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Easy and Affordable DIY Desk Hutch: A Step-by-Step Guide

Maximize your workspace and keep essentials organized by building this simple DIY desk hutch. An affordable project with easy-to-follow directions that allow you to put the shelf together in less than an hour.

When I was in college way back in the dark ages the desk in my dorm had shelves above it for storing my textbooks.

However, some universities don’t have desks with overhead storage.

Actually, none of my three kids had a hutch or shelves over their dorm room desks at any of their schools.

I searched for an affordable desk hutch option but unfortunately never found one.

My son, Gavin had a small desktop organizer that worked well for his needs on his desk.

When my daughter, Emma went to college I found a cute little metal and wood desktop organizer at Home Goods.

But honestly, it was more for aesthetics than for function.

You can see how cute the little shelf looked styled on her freshman dorm desk here.

When she moved into a college apartment on campus she was looking for something that provided some more storage for her books.

She loves to read and wanted a place to put all of her paperback books.

After searching again online, I couldn’t find anything large enough that wasn’t under $100.

So I did what any good 50-something-year-old mom who is just starting to learn her way around power tools would do…I built a desk hutch for my daughter’s college dorm room.

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Who Needs a DIY Desk Hutch?

A desk hutch is an easy beginner project that can be used not only for college students but also for a child’s student desk.

Or maybe you have a desk at home that needs a bit more storage.

Maybe this simple DIY desk hutch is just what you need for your work-at-home space.

What Supplies Do You Need to Make a Desk Hutch

lengths of primed mdf boards on table beside chop saw in garage

This project didn’t cost me anything because I used supplies left over from previous projects.

So look around your garage, workshop, or basement for some wood that you can use for this project to save yourself some money.

But if you don’t have wood lying around then you can certainly buy plywood or lengths of MDF to make your DIY desk shelves.

I had Woodgrain Millwork 1×6 Medium Density Foam S4S boards left from installing the shiplap in my laundry room, so I designed the desk hutch using the dimensions of the boards.

Here is the list of supplies I used to build the desk hutch:

How to Determine the Size of a Dorm Room Desk Shelf

empty dorm room before move in

If you’re making a hutch for your college student desk, be sure to check the dimensions of the desk first.

You’ll need to know how long you can make your shelving unit.

Usually, you can find the dimensions for all furniture in each dorm on the university’s housing page.

Emma’s desk was 56″ wide so we decided to make her hutch 55.5″ long.

I wanted to keep this project really simple so planned the design to have just one shelf at the top.

I used her desk lamp for a visual perspective to determine how high the bottom of the shelf should be so that the light would fit comfortably under the shelf.

The overall dimensions of the hutch are 55.5″w x 25″h x 5.5″deep.

I’d suggest making your shelves a bit deeper if you’re cutting the wood and not trying to use leftover pieces as I did.

Plus, you’ll want the hutch a little bigger if you are going to use the shelf for larger textbooks.

How to Build a Hutch for Your Desk

blogger measuring 1x6 board with tape measure and marking line with pencil

Step 1: Measure Boards

To make Emma’s dorm room desk hutch I only needed 5 – 1×6 MDF boards.

Keep in mind if you’re using precut boards like I did the 1×6 MDF board isn’t actually 6″ wide, it’s only 5 1/2″.

First, I measured two pieces of the primed boards to be 25″ long.

These will be for the sides of the desk hutch.

Next, I measured three boards and marked them at 54″ in length.

blogger using miter saw to cut mdf board to size

Step 2: Cut Boards

After the five boards were marked, I cut each one with my miter saw.

If you don’t have a miter saw you can use a circular saw to get the job done.

Once the five boards were trimmed to the correct sizes, I began attaching them together to create the desk hutch.

AnnMarie using brad nailer to secure desk hutch shelf pieces

Step 3: Attach Boards

You can use either screws or nails to assemble the boards to make your shelves.

Since the wood wasn’t very thick, I used my Brad nailer to secure the boards together.

If you decide to use screws with this size of wood, you’ll need to drill pilot holes to prevent the board from splitting.

You may also need to counter-sink the screws into the wood and then caulk them for a clean look.

I wanted to make this project as quick and easy as possible.

So using a nailer I was able to skip those steps which was the best option for me.

AnnMarie using a square to draw straight line across mdf board

Step 4: Attach Shelf

After both side pieces were attached to the back support board it was time for the shelf.

I attached the shelf at 20″ so that the side of the hutch would be a little higher to use as a support for books.

Using a square ensures you will get a level line to use when securing the board for the shelf.

AnnMarie cutting mdf board on table saw

I secured the shelf to the top of the side pieces at the 20″ mark so that Emma would have room to slide an organizing decor piece she had under the shelf once she got it into her dorm room.

I used my table saw and trimmed the 1×6″ MDF an inch so that the top of the wood pieces would all be level after everything was put together.

completed dorm room desk hutch in garage

In this photo, you can see how the top on all three sides of the hutch is even and she has the full 20″ for her decor.

You can skip this step and move your shelf to 19″ then you wouldn’t need to trim an inch off the back support board.

man using drill with attachment to make hole in bottom of hutch for cords

Step 5: Power Cord Access

The last step in building the desk hutch was to make a hole for any wires or cords to go through once it was in place on the desk.

My husband, Chris helped me with this and used a 3″ hole saw attachment on his drill/driver to create a hole in the bottom of the MDF board.

I wanted it just to be a half circle so we attached a scrap of wood and drilled the hole through both pieces of MDF.

completed desk hutch before painting in garage on folding table

Once everything was done I tested the dimensions with Emma’s desk lamp and a paperback book.

It looked great and was quite simple to build.

Now it was time to finish up this project!

What Finish Should You Use on a Wood Desk Hutch

woman painting large desk hutch on folding table indoors

Since I used primed MDF to build the desk hutch I painted the shelves.

We decided to paint the hutch white to coordinate with the rest of the shelves in her room.

If you make your desk hutch with plywood or another type of wood you can choose to stain your shelves rather than paint.

I painted the hutch in a satin finish so that it would be easy to wipe clean.

close up of desk hutch painted white on wood tone desk

If I had bought wood for this project I may have made the shelf a bit deeper but it works well for a college student.

I’d recommend building a deeper shelf if you’re making it for a child’s desk as it would be sturdier.

You can also choose to attach the hutch to the wall for extra support.

How to Style a Desk Hutch

girls dorm room apartment desk with diy shelf on top decorated

The hutch was the perfect size and style for Emma’s desk at college.

It’s a piece that will keep her organized as well as a spot to add some extra storage and decor.

small metal shelf under hutch on desk in bedroom

Her small desktop metal organizer fits perfectly under the shelf.

Another option when making a desk hutch would be to add a solid back to the entire shelving unit.

Then you could add a corkboard or wallpaper for a decorative touch.

Use your imagination and get creative when designing your desk hutch to suit your needs.

completed diy shelf on desk in dorm room

This DIY desk hutch is an easy project that only took about an hour to build.

Then a little extra time to paint the shelves and let it dry between the first and second coats of paint.

This hutch would be great in any college apartment, dorm room, teen bedroom, and even a home office.

Be sure to check out this cute boho-looking college apartment if you’d like more ideas and inspiration for decorating a college space.

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product images of tools and supplies used to build desk hutch shelves

Sources: table saw | miter saw | 1×6″ MDF board | square | tape measure | hole saw set | Brad nailer | drill/driver | white paint

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