6 Fun & Funky Ways to Upcycle a Vintage Filing Cabinet

Filing cabinets can be as beautiful as they are useful; we promise. Try our sustainable upcyling ideas.

Published July 10, 2023
Woman working on laptop on filing cabinet

Plenty of vintage office items aren't super useful in today's homes (Rolodex, we're looking at you), but until the entire world is digital, we're going to have a use for old filing cabinets. Upcycling these functional workhorses is really fun too.

With a few simple changes, you can totally transform the look of your home office with that old metal filing cabinet you found at the thrift store. Even better, you can put that cabinet to work in other rooms.

Replace the Top to Upcycle a Filing Cabinet

Metal filing cabinets are useful, but that doesn't mean they start out pretty. Step one to get them that way? Give them a new topper. As a bonus, this is about as easy as it gets when it comes to DIY furniture projects.

File Cabinet Refinished
  1. Start by measuring the top of the filing cabinet. Note the measurements.
  2. Then buy a piece of stone or wood that's just a little larger than the dimensions you wrote down.
  3. Apply strong construction adhesive to the top of the filing cabinet and position the new top in place. For added security, you can drill holes and add screws from underneath.

Add Hairpin Legs for Mid-Century Charm

Give your old filing cabinet the ultimate retro look (plus a convenient lift) by adding hairpin legs. You can buy them at most home stores or online and decide on the height and color you want.

Wooden Filing Cabinet with 2 Lockable Drawers
  1. Remove the drawers and turn the cabinet upside down.
  2. Mark where you want to install the legs.
  3. Drill holes and attach the legs. Flip the cabinet over, put the drawers back, and you're done!
Quick Tip

Want just a tiny pop of color as part of your filing cabinet upcycle? You can spray paint the hairpin legs any color you want before you attach them. Hot pink, anyone?

Give Your Filing Cabinet a Color Transformation

There's no rule that says old filing cabinets need to be boring grey or gross green. All it takes is a coat of paint to make your filing cabinet pretty enough to use anywhere. Did we mention a pretty filing cabinet makes a perfect place to store sweaters in your bedroom?

Painted 3 Drawer Metal Filing Cabinet
  1. Start by removing the hardware and taking the drawers out. Clean everything really well.
  2. Working in a well-ventilated space, spray prime the entire file cabinet. Allow it to dry according to the paint instructions.
  3. Then apply two coats of your favorite color of paint.
  4. When the paint is dry, replace the hardware and slide the drawers back in.

Repurpose a Small Filing Cabinet as an End Table

Need some storage and a place to put your drink in the living room? Look no further than a small filing cabinet. This simple project is one of the best things you can do with old filing cabinets that were designed to sit on top of desks.

Mid Century Green Metal Stacking File Cabinet on Legs
  1. Clean up the small filing cabinet and paint it if you want to.
  2. Shop the thrift store for a small table that's about the same dimensions as the bottom of the filing cabinet.
  3. Working from underneath the tabletop, drill four holes (one in each corner). Drill holes in the same spots on the filing cabinet.
  4. Stack the two pieces together and use screws to attach them.

Use a Desktop Filing Cabinet to Store Jewelry

Some upcycled filing cabinets make awesome jewelry storage, especially if you can find one with small drawers. You'll see these at antique shops and thrift stores.

Antique desktop watchmaker’s cabinet
  1. Clean up the outside of the filing cabinet and paint it if you feel like it.
  2. Replace the hardware if you want to give the drawers a new look.
  3. Pick up some adhesive felt from the craft store and line the bottom of each drawer with felt. This will keep your jewelry from sliding around.
Quick Tip

You can use an old vintage desktop filing cabinet to store other tiny things too. Think little toys, kitchen utensils, craft supplies, or even doll clothes.

Upcycle a Filing Cabinet With Wallpaper

No matter where you use a vintage filing cabinet, it can be fun to give it a funky pattern. Pick up some wallpaper and cover the old filing cabinet with it.

  1. Measure the filing cabinet to make sure you buy enough wallpaper for it. If you don't have enough paper to do the entire cabinet, you can just do the drawers.
  2. Use spray adhesive to attach the wallpaper unless it's peel-and-stick.
  3. Apply a topcoat to the cabinet after the paper is on. A decoupage medium like Mod Podge can work well.

Combine Function and Fashion With Filing Cabinet Upcycling Projects

An upcycled filing cabinet can be the prettiest thing in the room if you get creative with your project. Whether you're using it for its original purpose or finding new ways to put it to work in your home, this is the ultimate vintage piece that's functional and fashionable at the same time.

6 Fun & Funky Ways to Upcycle a Vintage Filing Cabinet