Thrifted Tray Makeover

I’ve never been all that enthusiastic about secondhand stores. I know thrifted stuff is a really big trend right now, but there’s something about wearingย other people’s old clothesย that I have a hard time getting past. I mean, a secondhand dress might be cute, but the previous owner might also be dead, and I’m really not interested in wearing a dead lady’s dress (or a dead man’s, no judgement here). This only bothers me with clothes, though – everything else is fair game, including the cherry stained serving trays I found on my most recent trip. The upward curve of their handles also let them stand up when you flipped them over, and as someone who spends a lot of time in bed on their laptop, I immediately decided they’d be good lap desks – with a little extra love, of course.

Update drab thrift store finds with metallic, geometric makeovers and creative new uses.

Thrifted Tray to Convertible Lap Desk

If you demand a lap desk with lots of thigh padding or built-in fans, this might not be the choice for you. But it’s better than leaving your laptop on a blanket, where it can easily overheat, and I happen to think it’s super cute, so if you can find a tray that will work for you, I recommend giving it a shot! For this project, I was actually inspired by some office supplies I’ve been lusting over at Target – I found it with the Nate Berkus office collection and thought it was beautiful, but I couldn’t justify spending $15 on a clipboard:

Isn't it beautiful? I mean, as clipboards go. / photo from

Isn’t it beautiful? I mean, as clipboards go. / photo from

The tray I found had a similar stain color to the clipboard’s wood, which I love, so for my thrifted tray makeover I immediately decided to decorate with gold. Chevron seemed like a lot more work than I was willing to do, though. In the end, I kept it geometric with simple, clean lines in gold, and it was surprisingly easy.

What you’ll need:

The supplies for this project are actually super simple, and pretty cheap. I had everything I needed on hand already, so my only expense was $1.88 for the tray itself. In general, though, you’ll need

  • A tray
  • Painter’s tape
  • Spray paint
  • Optional – clear coat
All the supplies you need to make over a tray into a convertible lap desk.

I feel like there should be more things on here, but it really was this easy.

My tray was thrifted from Goodwill, so unfortunately I can’t direct you to any exact copies. But I used 1.41″ ScotchBlue painter’s tape, my go-to for gold is Krylon Premium Metallic Spray Paint in Gold, and I decided to use Krylon ColorMaster in a clear satin to emulate the satiny smooth finish of the clipboard I liked. Whether or not you should use a clear coat really depends on the spray paint you use. It’s a must with the gold I chose, as the metallic will rub off if left uncoated. With a different color, you might be fine – trust your judgement, and if in doubt, clear coat it – it’s better to have it too protected.



I may not have the same hang-ups about thrifted trays as I do about clothes, but I was sure to thoroughly clean my tray with a wood-safe cleaner to remove sticker residue and any other debris. I also gently wiped the wood down with a damp cloth after cleaning it and let it, so I wasn’t painting over chemicals that could potentially affect my paint job.


I decided to do vertical stripes on the tray side, and horizontal ones on the lap desk side. To ensure that the painted and unpainted stripes were even, I just taped over the whole thing, carefully lining up my strips of tape so they didn’t overlap without leaving space between them, and then peeled up every other strip. I could have measured and marked my stripes, but this was honestly less work, and seemed foolproof.

Fully taping over a surface ensures that stripes are of an even width before you paint.

Once I’d reached the ends of the flat tray bottom, I just used newspaper to cover the curved sides, rather than trying to tape even stripes on them.

If you don’t want to measure much, but want to be sure your stripes are even on your tray, lay your first strip down the exact center of your surface and work out from there – that way your stripes will always be centered. I didn’t figure this out on my vertical stripes, but they worked out on their own. However, I’d taped all my horizontal ones before realizing that it would be uneven, and therefore drive me crazy, so I had to start over.


You should follow whatever instructions your chosen paint brand specifies. I found that I didn’t need to sand or prime the wood I used, and just followed the instructions for my paint. The two greatest lessons I’ve learned spray painting are that you should aim for even coverage, and use light coats. It’s much easier to add more paint than to take it away, and I’ve had a few mishaps where heavy-handedness has led to dripping. I managed to avoid that on this project with three very light coats of gold spray paint. I did the vertical stripes on the inside, let them set for twenty minutes, and then removed the tape and added two coats of clear paint. I let the tray dry overnight and did the same with my other side the next day, and after another overnight dry, I was finished!

Always pull off tape when your paint is projected to be "dry to the touch" - any sooner and it'll smear, and if you wait too long, it might chip.

Always pull off tape when your paint is projected to be “dry to the touch” – any sooner and it’ll smear, and if you wait too long, it might chip.

This has been such a unique project, but I already know I’ll use it – I’ve written this entire post from the comfort of the couch on my lap desk, and I have to say, it works great. Unexpectedly, it’s just wide enough for me to sit cross-legged and hook my knees into the corner, and I’ve never typed more comfortably off a desk.

While there’s no guarantee you can find the exact same tray at your local Goodwill, I hope you’ll find a way to replicate this project yourselves, and if you do, feel free to share! Do you have any other tips or tricks that might have helped? If you had made this project, what would you have done differently? Let me know in the comments!

  • Thank you so much!

  • “Upcycling” is such a great word, I wish I’d thought to use it myself!

  • Thank you! Always happy to share ๐Ÿ™‚ Also – I totally read your name as “Taylor Swift” at first and freaked out!

  • Thanks! Spray paint makes my life very easy and I love it.

  • Such a cool DIY. Absolutely love it ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I love DIY’s and upcycling. It turned out great. I love it. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I love this! It is such a creative idea, and it turned out so well! Thanks for sharing your project ๐Ÿ™‚

  • tiffzny

    This is awesome! Very nice paint job, too! ๐Ÿ™‚