In May, I discovered mice had been using my flat files in the garage for a playground and hide-out.
These files are made with a frame of very light gauge steel covered with a skin of industrial corrugated cardboard. I bought them from a graphics-supply catalog about 15 years ago, and they have served me well over the years. Thanks to the frames they were quite sturdy and held a lot of static weight. They were also easy and light to disassemble and move around when I wanted to re-arrange my work space. They weren’t acid free, but it was easy to protect my art papers with a sheet of archival glassine between them and the cardboard. Their one disadvantage was that as much floor space as they took up, they could not be multi-tasked as a work surface. The cardboard top was just a little too soft to withstand excess weight and pressure.
I took my old cardboard flat file to Goodwill. As sturdy as the internal steel frame is, I’m sure it will find a home soon.
Now that mice had been dancing on it, and partying on my paper within it, it had to go. 🙁
So the question was, what should replace my old faithful drawer units?
My first resort was to scour the want ads and online classifieds to see if any secondhand plan chests were on the market. Sadly, when it comes to flat files, I have never had the luck to find what I wanted when I need a set.
A gorgeous option is the unstained birch flat files by SMI and Richeson, sold through many art supply houses. Unfortunately, a 3-drawer/5-drawer or 2 x 5-drawer combo would cost upwards of $800.
A little Googling uncovered the Martha Stewart Living 8-drawer flat file, sold by Home Decorators. The price was about half of the dedicated flat file units at Dick Blick and Daniel Smith. The design was very nice: 4 wide, shallow drawers that could hold 22″ x 30″ paper, 4 half-width, deeper drawers for storing equipment and supplies. The reviews were overwhelmingly positive. Out of 226 reviews, only about 5 to 10 were negative, most complaining about the large number of fiddly parts and length of detailed assembly required. As an old hand at some pretty complex Ikea assembly projects, I felt confident in my ability to deal with that. Plus, Martha Stewart’s reputation for making reasonably high quality crafting supplies for the serious, “prosumer” arts and crafts hobbyist reassured me that while the unit would be flat-pack furniture, it would be a step above Ikea’s MDF pieces, where the Density has been getting more Multi every year.
I placed my order online. The files were delivered rapidly, within a week. I opened the 3 heavy boxes and quickly counted up parts to make sure everything arrived. The next day, I began to organize a set-up area and examined the pieces more closely. To my great disappointment, more than half of the drawer side and back panels were split or so poorly made they would not withstand the stress of construction. I quickly called Home Decorators. The switchboard operator was pleasant, polite and efficient. She took down the list of faulty parts and promised replacements would be sent. The company sent out an email the next day, recording the transaction, and a few days later sent another email with the package tracking number.
This may be the most complex flat pack construction project I have ever attempted!
I was able to build the outer frame of the file and 3 drawers while waiting for the replacements to arrive.
I had to put the project on hiatus at this point while I waited for the parts that would replace the defective drawer sides and backs.
A week later, the replacement parts arrived. Half of them were just as flimsy and flawed as the first set. One requested piece was missing, while an unneeded drawer base was included. Another quick call to Home Decorators’ switchboard, where once again a pleasant and efficient operator made a list of the remaining parts. This final set of replacements took 2 weeks to arrive.
The open bottom means access for paper-eating insects. A distinct disadvantage compared to the SMI and Richeson birch files!
While the final parts were shipping, I built 2 more of the drawers. The arrival of the last bits and pieces allowed me to finish the construction project, about 5 weeks after my initial order.
The outer frame panels and drawer fronts of the Martha Stewart Living Craft Space flat file were a very good quality, fine-grained, single-density fiberboard, smoothly painted in Picket Fence white satin enamel. It’s obvious the manufacturers placed most of the materials costs here. The interior panels and boards that frame the individual drawers were incredibly thin, soft, cheap wood. In fact, the side and back panels were made of oddly shaped bits and strips of wood stuck together with wood putty. Several of these pieces had wood putty ribbons over 1/4″ wide holding the tangram puzzle of wood together.
Overall, I’d say that Home Decorators has outstanding customer service, but the manufacturing quality of the Martha Stewart Living Craft Space line is very poor in the weight-bearing, interior working parts, despite having an overall practical and attractive storage/worktop design. If you like the design, and are handy, try Ry Turner’s DIY version at The Design Confidential. That way you can upgrade the materials to suit your own standards.
Finally! The flat file is completed and ready to use in my studio. I recommend getting the Alvin Vyco self-healing drawing board cover to make the worktop more functional for cutting paper or fabric.