How to Upcycle a Desk into a Pair of Nightstands

Don’t pass up old desks or vanities at thrift stores! After they are separated, they make the perfect size nightstands for a small bedroom. These nightstands are also the perfect height next to a bed! Here’s how to upcycle a desk into a pair of nightstands.

Get more painted nightstands ideas here!

From the moment I saw this desk online, I knew that I wanted to turn it into two nightstands. I love the long legs and the simple elegant style of the desk!

Before Photo of a Vintage Desk

What to Look for in a Desk or Vanity

But when I went to pick it up, I found out that someone had chopped off 2 of the back legs, making it a 6 legged desk instead of 8. 🙁

With two legs missing, it wasn’t going to be as easy to DIY the desk into nightstands. But I was determined to make it happen.

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**If you don’t have access to many power tools, you really need to make sure it has all 8 legs. Adding those legs back on wouldn’t have been possible without my table saw or my Dremel Oscillating Tool.

Make sure the desk or vanity has two stand-alone sides to it. When the top and middle section are removed the sides need to be able to stand on their own.

Check out more painted desk ideas here.

Supplies Used To DIY a Desk into a pair of nightstands:

Take apart the Vanity or Desk

Start by unscrewing the top from the body of the desk. This makes it easy to really see how everything comes together, and will help take the other parts apart.

The screws are usually on the inside of the piece. Once the top drawers are removed, you should see screws holding the top onto the body of the desk.

back of old desk before cutting apart

Remove the Back Paneling (optional if you’re not replacing legs):

For the screws near the back of the piece, you can either take off the back panels of the desk or you can use a tool like this that will allow you to get into tight spaces with your drill. We needed to be able to work with the back legs, so we took off the back paneling.

Back and Top Removed From Desk

Remove the Middle Bracing:

Now you can see how the middle braces are attached to the sides of the desk.

Honestly, the easiest way to get all of the middle braces detached from the sides of the desk is to use a saw of some sort. If you don’t have a small saw, sometimes a hammer can do the trick.

I really really honestly truly love this Dremel oscillating tool! It allows me to get into some really tight spaces that other saws just can’t get into, while maintaining a lot of control.

It’s harder to cut through larger areas, because the blade is so small, but it’s such a handy tool to have around for upcycling furniture.

I originally got it to help with adding legs to an old dresser. Since then I have used it on just about every single furniture makeover that requires power tools.

Hammer, Pliers, Screwdriver and Dremel

Remove the Remaining Parts of the Cut-off Legs:

Next, I removed what remained of the cut-off legs.

It’s really important that they come off in one piece so they can be used as a template for the new legs.

This was probably the biggest pain in the whole process because they were held on really well with nails and glue. But after a while of some patience, I got them both out in one piece.

I ended up using a hammer, flat head screwdriver, pliers, and the oscillating tool mentioned above to remove the old legs.

Repair Damage

Yay!! Now you’ll be left with two nightstands, and usually some holes to repair from the braces that were holding the two sides together.

Bondo works really well to repair these areas! It’s cheap, and easy to use. Here’s a great tutorial on how to use bondo to repair these holes.

Middle Braces Removed, Leaving Holes to Repair

Make and attach the missing legs.

Remember this is only if you have a desk that doesn’t have 8 legs to begin with.

The original legs were all tapered, so I decided to look for some legs at the store instead of making my own.

I specifically looked for legs that were about the same size with a slight taper.

Luckily I found these legs that had a taper, and were similar in size.

They were just a little bit shorter than the legs on the desk (so I cut the other 6 legs down just a bit to match my new legs).

They were also a bit more wide and deep than I needed. But they had the taper, and I knew I could cut them down a bit on our table saw.

Using the old legs as a guide, I cut the width and depth of the new legs down to the right size. The bottom portion of the legs were tapered, so this only affected the top portion of the legs.

Then I used the old legs as a guide again to recreate the notches needed to put the new legs in place.

We used the table saw to create all the notches, then I used wood glue and my brad nail gun to secure the new legs into place.

New legs with notches cut out
Backside of nightstands, putting on new legs

Cut new tops (or cut the old top into two pieces.)

You can create the new tops a couple of different ways.

Option one: Cut the old top down to size, then router the edges to match the old detail (Like we did to repurpose this desk into tall skinny nightstands).

Option two: Purchase new wood, cut it down to size and add any detail work you would like.

New Wood Tops on top of nightstands

For this nightstand makeover, we decided to go with option two, mostly because of the routered detail on the old top.

I have access to a router, and a good set of bits. But I wasn’t sure that I was going to be able to match the old detailing the same. I also wanted something a little more rustic.

So I purchased a new piece of edge glued wood, and I cut it down to size with my table saw.

Paint the body of the nightstands/stain the new tops.

With the new legs on, and new tops cut, it’s finally time for some paint.

Start by prepping the nightstands for paint by cleaning them really well with Krud Kutter, giving them a good scuff sand with 220 grit sandpaper, and priming them against bleed through with multiple coats of Shellac.

After the primer dried overnight, I painted the DIY nightstands in General Finishes Seagull Gray.

First coat of paint on nightstand

I used my paint sprayer for a true brush-free finish. But this paint can also be brushed on and has really good leveling properties.

Click here to learn more about How to Paint Furniture Without Brush Marks!

I would recommend a high-quality paint brush like a Zibra Paint Brush, that won’t break the bank.

Zibra paint brushes also come in different styles, like the round brush and the triangle brush that really do help get paint into details! I highly recommend them!

Learn more about the best paint brushes for painting furniture here!

I lightly sanded the paint smooth in between each coat. Then I lightly distressed all the edges with 220 grit sandpaper after the last coat.

Then I sealed the milk paint with my favorite water-based poly for added protection.

Learn ALL of my tips and tricks on How to Spray Polyurethane here!

Both Nightstands Painted Light Gray

Staining the Tops:

While the paint dried, I mixed up some dark walnut and weathered gray wood stain. I honestly didn’t measure, but it was probably around a 1:1 ratio.

Before staining the new tops, it’s best to sand them down really smooth with 220 grit sandpaper (always remember to sand with the grain and not against it, or you’ll end up with scratches in your stain.)

Once the wood is smooth, wipe off any dust with a tack cloth (tack cloths don’t leave lint behind, and they pick up dust really well), and then apply a generous coat of Wood Conditioner.

Wood Conditioner helps the wood take stain evenly. Without wood conditioner, your stained wood might come out splotchy.

Give the wood conditioner a few minutes to soak in, then wipe off any excess. Then stain as usual.

Then set them out to dry for a day or two.

After the stain is completely dry (give it at least 72 hours to dry if you use the water-based poly), you can seal and protect the wood for extra durability.

Closeup of Gray DIY Nightstand with Wood Top

Attach the new tops.

Attaching the new tops is easy! Simply reverse the steps you took when you took off the old top!

The easiest way to screw in the new top is to lay a towel down on the floor, then lay the top on the towel (upside down), and then line the nightstand upside down on the top.

After lining everything up, I like to have someone put their weight on the nightstand to help keep it from moving. Then I use a drill to screw the old screws into the new top.

Yay we’re done!!!

Painted Nightstand with New Leg
View of new leg and the backside of the new nightstand.

How to Upcycle a Desk into a Pair of Nightstands

Gray DIY Nightstands with Wood Tops

Don't pass up old desks or vanities at thrift stores! Here's how to upcycle a desk into a pair of nightstands.


  1. Take apart the vanity desk.
  2. Repair damage.
  3. Make and attach the missing legs. (Only if your desk or vanity doesn't have 8 legs)
  4. Cut new tops (or cut the old top into two pieces).
  5. Clean the nightstands, scuff sand, and prime to prep for paint.
  6. Paint the body of the nightstands and seal with waterbased poly.
  7. Stain the tops, and once dry, topcoat with waterbased poly.
  8. Attach the new tops.

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Full view of Gray DIY Nightstands
Side view of gray DIY nightstand

There’s a lot going on in a makeover like this, but it’s pretty manageable when you break it down into steps!

Similar Desk to Nightstand Makeovers:

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Happy Painting!

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  1. Beautiful!! I would have gone with knobs that were a little more ornate. Great job!! I’d never have guessed those were a desk in a past life!

    1. Thank you so much Darlene! Ornate knobs would have been a great option as well! Thank you for stopping by!!

  2. Really a beautiful makeover…….looks like you were up to the task for such a huge project! Way to go!

    1. Thank you so very much Tina!

  3. They are gorgeous! I like that you left the tops wood, and I like the plainer knobs…they keep the focus on the total look. Have to admit that I would probably have just kept the desk form. You have vision! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank you so much for the kind words!

  4. Jacquelyn says:

    This is super helpful! Thank you!
    You say that you lightly sanded the paint in between coats. What grit sandpaper do you use for that?
    And how many coats of poly did you apply to the paint at the end to seal it? Do you sand in between those coats too?
    New to the DIY Painting furniture game. ?
    Thank you!

    1. Hey!
      I use 220 grit between coats of paint and 400 between coats of poly (except I don’t sand right before the last coat of poly). And I apply 3 coats of poly to all my furniture. Hope that helps! Best of luck!

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