How to Make a Papier-Mache Side Table

June 16, 2011   //  Posted in: Decor, DIY   //  By: Emily   //  4 responses

Among the most ingenious and innovative products I’ve ever tried to DIY, a designer who worked in conjunction with West Elm created a wonderful, attractive, desirable side table that I just needed to have. I’m going to give credit where credit’s due–the idea was from their catalogue–and so I’ll send you straight to to see what other products they have available today, and hope they don’t sue me.

I’ve had this catalog page pinned on my inspiration wall for months now with full intent to figure out exactly how I could duplicate it.

Stray Dog Side table via West Elm Catalogue

Right in the product description and within the bio, West Elm credits the artist with its ability to make stunning products from papier-mache. I whole-heartedly concur – this table and their other works knocked my flip flops off. I should say upfront that papier mache is a process that I haven’t so much as encountered since summer day care at Care-A-Lot in 1988. Miss Karen was a good supervisor, but I was without this go-around. Nonetheless, I was up for a good challenge and excited to see how my own model would turn out (A+, C-, or fail).

To create a round structure for the side table, I knew I would need a sturdy frame to work from. I had decided that chicken wire would be a good framework, and I built it around a round plastic garbage can that we happened upon a few weeks ago at the mid-century modern estate sale (the sellers let us haul away our purchases in it as opposed to a plastic bag or cardboard box). The chicken wire wrapped around it nicely.

Garbage pail, wrapped in chicken wire to form a frame for my sidetable.

Before I really started working on the real frame, I did a test run over the course of two days to observe a few things: 1) learn how to form and attach a structure for the zig-zags, because I was going to try and mimic their dimensional chevron model (although I also considered some other patterns, like a corkscrew going all the way from the bottom to the top and that might still look great); 2) to see how the papier mache would adhere to the zig zag and the chicken wire; and 3) see if I could actually make a working papier mache paste.

On a small piece of chicken wire, I bound two pieces of twisted newspaper (or Target circulars, in my case) together.

Test model. Affixing the underlaying newspaper to the chicken wire.

The sample piece tested the use of zip ties to lock the zigs and zags into tight position. I also tried wire, but it was a little harder to manipulate (and hurt my fingers more to repeatedly bend and twist it). The zip ties were leftover from my scooter storage project; they’re 4″ long, and can hold up to 18 pounds each, according to the packaging. I was certain they’d keep things in place.

Small zip ties. 4" long.

Contrary to some instructions to make the papier-mache a stovetop activity, I went for the no-bake model consisting of about 1-part water to 1-part flour. I didn’t use glue per some instructions I found, but I do remember doing it that way in 1988. I added a pinch of salt to fend against mold in case that’s ever an issue, although it felt more like I was making waffles.

The sample zig zag received a coat of soaked newsprint (not drowning in the flour/water mixture, just lightly coated and carefully affixed to the chicken wire).

Sample papier mache. Worked!

Maybe I should take a moment to mention how messy this project is. I was covered, and I’m usually pretty neat when it comes to painting, demo, sloppy projects (except when I sat in the mortar bucket, which I’ll get to another time). Messy, messy, messy. No wonder I loved it so much when I was 4 years old.

The sample model was a sweet success. It held up really well, and so I proceeded with setting up the framework for the larger, real side table model.

Similarly to the sample, I bundled ad inserts and newspapers together and zip tied them to the chicken wire; easy peasy. Make sure you have lots of paper (I almost ran out and had to wait for the free town newspaper to arrive).

Notice all of the zip ties poking out?

Underlying zig zag form attached to the framework.

Snip them short. And then twist the tie around to face the inside of the table if possible to make for a nice, clean form. I also did my best to space out the zigs and zags, but I admittedly was more focused on keeping the zigs with the zigs and the zags with the zags to realize that some were closer together vertically than others; are you with me? What I’m getting at specifically is that my top strand looks about 1″ higher than it needs to be. Meh, still happy at this point!

Underlying zig zag form attached to the framework.

The papier mache went on just as smoothly as with the test piece, although I ran out of newspaper again and had to pause for a day until another set of newsprint circulars when I arrived. Good news is that papier mache is totally fine after a day in the fridge, just like waffle batter. This project made me want waffles bad. (And, where were my neighbors with their recycling bins overflowing newspaper when I needed them?)

Notice that I rolled the top of the chicken wire over so it wasn’t pointy at all; the rounded edge made for a nice clean finish at the top.

Truth be told, I seriously considered leaving the newsprint exposed like this instead of painting over it like the West Elm piece. The overall grayscale with hints of color was appealing to me; maybe someday I’ll craft myself a little set of furniture left unpainted.

A coated DIY papier mache side table.

Once it dried (48 hours to be safe) I lifted the frame from the garbage can. Looks pretty nice and secure from the inside.

Inside of the papier mache side table.

I gave the table a fresh coat of white primer followed by white paint and set it aside to dry. While the paint was curing, I began working on a tabletop. Instead of doing a papier-mache table top or exactly what they had done in West Elm, I pulled a board from my inventory of lumber that had some really great character that I thought would work well here.

Table top source. I cut it into three 21″ lengths, and joined them together side-by-side with wood glue and biscuits. I had made essentially a 21″x21″ square, since the original board was 7″ wide.

Square tabletop on the DIY papier mache side table.

Using a sawzall (instead of the ideal jigsaw which is unfortunately MIA) I cut around the square table top along a pre-drawn line, converting it from square to circle. I also added some reinforcement pieces to the underside of the tabletop with scrap wood and 1-1/4″ wood screws.

Tabletop reinforcement.

Once the tabletop was installed (a.k.a. placed) on the table, it looked pretty good!

A finished side table... or is it?

Frank Black framed in Ribba happies. Really loving the contrast with the dark brown wall.

A few thoughts post-project:

1) Looks like I missed a few places in my painting; really, this is because the newspaper wasn’t as flush as could be in some spots and I didn’t get in all of the nooks and crannies. Live and learn and papier mache more often and maybe my skills can improve.
2) Maybe I should paint the table top white?
3) Maybe I should make the table top the side diameter as the table for a more streamlined look.
4) Whoa, this project was totally free.

  • Cait @ Hernando House
    7 years ago - Reply

    I love that! Please don’t paint the top! (Although if you want to cut it to the diameter of the table base as you mentioned, I’d be down with that. It looks great as it sits, but I bet it’d be equally great that way.) And you can’t beat free with a stick!

    PS- I hope I didn’t turn you off venti peppermint mochas! I was sad not to see it as your size reference. :(

    • Emily
      7 years ago -

      Ha, no Venti cup was around, but you’re right, that would help show it’s scale. Thanks for your nice comment, Cait!

  • Colleen @ Mommy Panda
    7 years ago - Reply

    I wouldn’t cut down the top OR paint it. And, I wonder if cutting out thing strips of paper and laying them over the zigzags and on top of the base layer of paper mache would prevent the gapping?

    • Emily
      7 years ago -

      Everyone seems be to be voting to leave the top as-is! That’s reassurring :) There actually are thin strips that fully covered the zig zags as well as the rest of the exposed chicken wire, but I think what happened is some edges of the paper curled up or didn’t lay flat after having to jump over the zig-humps. Maybe smaller pieces of paper (1″x4″ or something) would have worked better than the longer thin strips.

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