A few years ago, I was vacationing in Italy with my family and saw the most beautiful pair of wooden trays with decorative paper bottoms while we were wandering through a department store. I snapped a photo of them, and it’s been sitting in a DIY inspiration folder on my computer ever since. Today, I’m finally bringing my inspiration to life! Just in time for Mother’s Day.
I decided to build one that was about the size of a letter tray, but that doesn’t mean you have to put letters in it. It’d look just as great holding mail as it’d look holding odds and ends on a nightstand. I currently have mine as the centerpiece for my kitchen table. It’ll fit pretty much any need you have around the home, which is what makes this project so much fun. That and the excuse to use paper (OK, several papers) from Rifle Paper Co. Plus, it’s easy and affordable—five cuts, a little bit of sanding and some glue and you’re done.
The first time I did this project, I sat right on my living room rug. I suggest you put on Netflix or some music and do the same.
Step 1: Cut Wood
For this project, I used a one-by-eight spruce for the base (this will be covered by paper, so I went inexpensive and pulled from my pile of scraps) and hemlock lattice strips for the sides. I wanted something thin and lightweight, and hemlock is one of my favorite woods appearance-wise.
Start by making your cuts using whatever you have on hand—handsaw, chop saw, etc. Cut the one-by-eight to 1’, then cut the hemlock lattice to fit each side. I cut the shorter sides to the width of the wood (7 1/4”) and the longer sides a little bit longer, so they’ll span both the 1’ length and the additional fraction of an inch from the depth of the lattice strips. You can do it the other way around (cut the longer sides to width and sandwich them in with the shorter sides), or cascade them so all of the right ends overlap the left ends. It doesn’t really matter.
I love the look of unfinished hemlock, but you could also stain or paint the lattice at this point. That’s the great thing about this project—it’s so customizable.
Step 2: Sand Wood
Once you’ve made your cuts, sand any rough edges using a sanding sponge.
Step 3: Trace Paper
I already obsessed over Rifle Paper Co., but let me take a moment, yet again, to tell you how much I love their prints. I ordered three and chose this pink cityscape one (it's unfortunately sold out at Rifle Paper Co. right now). From there, I spent a lot of time choosing which cityscapes I wanted featured in the tray—I’m talking a good 10 minutes of speculating and moving the base around underneath the paper to get the placement just right. I landed on a rectangle that featured the Eiffel Tower, the Pyramids, and the Statue of Liberty. If you’re using a paper with a tighter, more repetitive pattern (like the floral up above), you can simply line up the base with the edges of the sheet.
Once you’ve placed the base, lay out the paper pretty-side up, then place the bottom of the tray overtop and trace with a pencil. Cut with scissors or use a utility knife with a straightedge and cutting mat.
Step 4: Glue Paper to Base
Next, it’s time to glue. I wanted to keep this as simple as possible, so I used a regular ol’ glue stick. This resulted in some bumps appearing later on (isn't that always the tricky part of gluing paper?). I would recommend trying Mod Podge, rubber cement, or double-sided tape. Use your hands to smooth out any bumps or air gaps.
Step 5: Cut Contact Paper
To protect the base from spills, we’re using a clear matte contact paper, which I ordered from Amazon. Using the base as a guide, cut a rectangle from the roll a little bigger than the piece of wood—we’ll be folding the excess over the edges a bit so there’s no chance anything will seep through and ruin the paper.
Once you’ve cut your sheet, make little marks at each corner of the base—this will help you line things up and leave extra contact paper to cover the edges. Peel back the short side to start.
Step 6: Apply Contact Paper
Match the first two marked corners with the corners of the base, then slowly press down the contact paper and smooth out any air bubbles with a scrap of hemlock, a straightedge, or your forearm.
Step 7: Fold Contact Paper Over Edges
Once the contact paper is on straight, cut out little notches in each of the corners of the excess—we don’t want any additional bulk in the corners. Fold over each side so it’s smooth against the side of the base.
Step 8: Glue On Sides
Now that the base is finished, it’s time to move onto the sides. This is pretty straightforward. Glue the short sides onto the base using an all-purpose fast-drying glue. Don’t use a wood glue—you’re gluing partly to the wood base, but you’re also gluing to the contact paper. Using an all-purpose glue is the best way to make sure it’ll stick everywhere it needs to. During this step, I noticed that some of the contact paper was peeling up on the edges—if that happens, dab a little glue on the underside of the contact paper, then attach the lattice.
Once the short sides have dried, glue the long sides to the base and to the ends of the short sides, making sure everything lines up the way it’s supposed to. It should take about 30 minutes for the glue to dry, so there’s some wiggle room if things aren’t lining up correctly. Once it’s snug, let it be—you can use clamps to hold everything in place if you’d like.
That’s it! So easy, right?
I’m a big fan of last-minute Mother’s Day gifts when life gets away from you, and this one is even better because it’s handmade, personalized, and can be put together in less than an hour.
My own mother—who pretty much hears about or sees every project I work on—has not-so-subtly hinted that she would like one of these for Mother’s Day. (She especially likes the navy and gold pattern.) Spoiler alert, mom! You’ll be receiving one of these in honor of you.