a tetanus problem if you should be stabbed by one.

But we love it. It adds a quirky-ness to a place that has just been mundane.

I recommend building your own.

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Llamatism is a collection of things, a cabinet of curiosities, and reports from explorations on things, by Gary Llama.

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