Installing a built-in desk area can add value and function to your home. Whether you’ve always wanted a desk area to work from or you’re spending more time working from home recently, a built-in desk area is a quick and easy way to give yourself the secluded work station you need to maintain production from home.
To build your own built-in desk, first assemble the required tools and materials and generate your plan. Buy or build the appropriate base cabinets or drawers and affix to the wall after removing the baseboards. Either manufacture or purchase countertops to run the length of the desk area, supporting the load as necessary for solid stone counters. If building upper built-ins or a multi-level built-in, continue install to the ceiling. Finally, embellish with the desired finishing touches and paint if required, reinstalling the baseboards where necessary.
The remainder of this article will walk you through the plans, preparation, assembly and installation of your new built-in desk area. The entire project can be completed in a weekend, leaving you with a functional focal point for years to come.
Required Tools and Materials
- Cabinets or materials to build your own
- Tape measure
- Electric drill or impact driver and drill bits
- Stud finder
- Anchor screws
- Pry bar/hammer
- Utility knife/box cutter
- Air compressor and pneumatic finishing gun/nails (not required but helps speed up the finishing process)
Create Your Plan for the Built-Ins
The first step to your beautiful new built-in desk area is deciding where to build it. Whether it be an additional room used as an office, a landing area at the top of the stairs, an area in a finished basement, or a wall in the living room, a built-in desk area takes up minimal space and creates a focal point to draw the eye.
Oftentimes, function is the primary consideration when deciding where to build your desk area. If you have kids and require a secluded area to work, a basement, spare bedroom, or dedicated office area might be the best fit. Without these types of limiting factors, let your creativity take over. For best resale value, ensure the area you choose serves a function, is practical, and doesn’t appear out of place.
With the placing of the built-ins decided on, measure the length of wall where the built-ins will be constructed. Typically, the full length of a wall or section of a room creates the best space from an aesthetics standpoint.
Using a scratch piece of paper or graph paper and the measurement taken, draw the schematical plans for the built-in desk. Depending on the base cabinets you ultimately purchase (or build), you may need to leave space on each end next to the wall (typically an inch or less) so the drawers can open properly. Plan for 32-36” for each chair opening.
The easiest way to do so is to drill one-inch holes into the affected areas of the cabinetry and utilize a power block with the required length of male-end cable. The hole can then be covered with an office electrical wire cover.
A more technically advanced way to tackle power is to plan an under-the-desk cord system using electrical cord tracks and power cord racks. These systems can be installed in the negative spaces under the desktop to conceal unruly power cords. Ultimately, it comes down to aesthetics, design, and what you want out of your desk area.
With the negative space now accounted for, it is time to go shopping for those base cabinets (or get to work building your own). Buy or build base cabinets or drawers to the required dimensions. Standard desk height is between 28 and 30 inches, but if you’re taller than 5’10” it may make more sense to increase the height by a couple inches (important to keep in mind so you buy or build the right cabinet height!).
Install the Cabinets/Drawers
When I constructed my built-in desk area, I simply purchased drawer cabinets from Ikea that fit my desired widths. My wife wanted a cubby area between the two chair openings, so I purchased a shorter cabinet of drawers and built a cubby to be installed above the drawers. This provided the desired function as well as an additional support for the eventual stone countertops.
Apply two coats of primer and paint or one coat of stain and a sealer to the unfinished or fabricated cabinetry and allow to dry before setting the cabinets in place.
Built-ins should sit flush against the wall, so the existing baseboards are going to need to be removed prior to setting and installing the cabinets. To remove the base boards, run your utility knife or box cutter along the top edge of the base boards. Removing the baseboards without first completing this step will damage the paint and drywall. The baseboards are installed with a bead of caulking to create a seamless transition from the baseboards themselves to the wall.
Once you have scored the entire length of the top of the baseboards, place your pry bar or leverage end of your hammer between the baseboards and the wall and pry the baseboards away. They are held in place by finishing nails and should come away rather easily. Be careful not to put too much pressure on the drywall; it is fairly easy to break a hole in baseboards if too much leverage is used.
Now that the baseboards are out of the way, set the cabinets or drawers in place, ensuring equal spacing and proper separation from the side walls, if required.
Pro Tip: For a more modern feel, affix the cabinets three to six inches off the ground for a floating built-in look. If going this route, it is best to use threaded bolts into pre-drilled holes in the stud to secure the cabinets to the wall (similar to hanging a mounting bracket for a tv).
Install the Countertops
Any standard countertop material can be used for your built-ins, from solid stone or butcher block to prefabricated varieties and eclectic live-edge woods. For heavier materials like solid stone, install hardwood 1×2 wood strips level with the top of the installed cabinets into the walls of the negative space, like the spaces left for chairs.
Once the counters are in, caulk or seal the edges to finish or prepare for touch-up paint. For wood counters or butcher block, seal the surface with a polyurethane oil or mineral oil so the counter stands up to scuffs and dings.
Finishing Touches and Touch-Ups
Fix any imperfections in the drywall if accidents happened during install prior to applying one coat of touch-up paint to any areas in need.
Install kick plates if desired using construction adhesive for solid materials and an air compressor and pneumatic nail gun for wooden materials. Any adornments, additional trim, or crown molding should be installed now and painted to match.
Standard door or drawer knobs or pulls can be attached to give your built-ins a professional, finished look to match your décor.
Reinstall baseboards using a compressor and pneumatic nail gun or hammer and finishing nails and paint to match the rest of the baseboards in the house (typically a gloss or semi-gloss bright white).
Your finished built-in desk area provides a safe haven of production and an aesthetically pleasing focal point in any room. The built-in features give the feeling of high-end finishes and breaks the cookie-cutter contractor mold, providing function and increasing resale value of your home!