December 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Justin Schafer, a senior graphic designer with Mutual of Omaha, first discovered his fascination with Mid-Century Modern design while studying in college. “[MCM] transformed how we perceived objects and furniture in our homes…The idea that things could be functional, beautiful, and have a streamlined aesthetic is something I gravitated toward. [MCM furniture] was the first to blur the line between something that is purely functional and a piece of art.”

Inspired by his dad (“Growing up, my father was always building something from scratch or fixing something…”) and the works of husband-wife Modern designers Ray and Charles Eames and others, Schafer looked for ways he could express his “right-brain creative side” through furniture design. “I love to look online at Modern furniture stores, but everything in those stores is priced higher…That’s a big reason I finally decided to stop hunting and just build [things] myself.”20121119_bs_4401 copy 2

Looking to DIY blogs and magazines for ideas, Schafer came up with a design for a MCM-inspired coffee table. “I sketched numerous ideas, gradually refining them until I had a solid plan with measurements.” Almost all of the necessary supplies were purchased at a local hardware store, he said. One-quarter-inch birch plywood, layered four planks thick and edges mitered, produced the tabletop base. Raw steel pipe, bent in a classically MCM ‘hairpin’ shape and purchased on eBay for $45, was used for the table legs. A wire brush was used to ‘clean’ the steel pipe. Then L-shaped brackets secured the legs to the tabletop. Lastly, Schafer spray-painted the steel legs black, adding several coats of clear enamel for durability, and glued a cherry veneer over the top of the birch. Wood stain gave the tabletop a rich, dark brown hue. In total, the cost of the project was “minimal, about $100,” Schafer said. “If you tried to buy a similar table in a store, it would probably have cost $200-300.”20121119_bs_4378 copy

Schafer said the most difficult aspect of the project was getting the 45-degree plywood cuts to line up perfectly on each corner of the tabletop. “That’s always a bit tricky, especially if your saw settings are a few degrees off. I’ve learned, however, that it’s best to slow down and take your time.”

Today, the table sits in Schafer’s Midtown apartment, which he shares with his wife, Libby. He loves it when friends visit and, impressed with the table, ask him where he got it. “It’s nice to be able to say I built it from scratch,” he shares. “There’s a satisfaction and pride that comes with saying that.” That pride has spurred him onto other projects, including a similarly built desk and a padded headboard, framed with solid walnut planks.