Want to create your workplace with a lot of drawer storage at a low cost? This post is for you. I’m sharing how I DIY my home office desk built-in with Ikea Alex desk and drawers hack, plus an Alex drawer organization DIY!
Home office space planning with Ikea Alex desk and drawers
About the space
First of all, I want to talk briefly about my home office floor plan, so you can decide which part of this DIY you want to apply to your own space. I’ve shared the space in depth on my home office renovation plan post, but to recap: My home office is 11ft by 11ft, and it is intended to be used primarily as a home office and craft room and occasionally as a guest bedroom, given it is one of the only two bedrooms we have in our 1000 sqft house.
Why Ikea Alex desk hack? How much does it cost?
To maximize the workspace and achieve a custom look, I decided to create a built-in desk. I have consulted with a local custom cabinet company before I committed to doing an Ikea hack, and they quoted more than $3000 with some limitations on the drawers and table top materials. Whereas the Ikea Alex hack is well under $500 which includes all the materials, with tons of drawers and customization possibilities. So the answer is clear – Ikea Alex Hack!
Desk built-in design with Ikea Alex drawer and Ekby Alex shelf
Before I got right down to the DIY part, I used SketchUp to create a 3D model of this desk built-in and figured out the dimensions. This step is totally optional but I like viewing the space in 3D to make sure my plan will work since I have not seen any design like this before.
Here’s a render. After tweaking it multiple times I’m pretty happy with the design solution and the amount of desk storage.
With the window on the wall and closet door to the right, I couldn’t make the whole desk go wall to wall. Instead I dedicated 60% of the space to a long desk with 2 Alex drawer units with drop file storage, and use the remaining space for a sewing nook which is lower than the desk to accommodate the window, and shallower depth so it won’t block the closet door. You can see in this rendering that the sewing table is next to the closet door casing.
To add more storage, especially for the sewing nook, I decided to add one Ekby Alex unit to each table top. As a result, the sewing table is just wide enough to allow me to attach the Ekby Alex shelf with drawers(46 ⅞”), leaving enough space for the desk area to allow my husband and I work side to side.
Here’s all the furniture pieces I bought from Ikea for my home office built-in desk and sewing nook:
There’s two configurations for Ikea Alex drawer unit, one is with a drop file storage drawer, and the other one replaces the file drawer to two shallow drawers. I picked the drop file configuration because I want to keep my file organized in my home office instead of having a separate file cabinet.
Step by step instructions on Ikea Alex desk built-in hack
Assemble Alex drawer unit
First, I assembled both Alex drawer units fully but leaving the drawers out. For Ekby Alex shelf, I assembled the drawers and the frame, but left the top of the frame out. This is because later I will attach the top frame to the desk tabletop first. For drawers, I assembled them fully but didn’t put them in the frame. Leaving the drawers out will make the future installation easier, which I’ll explain in the later steps.
DIY custom wood table top for Ikea Alex desk
Now it is time to prepare the table top which will sit on those Alex drawer units, plus another table top for my sewing nook. You can get Ikea tabletop such as Linnmon for this project, but I decided to DIY my own custom table top for the following reasons:
- I wanted a wood table top because the natural wood grain hides dirt and scratches pretty well
- Ikea Linnmon tabletop is just shy of a couple inches from my desired length.
In terms of table top material, I bought two ¾” thickness PureBond plywood from my local Home Depot. I chose this particular plywood because it has a very fine finish and is formaldehyde-free. I picked the red oak finish for the beautiful oak grain. They also have maple and birch finish available.
Here’s how I created the thick and sturdy table top using the plywood:
1.Attach 2 plywood together.
First I did some rough cut to the plywood so they are roughly the size of the desk and my sewing table; This also allows me to save some extra materials for a tiny backsplash as seen in my photos. My house is old and the wall is curved. With the backsplash pieces I can cover the gap.
I used wood glue and 1 inch screws to attach 2 plywood together. After giving them 1 day to dry and cure, I cut them to size with a circular saw. When you cut them, be mindful of which side will be facing up since the saw blade has a direction which will result in one side being rougher than the other side. I also encourage you to use painter’s tape to protect the cut line before cutting in order to achieve a sharper cut edge.
You might want to leave a little wiggle room when you cut and trim them shorter later to ensure the entire built-in will go wall to wall without any gaps.
2. Add wood veneer tape
Now the table top is cut to size, I applied 1 1/2 inch wood veneer to the edges which will be seen, and trim with edge band cutter, then polish the edge with fine sanding paper. In my case, I covered the front edge and the right edge. I also applied veneer to the backsplash pieces. I used red oak veneer so the entire piece will look cohesive when I stain them later.
After the veneer, it looks like a solid wood piece rather than something that is made of plywood.
This step is optional as you can seal the table top as is by applying a few coats of sealer. For my table top, I wanted a lighter and grayer color, so I mixed and matched several water based stains from Varathane, and landed with a finish that is Weathered Oak + Sunbleached + white wax. Then I applied three coats of water based sealer to protect the finish.
Don’t forget to stain and seal the edge with wood veneer as well.
Assemble desk built-in with Ikea Alex drawer units
Now it’s time to set up the desk built-in. I first placed the table top on the 2 Alex drawer units. At this point you can slide the drawer unit so they lineup with the table top nicely. Once I was happy with the location, I attached both drawer units to the surrounding wall. I originally had baseboards as part of the DIY vertical shiplap wall project, so to make the drawer units flush to the walls, I cut my baseboard using Ryobi multi tool attachment to remove parts of the baseboard.
To add support for the super long table top, I add a 1 inch thick piece of wood and attach it to the wall stud. And for the sewing table, I used three pieces: one piece to the back wall, just like the long desk; 1 piece attached to the Alex drawer to the left; 1 piece attached to the right side wall.
Try to attach them to as many studs as possible for maximum strength. I used Stud Buddy to find studs, and marked the studs with painter’s tape.
Alternatively you can use the Ikea Adils leg to support the center of the desk but I want to keep a clean look and also to make sure there’s enough space to hang the pencil drawers.
Once you are sure with the placement of tabletop, You can secure it in place.
Since the tabletop is already placed on the Ikea Alex drawer units, I used a few L brackets to attach the table to the wall – in my case, it is attached to the horizontal wood board right below tabletop.
Add pencil drawers (Ekby Alex shelf with drawer hack)
Before adding the pencil drawers, confirm that you are able to comfortably fit your legs. The space is perfect for me. However, my husband is 6’2″ and he is not able to comfortably fit his legs under the pencil drawers. If that’s the case for you, you will need to decide whether you want to go without the pencil drawer, or raise the desk a few more inches to fit comfortably.
At this step, I will cover those table top supporting boards with by Ekby Alex shelf.
Remember at the furniture assembly stage I recommended leaving the top off? This is the step it will be useful 🙂 I first attached pencil drawer top frame to the table top with 1.5 inch screws, then added the rest of the drawer frame, following the installation manual came with Ikea. Once I attached the entire frame to the table top, I slid in the drawers.
The same method applies to the sewing table. As an additional step, I secured the pencil drawer frame to the left and right supporting boards. This is made possible due to the pencil drawer is sandwiched right between the supporting boards.
You can see in the photo above that there’s gaps between the Ekby shelves and Alex drawers. Don’t worry, we will fill the gap in the next step ?
Add filler pieces, then paint over
Now it is time to fill the gap between the Ekby shelf and Alex drawer unit.
I covered the front and bottom sides of the gap with ¼ inch MDF boards. I basically glued some scrap pieces to the left and right side of the inner gap, and glued the filler piece to them. same method applies to the bottom filler piece. Here’s what it looks like after painting it over:
I then covered visible seams with speckle. I didn’t cover it completely because the Ikea Alex series has it seams between each board, so I was basically embracing that look.
Then it is time for the painting job. I first primed it with Zinsser Bulls Eye primer which works great with Ikea laminated finishes. Then I painted the entire built-in with 3 coats of Benjamin Moore Moonshine ( the same as my wall paint color). I did use a different sheen and product line within Benjamin Moore for durability : satin finish from their Advanced line.
That is the entire process for the desk built-in! Next I’ll talk about some upgrades you can do to it, such as DIY organization dividers for Alex drawers, plus how I modified the chair height for my sewing nook since it is lower than normal table height.
Alex drawer organization DIY
Most of my sewing storage will be in my home office closet, so I wanted the sewing pencil drawers to be able to hold as many most used tools as possible without having to visit the closet.
For the material, I used 1/4in MDF boards, which is the leftover from this project – in the filler step. I start by measuring the inside of Ekby Alex drawer, and decide on how many slots I want for this drawer. I then cut them to size and glued them with wood glue. My recommended height for the divider is 1.5 inch. The reason is each drawer has a cutout serving as drawer pull and you probably want the divider to be below that. Also avoid having any divider in the cutout part.
You can see in this photo below I left the center free of divider so I can pull the drawer open without touching the divider.
I waited 24 hours for the wood glue to dry and cure. Then I painted it white to match the inside of Ikea Alex drawer. Since it is entirely held by glue, do handle it gently until it safely arrives inside the drawer.
One thing to note is Alex drawer won’t come all the way out, unlike drawers from Ikea kitchen cabinet line. Just something to keep in mind while you design the drawer divider for organization.
Adjust chair height for sewing table
To avoid running into the window, my sewing table is lower than a normal table. So it is a bit challenging to find a chair at the right height. So instead, I modified the chair shorter. I hunted down a leather strap stool for only $10 from Facebook Marketplace and cut all four legs 3 inch shorter.
I picked the stool for its slim leg shape, so no one can tell I have cut it short. This is a photo I took before I trimmed the legs:
and you can see there wasn’t not enough room between the stool and drawers.
And this is after I trimmed the legs and I can sit comfortably in this sewing nook:
Thanks for following all the way to the end of the post! I hope you find some ideas and tricks from this Ikea Alex desk hack! Actually this tutorial was requested multiple times since I posted a sneak peek on my Instagram page so here you go 🙂
To check out my sewing/crafting closet which is also an Ikea hack, you can find it here.