Upcycle a Plastic Folding Table Into a Chic Desk

I’ve officially outgrown myself. I long ago took over our three season sunporch as my project workspace (and no, I will NOT be posting a picture of that hot mess), but that little makeshift studio has gotten pretty crowded with crafting supplies and materials, and I realized I was having a hard time focusing when it came time to write or brainstorm. There are just too many opportunities for distraction. I found some perfect space upstairs, but since I didn’t have any funds set aside for a new desk, I had to get a little resourceful about what to use as my work surface.

Enter my trusty plastic folding table. I’ve used it as a makeshift desk in a pinch before, but if it was going to exist as anything more than a momentary desk, I wanted to pretty it up a bit. Since I was looking for a bit of blank-canvas room for my brain, I decided the surface expanse needed to be a clean white, but I wanted to do something a little chic for the legs. And here’s where I give a teaser: I knew I wanted copper, but I had a little mid-project catastrophe, so the copper medium I thought I’d use isn’t what I ended up using. Duh duh duh. Cliffhanger.

Keep reading to find out the big ooops and how I regrouped to save the project.

Here’s a hint….

How-to Tip: Click on an image below to see a gallery of how-to photos and instructions up close.


Step 1


 Open GalleryOh hey there, trusty table and stool. You go so nicely together, but you sure are ugly. Let’s take care of that riiiiiight……now. The first step before any painting project? A little bit of elbow grease for a solid scrubbing. Paint sticks to a clean surface, not a dirty one.

Step 2

 Open GalleryAfter cleaning, priming. Primer is SOOOO important, especially when you’re talking about plastic and metal. There’s nothing worse than putting in the work on a project only to watch the paint flake off at the least little bump a few days later.

Step 3

 Open GalleryNext up, I painted my trusty little stool with a semi-gloss white spray paint and once it dried, I prepped it for copper treatment on the legs. I used some plastic wrap and painter’s tape to protect the clean white paint on the seat and then got ready to pull out the spray paint.

Step 4

 Open GalleryAnnnnnd here’s where I wanted to cry. Or throw something. There may have been foot stamping. I’m an old pro with spray paint — clean the surface, prime the surface, apply multiple light and even coats, never overspray or go too heavy. But I guess sometimes things just don’t go your way. I will say that the weather’s taken a turn for the cooler lately, so it may just simply be that the garage was too cold for spray paint. At any rate, I wasn’t going anywhere near my pretty white table with something that had just ruined the stool. I had to brainstorm another idea, but I still really wanted those legs to be copper.

Step 5

 Open GalleryOnce I had my table spray painted in the same semi-gloss white and had given it a day to dry, I moved it upstairs and got ready to tackle the legs. After some extensive testing, I decided to go with liquid gilding. (Yes, gilding AGAIN. I’m addicted.)

Step 6

 Open GalleryGilding is smelly stuff, so if you’re using it, open the windows and wear a mask to avoid a paint fume headache. I used a small soft brush and painted on the gilding. I wasn’t sure if I’d need one coat or two, but one coat gave the perfect coverage. The copper added just enough sophistication that this temporary work space might look pretty, not hacked together. I’m OK with industrial-looking pieces, but even my upcycled industrial furniture needs to look pretty.

Step 7

 Open GalleryOnce the gilding was dry, I set up my space. I don’t want a full desk, just my laptop and some materials to doodle. (And yes, practice my calligraphy.) It’s nice to have a sparse, open space in contrast to my project space, which is crammed full to the gills.

Step 8

 Open GallerySince this is a temporary workspace, I’m going to leave it just the way it is for now, and move on to my next project while I brainstorm a more permanent workspace and save up some money. If that time frame drags out and I see any dings or paint chipping, I’ll give the table a clear coat to protect it. As for the stool, I fortunately have a second identical one I’m going to prime and paint white, no copper. But not this week. There’s a dinosaur costume that needs finishing. Which is OBVIOUSLY much more important than me having a pretty place to sit.

About Ellen Foord 


A tight budget has never stopped Ellen Foord from creating a beautiful, modern, creative home and treating every day as one of life's smaller celebrations. A freelance writer and ...

More About Ellen Foord

7 Responses

  1. charm says:

    Love it! I will do this with my folding table, using burgundy paint with paisley cloth for the seat.

  2. Kim says:

    I love how this turned out! I have been thinking of doing something similar to my own. How has it held up over time? Did you spray the top of the table as well? Thanks!

  3. Andrea says:

    Did you paint the table surface or just the legs?

  4. Wendy says:

    I like the hammered look. Rustoleum has a spray paint called 'Hammered Copper'. I used it on hinges and pulls for my kitchen, a paper towel holder and plant hanger.

  5. Jacquelyn says:

    You did an excellent job! I really love the crinkles; the legs look great. I continuously come back to this post just to work up the nerve to get started on my table/desk.

  6. dave says:

    crinkles are fine – I mean, you pay for the "hammered" finish with some Rustoleum finishes – crinkles are more natural

  7. Marcia says:

    if you are talking about the crinkles in the copper paint, I like it. Same thing happened to me once with an antique phonograph table. I liked that too & just added a bit of darker paint here and there to make it look even more antiqued. You do know that your legs look a lot like Hammer paint, don't you? And I love that look too.

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