Desk with Open Back

How To Cover the Back of a Desk (3 Ways)

In Furniture by Giovanni ValleLeave a Comment

Have you ever bought a desk only to find out it has an unfinished back? This is common because furniture makers assume it won’t be visible. But, unfortunately, if you don’t want your new desk against the wall, this leaves you with only an exposed panel of paper or untreated wood.

Here’s how to cover the back of a desk:

  1. Attach a matching veneer panel to the back of the desk.
  2. Cover the back of the desk with cork or wallpaper.
  3. Sand and repaint the desk.

In this article, you’ll learn some ways to cover the back of your desk. If you’re DIY savvy, you’ll likely recognize some of these solutions.

1. Attach a Matching Veneer Panel to the Back of the Desk

A veneer is a plastic-like layer of the same color and grain as wood. If you have a cupboard or furniture maker nearby, you can ask them to install one that matches. Or, you can install one yourself.

However, your desk’s back should not be paper if you wish to DIY, as the adhesive’s moisture will cause it to dissolve. If the veneer you wish to install is paper, take it to a carpenter and have a panel installed beforehand. If it’s already wood, proceed.

How To Attach a Veneer Sheet to Your Desk

Visit your local home improvement store for a veneer sheet, sandpaper, and a tub of adhesive. Ask an employee for assistance in matching the color and grain.

Once you have the required materials, here’s how you attach a veneer sheet to your desk:

  1. Clean the wood with soap and water. Let it air-dry thoroughly.
  2. Once it’s dry, inspect for paint or any coating. If it has some, sand until it’s slightly rough.
  3. Lightly dampen the back of the veneer with a sponge.
  4. Roll the sheet up, and let it sit for 20 minutes while preparing the desk.
  5. For easier application, turn the desk on its side, so the back faces the ceiling.
  6. Apply a thin coat of adhesive to the wood.
  7. Unroll the veneer and press it onto the adhesive.
  8. Smooth out any air bubbles with a flat object, sweeping towards the edges of the veneer.
  9. Finally, cut the excess off.
  10. Wait 24 hours, leaving the desk where it is. Don’t touch the veneer during this time.

Once the 24 hours are up, you can clean up any excess adhesive with a sponge and clean water, then wipe the veneer dry with a soft cloth.

Here’s a YouTube video that shows this process, but with drywall:

2. Cover the Back of the Desk With Cork or Wallpaper

Another potential idea for the back of your desk is to cover it in wallpaper. This allows an additional layer of individuality because you can choose its color and pattern. It’s also relatively easy to install yourself.

However, just like with the veneer, I don’t suggest adding adhesive to the paper. Instead, take it to a carpenter who can install a panel to attach the wallpaper to. Once you’ve done so, proceed.

How To Attach Wallpaper to Your Desk

Measure the back of your desk, and visit your local home improvement or fabric store for some wallpaper and wallpaper paste.

Once you have the required materials, you can begin:

  1. Clean the wood with soap and water, and let it dry.
  2. Cut your wallpaper to fit your desk’s back, adding an extra 3” (7.62 cm) on each side.
  3. Apply a thin layer of adhesive to the paper, working outwards from the center.
  4. Let it set. The adhesive packaging should tell you how long.
  5. Trim the excess paper.
  6. Clean it with a damp sponge.
  7. Avoid touching the back of the desk for 1-2 days, or until the wallpaper paste dries.

Here’s a YouTube video that shows this process, but with drywall:

3. Sand and Repaint the Desk

Sometimes, it’s better to start over, because if you can’t find a matching veneer and don’t like wallpaper, you can sand and repaint your desk. You can choose to hire a carpenter or do it yourself. However, I suggest you use a handheld sander for this one. Without it, your arms will get sore.

You can rent one, and buy the mask and goggles you need, at your home improvement store.

How To Sand and Repaint Your Desk

Make sure you have the sander, a mask and goggles, and the paint you want to use. Remember that if you want a shiny finish, you may need to add a clear topcoat as well. If in doubt, ask the employee in the store’s paint section.

Once you have your materials, you can begin:

  1. Wrap the desk’s handles or knobs in rags or scrap fabric.
  2. Stick medium-grade sandpaper to the sander.
  3. Sand the desk’s surface until no paint remains, taking care not to sand too much.
  4. Check your paint’s dry and recoat time. This could be anywhere from 4-24 hours.
  5. Paint the desk.
  6. Wait for the allotted time.
  7. Paint it again and wait. Repeat this process until the paint is even in color.
  8. If using a varnish, apply it now. Wait 24 hours between coats, or until no longer gummy.
  9. After applying the final coat, wait for 24-48 hours until varnish sets.

Here’s a YouTube video that shows this sanding process:

Key Takeaways

It’s relatively common for desks to come with unfinished backs because they’re predominantly placed against walls. However, if you don’t want your desk to be against a wall, there are three good ways to cover the back of your desk.

  • Attach a matching veneer with wallpaper adhesive.
  • Cover it with wallpaper using wallpaper paste.
  • Sand and repaint it.


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