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How to Build a Home Office

Stock cabinets, a cord organizer, and custom-built tops and shelves keep everything in order

FH02NOV_HOMOFF_01-2Family Handyman
Create a compact home office center with a desktop and swing-out work area, plenty of drawers and storage, open bookshelves, a large bulletin board and an easy cord organizer.

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Time
Multi-day
Complexity
Moderate
Cost
Over $500

Step 1: Overview

Finished Office Center

Office center with the swing-out work center tucked away.

Does it seem like you’re always shuffling piles of paper trying to find that unpaid electric bill or your daughter’s soccer schedule? Do your dining table and kitchen countertops have a permanent layer of paper? Free up your countertops by building this home office in a guest bedroom. It fits on any 7-ft. 4-in. to 10-ft. section of wall and still leaves room for the bed. We’ll show you how to plan and lay out your office including:

  • Buy the right cabinets;
  • Order or build the desktops and shelves;
  • Build the cord trough, bulletin board and swing-out desk;
  • Buy the lighting;
  • Install everything in 1-2 days.

[Related: Once you’ve built your office, choose the paint that makes the most sense for you!]

Figure A: Desk Plan

Guide to Desk Components:
A. Wall cabinets (purchased)
B. File drawer base cabinets (purchased)
C. Storage base cabinet (purchased)
D. Cabinet end panel (purchased)
E. Desktop (10 ft. 2-1/4 in. x 25-3/4 in. x 1 in. thick)
F. Swing-out desk
G. Corkboard
H. Light valance (1×2)
I. Middle shelves (6 ft. 1 in. x 12 in. x 1 in. thick)
J. Top cap shelf (10 ft. 2-1/4 in. x 16 in. x 1 in. thick)
K. Cord trough, 10 ft. long
L. Cord trough covers (Photo 13; two at 5 ft. 1-1/8 in. x 3 in. x 1 in. thick. Match countertop E.)

Step 2: Lay Out and Order the Cabinets

First choose the location for the office and then make a scaled drawing of the wall you’re considering for the desk (Fig. A). Make note of the overall length of the wall, any doors or windows, and the ceiling height. Draw horizontal lines at 29 and 54 in. (Photo 1). These represent the top of the base cabinets and the bottom of the wall cabinets.

Determine the overall length of the desk. Ours is 10 ft., but it can be shortened to 7 ft. 4 in. by eliminating the base storage cabinet. The desk can fill a whole wall, sit in the middle of a wall, or start in a corner and stop somewhere along the wall, as shown in our project.

At this point you need to talk to a cabinet supplier and find out the dimensions of its file drawer bases and wall cabinets. Draw these in on your plan. Don’t leave a span of more than 4 ft. 6 in. between base cabinets or else the desktop will sag.

Also note the end panel that’s necessary to cover the left-hand file cabinet and cord trough. Ours is 29 in. tall (this matches the height of the cabinet) and 30 in. deep. Now order the cabinets and end panel. You’ll be ordering at least two base cabinets and two wall cabinets and one 30-in. deep end panel. If your desk is longer than 7 ft. 4 in., as ours is, you’ll add base cabinets. Base units should be 24 in. deep and wall cabinets should be 12 to 14 in. deep.

Next, order or build the desktops and shelves to the dimensions shown on our plans. For strength and to minimize sagging, make them from 1-in. thick particleboard and glue plastic laminate to both faces. We chose to edge them with a wood bullnose.

Step 3: Build and Install the Cord Trough

Photo 1: Draw level layout lines

Mark out on the wall two 10-ft. long level lines: one 29 in. and the other 54 in. from the floor. Mark the location of the studs along each line using a stud finder. Preassemble the cord-management trough according to the plan dimensions. Hold it up to the 29-in. horizontal line and drive 3-in. screws into each stud.

Use Figs. B and C to cut and assemble the cord trough. Buy three 10-ft. pieces of 1×4 No. 2 pine, and cut eight 12-in. 2×4 blocks from a piece of framing lumber.

The cord-management trough is the backbone of the desk. Once it’s fastened to the wall (Photos 1 and 2), the rest of the desk stacks onto it or fastens to the front of it. The top edge of the trough matches the height of the file drawer bases. While ours was set at 29 in., measure the height of your cabinets to confirm.

Cord Trough Construction Details

Build this cord trough from 1×4 No. 2 pine and 2×4 construction lumber. Cut out the 4-in. dia. semicircle notches with a jigsaw. Apply carpenter’s glue at all joints and fasten with 2-in. screws.

Step 4: Build and Install the Corkboard

Photo 2: Screw the corkboard frame to the spacer blocks

Glue and screw 12-in. 1×4 pine spacer blocks to the wall studs along the cord trough and just under the 54-in. horizontal line. Position them so they line up with the centered mounting screws on the bulletin board frame. Set the preassembled corkboard frame onto the trough, then drive 1-1/2 in. screws into the 1×4 blocks.

The corkboard frame is simply screwed together through the edges of the top and bottom rails (Fig. D). We built ours out of cherry and finished it to match the cabinets. Stain and finish all the sections (corkboard frame, shelf edges, swing-out desk) before installing.

Build the cork inserts by gluing together two 1/4-in. thick panels (Fig. E), then fasten the cork sheeting to the face with vinyl flooring adhesive. Let the cork overhang the wood, then trim it flush with a utility knife after the adhesive dries. Use self-sticking Velcro tape to hold the panels to the frame. Because the frame is held away from the wall, it’s easy to run electrical cords behind it.

Corkboard Frame and Panel Construction Details

Corkboard Frame:
Make the corkboard frame from 3/4-in. x 2-in. boards. With a miter box, square-cut the vertical pieces to fit between the top and bottom rails. Drill clearance holes and drive two 3-in. screws at each joint. Apply carpenter’s glue to the 1-in. x 1-1/2 in. end cap and clamp to the frame until the glue sets.

Cork Panel Insert:
Cut two 1/4-in. thick panels, one 20-7/8 in. x 21-1/2 in., the other 21-7/8 in. x 22-1/2 in. Spread a thin layer of carpenter’s glue on the face of the smaller piece. Center the two pieces face to face and lay a toolbox or some other weight on top until the glue sets. Next, glue the sheet of cork to the front face of the panel.

Step 5: Install the Upper Cabinets and Shelves

Photo 3: Fasten the upper cabinets

Set the left upper cabinet onto the corkboard frame. Hold it flush with the end of the frame. Fasten with a minimum of three 2-1/2 in. screws driven through the cabinet back into studs. Next, install the right upper cabinet. Draw a level line to mark the shelf cleats.

Photo 4: Mark shelf locations

Mark the location of the shelves on the side of both upper cabinets. Use a carpenter’s square to ensure the shelves are level front to back.

Photo 5: Fasten the shelf cleats

Install the two shelf-support cleats along the horizontal layout lines. Drill clearance holes and drive a 2-1/2 in. screw at each stud.

Photo 6: Install the lower shelf

Set the lower shelf on the corkboard frame, holding the front edge flush with the bottom of the cabinet. Then drive three 2-in. screws to fasten it in place. Install the middle shelf the same way.

Photo 7: Screw the light valance to the shelf

Clamp the 3/4 x 1-1/2 in. light valance to the cabinets and shelf. Hold it 1-1/2 in. back from the cabinet fronts. Drill clearance and countersink holes every 2 ft., then drive 2-in. screws into the cabinets and the lower shelf to secure it. Countersink screwheads slightly and then cover them with self-adhering caps. Caps are available in a variety of colors and wood finishes.

Set the wall cabinets onto the corkboard frame (Photo 3). Flush the left-hand cabinet to the end of the corkboard frame. Adjust the right-hand cabinet into the corner to make the space between the cabinets conform to the length of the shelves. The corner cabinet can sit a bit away from the side wall.

Drive screws through the cabinet backs into studs. The screws should be long enough to penetrate 1-1/2 in. into the studs.

Mark the shelf cleat locations (Photo 3) on the wall. Continue these lines onto the cabinet sides (Photo 4). Use a carpenter’s square to make sure these lines are also level. Drill clearance holes and screw the 1×2 shelf cleats to each stud with 2-1/2 in. screws (Photo 5).

Draw a layout line on the inside of the cabinet. Make sure it follows the center of the shelf. Drill clearance holes, hold the shelf in place and drive three 2-in. screws to fasten the two shelves (Photo 6).

Miter-cut the two 3/4-in. x 1-1/2 in. light valance pieces, and then clamp them 1-1/2 in. back from the front and side of the cabinets.

Drill clearance holes (Photo 7) through the edge of the light valance spaced 2 ft. apart. Drive 2-in. screws, making sure to countersink the screwheads.

Lay the cap shelf on the cabinets and fasten with screws driven from inside the cabinets.

Step 6: Install Base Cabinets and Countertop

Photo 8: Level the first base cabinet

Push the left drawer base cabinet into place flush with the end of the cord trough. Adjust the feet to level it with the trough. Drive two 1-1/2 in. screws through the back into the trough.

Close-up

Adjustable foot

Photo 9: Place the remaining base cabinets

Clamp the cabinets together, pre-drill and countersink screw holes, and drive three 1-1/4 in. screws. Push the cabinets into position, level with the cord trough and fasten with 1-1/2 in. screws.

Photo 10: Notch the end panel

Mark out a square notch on the end panel to fit around the baseboard. Cut out with a jigsaw. Tape off the panel to prevent scratches in the finish.

Photo 11: Install the surge protector

Screw the surge protector to the wall below the trough. Feed the power cord through the trough and to the electrical outlet.

Photo 12: Attach the desktop

Position the top onto the base cabinets so that the back edge overlaps 3/8 in. onto the cord trough. Make sure the trough covers fit. Adjust the top’s position if necessary. Clamp and fasten the top with screws driven from inside the cabinets. Measure the thickness of the cabinet’s top plus the desktop to make sure the screws aren’t too long. Reassemble the doors and drawers.

Photo 13: Cover the cord trough

Set the cord-trough covers in place. Apply a 3-in. piece of self-sticking Velcro tape to the four edges of each cork panel. Apply the mating Velcro to the frame and set the panels in place.

Set the left base cabinet flush with the end of the cord trough. Adjust the feet or shim under the cabinet to level it and make it flush with the trough (Photo 8). Footed cabinets are ideal if your floor is carpeted. Drive two screws through the cabinet back into the trough.

Clamp the two right-side cabinets together, then drive 1-1/4 in. screws to make a tight joint (Photo 9). Push the cabinets into the corner and against the baseboard; fasten to the cord trough with several 1-1/2 in. screws.

Cut a square notch in the end panel to clear the baseboard (Photo 10). Fasten this panel with screws driven from inside the cabinet.

Buy a power strip with surge protection and mount it to the wall below the cord trough (Photo 11). All your equipment and lights plug into this strip.

Set the top and the trough covers in place on the base cabinets. Leave a small gap between the trough covers and the corkboard frame so the covers don’t get jammed in and become difficult to lift out. Clamp the top to the cabinets, remove the trough covers, then fasten with screws driven from inside the cabinets (Photo 12). Be sure the screws aren’t too long or else you’ll have a hole in your desktop. Set the cord-trough covers in place (Photo 13).

Step 7: Build the Swing-Out Desk

Photo 14: Assemble the swing-out desk legs and top

Preassemble the desk legs, then screw the casters to them with 3/4-in. No. 10 pan head screws. Fasten the legs to the top using small angle fasteners and 3/4-in. screws. Position and drill the 1/2-in. pivot hole.

Photo 15: Install the T-nut

Mark the position of the special T-nut on the underside of the desktop. Drill a 1/2-in. diameter pilot hole 3/4 in. deep and then fasten the T-nut in place with the provided screws.

Photo 16: Attach the swing-out desk

Roll the swing-out top into position, push the sleeve and bolt through the pivot hole and screw into the T-nut. Tighten snugly with pliers or a wrench.

Following the drawing (Fig. F), cut the pieces for the swing-out desk legs. A table saw is a must to make the beveled cuts, so if necessary, have a cabinetmaker do this for you. Use carpenter’s glue and clamps to assemble the legs. Attach them to the desktop (Photo 14) using 1-1/2 in. angle irons. Lay out the pivot hole and drill a 1/2-in. hole all the way through the top. Locate and install the T-nut (Photo 15). Roll the top into position (Photo 16) and then slide the sleeve, bolt and washer through the pivot hole. Thread and tighten firmly with a wrench.

Swing-out desktop construction details

Follow the dimensions to cut the pieces on a table saw. Use solid lumber for pieces A, B, C and D and veneered sheet stock for the two panels E and F. First fasten the front and back pieces to the panel with wood glue and clamps. Next, fit, glue and clamp the bottom strip.
A. 3/4 in. x 5-1/2 in. x 27-1/2 in.
B. 3/4 in. x 5-1/2 in. x 27-1/2 in. with 24-degree bevel on one long edge
C. 3/4 in. x 3-1/2 in. x 20 in.
D. 3/4 in. x 3-1/2 in. x 21-3/8 in. with 24-degree end cuts
E. 3/4 in. x 20 in. wide x 24-1/8 in. tall
F. 3/4 in. x 21-3/8 in. wide x 24-1/8 in. tall with 24-degree side cuts
G. Laminated top; see “Top View”

Step 8: Lighting Is the Finishing Touch

Finished

A hard-working desk

Line voltage halogen puck lights are ideal for this desk. They come with a cord and plug that you simply route behind the corkboard to the trough. We bought a set of five and spaced them under the wall cabinets and shelves. We splurged on a couple of imported swing-arm light fixtures. These simply screwed to the side of our cabinets, and the cords were routed through the cabinet and behind the corkboard to the power supply.

Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • Circular saw
  • Clamps
  • Cordless drill
  • Jigsaw
  • Level
  • Miter saw

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here’s a list.

  • 2-1/4” maple cord grommets
  • 24” x 48” x 5/32” cork sheeting
  • 75mm twin casters
  • Cherry veneer screw caps (Also available in white
  • oak and walnut)
  • One 30” end support panel
  • One 32” wide finished laminate base 24” deep
  • One 32” wide x 26” high cabinet 24” deep
  • Screw-on t-nut
  • Two 16” wide finished laminate bases 24” deep
  • Two 16” wide x 26” high drawer file bases 24” deep
  • Two 24” wide x 26” high storage cabinets 14” deep