How to: Upholster a Desk Top

As I promised during the office desk reveal yesterday, I'm back with more details about how I transformed our desk top from a shabby piece of plywood to a pretty white upholstered piece with a smooth writing surface. On a tight budget. Don't be scared away by the word upholster, because this project is about as easy as it gets. If you have hands and a staple gun, you can do this. It's really, really hard to mess this one up - promise!

Supplies needed:

  • 24"x48" piece of plywood. (This is a pre-cut size at almost any hardware store. I got mine at our local Ace Hardware)
  • 24"x48" sheet of acrylic/plexiglass. (Also a pre-cut size. I found this one at Lowe's.)
  • White fabric
  • Scissors
  • Staple gun

First, I gathered my materials and "tried them out" on the plywood to make sure everything looked right and fit correctly. I laid the acrylic sheet down first to make sure the advertised measurements for both the plywood and the acrylic were accurate in real life (they were, thankfully!). If you don't own power tools, buying pre-cut materials like this will make your life easier. Home improvement stores will also make cuts for you for free if you need a different size of plywood or acrylic.

Below is the label on the acrylic in case you wanted some more specifics on the product. The link to Lowe's in the supplies list above goes directly to the product too.

Next, I laid my white fabric down on the plywood to make sure I liked the look and to trim the excess off the edges. I didn't feel like measuring, and since it didn't have to be exact, this was an easy way to see how much I needed to trim. A good rule of thumb is to leave about 4-5 inches on each side to make sure you have enough to easily staple it to the underside of the plywood.

Fun fact: this fabric is actually part of an old shower curtain that I had in college. Since we only have one bathroom right now, we don't need an extra shower curtain. It's a nice thick cotton duck-like fabric, so I knew it would work well for this project. If you need to buy fabric, you would only need a yard. Something like this would probably work just fine.

I put the acrylic sheet back on top of the fabric to try out the final look...

...And did a trial run on folding the corners smoothly to make sure it would look "finished."

Feeling confident about the final look, I trimmed off the extra fabric by snipping the edge and then tearing it the rest of the way. Fabric will tear straight across if you just rip it. Great technique for making sure you have a straight edge.

With the fabric trimmed to size, I flipped the plywood over and began the stapling process. I pulled the fabric taut (but not too tight so it looks like it's pulling) from opposite ends and placed a staple in the middle on each of the four sides. If you think of the staple placement like the numbers on a clock, I put my first staples at 12, 3, 6 and 9 o'clock. Then I just worked my way around, pulling the fabric taut, then stapling until the fabric was secure on all sides.

When I got to the corners, I found the easiest way to make them look nice and smooth was to use a "two-fold" method. (Patent pending. Just kidding. I'm sure this has been done before :).) I pulled the fabric tight from one edge and folded it flat at about a 45 degree angle. While holding that first fold down, I took the remainder of the loose fabric and folded it flat on top of the first fold. I then placed a staple where the two folds met near the outer edge.

This is what it will look like with all the corners folded and stapled:

With the fabric secured, I flipped the plywood back over and placed the acrylic on top. I was pleasantly surprised that it actually looked like a well-upholstered piece! From a distance, you almost don't realize it's fabric with acrylic on top - looks more like a painted, glossy surface. Cue a happy dance.

In case you can't tell from the photos, the acrylic has a protective plastic on its top and bottom (the Optix sticker is on top of that plastic). I waited until the very end to peel it off so it would be protected during the "construction phase."

Here's the desk in its final form, all put together and beautiful!

That wraps up the story of how I upholstered our desk top. If you have any questions about it, or if I can clarify any part of the process, please leave a comment below!

Desk top budget breakdown:

Grand total: $30  (or ~$46 if you needed additional supplies)


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  1. Hi Chaney. I'm a friend of your cousin, Kerie. I'm wondering where you got the legs for this desk.

    1. Hi Meg - the desk legs are some old sawhorses that used to live in my grandparents' (and Kerie's!) garage. They're the same kind of thing you would find at a construction site to hold wood that you're going to cut. If you are looking for some, I bet you could find them at a hardware store or if you're building-savvy, you could make your own. Hope that helps! Thanks for stopping by!

  2. :)

    Awesome project, Chaney! I love that it's affordable, easy and looks amazing! Thanks so much for sharing your great tutorial and tips!

    Ps. I'm sharing a link back in tomorrow's DIY highlights!

  3. It looks so sleek and clean. I like the top paired with the rustic look of the legs. You did an awesome job!! I found you through DIYShowoff and now following:)

  4. Thank you! And welcome! Always excited to have new followers :).

    1. Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Any way I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon

    2. Thanks. I'm no professional, but I do love doing fun projects like this!

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