Before and After: IKEA hacking a modern-day telephone table

I’m going to admit something: I can’t keep up. I’ve got two kids under five, a relationship, a real job, a couple of semi-real jobs, four chickens and a big old house in need of many repairs. Before children, I worked at it but I identified as an organized person. Post kids, I spend a lot of time just getting by. There is always more laundry to fold, a sticky handprint to scrub, crumbs in the couch. Matching socks? Please. For whatever reason, the chaos seems to concentrate in a particularly overwhelming way on the section of kitchen counter where I cook. The mail. All the various electronic items that need to be charged. Toys. Office supplies. SO MANY DAMN CORDS.

One day as I was trying to chop some onions amid all the mess, I started day-dreaming about building another place for all of it. A place where phones could charge without getting food on them and mail could be organized, or at least out of sight. I wanted the equivalent of the old school telephone table, except upgraded for the iPhone world. The only problem was that our house isn’t large. A piece of furniture wouldn’t really work.

Old school telephone table:

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While we’re at it, I’ll take a concerned-looking maid, too.

Then I noticed that there was this old, covered electrical socket high in the wall at the bottom of the stairs. It had been installed in the 1960s to power a plug-in clock. And there was kind of a roomy landing area. What if I used the socket at the bottom to build a new-school telephone table? A charging spot for phones and computers and tablets. A place to put the shopping list. A mini island of organization. A mother’s control center. I liked  “mother” and “control center” in the same sentence.

Here is the spot. If you look close, you can make out the socket cover on the wall:


Next step was to find some cabinets. I wanted it to be inexpensive but also cool. (Hahahaha…) Over Thanksgiving, I visited IKEA in Seattle and settled upon some components of the VALJE series. The key was that the cabinets and drawers were shallow so they didn’t take up too much space. (The experience at IKEA, I might add, was far better than my previous IKEA experiences. There was a shipping desk at the store with a staff person to help get things to Alaska. And I used Lynden as my shipper. It cost $100 to get the stuff to Lynden (as opposed to $50 for local delivery). But IKEA managed everything and it went really smoothly. More on IKEA shipping here. )

Here’s what I bought:

I settled on two red box shelves:

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Two cabinets, in white larch:

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And two sets of drawers in white larch (pictured here in mocha):

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Once they arrived, it took me a couple of weeks to get the time to put them together because I had to do it sans kids. Of course it was tricky. There was one particular step involving sliding in the back panel that just kept going wrong. I was saved by googling the name of the piece furniture and the problem. That took me to a forum where I found out what I was doing wrong. (Side panels were not identical and had to be put on a certain way) After that, it was easy-breezy. Okay, except for one tiny, missing, essential part. But I called and IKEA sent it to me.

Once I got the pieces assembled, I decided to call my carpenter friend Dan Slattery to do it. I could have hung them, but I don’t do electrical. I put the top of the drawers at counter height, out of reach of children. Dan fished the electricity down from the old clock outlet, wired in an LED under-counter light and put in a sweet USB socket.



Cool USB socket. I got it at Lowes, but there are tons of them online.


Next I shopped around at some local solid-surface places for a piece of remnant fancy counter-top. I fell in love with this sliver of dark grey quartz. (I think putting the countertop on dresses the whole thing up so I get to call it an “IKEA hack.”  )


Even remnant quartz isn’t cheap. A suitable substitute would be butcher block. In that case, you could situate the plug in the back of the top drawer and feed the cords through a hole. Even tidier!

The top shelves gave me a place for the cookbooks I had left once I culled them using the KonMari method.


One of the benefits of the IKEA pieces was that I could afford drawers. The top one is where I hide all the mail.


And, look at this satisfying cord situation. (Plus that’s my laminator. I love lamination.)


And now, when I cook, there are approximately 50 percent fewer random items in the way. I’m all for simple victories.


7 thoughts on “Before and After: IKEA hacking a modern-day telephone table

  • We have plug-ins on both sides of our (huge) kitchen island. We put the USB plug on the living room side of it (made my husband do it) & it’s awesome. That little end is a charging area for everything. I think whoever created the USB plug combo thingy is a GENIUS!

  • Mismatched socks are all the rage…they are even sold 3 to a pac, mismatched. Never have seen Boyfriend’s adult daughter in a matched set.😀

  • You and I see eye to eye on many things. I applaud your versatility and ingenuity.

  • Nice job! And you can always put kid proof locks on the drawers when they get taller. That will work until you have them putting away they cords for you – or having them open the drawers because they little four year old hands are stonger. Enjoy these times. The years pass fast.

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