Introduction: File Cabinet Desk Revamp

About: I'm an art teacher by day and an extreme art and DIY enthusiast by night! I love creating custom work for myself, friends, family, and anyone else interested in finding that perfect piece for their own unique…

I was recently married and now share a home with my wife and her wonderful daughter. Over the last several months I have come to learn how creative my 10-year old stepdaughter is. When she first moved into my 2-bedroom house she had a bed, an old dresser, and a few other cheap pieces of furniture we crammed into what was then, my "office." I had tried to spruce up an old desk I found at a local thrift shop so she could at least have somewhere to work on her art, but it was so small and the drawers would stick and fall of their tracks. Needless to say, it was not the most inspiring place to create art. As the holidays were approaching and I was making my Christmas shopping list, it occurred to me that the best gift I could get my stepdaughter was a bedroom makeover, complete with a desk space that would fulfill all of her artistic needs!

I set out to find the perfect desk, but I kept coming across huge, clunky things that would never fit in room (unless the desk was also going to double as a bed). Even if the room was bigger, I didn't want my whole budget to go towards one piece of furniture.

I soon realized I was going to have to make something, which, if I'm being honest, I kind of prefer anyways. I finally settled on a hanging wall desk when I came across some old file cabinets for sale. I love turning old furniture into something totally new, especially when there's an opportunity to make something more organized (I'm a total nerd when it comes to organizing, even more so when you throw office supplies into the mix).

Once I had the cabinets I collected everything else I was going to need and got to work. The whole thing ended up costing me about $50 and my step daughter loves it! Her room has actually become the post popular family hangout spot in the whole house. There's enough room to spread out all of our scrapbooking supplies, for me to grade papers while she works on her latest project, or for all three of us to doodle away in our sketchbooks.

So, whether you're a family of artists, or just someone craving a big workspace in a tiny room, this file cabinet makeover is just what you need!


  • 2 file cabinets (or more if you have the space or need more storage)
  • Desk top surface material cut to size (I went with 3/4-inch MDF board and had Lowes cut it to the size I needed)
  • 2 different colors of spray paint (one for the cabinet hardware and the other for the cabinet)
  • A quart of furniture paint
  • At least 4 large shelf brackets of your choosing
  • Hardware for the brackets
  • Some basic tools (you can get away with a couple screwdrivers and a tape measure)

Step 1: Choosing Your Desktop

Initially, I had planned on using a really pretty piece of wood and staining it, but then I remembered that this was going in a 10-year old's room and decided MDF board might be a better fit. My local hardware store also had larger pieces of the MDF board, and my goal was to get the longest piece possible. This also allowed me to choose the width of the desktop. The width is up to you, but since I wanted the desk to be even with the file cabinets, I went with 25 inches.

Since I only have a jigsaw and circular saw at my house, I had to have the hardware store cut the board for me. It was only $0.50 and well worth it to have a nice straight line. Plus, there was a lot left over for a future project.

Step 2: Remove and Paint Hardware

If you want to paint the drawer handles and label plate a different color from the drawers you will need to remove them and paint them separately. If you want to get really fancy, you can even buy different drawer pulls/knobs.

The hardware to remove the handles and label plate is located on the inside of the drawer. The screws that attach the handles usually have a square head. To remove the label plates you can use a flat head screwdriver to lift the little metal tabs (similar to the hardware on the back of some picture frames).

Once you've got everything off, set up a spot to spray paint outside. I recommend painting one side of the hardware at a time. Even though you won't necessarily see the back side of the label plate, I like to paint both sides to make sure all of the edges are covered and because you never know when you might come across any dents or bends in the metal (these are used cabinets after all). Since most spray paints dry really fast, you only have to wait a few minutes before you can flip everything over.

*Note: If you want to paint the shelf brackets, go ahead and do that now too. Most likely, no one will ever see them, but it only takes an extra couple of seconds to make sure these match the rest of the desk.

Step 3: Paint the Cabinet

While all of the hardware is off, you'll want to paint the actual cabinet too. Some people might want to remove the drawers so you can get every inch painted, but I was only worried about painting the outside of the cabinet. The inside of the drawers will rarely be seen anyways.

Make sure you clean and wipe down the cabinet really well before you start painting. I had to do a little sanding to get rid of some rust, so I had to be extra thorough with cleaning the cabinet before I started painting.

Once the cabinet has dried completely, reattach the hardware. I waited about 24 hours because I live in the humid state of Florida!

Even though the cabinets I had were a very light tan, it still took me four coats to get them completely covered. Keep in mind however, I was using a very light, mint green, but I still wasn't expecting four coats! I ended up using about 4.5 cans of spray paint. I'm sure you won't need quite as much with darker colors, but I feel like it's better to have extra so that you won't have to stop in the middle of painting to go buy more spray I did! The image I used for this step shows the cabinets with only two coats of paint.

Note: When painting, make sure the can is at least 6 inches away and you're going in a smooth, left to right motion. If you're too close you can get drips or uneven color.

Step 4: Paint the Desk

For my family, choosing the right type of paint was the most important part of this project. We wanted a paint that was durable and wouldn't leave streaks from the paintbrush (or texture from a roller). A friend told me about furniture paint after I had mentioned my concerns about using regular latex. Furniture paint is self leveling, meaning, no streaks! It also "hardens," which means less chipped paint and the ability to scrub it clean without picking up the color on your magic eraser! The only catch is that you have to wait 4 hours in between coats and it takes 4-5 days to cure. Even though it will be dry, it doesn't reach that "hardened" state until the 4-5 day mark. For us, it was worth the wait. The first day in her new room, my stepdaughter had a bit of an accident with her new markers and we were able to scrub it clean without ruining the paint job!

If you're not worried about the durability of the paint job, I would recommend regular ole house paint. It's significantly cheaper. I actually painted the underside with contractor paint so that I could save the furniture paint for another project I was working on.

Note: Cabinet paint and SOME trim/door paints are similar to furniture paint. You'll be able to tell which is the "good" trim paint based on the price tag!

Step 5: Hang/attach the Brackets

Once everything has dried (and cured), you will need to put the cabinets where you want them and place the desk top over them. If you're using 2 file cabinets make sure the weight of the table top is distributed evenly over both of them. Once everything is in place you can measure for your brackets.

Making sure that the top side of the bracket is flush with the desk and wall at the same time, put one screw into the wall and then one into the desk to make sure that the bracket is not pulling on either side. Continue with the remaining screws. Do this for each of the brackets.

Note: I recommend screwing the brackets into studs. I always prefer studs over drywall screws whenever possible. I have just never had much luck with drywall screws.

Step 6: Organize and Beautify

All that's left do do now is to decorate your desk and organize all of your pens, pencils, paints, papers, tools, and whatever else you'll be using at your beautiful new workspace. I got all kinds of drawer organizers so that the file cabinets would be more like an organized desk drawer. I also drilled a large hole in one of the back corners for lamp cords, laptop chargers, etc.

Now for the fun part: sit down at your new desk and start creating!

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