Upcycle Kitchen Cabinets Into a One-of-a-Kind Desk!

3 Materials
4 Days
When we renovated our kitchen I saved two sets of drawers because I knew I could upcycle them into something super useful again. You know how they say that necessity is the mother of invention? This upcycle is a prime example. After the kitchen, next on our list of renovations was my craft room so storage and a desk area was at the top of my list of needs. The bank of drawers was just what I needed to create a one-of-a-kind desk for the office area!
A friend of ours originally built the cabinets for us as temporary storage until we could renovate our kitchen but we never did get around to making fronts for the drawers (as you can see above). For my new desk, we were going to have to get around to it because I had something exciting planned for the drawer fronts – as you’ll see later in the reveal!

The first step was to measure each drawer so we could draw up a cut plan. We used it to cut pieces of MDF (medium density fibreboard) for the drawer fronts. Removing all the drawers made it easier to carry the shell into the basement so we could reassemble it.

There are a number of steps to this tutorial and I'm limited to only 15 pictures so head to my blog if you want to see them all (link is underneath this post)!
We located the studs on the wall with a stud finder and used green tape to mark them. When we positioned the cabinets where I wanted them we noticed that we were going to cover up an electrical outlet. We decided to cut away the backing to leave it exposed behind a drawer just in case I ever want to put a charging station into one of the drawers (better to do it now before everything is attached to the wall)! By the way, if you’re wondering what the hole is in the bottom of the left unit, it was for a broom sweep that we tied into our vacuum system when it was in our kitchen. I thought about installing it again in my craft room but decided against it so we just covered the hole up.

Wood screws were used to connect the cabinets to each other (side to side) and then we put a few screws through the back, hitting the studs. This secures them to the wall and keeps them from tipping once they’re loaded up with stuff – and believe me when I say, they will be loaded up!
We put the drawers back in place so we could attach the MDF fronts to them. Along with the MDF, we also cut some long plastic strips to use as spacers (more on how we used those a bit further down).

On each piece of MDF, we applied double-faced tape onto one side, removed the backing and then pressed them into place. The tape allowed us the flexibility to remove the faces if we wanted to adjust the spacing, but we were careful to position them right the first time. The tape gets removed later.
We started with the bottom pieces of MDF first. We 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 we wanted to start at. We worked our way up to the top, making sure the drawer fronts were level and plum as we went.

We used two of the spacers on the edge of each piece of MDF so we 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.

With the spacers in place, 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'll see the picture on my blog).

We used the spacers to leave a gap both horizontally and vertically too.
We used two of the spacers on the edge of each piece of MDF so we 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.

With the spacers in place, 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'll see the picture on my blog).

We used the spacers to leave a gap both horizontally and vertically too.
Once each drawer front is temporarily taped to its respective drawer, you can remove the spacers and move onto the next repeating the process.

When all the MDF is in place, 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 the MDF in place. On the small drawer shown here we measured for three screws but on the larger drawers, you’ll measure for six screws instead.

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 into the MDF.

Vacuum as you go or when you've finished drilling all the holes.
The drawer shown below is one of the larger ones, so it gets six screws. Screw through the back of the drawer into MDF with wood screws, then remove the clamps. We removed our clamps first to get a better picture, but it’s better to keep them in place until you’re done.
This is what you'll end up with. Once all the drawers faces are screwed into place you may think you're done, but the finishing touches are just beginning: you're going to undo everything you just did!
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. We usually place the number in the middle and then cover it with a piece of green tape so it won't get covered when it's painted (and won't show when it's screwed back into the drawer).

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. Some of the MDF stuck to the tape but if you pry carefully you should be able to remove it cleanly.

We 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).

Now for the Fun Part!

With all the prep work done on the drawers, it's time to get creative. I took a high res picture of our VW (taken on our wedding day before this happened!) and scaled it in illustrator to fit the total length and width of the MDF drawer faces.
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!). Here are all the individual drawer fronts layed out on the floor, ready to get reattached.
Insert the screws through the previously drilled holes and reattach the drawer fronts to their respective drawers.

Instead of screwing hardware through the face of the drawers - which would ruin the effect of the car - I reused some chrome drawer pulls I had. I strategically placed only one on each drawer where the chrome is on the car. I forwent two pulls so the hardware would blend into the picture and not be noticed. The drawers still work perfectly and the chrome fits right in!

Right beside the bank of drawers, I wanted to add a surface area where l could photograph some of the step-by-steps for my craft posts. However, I didn't want any support legs showing so it would look like it was floating.

Head to my blog to see the step-by step with images on how we determined the best height for my floating desk and how we installed it.

I not only love the look of the floating counter but it's also practical too because now I can tuck away a filing cabinet and even my air compressor (both of which are on wheels and easily moveable).

The VW desk not only looks great but it does the trick in providing a ton of storage!
The picture leaning against the wall (shown above) is a portrait I made of my husband completely out of paints chips! You can find the tutorial here. There's also a tutorial on how I reupholstered my office chair and the final reveal of my studio and how I organized it is on my site too.
The vintage VW that inspired this project is a car that my husband lovingly restored and only drives in the summer; how lucky am I to enjoy it year round in my now-finished craft studio?
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Suggested materials:
  • Counter   (Made from an old door)
  • Cabinets   (Saved from kitchen reno)
  • Photograph   (From our wedding)
Birdz of a Feather
Want more details about this and other DIY projects? Check out my blog post!
Frequently asked questions
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  1 question
  • John Biermacher John Biermacher on Sep 15, 2017
    I am amazed at the VW drawer unit. How expensive was the laminated print.

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3 of 78 comments
  • Johanne Palange Johanne Palange on Nov 01, 2020

    Just stunning. A simple enough idea: you make me think I could do such a thing. Real statement piece if ever there was one!

  • Mandy Brown Mandy Brown on Jun 07, 2021

    How did I not see this before?! This is so cool! My son is a mechanic (more of a savant) and Honda nut. He would LOVE something like this. Awesome job!