Today we’re showing you how to turn upcycled kitchen cabinets into a unique VW desk. You know how they say that necessity is the mother of invention? This upcycle is a prime example. After we renovated our kitchen, the craft room was next on the list and I needed a storage solution, stat! Luckily we saved a bank of cabinets from our reno to create a one-of-a-kind desk for the office area.
How to Upcycle Kitchen Cabinets
A friend of ours originally built these 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 below). For this project, there was no escaping it because we had something exciting planned for the drawer fronts!
The first step is to measure and draw up a cut plan for the drawer faces. It becomes the guide to cut pieces of MDF (medium density fibreboard) for the drawer fronts. Along with the MDF, Hubs also cuts long plastic strips to use as spacers (more on how he uses those later).
Mark the Studs
Using a stud finder, Hubs located the studs and applied green painters tape to mark them. Because the cabinet is right over an electrical outlet, he cut away the backing to expose it behind a drawer. Just in case I ever want access for a charging station, it’s better to do it now before permanently attaching to the wall!
Wood screws connect the cabinets to each other (side to side) and then Hubs put a few screws through the back too, hitting the studs. This ensures it can’t tip once the drawers are full of stuff. And believe me when I say, they will be full!
Before putting the drawers back in place, we covered the holes that housed a broom sweep that originally tied into the vacuum system in the kitchen. I thought about re-installing it for the craft room but, in reality, it rarely got any use.
Pre-Installing the Drawer Fronts
On each piece of MDF, Hubs applied double-faced tape onto one side. The tape allows him the flexibility to remove the faces if he wants to adjust the spacing. But he’s careful to position them right the first time.
Hubs starts with the bottom pieces first. He places a level on the ground, then a piece of plywood and several spacers on top of that to bring it up to the height he wants to start at. After setting the bottom pieces, he works his way up to the top making sure the drawer fronts are level and plum.
He doubles the spacers on the horizontal edges so he can leave a decent gap between each one. This gap is necessary so the drawers don’t rub against each other when they open and close.
Line up the MDF
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.
Here’s a view from the side, showing the tape before sticking on the MDF:
Mind the Gap!
Hubs uses the spacers to leave a vertical gap too.
Once a drawer front is temporarily in place, you can remove the spacers and move onto the next one repeating the process.
When all the MDF is in place, open one of the drawers and then evenly space several spots on the inside of the drawers where you’ll add screws to hold the MDF in place.
On the small drawer shown here we measure for three screws.
Add clamps to hold the MDF to the drawer.
Mark Drill Depth
Before drilling, add a piece of green tape on the bit to mark the maximum depth so you don’t accidentally drill through the front of the MDF! Pre drill the holes from the back of the drawer into the MDF.
You can either vacuum as you go or when you finish drilling all the holes.
The drawer below is one of the larger ones, so it gets six screws. Hubs removes the 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 drawer faces are in place, along with a new black kick plate.
Dissassemble Upcycled Kitchen Cabinets
Now 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 reattach later.) Use a pencil to consecutively number the back of the MDF as you remove each one. Hubs usually places the number in the middle and then covers it with a piece of green tape so it won’t get painted.
As you remove the MDF, remember that you’ve got tape on the back, so you may need to pry them to get them to lift off. Removing the tape can be tricky. As you can see, some of the MDF stuck to the tape. However, if you’re careful you should be able to remove them cleanly.
The MDF got primer but just the edges and back get a durable white paint (it’s not necessary to paint the front because it will be covered in the next step).
Getting Creative with Upcycled Kitchen Cabinets!
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 dimension of the MDF.
The VW was printed and laminated onto an adhesive backing by a company that specializes in large format printing. Each piece is cut to size and put onto its respective MDF drawer front (paying attention to the numbers on the back).
Here are the individual drawer fronts ready to go!
Insert the screws through the previously drilled holes and reattach the drawer fronts to their respective drawers.
Below is a closeup of the painted edge of the MDF.
Because of the pre-assembly, this part goes fast.
Instead of attaching hardware to the face of the drawers, I repurposed chrome pulls that strategically correspond with where there is chrome is on the car. They blend right into the ‘chrome’ and are barely noticeable.
Here’s how the hardware looks from inside the drawer. It wraps over the top of the drawer and is screwed in from the back. Nothing to mar the front!
Adding the Desk onto Upcycled Kitchen Cabinets
Right beside the bank of drawers, I needed a surface area where l could photograph some of the step-by-steps for my craft posts. However, I floated it instead of having support legs.
To determine the best height, Hubs nailed together temporary brackets out of 2 x 4’s and placed the work surface on top so we could test the height with me seated. Doing a test run will save you a lot of aggravation in the end. We’d rather do this than patch and repaint holes that then have to be re-drilled!
If necessary, you can shim the under the brackets to raise the counter until you find the real height.
Installing the Ledger Board
Again, Hubs marked the studs in the wall with green tape. Then he used a level to draw a line along the back and sides. We ultimately installed the 1×2 ledger boards higher than the brackets to permanently support the cabinet.
The ledgers along the back and the right side of the wall are painted the same colour as the wall.
However, on the left side, the ledger is painted white so it blends in with the cabinet.
Again, when installing into the cabinet, make sure the screw length is less than the depth of the materials you’re screwing together so it doesn’t poke through the drawer on the other side.
For the counter top itself, we upcylced a plain door that started out life as the entry to our cold room. It came in handy during our basement renovation to stage materials. Below we’re using it to tile our laundry room backspash. If you’re planning any tiling projects, be sure to check out our ultimate guide to tile a wall.
Hubs cut the door to size, then primed, painted it and set it on top of the ledgers. It completed the desk area.
Best Gift Ever
When Hubs unveiled the completed project for Christmas, I think I squealed with delight! All I can say is that it’s the BEST – GIFT – EVER!!!!
The VW desk not only looks striking in my craft studio, but it provides great storage for my stash!
I not only love the look of the floating counter but it’s also practical because now I can tuck away a filing cabinet and even my air compressor (both of which are on wheels and easily moveable).
When when we show people our newly built basement and tell them the desk is upcycled from kitchen cabinets, it’s quite the conversation starter! The vintage VW that inspired this project is a car that my husband lovingly restored. He only drives his VW in the summer. So how lucky am I to enjoy it year-round in my new craft studio (see the final reveal)?
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Pin Upcycled Kitchen Cabinets
Would you ever upcycle kitchen cabinets into a one of a kind desk? If you enjoyed this post, pinning is always welcome and appreciated.
After I had a chance to settle in, I got busy reupholstering a new chair. To see what else I’ve been up to in my craft studio, check out our Craft Rehab category.