Our office has long been the most neglected room in our house. It seems that all of the junk in our house migrates there and piles up. My vision for this room was to create a place that was light and bright with a lot more work surface. After deciding that I definitely wanted a plank wall behind the desk (a post on the plank wall is forthcoming), I had to decide what exactly I wanted the desk to look like. When it was all said and done, I created this large DIY mid-century modern desk for about $100.
You could just as easily follow this tutorial to make a beautiful mid-century modern dining table for not much more than that! You would just have account for a little more solid maple trim. Compare that price to $350 (or more) at retail stores for ones that in my opinion don’t even look this nice!
Here’s a little before and after:
The price is dependent on you already having some basic items on hand. It will obviously cost more if you have to buy new packages of some of these basic supplies, but you will have leftovers for other projects.
Hairpin legs – $50
Furniture Grade Maple Plywood – $20ish (entire sheet was $55.98, but more than half left over for other projects)
Solid Maple Trim – $24.72 (6’ length is $8.24 x 3 pieces)
Stain – $2ish ($8.98 for a whole container. Already had this on hand, but used less than ¼ of the container)
Wood Glue & Nails – $2ish or less (already had on hand)
The filing cabinet in the picture is not attached. It is just an Ikea Alex drawer unit that fits right beneath the lip of the desk and adds a little bit of storage.
In my mind, I was picturing a desk that was visually light, with a natural wood top that was just a little bit rustic (but not too rustic). I also wanted more usable work surface, so I decided that I wanted a desk that was about 6’ long to fill up most of the length of the wall. The great thing about making stuff yourself is that you can customize it however you want!
When deciding on legs for the desk, I didn’t want to just use wooden table/desk legs from the hardware store because I wanted to avoid the desk looking really boxy/square and boring. I looked at premade wooden tapered desk/table legs for hours on end but couldn’t find any that I really loved. Finally I decided on these metal hairpin legs from Amazon. They turned out to be way easier than trying to build something myself, and I was happy I didn’t have to settle on something I didn’t love.
Now that I had the legs picked out, it was time to pick out the wood for the top of the desk. I originally thought I would use pine planks and somehow attach them together on the underside, but I eventually decided that I wanted something a little more “finished” looking. At length (lol!) I finally decided to use furniture-grade maple veneer plywood.
The furniture grade plywood that I chose is thicker than other types of plywood, which makes it more sturdy (it’s ¾” thick). This is especially important for something like a desk or a table that will need to withstand lots of use (compared to something like a console table that’s just holding things like decor). By using solid maple trim around the edges of the desk, it looks like the actual desktop is solid maple as well.
Including the trim, the final dimensions of this DIY mid-century modern desk are 25.5” x 70.5”
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DIY Mid-Century Modern Desk Tutorial
Tools & Supplies:
Hairpin Legs, 28″ height (These are the ones I ended up ordering from Amazon)
Maple furniture grade plywood (one 4’x8’ sheet, ¾” thick)
Solid maple trim (three 1”x2” pieces, each 6’ long)
Miter saw (you could probably also use a hand saw with a miter box)
Pneumatic nail gun and air compressor (will make your project 100000x easier). This nail gun is similar the the one we’ve had for the past couple of years. This is the Kobalt air compressor that we have.
Nails for nail gun (I actually used a headless pinner for most of it so that you don’t see any of the nail heads)
Sandpaper (220 grit and 400 grit)
1. Cut plywood down to size
Lowe’s happily cut the plywood to the size I needed in their lumber cutting area – shout out to my BFF Jim at our local Lowe’s! The measurements I had them cut the plywood to are 24”x69.” I wanted the length of the desk to be just under 6’ so that I wouldn’t have to buy larger than a 6’ length of solid maple trim – the trim extends ¾” on each side past the length of the plywood. Also, this ensures there’s not a lot of waste from the 6’ solid maple trim after you cut it since the solid maple is so expensive!
2. Make miter cuts for 1×2 trim and attach it to the plywood
Disclaimer – I have absolutely no professional woodworking experience whatsoever. I have no idea if this is technically the correct way to do this – I’m just sharing what worked for me! (in other words, winging it like usual lol). If there are any experienced woodworkers out there, please impart your wisdom on the rest of us in the comments below! 🙂
I recommend to make the cuts as you go instead of pre-measuring and cutting all at once and hoping the miter cuts fit together perfectly – it’s more of an art than a science. It’s a little bit tricky to get the miter cuts to line up perfectly at the corners and you do not want to go ruining your expensive trim by cutting it too short. It is super helpful if you have someone who can assist you during this part.
Here’s the process I followed to get all my mitered corners lined up (more or less exactly lol):
Using your miter saw, cut one end of a piece of 1×2 trim at a 45° angle. Then bring the piece over to your plywood and mark where the next mitered cut needs to be on the opposite side. Be sure to hold the inner corner of the mitered end in the exact final position you want on the corner as you mark the next cut on the opposite corner. It is better to have the trim be a tiny bit longer than you need since you can take a tiny bit more off with sandpaper or your saw if needed. If not, you will have a weird gap right at the corner where the wood should meet up.
Once you have both ends mitered, attach the trim to the corresponding edge of the plywood using wood glue and your nail gun. Don’t use too much wood glue or it will squish out the sides when you attach the trim. This can affect the way the wood accepts the stain later on.
Repeat this process for the other three sides.
3. Let wood glue dry
Flip the desk top over and lay it down so that the overhang of the trim sticks up in the air. This will allow the wood glue to dry with the trim in the right position (without becoming warped or bent). I let mine dry overnight.
Believe it or not, I think that this step makes a huge difference in the finished quality of the desk! Pay special attention to slightly rounding out all the sharp corners of the trim. Start with your more coarse sandpaper, then finish with the 400 grit sandpaper.
5. Clean the wood
Be sure to remove any dust leftover from sanding, and make sure it’s completely dry before applying any oil or stain.
6. Apply your stain
Lately I have been loving this Watco Danish Oil that I got at Lowe’s. I’ve used it on pine and also this maple wood and been happy with the results. It acts as a stain and sealer in one and is low-VOC. I did three coats, and let it dry for several hours between each coat. The color I used is called “dark walnut.” Here’s an Amazon link for the exact one I used.
7. Attach the legs
These are the hairpin legs that I ordered from Amazon. I’m very happy with the quality of these hairpin legs – they are very substantial. They would also be perfect for a dining table! I used the scrap ends of the solid maple trim as a spacer between the lip of the desk and the top of the legs (see photo). I had to use shorter screws that what came with the legs since the plywood is only ¾” thick.
Now you’re done! I absolutely love how this DIY mid-century modern desk turned out. I especially like how the 1×2 trim makes the desk look a bit more substantial and finished!