northstory + co.

DIY – Build a Filing Cabinet Desk

This post has been 5 months in the making but if it helps you learn how to build a filing cabinet desk then we’ve done our job. We actually had this filing cabinet desk completed quite some time ago, but I haven’t been able to show you the finished product because I couldn’t keep my daughter’s room clean. Just keeping it real for all the tired parents out there. Toy story is real.


I forewarn this is going to be a very picture heavy post.

I wanted to call this post “The deIKEAfication of my kids room” because none of the components of the desk that we put together for my daughter’s room are from IKEA. It’s a post Christmas miracle. Alas everything around it is from IKEA. So that wouldn’t fly.

It started like this. Once upon a time our daughter had a room that looked like this.

The problem was there was no desk. She had turned 5 and all she does is draw from the moment she gets up to when she goes to sleep. Our kitchen table was covered in crayons, markers, art supplies, activity books. It was time for a big kid room update and an overdue desk.

Her bedroom is a long narrow rectangle shape, and eventually there will be a set of bunk beds in there replacing the existing bed. We did not want a regular desk, but rather one that would run parallel to the bunk beds.

In other words a really long desk.

But we couldn’t find anything that remotely matched our needs for the shape of the room. This seems to be a theme in our house and why I made the custom sized storage boxes. Time to build a filing cabinet desk!


The first thing I did was hit the thrift stores and after much searching when I finally scored these two filing cabinets at the Salvation Army, for around $20.


We cleaned, primed and painted them. Prep is the most important step when painting anything. Otherwise your paint will not do what it needs to do. Don’t slack on this part.

Make that I took photos and my husband who is a way better spray painter than I am painted them. We used Rustoleum Aqua because apparently the Queen of I love the color Purple, has a new favorite color.


Then we needed a desk top.

We started with a trip to Home Depot where we met a great guy named Al who worked in the lumber department. He also had his own furniture making company and was a Godsend with his help.  He made some excellent suggestions on how we could effectively mount an 8 foot desk, without brackets holding it up to the wall.

The wood desktop we picked up was an 3/4″, 48″ W x 96″ L (4 x 8 foot) piece of Hardwood Plywood Maple, Columbia Forest. Along with some pieces of some scrap wood.

TIP: Home Depot always has a giant bin of scrap wood from all the cuts that customers get that you can go through to use for your projects.

From that one 48″ W x 96″ L piece of wood came this:

  • Two, 3″ strips of wood (same length as the desk)
  • One, 2″ strip of wood (same length as the desk)
  • The remaining board was cut in half which left it at 20″ deep (from the original 48″ width/depth)


First we stained the wood with Minwax polyurethane in a Clear coat. Then as with anything, measure twice cut once or in this case, measure twice, drill once.

As you can see in the image below, we laid out the blocks of scrap wood and the 2″ strip of wood to the underside of the maple desktop. It was fastened with construction adhesive and screwed in.


The 2″ strip of wood had a very important purpose. It added support to the wood desk top. For example, if you sit on a piece of wood when it is laid out flat horizontally, it will sag from the weight of the object on top (a.k.a. your kids that will inevitably sit on it), especially in the center of the desk.

When a desk is that long, usually you either need a bracket, a cabinet or some form of support in the center under it so it won’t cave and sag.

So that is essentially what this 2″ strip of wood flipped on its side does towards the front of the desk.

The scrap blocks of wood were also there to add support and they would be resting on top of the filing cabinets.

The bonus of the 2″ strip of wood was that it also concealed these scrap wood blocks.

See the photo below to understand that visually.

We then placed the desktop on top of the filing cabinets and marked where one of the 3″ strips of wood would go under the desk, mounted to the wall.

This strip would also be the lateral support under the desk that the desktop would also be ‘sitting’ on.

The desktop was then securely screwed down into the 3″ strip that was now mounted to the wall.

The other 3″ strip of wood was mounted on top the desk to add as a wall buffer. Half to create a more built in look, the other half to prevent markers from flying and decorating the wall on their own.

We used LePage PL Premium Construction Adhesive to glue it down.


Another important finishing step we did was to put rounded trim at the raw unfinished edge of the desk. We don’t own a router to do a bevel (the nice smooth rounded finish that normally appears at the edge of desktop) so this was a cost effective way of doing so.

Same adhesive + clamps.

And this is the finished desk.

The honest to God best part of using trim at the edge of the desk.  It prevents the markers and crayons  from rolling off the edge and onto the carpet, leaving a trail of destruction.

If we went back in time, we probably would have just gone to Lumber Liquidators and gotten a 12″ foot of butcher block, if only for aesthetics. We have them in our current kitchen and love them! This option however is MUCH less expensive.

Just in case you’re wondering the measurements of the desk are as follows:

28″ H x 20″ D x 96″ L (8 feet).

The filing cabinets on their own are 26″ H x 18″ D x 15″ W.

Eventually we want to put an IKEA EXPEDIT type of shelving unit to the left of the desk vs the TROFAST unit that is currently still there. Which for the record is still by far the greatest tool for cleaning up toys.

We used this desk for quite a few years until we moved and then we still wound up using the filing cabinets for another 5. That’s a pretty good return for a thrift store find.  I hope this helps you build a filing cabinet desk of your own!

Click here for how to make the striped DIY Bulletin Board.

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  • Reply
    January 16, 2013 at 8:00 pm

    The desk looks great! I love this idea for a bedroom or office area!!

    • Reply
      January 19, 2013 at 9:18 am

      Thank you! I wish I had the space to do one for myself but that’s the longest bedroom in our home.

  • Reply
    January 16, 2013 at 8:03 pm

    Loooove! The desk looks incredible and maybe it’s just me who is terrified to come up with my own piece of furniture and build it, but I’m so impressed.
    Also, you lied about being a bum. Just sayin’ 🙂

    • Reply
      January 19, 2013 at 9:19 am

      It’s funny b/c after we did this it opened up a can of worms. My husband wound up doing a whole bunch of shelving for the closet and now I am like soooooo…we need a side table, a cart next to the vanity…

      It’s true. I hate cleaning.

  • Reply
    January 16, 2013 at 8:26 pm

    What a great desk! And it’s nice that it’s big enough that you can sit down next to your girlie and work or play along side her. The aqua is so pretty and works so well with the other colors going on in the room. As for the mess… I like to call it creative chaos. 🙂

    • Reply
      January 19, 2013 at 9:20 am

      I have other words for it but I’d be a hypocrite b/c my room as a teen was an magazine wallpapered insanity.

  • Reply
    January 16, 2013 at 8:27 pm

    Oh… and I can’t wait to read about the bulletin board. It immediately caught my eye. Love!

  • Reply
    Kelly (Cobwebs, Cupcakes And Crayons)
    January 16, 2013 at 9:07 pm

    Alex, that came out amazing! She must love it. And I loved the real life kid’s bedroom picture. Do you know how many times I take pictures for my blog and crop out the mess!?

    • Reply
      January 19, 2013 at 9:23 am

      Thanks Kelly! I think a lot of us do it but there’s this fear in admitting that we don’t want to make a bad impression. But I’ve got to say that anytime I have ever shown a mess or a baking fail, I usually get the best feedback from other bloggers who are like Oh Thank God it’s not just me.

  • Reply
    Barbara Bamber | justasmidgen
    January 16, 2013 at 9:13 pm

    What a great work station.. such pretty colors as well!

    • Reply
      January 19, 2013 at 9:23 am

      Thank you! 🙂

  • Reply
    Victoria Elizabeth
    January 16, 2013 at 10:16 pm

    I SO heartily endorse that aqua color. I’d like to spray paint something in my own bedroom that color!! She must LOVE the end result! Simple and practical. Also actually looks totally doable.

    I don’t think the mess photo is really that bad… Paul went skiing a few weeks ago, and I was alone for a whole week and did no laundry and did not make the bed… and just threw stuff on the floor… and it was great.

    Although her room looks like it might be possibly painful to walk through without paying attention… however? The cleaned up version really IS awesome and Pinterest worthy in the totally-not-realistic-way everyone seems to love about Pinterest. Something about the two perfectly-arranged chairs, the sparkling carpet… like a kids-home magazine.

    • Reply
      January 19, 2013 at 9:26 am

      HAHAHA! Our bedroom on a weekly basis has these random piles of clothing that should be in the closet but instead they’re neatly folded (read: crumpled) on the ground. My friends husband is notorious apparently for leaving his socks everywhere.

      The playmobil and little figurines are the worst when they get in your heel. I’d love for it to look like that everyday. Right now it’s back to normal only now she discovered that the filing cabinets are magnetic and there are copious amounts of Valentines magnets all over them.

  • Reply
    now at home mom
    January 16, 2013 at 11:27 pm

    I love it , it’s so pretty and girly too! 🙂 btw, your daughter’s mess is not close to be as bad as my son’s nursery 😉 even after I clean his room it still looks messy 😉

    • Reply
      January 19, 2013 at 9:27 am

      I am convinced the nursery toy box (if you have one) is like the Febreze commercial. They all come out at night to play and you’re like didn’t I just put you back in the box.

  • Reply
    January 17, 2013 at 12:08 am

    I certainly hope mom and dad got some serious screams of excitement and maybe some handmade thank you’s for putting this fab desk together. No doubt she is beyond happy. I love the color choice and how the top seems to float above the cabinets. Very cool design.
    I would have LOVED to have this when I was her age.

    You know the mess just doesn’t seem that bad to me. I don’t think my mom saw the carpet in my room until I finally moved out. It went from toys and dolls to shoes, clothes, and makeup smashed into the carpet. Ha Ha! Maybe if they had built me a super cool desk …. I’m just sayin’.

    Love the bulletin boards too. Those are Awesome. Great job on everything. I’m taking notes for my craft space that will “someday” get created.

    • Reply
      January 19, 2013 at 9:29 am

      It’s very well used. This was so a need vs a want in our house. I want one now. A craft room you say? I’ll take that too!

      Teenage rooms are epic. Your post is inspiring me to post what the hell mine looked like. As an adult I am amazed my parents didn’t kill me. It was an awesome patch work work of art mind you but looking at it, I’m like oh that’s why you let me close the door.

  • Reply
    January 17, 2013 at 2:43 am

    The new desk looks SMASHING, dahling. I love how much surface area she has now for her artistry…in fact, can you build me one? I think I sorta need one now, too.

    And I think you should totally pin that picture – – we need more “real” pics on Pinterest, don’t we?

    Looking forward to your follow-up posts with more diy deets!

    • Reply
      January 19, 2013 at 9:31 am

      It’s funny b/c when I pin or do crafts, the things that I think will get noticed, never do. And when I post something that was random or didn’t take long, they get good reviews. Go figure.

  • Reply
    Stephen Hughes
    January 17, 2013 at 5:21 am

    I’m so impressed with this, as being the most descriptive way of creating a desk! and spraying a filing cabinet! (which is a challenge in itself to dismantle) – great colour too!

    I hope your daughter was as delighted as you both must have been from producing it!

    I think you need to start thinking of writing a book or something, as your work really is worth the read!

    kindest regards Steve

    • Reply
      January 19, 2013 at 9:33 am

      I will say this again, your cheque for your feedback is in the mail. And coming from someone who is so talented with making wood crafts, that’s a high praise.I am nowhere near as gifted enough to warrant a book on crafts but as long as others as happy to get some information on how to make this, I’m happy.

      The credit really goes to the man who helped us out at the Home Depot. His suggestions really made it an easier process to build.

  • Reply
    Thrift Shopper for Peace
    January 19, 2013 at 6:20 pm

    ok. i totally would have just thrown a piece of wood across the top of the two cabinets and had that whole sag thing going on. what a smart and easy way to prevent that from happening. very cool.

    • Reply
      January 20, 2013 at 2:50 pm

      As much as I would love to take credit for that, that was part of the really great advice given to us by the amazing coworker at Home Depot who really went out of his way to help us with the design process. We basically explained our vision and he gave us a bunch of suggestions including that one, which is by far the most cost effective and in terms of design it looks really nice.

  • Reply
    Aubrey Tate (@projectlovegood)
    January 20, 2013 at 10:47 am

    Lovely job on that filing desk table!! I was just telling my husband that I have an idea that turns a filing desk into a table for our print-making studio, using wood on the tops of the cabinets to make a table. I want it table or bar height, so I’m waiting on the right filing cabinets.

    • Reply
      January 20, 2013 at 2:51 pm

      DO IT! But yes get the right cabinets. I was scouring for 2 matching ones and it took a long time to find some. I won’t even get into the ridiculousness of the half made Mason Jar soap pump sitting in my garage b/c I haven’t found the right soap pump handle. I mean really now…

  • Reply
    kimberly ah
    January 24, 2013 at 4:41 pm

    This is awesome! You guys make it look so easy! 🙂

    • Reply
      February 3, 2013 at 9:16 pm

      It was easy but honestly it’s all thanks to Al from Home Depot. His suggestions on how to mount it were really amazing. The whole lateral support to prevent it from sagging really helps.

      • Reply
        Patrick Wingert
        January 8, 2017 at 2:00 pm

        I am setting up a similar desk. I attached it to the wall with a “French cleat”. This allows the back of the desk to sit in a slot you have created with a miter along the ledger board and gives you a little wider desk and better support all along the edge of the desk so that weight is more evenly distributed. I also got one of he Phillips Hue LED strip lights and put it under the desk so it will light up at night and I can control it from my phone. I also mounted a power bar with access via a Grommet hole through the desk. And I also have a charging station mounted into the desk. The Next project is getting the plugs in the room upgraded to 20 AMP. (I have a couple of gaming machines and other high current devices. I am also going to mount a 32″ TV over the desk that I can connect a laptop to.Good ideas for when she gets older and has more tech to work with. This is a real desk that she can grow with and adapt as she matures and develops her interests.

  • Reply
    February 2, 2013 at 7:50 pm

    I love this project. Great choice on the colour too. I may just have to try this for my crafts table I’m looking to make for our basement.

    • Reply
      February 2, 2013 at 8:21 pm

      Do it! It’s so inexpensive in the grand scheme of desks. Especially if you want a big desk.

  • Reply
    Christina @ No. 29 Design
    February 4, 2013 at 11:52 am

    That came out great. I’m about to try this in my own home so I’m taking notes!

    • Reply
      February 4, 2013 at 8:50 pm

      I look forward to seeing how yours turns out! 🙂

  • Reply
    Taylor de Sa
    February 8, 2013 at 3:55 pm

    This is a great idea… also for adults who share a home office! I really like this!

    • Reply
      February 8, 2013 at 5:27 pm

      Thanks so much! The idea is definitely for her and her sister to share it when we have them in the same room together.

  • Reply
    February 15, 2013 at 1:19 pm

    Oh yes, PIN IT! As much as I love pinterest, really, how often do we get a chance to see kid’s rooms being actually used by kids? It’s so nice to see everything cleaned up and tidy, but then it seems so awful to walk into your kids’ rooms and see how they really use it, which just means that we end up with unrealistic expectations of how rooms get used. I had to walk out of my daughters’ beddroom a few days ago and close the door behind me it was so awful, and lemme tell you, that wasn’t because of high expectations, that was because I needed a hazmat team. No lie… I swear…

    • Reply
      February 16, 2013 at 11:22 am

      I have a friend whose sister got so fed up with her daughters room that she took the laundry and basically rolled it into a ball and wheeled it into her room one day.

      What kills me on Pinterest are the laundry rooms that look better than my kitchen. I am like my kitchen is bad enough but now people’s washer and dryer combos make me want to put out my non-existent fancy plates on them and have a candle lit dinner.

      • Reply
        February 18, 2013 at 8:48 am

        HA!! That is so true! I saw a post the other day where someone had spent the money to put up glass tile in their laundry room. At first I was appalled that someone would spend that much money on a _laundry room_ then I though about how much time I spent in mine and realized that I really should be putting in a fantastic media system, maybe a hot tub, definitely a beer tap… I’ve had it all wrong all these years!! 😉

  • Reply
    April 9, 2013 at 10:57 am

    This is EXACTLY what I needed for my 8 year old niece’s desk in her new home! Thank you for the detailed instructions! They are going to be thrilled. : )

  • Reply
    May 31, 2013 at 9:47 am


    This is a great idea, we sell colourful filing cabinets here in the UK and have seen many of our customers try this very thing over the years for home offices or study, Now this is becoming even more popular in the modern bright office environment. As an example a customer bought 2 Purple filing cabinets and Topped it off with a Granite effect Kitchen style worktop available at the local DIY store. Not cheap but a great one off design – but it just goes to show that with a bit of imagination there is no limit to the colour combinations. Okay and now the plug for any UK readers



  • Reply
    Candi Hagan
    July 16, 2013 at 9:24 am

    I love this!!! The desk is awesome and the “real life photos” are refreshing!!!

  • Reply
    November 15, 2013 at 12:07 pm

    Love this & your princess is completely right, aqua is gorgeous & completely of the moment! I am a home schooling Mom to a terrific son who is 5&1/2 & I WANT MY KITCHEN TABLE BACK!!!! This will 100% achieve that, thank you. My husband is a great wood craftsman & big fan of the Home Depot scrap bin. I am pretty sure we have all the wood we need here. I was also thinking of taking one of those (cheap) skinny bookcases but laying it on it’s side & putting it up against the back of the desk top. Grab those cute storage bins to put in the 4 or 5 divided sections intended for books that may solve your dilemma on the plastic tower to the left! Oh course only AQUA for your sweetie!

  • Reply
    February 9, 2014 at 11:40 am

    This is SO practical because so often I’m sitting with my kids helping them with their work – they’re sitting and I’m kneeling next to them. GREAT project!

  • Reply
    February 20, 2014 at 6:50 pm

    If you wouldn’t mind sharing, what was the cost for all of the materials start to finish?

  • Reply
    Cathy C
    June 8, 2014 at 4:48 pm

    looks great! I have used a door from homedepot for a desk top on filing cabinets too!

  • Reply
    Allyson @ All Our Days
    June 26, 2014 at 7:15 am

    We’re trying to make a desk like this. What is the finished height? Would it work for adults or would it be better a little taller? We!re trying to decide between the regular file cabinets and the ones that are slightly (3″) taller.

    • Reply
      June 26, 2014 at 4:56 pm

      It’s 28″ in height and the filing cabinets alone are 26″ in height. I am 5’11 and I can sit at the desk fine. BUT it’s really a personal preference, if you’re going to have a keyboard on it or mount a rolling key board tray under it and so on. It’s quite comical but even though I am tall, I don’t like tall desk. Kitchen and bathroom counter tops on the other hand are a different story. Hope that helps some!

  • Reply
    Veronica Peters
    July 3, 2014 at 5:38 pm

    This is amazing! I have been scoring the internet since it’s impossible to find what I’m looking for in stores. This is the perfect art table for my kids to share in the playroom in our new house. Thank you so much for all the details…can’t wait to make this! Do you mind sharing where those awesome chairs are from?

    • Reply
      July 3, 2014 at 7:41 pm

      Thanks so much! Glad it helps! Ours is still in full use everyday and holding up great. The chairs are from IKEA but they’ve since been discontinued. If you read my About Page you’ll get a good kick out of me saying that. They were called the LAVER chairs and were $10 each. They do have new ones that have replaced these in stores.

  • Reply
    Veronica Peters
    July 3, 2014 at 9:43 pm

    Awesome! Thank you! These are adult sizes chairs right?

    • Reply
      July 3, 2014 at 10:31 pm

      Yes they’re adult sized!

  • Reply
    July 5, 2014 at 11:37 pm

    I wish I was this creative! It would really come in handy if I could do something like this for my new apartment. I’ll just have to figure it out and recruit help!

  • Reply
    August 4, 2014 at 12:50 am

    Hi, Alex,

    I just got here via Hometalk (I think).

    We’re currently working on my office. The walls were painted three shades of taupey-gray and, about four days ago, I decided the accent color should be Tiffany Box Blue.

    I have four three-drawer file cabinets that I think were manufactured by the same company that made yours…at least the pulls are exactly the same.

    The other person in this house thought I should just paint the drawer fronts but I see you two did a fabulous job painting the entire cabinet! So, thank you for the ammunition. And, I see that you were able to pull the drawers out of the cabinets, too.

  • Reply
    September 6, 2015 at 7:59 pm

    Thank you for the post. I am in the process of converting a spare bedroom into a office/library/craft room and have been trying to figure out a way to make a desk that would do everything I need. Now all I need is a handyman to show this to and I am in business!!!!

  • Reply
    February 5, 2016 at 9:33 am

    Hi! This is an awesome idea. I’m wondering if your filing cabinets were textured at all or if they were the smooth ones? Also, how is it holding up? Thanks

    • Reply
      February 8, 2016 at 1:48 pm

      Hello! Sorry for the late reply. No the filing cabinets were all smooth and flat metal. We’ve since moved but the desk lasted really well and we’re reusing the filing cabinets in different rooms in our new home. There was no desk sagging or anything. Hope that helps!

  • Reply
    October 7, 2016 at 3:40 am


  • Reply
    January 26, 2017 at 8:43 pm

    We did the same with our daughter’s room years ago, except we used counter tops. Can I say nail polish, nail polish remover, craft paint etc. She’s moved out now, but the countertop and file system is still there. I made it my office. Added in more countertop and filing cabinets. Computers. It’s perfect. Been there for 13 years. No nail polish, rings from glasses and pop cans. No paint. DEFINITELY stood the test of time.

    • Reply
      January 27, 2017 at 4:42 pm

      That is a GREAT idea. Using a counter top. And yes they totally destroy the top with every marker on the planet. You should see our white kitchen table right now. It’s a train wreck.

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