Commissioned Piano Desk June 2014
I’m such a lucky gal that I get to pursue my passions for a living. I do many things that I love. One the absolute coolest is making custom things for people out of pianos and/or piano parts. Now, I’ve made piano furniture to sell at the shop and I’ve made custom pieces for clients. However, this piece is extra exciting because it’s custom piano furniture. This is the first time that someone said, “Hey Marta, can you make me a desk made out of an old piano? I’ll tell you my aesthetic and what I like and I’ll pay you to make it just for me.” To say that it’s awesome is an understatement. I love pianos. I love saving them. I love making and building things. I love making people happy. This wraps all of these up into one fan-freaking-tastic bow. Mkay, so now I’d like to share the process with you a little bit. It’s so cool to see a piano go from “ready for the dump” to “new life”. I hope if you have a sentimental piano in your family that isn’t playable anymore that you will call me! I will make you something new, fresh, and functional from it. Then, you can still love it and not throw it away.
This is the piano that I used for this project. In this specific case, the client didn’t have a piano for the desk. She really just wanted a piano desk. She’s a choir director and wanted a unique and musical desk to express her love of music in her home. This is what the piano looked like prior to any work or cleaning being done.
As you can see, the exterior of the piano has stayed in beautiful condition! However, the inside, which is really what counts when it comes to it being a functional piano, was in really rough shape. All of the action parts were worn to the point that they needed replacement…a very expensive endeavor for a piano that doesn’t hold more than couple hundred bucks monetary value.
I started the project by removing the action. I’ll use those parts later for smaller projects. This client wanted to keep the strings, pins, and plate inside the piano, so that it still “looked” like a piano. This helped her budget as well. Removing the strings, pins, and plate is by far the most labor intensive part of dismantling a piano. It is also not easy. It requires specific tools and a knowledge of how a piano works, so that you don’t hurt yourself. There is tons on tension on the strings and if you remove them without loosening that tension, the strings will snap and they are sharp and pokey. It’s always an old piano that gets the repurposing treatment, so the strings are generally very rusty. Better be up to date on your tetnis shots!
So anyway. Then, the icky cleaning part is next. So much cleaning. This requires the right cleaners and it requires taking the keys out, so that you can clean underneath them. Hours of fun!
After the cleaning, the real fun can start. The client wanted a shelf across the back and to have it divided for various storage purposes. She also want the keys to stay in and be seen. I suggested plexiglass. To get the keys to lay level and low enough for the plexiglass to sit above with stability, I had to lower every single capstan screw (these are the gold screws at the back of each key, so 88 in all). Then, I took measurements and went out to have the plexiglass cut. I tried cutting it myself on a previous project. Never again! Now, there is nothing for the plexiglass to sit on in the back of the piano, so I had to build and cut wood anchors in the back, so that each edge of the plexiglass was resting on an even surface. If I didn’t do this, the plexiglass would “bounce” each time the computer, or anything else, was set down on top of it. Then, I gently drilled holes in the plexiglass at each anchor point and secured the plexi to the wood. After this, I added various trim and finishing pieces so that the desk has a nice, clean, and finished surface. I also added screw caps, so that you didn’t see any hardware. It’s got to be perfect, ya know!
For the shelving, I used as much existing wood from the piano as I could. One, this is a perfect match for the rest of the desk, and two, it keeps material costs down. Oh yeah, and three, I’m saving more of the piano! Hurray! I did have to use some regular wood pieces and stain them to match. I built shelving, which turned out just beautiful.
The last touch I did (which I actually didn’t do last, but whateves), was to do some lighting. I installed a strip of LED lights, so that the piano is illimunated from under the lid. Pretty gorgeous. The tricky part was to hide the part of the lighting that had to go down the right side of the piano, so that they could be plugged in. To remedy this, I took L-shaped trim pieces and glued them in the corner around the lights. This hides the extra lighting. Then, I cut a large hole out the bottom/back of the soundboard, so that the plug (as well as any other plugs i.e. computer, lamp) could be plugged in from the back. No exposed cords.
So, that’s it. Simple. Hahahahahahaha!! Just kidding. It’s actually really hard, challenging, and exhausting. Sometime I just stare at a piano until my lightbulb goes on with an idea of how to build and construct. I also hurt myself a fair amount. It’s so fun, though! I love this. It’s rather amazing to save pianos and to make things for people that they will love. Things that were made by my hands.