The Un-Built-In Desk: Or How to Put a Desktop on End Tables and Make It Look Awesome

So, remember when I talked about making Charlie’s Chalkboard Closet Doors, and I mentioned I had a lot of scrap material left from the PureBond sheets? After cutting down the door pieces, I had two sections that were about 15″ wide and eight feet long. When we were brainstorming ideas for the guest/playroom, Jacob said he wanted a double desk area for office space for us, and homework space down the road when our munchkin(s) are older. Well, obviously those scraps would make the perfect desk top! But what to use for the base? I could always build something, but sometimes I get nervous about filling our house with too much of the same look since my hand built furniture definitely has a specific style. So I had a harebrained idea. What if I found some old end tables for the base? They are usually made from solid wood, have exquisite details, and would give me the storage I’m looking for. So I hit up my favorite new resale shop and hit the jackpot. Two matching magazine-style end tables and a bookcase type one that had a matching finish and only $80 for all three. Huzzah! That’s equal to or less than what I’d spend on lumber to build something, AND I didn’t have to put in any work! Then it was on to the crazy part. The mockup.


I unloaded my tables and set them into the space. The first problem was the the bookcase style table was taller than the other set. When Jacob came home from work and saw this, he gave me a pretty strong side-eye. I’ll admit, even I was a bit nervous at this point. But I plowed ahead anyway, and made him help me cut the scraps to length. Hubs may have a good side-eye, but I’ve got my strong-arm techniques down pat.


Once the top was cut down, it looked much better, more like a real desk. I added a scrap piece of lumber to the front of the center portion where the bookcase table sat, as it was not only taller but deeper than the other two. I really like this arrangement, it gives definition to both spaces. Once the measurements were finished, we attached the three pieces together with scrap wood braces then trimmed it out with 1×3’s. Since I didn’t want to lock myself in to this desk forever, I decided not to drill into the tables. We just made some “supports” with scraps to level out the top, and the trim keeps the top snugly in place.


Where the two tops meet, and the jut-out portion got attached together into one piece. Oh, that shiny stuff? Just ignore it. My first attempt was to cover the top in metallic wrapping paper and I was going to use a bar coat epoxy over it, but the paper looked like flaming dog poo so I ripped it off in a fury. True story.

For each end, we stacked 1.5″ thick pieces of scrap lumber and topped it with plywood scrap to make up the difference in height. It works perfectly! Everything is level.


After my shiny wrapping paper debacle I sanded the top down as best as I could and picked up some Rustoleum Hammered paint in silver. It’s really cool stuff! The top would have looked even better if I had spent more time sanding and used putty to fill the seams, but I was tired and cranky at that point and just wanted to finish. Even so, I think it looks great (at least, it looks better when there aren’t drywall and sawdust particles all over it – need to get to cleaning!) I used two coats and followed it up with three coats of poly to give it a wipeable finish. I may top it off with a few more just so I’ll be able to scrub it should crayon or marker decorations happen down the road!


While the desk itself was looking good, the space still needed a little something. I had planned on some shelves, but then it hit me. Why not pegboard? I’d never worked with it before, but it was surprisingly easy to install. I purchased two 4×4′ sheets for each desk side, a wall mount for our tv, and a 2×4′ section of pegboard for the center beneath the tv. It was a great fit. I had never worked with pegboard before, but after a quick google search I learned that you needed to install a framework first with 3/4″ thick boards to give space for the pegs. I raided our trim scrap stash and got to work, then gave the pegboard two coats of the same hammered paint. I also hung the tv! It was a pretty productive day. Once Jacob came home from work I asked him to help me hang the boards, and voila! Beauty on a wall. It was an added bonus that the tv wires fit along the framework behind the pegboard, so I didn’t have to do anything fancy to hide them.


Don’t you just love my turtle placemat?! Ha! I threw it there to hide my ugly seams that I didn’t fill. I’m on the search for a good re-usable monthly calendar, one that’s laminated that I can dry-erase marker on. We had planned on using that IKEA rail and bucket in our kitchen beneath the sink before I goofed up on our measurements there and we didn’t need it. Now it’s got a handy spot wrangling all our pens! No more scrambling around searching for a writing tool. I snagged the baskets from my 6 cube shelf in the kitchen (they never fit well anyway) and they house my chargers, to-do paperwork, art supplies for Charlie and a wire basket holds wii-motes.


This is my favorite section! Those hanging bottles with the twine were actually old IV dispensers from a hospital that my dad found for 50 cents and gave to me. The ornament is from our cruise last summer, the map hearts are from Charlie’s old nursery (they have both of our birth places on them), and my mom gave me the chalkboard Anthropologie jars for Christmas this past year. I found the N at a boutique, and I’m either going to paint the inside a fun color or make it a succulent planter. But the best part? Finally having a place to stash all the dvd’s so they actually look decent! We’ve had them crammed in a tiny bookshelf that was awful for the job. You couldn’t ever find what you were looking for. Now it’s a breeze.


I also used a basket on some 6″ shelf hooks to store my camera and lenses so Charlie can’t get to them and throw them around like she enjoys doing. I also hung my weekly planner on a hook, and added an engagement picture.

I can’t tell you just how happy I am to have this desk area finished. It’s one of the last big projects for the house, and I’ve been getting very overwhelmed lately over finishing things up before Caroline comes in October. Now I have about four months to take my time on her nursery and finish up the last few small projects on my list. That’s a very good feeling! Plus its just nice to have all the toys and baby things stashed in the closet. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we find another really cool door at this Saturday’s market day!

4 thoughts on “The Un-Built-In Desk: Or How to Put a Desktop on End Tables and Make It Look Awesome

  1. I really want to create and build my own desk and this is giving me an inspiration and I will be going to second hand stores to look at end tables!
    Thanks for the idea!

  2. Very creative!!! I’m right now building a desk with IKEA oak counter (heavy!!) and a file cabinet and posts I cut off an old bed for legs…and Oh my goodness — so much work!! I like what you did…can’t wait for mine to be D.O.N.E. !!!

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