DIY Faux Flat File Cabinet

I have been obsessed with architectural flat files for many years since my early years as an architectural intern. The cool hardware, the stacked pulls, and the small drawers create such an interesting piece of furniture. Their unique look also comes with a hefty price tag that has left me dreaming of ways to design and create my own one-of-a-kind piece.

{The following photos and tutorials may include affiliate links. Click the photo or links to be taken directly to a product page or to my page where you can shop these looks!}

Here are a few tips and trips that I used to create my own Architectural Flat File from a standard wood file cabinet.

It’s All About that Base

The base piece of furniture is the most important. You need to know what size and shape you are looking. For this project I wanted my flat file to be the base for a desktop and it needed to be around 26”-30” tall. I also knew that I wanted large deep drawers and not the traditional 3”-5” ones of a flat file.

With the shape and size in mind, I was on the hunt for the perfect base piece, and boy did I find the perfect one! This thrifted wood file cabinet was only $5, yes you read that right! It was in a good working condition and was waiting for a face lift.

What You’ll Need

Now that we have the perfect base piece here are a few things you’ll need to get this transformation started:

  • 1/8” Birch Plywood
  • Wood Glue- I used Liquid Nails
  • Clamps
  • Paint- I used Shade Grown by Sherwin Williams
  • Paint roller and painting supplies
  • Hardware Pulls (x’s number drawers) . Check out my link to some of my favorite Pulls. See my tutorial on how I made my own drawer pulls HERE!
  • Name Plate Frames

Face Lift

The first step is to create the iconic faux flat file drawer look. I had two large drawers and I wanted them subdivided by 3 drawers each. I wanted to visually create the division so I used 1/8” Birch Plywood cut into approximately 3” pieces (your sizes may vary).

Here are some simple steps to get this look:

  1. Measure your base cabinet piece and divide per the number of “drawer” faces you would like. Tip: Add a 1/4” gap between each drawer for a more realistic look.
  2. Cut the drawer fronts from 1/8” birch plywood.
  3. Glue drawer fronts with Liquid Nails.
  4. Use clamps to secure the drawer fronts.

Shade Grown

Your piece my not look like much at this point but with a little paint it will start to come to life!

I used Shade Grown by Sherwin Williams and I absolutely love it! To be honest I started with Farm-to-Table but it was much too light, but still a beautiful color.

I suggest sanding down your piece or using a primer especially if the original material is really smooth or in rough shape.


I put an emphasis on hard because man it’s hard to find nice hardware, in large quantities, and for a decent price that won’t cost almost all of your budget. So, after looking for quite a bit, I decided to research a few methods of making my own hardware and I came up with this awesome technique using Bell Hangers and Wooden Dowels.

The process to make these handmade drawer pulls is a tutorial on it’s own and you can find it here!

Securing the hardware can be a little tricky. I would suggest to start with center name plates and then adding the pulls to each side.

Get yourself a level and a speed square to help with keeping everything lined up. The key to this looking authentic it that the hardware looks uniform and inline.

The Final Product

This file cabinet was used as the base for a desktop but could have easily been a standalone piece.

Check out how this whole home office transformation came together here.

If you are interested to see this process check out my One Room Challenge highlights!

3 thoughts on “DIY Faux Flat File Cabinet

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