Introduction: Reclaimed VW Desk: a Unique Gift!
My wife has always dreamed about having a craft studio in the basement of our house. She had previously built a studio in about a third of her parent's basement, but rarely used it after she moved out.
To reunite her with her craft stash, I refinished our basement and created a craft studio just for her. Her new craft studio was downsized quite a bit from what she was used to and along with that, most importantly, storage space.
It wasn't until right before Christmas last year that I finally finished the part of the basement containing the studio. To give her much needed storage, I built this eye-catching VW desk. It's a focal point you can't help but notice when you enter her space. Although it was a Christmas gift, I didn't keep it a surprise. By getting her input and involving her in all the decisions, I could make sure that it would be perfectly suited to her needs.
This is a project made almost entirely with reclaimed materials. The foundation was a reclaimed a set of cabinets we removed from our kitchen when it was renovated. I also used an old door for the desktop, reclaimed hardware and leftover MDF from another project for the drawer fronts. While the VW graphic was newly printed, it was originally snapped on our wedding day, so I guess in a sense that was upcycled too.
Step 1: You Will Need
- Base kitchen cabinets (I used two banks of drawers and a pull-out but you can adapt whatever you have)
- Counter tops (I used old doors)
- MDF for the drawer faces
- Tape measure/ruler
- Double sided tape
- 1x2's (for the ledger boards)
- Scraps of lumber or plywood (if you want to test the counter height)
- Primer and paint (for the counters and drawer edges)
- High res picture
- Illustrator (used to format the picture)
- Wood screws
- Screw driver
- Jigsaw (optional; I had to cut some backing out)
- Long level
- X-acto knife (to cut the graphic)
- Plastic PVC spacers (I used a sheet of PVC cut into strips and stacked to leave a 1/8" gap, but plywood would work too)
- Drawer hardware (I upcycled old Ikea chrome Opparyd handles)
Step 2: Starting Point - Draw Up a Plan
Pictured above is the kitchen cabinets I started with. They were built by a friend for temporary storage until we could get around to renovating our kitchen. I didn't even bother to put drawer faces on during the time we used them in the kitchen!
Drawer faces were the first thing I addressed to transform these kitchen cabinets into the VW desk. I started by measuring each drawer so I could draw up a cut plan, which I then used to cut pieces of MDF (medium density fibreboard) for the drawer fronts.
I removed all the drawers to make it easier to carry the shell into the basement so it could be reassembled there.
Step 3: Find the Studs
I found the studs behind where we decided the cabinets would go and marked them with green tape. Before installing them, I noticed an outlet was in the way so cut away the backing to expose it behind the drawer - just in case my wife ever wanted to use it as a charging station.
I secured the cabinets to the studs with two long screws spaced out along the top to keep them from tipping once they’re loaded up with stuff – and they did get loaded up! Use 2 -3 shorter wood screws to connect the cabinets to each other side-to-side (measure the thickness before you buy your screws to ensure they won't go through).
Step 4: Install Drawers / Prepare MDF
I put the drawers back in place so I could attach the MDF fronts to them.
Along with the MDF, I also cut some long plastic strips to use as spacers (more on how I used those in the next step).
On each piece of MDF, I applied double-faced tape onto one side. The next two steps explains how to apply them by removing the backing and then pressing them into place on each drawer. The tape allowed me the flexibility to remove the faces if I wanted to adjust the spacing, but I was careful to position them right the first time. The tape gets removed later once the screw holes are drilled.
Step 5: Install Drawer Fronts (Temporarily)
The drawer fronts are only going to be installed temporarily so that they can be removed later to apply the VW graphic. You want to do this first to make sure everything will line up in the final install.
I started with the bottom pieces of MDF first. I placed a level on the ground, then a piece of plywood and several spacers on top of that to bring it up to the height I wanted to start at. I worked my way up to the top, making sure the drawer fronts were level and plum as I went.
I used two of the plastic spacers on the edge of each piece of MDF so I could leave a decent gap between each one. This gap is necessary so the drawers don’t rub against each other when they’re opened and closed.
Step 6: Make Use of the Spacers
With the spacers in place horizontally, you can lean the bottom of the MDF on top, line it up and then push it onto the drawer so the tape holds it in place. You can see a view from the side, showing the double-faced tape before the MDF is pressed into place.
I used the spacers to leave a gap vertically too. Once a drawer front is temporarily taped to its respective drawer, you can remove the horizontal spacers (leaving the vertical ones in place) and move onto the next one repeating the process.
Step 7: Secure the Drawer Faces
When all the MDF is in place (being held by the double-face tape), open one of the drawers and then evenly measure several spots on the inside of the drawers where you’ll drill to add screws to hold it in place permanently. On the small drawer shown in the first three pictures, I measured for three screws but on the larger ones, you’ll need six screws instead so measure accordingly.
Add clamps to hold the MDF to the drawer. Be sure to put some green tape on your drill bit to mark the depth so you don’t go through the front of the MDF – you definitely don’t want any holes in the front! Pre drill the holes from the back of the cabinet drawer into the MDF.
I tend to vacuum as I go, but you can wait until you’ve finished drilling all the holes too.
The last picture shows one of the larger drawers, which gets six screws. After drilling, screw through the back of the drawer into MDF with wood screws, then remove the clamps. I removed the clamps first to get a better picture, but it’s better to keep them in place until you’re done.
Step 8: Fresh Faced
This is what you’ll end up with once all the drawers faces are screwed into place. Now you’re going to undo everything you just did so you can add the focal point - the graphic.
Step 9: Take It All Apart Again!
Starting from the upper left and working clockwise, unscrew each piece of MDF (leave the screws in the drawers to re-use for later.) Use a pencil to consecutively number the back of the MDF as you remove each one. I usually place the number in the middle and then cover it with a piece of green tape so it won’t get covered with paint when the MDF is primed.
As you remove the MDF, remember that you’ve got double-face tape on the back, so you may need to pry them to get them to lift off. Remove the double-faced tape from the drawers. As you can see, some of the MDF stuck to the tape; if you pry carefully you should be able to remove them cleanly.
I primed all sides of the MDF and then painted just the edges and back with a durable white paint (it’s not necessary to paint the front with the top coat because it will be covered in the next step). You can use a paint colour that's a closer match to the graphic; I used white because it's what I had on-hand.
Step 10: Get Your Wife to Do the Graphic
It didn't hurt to have my wife's assistance to pick and then format the graphic for the front - because I don't have a clue how to do that!
My wife chose a high res picture of our VW (taken on our wedding day before the big kids -aka adults- and little kids alike wrapped it up like a mummy!). She scaled the picture in illustrator to fit the total length and width measurement of the MDF drawer faces.
Although my wife would have also jumped in to attach the graphic element too, a friend offered help with that aspect - which kept the final reveal a bit of a surprise for her. The VW was printed and laminated onto an adhesive backing by a company that specializes in large format printing. Each piece was then cut and attached to its respective MDF drawer front (paying attention to the numbers put on the back of the MDF).
Above you can see all the individual drawer fronts layed out on the floor, ready to get reattached.
Step 11: Reassemble
Insert the screws through the previously drilled holes and reattach the adorned drawer fronts to their respective drawers.
The last picture shows a closeup of the painted edge of the MDF.
Step 12: Add Harware
Along with reclaiming the drawers from our kitchen, I also reclaimed hardware from an old Ikea cabinet. They were a great choice for this project because they were chrome and could be screwed in from the back - without affecting the look of the graphic.
I strategically placed one on each drawer where the chrome is on the car so it would blend into the picture and not be noticed; the drawers still work perfectly and the chrome looks like it's part of the car!
Above you can see closeups of the front and back. On the back, the hardware just wraps right around the top of the drawer and is screwed in from the back.
Step 13: Add a Surface Area
I used doors as the counter tops for this project, cutting them to size then priming and painting them in the same paint I used for the MDF. You can use either solid doors or even hollow core. If you use hollow core, you just have to remember to make sure to fill in the gaps with lumber so there's wood around all the edges for support (and something to screw into). For the counter that fit on top of the drawers, it got screwed in from underneath the frame into the door.
In addition to storage, my wife also needed a desk area where she could photograph her craft projects and videos, so I built her a floating desk (she didn't want legs so she could store her air compressor and a filing cabinet underneath).
I nailed together some temporary brackets out of left over strips of plywood as a starting point so I could place the work surface on top to test it with my wife seated at the countertop - another reason I couldn't keep it a secret! Testing out the comfort of the counter height before you install ledger boards will save you a lot of aggravation in the end (otherwise you could end up with screw holes you have to patch if you need to reposition). Above you can see the brackets holding up the counter so we can test the height. You can place shims under the brackets to raise the counter until you find the height that’s best for you.
Once the height was figured out, I again marked the studs in the wall with green tape. I used a level to draw a line along the back and sides. I cut 1×2’s for the ledgers and painted the ones I was placing along the back and the right side the same colour as the wall (the one on the left was painted white to blend in with the cabinet). I fastened the ledgers into the studs with screws to permanently support the counter.
In the last picture I'm pre drilling for the ledger into the side of the cabinet (make sure your screw length is less than the depth of the materials you’re screwing together so the screw doesn’t poke out the other side of the cabinet). You’ll notice that we ended up installing the height of the final ledger boards higher than the brackets after testing it, which worked out to be a comfortable height for my wife.
Step 14: The Counter Top
As I mentioned, the kitchen cabinets weren’t the only thing upcycled for this project: the counter started out life as the door to our cold room, then it was used during the basement renovation to stage materials. In the first picture I'm using it to tile our laundry room backsplash before it was transformed into the counter top for the VW desk. (If you’re planning any tiling projects, be sure to check out our ultimate guide to tiling a backsplash).
As with the top for the cabinets, I simply cut the door to the width and length of the area prepped in the previous step, then primed, painted it and then set it on top of the ledgers. Above you can see how the counter looks in place. You can screw the counter in from underneath, but it was such a tight fit that I didn't bother for this one.
I like the look of the floating counter but it’s also practical too because now my wife can tuck away things such as the filing cabinet shown above. For her air compressor, I made a base with wheels so its easy for her to remove when she needs it (you'll see that in the reveal picture at the end).
Step 15: Tons of Storage
The VW desk not only looks great but it does the trick in providing storage. The cabinet on the far right side is actually a pull-out that's split vertically into two sections. In one half of the pull-out cabinet my wife can store mostly liquid items such as paint, caulk and glue. The shelves are adjustable so that her storage options are flexible and she can switch things around whenever she wants to.
On the other side of the divide, I installed a perforated metal backer. She can hang shallow items on the metal, either peg-board style or with magnets. The picture shown was taken before she organized that side of the cabinet.
Step 16: Reveal - Vote for Me!
The end result is a one-of-a-kind desk that doubles as craft storage. When I unveiled it, according to my wife, it was the ultimate gift to her of all time (until the next one at least)! She made a handmade gift for me too at Christmas; you can see the paint chip portrait of me shown leaning on top of the VW desk. It was done on our dining room table before she had a craft space to work in!
The vintage VW that inspired this project is a car that I restored before I was married. I only drive it in the summer, but my wife is always telling me how lucky she is that she gets to enjoy a facsimile of it year round.
The fun part about building furniture for workrooms, in this case a craft studio, is that it can be unlike anything else in the house. The desk is definitely a conversation starter when I show people all the work I put into our newly built basement.
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