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How to Cover a Metal Cabinet With Fabric

Add some pizzazz to that gun-metal gray or beige file cabinet with a fabric covering.
Jack Hollingsworth/Photodisc/Getty Images

The office desk in your home can only hold your papers for so long before the pile starts to topple over and you are in a panic looking for just the document or bill you need. While the ugly metal file cabinet that you hide in the corner of your office might serve its function to keep you organized, it is certainly not inspiring your creativity with its dull, boring appearance. By covering your file cabinet with fabric and some decoupage paint, you can add a pop of color and interest to your office, unleash your creative side and make your skills the envy of friends, family and guests.

Things You'll Need:

  • Craft Knife
  • Foam Paintbrush
  • Measuring Tape
  • Scissors
  • Rag
  • Acetone
  • Bowl
  • Dropcloth
  • Ruler Or Straight Edge
  • Wrench
  • Quilting Fabric
  • Goggles
  • Mask
  • Decoupage Paste
  • Screwdriver
  • Clean Cloths Or Sponge

Remove the drawers from the file cabinet. If the file cabinet has stops on the end of the channel the door slides upon, slightly lift the drawer up to remove it from the channel. Use a screwdriver or wrench to remove the handle and nameplate from the front of the file cabinet drawers and set aside.

Lay down a dropcloth on a flat surface and move the file cabinet and the drawers atop it. Put on a mask and goggles to protect your eyes and respiratory system. Wipe down the file cabinet and drawers with an acetone-dampened rag. Allow the acetone to evaporate.

Measure the face of the file cabinet drawer with a measuring tape, and add 1/2 inch to each side of the drawer measurement to account for the overlapping of fabric. Repeat for each of the other drawers in the file cabinet. Stand the file cabinet upright and measure the width of the file cabinet. Also take the measurement from the bottom left side of the cabinet, over the top and down to the bottom right side of the cabinet, again adding 1/2 inch to each side for fabric overlap. For example, a cabinet that is 24 inches tall, 18 inches deep and 14 inches wide, equals a measurement that would total 24-1/2 inches for each side, 18-1/2 inches for the depth and 14-1/2 inches for the width.

Choose a thin, quilting fabric in a pattern or color of your choice to cover the cabinet. Depending on your design scheme, you might want a pattern that ties into wall colors, furniture or office accessories, or use a solid color that allows the cabinet to blend in with the surroundings.

Cut a fabric piece for each drawer measurement and for sides and top of the cabinet. If you are using a patterned fabric, cut the drawer pieces from the same area of fabric to match the pattern. Pour 1 cup of decoupage paste into a bowl -- replenish as needed -- and use a foam paintbrush to apply a thick coat of paste to the front of the cabinet drawer. While the paste is still wet, align your fabric on the drawer and smooth it onto the drawer face working from the middle out to remove bubbles and bumps. Use a ruler or straight edge to help smooth the fabric into place. Repeat for the remaining drawers and set aside to dry. Wipe up excess paste with a clean, but damp soft cloth or sponge.

Turn the file cabinet on its side and apply decoupage paste to the bottom lip and side of the cabinet. Start with the left side of the fabric piece, smooth it onto the bottom lip of the cabinet, and work your way up the side of the cabinet, using a ruler or straight edge to smooth out bubbles and wrinkles. Carefully turn the cabinet upright, apply the paste to the top of the cabinet, and smooth the fabric into place. Then work on the right side of the cabinet down to the bottom lip on the right. Allow the paste to dry 15 to 20 minutes.

Check to see if the paste is dry by touching the fabric on the cabinet and drawers. If the fabric feels stiff, you are ready for the next step. Use a craft knife to cut a slit at each corner to make folding the fabric around the drawers and sides easier. Apply decoupage paste on the inside edge of the drawers and fold the fabric over, smoothing it into place. Repeat the same process for the front edge of the file cabinet and the back edge. Again, wipe up any excess paste that escapes from beneath the fabric. Allow the decoupage paste to dry.

Apply a layer of decoupage paste over the fabric on the drawers and file cabinet to seal the fabric. Allow it to dry at least two hours or until the paste is hard to the touch.

Reattach the handles, nameplates, and insert the drawers back into the file cabinet.


Decoupage paste will darken the fabric slightly; keep that in mind when choosing fabric.

If you do not want to cover the entire file cabinet, consider spray-painting the cabinet a color that matches the fabric used to cover the drawers.

If your drawers have a button or lock, when applying the fabric to the drawer, carefully cut an “X” over the button and lock. Push the fabric around the button or lock with a craft knife.

If you cannot find a fabric you like, choose wallpaper instead as the steps are the same.


  • Use acetone in a well-ventilated area.
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