fortDesk: a playful workspace

I’ve been working on creating these toyls (toy-tools) with simple circuits and using interesting materials that prompt playful interactions. As I was creating them and started sharing them, I realized that they were all lacking one major thing: an appropriate workspace to live in. With that in mind, I set out to design the perfect playful workspace for my creations.


My must-haves:

  • mobility – has to be easy to move (wheels?)
  • challenge workspace levels (standing?)
  • modular and transformable – easy to customize if recreated
  • relatively affordable
  • encourage playful behaviors and attitudes more than a traditional workspace
  • device storage – want to be able to use the whole desktop
  • power – needs to have its own power supply and wire management
  • conducive to brainstorming and other creative practices
  • collaboration – can comfortably be used by more than one person


I’ve never built a desk before. I mean, I’ve struggled my way through my fair share of IKEA instruction manuals, but I had never fabricated a piece of furniture from scratch. So as you might be able to imagine, building a desk with all of these qualities was a little daunting. After I’d been relatively unfruitful at finding an already built piece of furniture from a thrift store I could transform into my desk creation, I enlisted the help of my boyfriend, Alex. Alex knows his way around hardware, and I figured he’d be a big help. I was right.

We went to the hardware store to explore our options for building materials. We looked at wood, but I was concerned that in order to make it as sturdy as I wanted, it would be too clunky and heavy. We looked at conduit and pvc pipe, but we weren’t confident that either would hold the amount of weight. Finally, we decided on black iron pipe. It would allow us to build something sturdy and sleek looking, and because pipes have all sorts of connectors, we could just screw all of the pieces together to build it (that was the idea, at least.)

A plan in the pipes

We sketched out the design and figured out what lengths of pipe and which connectors we needed. We ended up going to Lowe’s to buy the black iron pipe, because they cut and thread it for free (serious kudos to the Lowe’s guy who cut and threaded the pipe for me, he was intentional and meticulous). It would have been almost twice as expensive to purchase the pipes in precut lengths! I’d also recommend investing in a pipe wrench or two, if you don’t already have one hanging around the house somewhere.

To make a long story short, the desk didn’t come together exactly as I’d hoped it would. There’s a few things you need to think about when putting together a pipe desk:

  • All of your pipe sections have to be of equal lengths. If they’re not the desk won’t be level.
  • Choose your building area strategically. Pipes are generally covered in grease from when they’re threaded, so carpet is probably a poor choice. Wood floors, ding and stain easily. We built on the linoleum floor in our kitchen, but beware of loose pipes – they can easily fall and damage a linoleum floor, too. Your best bet is probably to build on concrete because you’re unlikely to damage it and you can wash away any grease spots when you’re done.
  • When connecting multiple pieces, its important to remember that threading the pipe into a connection on one end loosens or threads the pipe out of the connection on the opposite end. There are ways to work around this, but it helps to be mindful and patient, and to have a couple pipe wrenches and a buddy.
  • If measuring the desired height for a standing desk, don’t forget to account for the height of the connectors and other hardware. Each  has the capability of adding to the overall height of the desk. I ended up having to go back to the hardware store to buy replacement pieces for the legs so that the desk would be the appropriate height. Measure twice, cut once, right kids? (facepalm)

A beautiful mistake

In the end, the measuring mistakes ended up being a source of inspiration. I stepped back from the first “finished” product (that had taken HOURS longer to build than I’d anticipated), and I was disappointed. I turned to Alex and said, “This is too tall to look like a desk.” I sat down on the floor in defeat. I looked up at the underside of the desk. “But it would probably make a pretty cool fort.” I ended up lowering the desk in the end, but I kept the fort-ness. I always get made fun of for sitting on the floor. I think people think I’m silly or weird. We don’t always have the option to change our environment, but we can change how we interact with it and in it. The only reason we don’t work sitting on the floor is because its not socially acceptable (and who knows how often the janitorial staff actually cleans the floors…) Some days, I think I need my workspace to act as a fortress – blocking out anything that distracts or discourages me. Now it can. This is the first iteration of fortDesk.


All the bells and whistles

I wanted the desk’s “fort” section to be a feasible workspace. I added the hardware cloth to provide a flexible workspace, as well as some small shelves and a basket for storing items. There’s a metal strip housing a magnetic drawer that is as accessible from the desktop as it is from the fort. I added an LED strip (which happens to reflect quite nicely off of the metal strip) for designated under-desk lighting. The desktop lamp is also maneuverable to serve as an under-desk light source. There’s a Quirky flexible power strip and cable management system on one of the legs so that devices can be plugged in while on top of or underneath the desk.

fortDesk’s desktop includes an “bamboo” accessory bowl, and portable, spinnable, two-sided dry-erase pinboard, a usb hub charging station and flexible light source.

I definitely consider fortDesk a work in progress. I have plans to incorporate many more elements over the next months. Feel free to share your ideas in the comments.


The fortDesk Manifesto


I imagine fortDesk as a kind of playful workspace manifesto in development.


I challenge you to work at play while you play at work; to interact more playfully with your work environment; to think outside the desk.

Transform your workspace.

Transform your work.

Be playful always.  

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