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Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Big Reveal

Finally - after many weeks of hard labor, The Niece and I have finished her desk make over project!!

But before I show you the after, here's a flashback to the before:

And here's how it looks now:

You can find tutorials all over the web on painting furniture - trust me, I read most of them before starting this project. However, we soon discovered that no one tutorial gave all of the information we needed.

So here's our how-to on rehabbing furniture - including all of the stupid steps that no one bothers to tell you!

Step One: Find a piece of furniture that has potential. Make sure there aren't any obvious structural flaws that are more than you want to tackle. Everyone has different skill sets and it's important to know what yours are...I can handle minor gluing and the odd loose screw. Other than that, I'd have to ask for help. Just remember: a treasure is only a treasure if you can take something that was a bargain and transform it with very little cash investment.

Step Two: Remove all hardware and clean the piece thoroughly before beginning work. I love Murphy's Oil Soap for cleaning wood. Just a little mixed with water goes a long way. Work with a damp cloth and wash every nook and cranny, making sure to get rid of spider eggs, cobwebs and generations of use.

Enjoy uncovering the history of your piece as you work. Look at what The Niece discovered - our desk was built in 1967:

Step Three: Prepare your piece for painting. Using medium-grit sandpaper, lightly sand the entire piece. You're not trying to develop an ultra-smooth surface. Instead, you're trying to rough up any protective varnish that may have been put on the piece so that your new paint will have a good surface to adhere to.

Step Two-B/Three-A: If your piece was previously painted, you may want to strip the old paint off first. We didn't have to do that on this desk, so I'm not going to go through that process in detail here.

Step Four: Prime your piece. Priming seals the surface, preventing uneven absorption, which can lead to uneven paint color. I like Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 because it works on almost any surface type and I'm all about buying one thing that I can use for a multitude of projects.

Make sure to coat every surface that you're going to paint - and don't worry about whether it looks even and pretty.

Step Five: Choose your color. We looked at the existing colors in The Niece's room, from walls to bedspread. Then we talked about colors that made us happy and settled on a blue tone that both made us happy and worked with the main colors in the room. I took our selected color (Boca Raton Blue by Benjamin Moore) to Home Depot and had them match it to a more affordable Glidden latex (the smallest quantity Home Depot will match color is a quart, more than enough for a project this size).

Step Six: Paint. Make your job a little easier by covering any hardware holes with a bit of tape to keep paint from dripping through.

Some logistics: (and I give you these tips because I googled looking for the answers myself!)
  • Use a good quality paintbrush or foam roller to prevent brush strokes or bubbles when you paint. We used brushes, but I think I'd use a foam roller next time to make the coating the large surfaces go faster.
  • Turn your piece upside down and paint the bottom section first. This will provide nice clean lines around the legs. After the base is painted and dry, flip the piece over and paint the top.
  • Work with the grain of the wood for smoother coverage.
  • Paint two layers of latex, allowing 4-8 hours of dry time between coats. You may need longer if the weather is cool or damp.
    Double and triple check for missed spots and uneven coverage before putting your paint away!
  • Though I don't show the step here, if you are going to be wiping the surface a lot (or if a teenager/college student might leave their juice glass on it all day...), I highly recommend applying a couple coats of protective coating.
  • If you poly-coat the piece: Wipe the piece with a microfiber cloth to remove any dust, hairs, etc. Apply one light coat (think the thickness of a piece of paper) of a good quality polyurethane (like Minwax Water-Based). Let it dry completely, then lightly sand with 220-grade sandpaper. Wipe again with a microfiber cloth, then apply a second coat.

Step Seven: Reattach your hardware. Realize after you try to reattach the hardware that sometimes old desks use hardware widths that aren't sold in big box stores nowadays. Make a mental note to check those measurements before you paint the next project, because it would definitely make step Seven-A unnecessary...

Step Seven-A: Fill the old hardware holes with wood putty. I used a product called Quick Wood. Follow the instructions (it's easy!) to apply. Let dry, then sand, repaint and reapply polycoating. Finally, drill new hardware holes. Like I said, much easier to do all of this before you prime. Lesson learned!

Step Eight: Attach hardware, oohing and ahhing over your choices. Didn't The Niece do a great job?

Step Nine: Move the piece into its new home and step back to admire your work. Since this is a desk for a hard-studying college student, we added a sturdy chair and a chic poof (so much better than a boring chair pad!) to make doing homework a little less dreary.

So what do you think? A pretty amazing transformation, isn't it? From tired 1960's Western-style desk to flirty-sassy-full-of-spunk college desk. (And don't forget about those uber-cute lined drawers...)

And because I know you're curious, here's the price breakdown:
  • Desk - $20, Craigslist
  • Sandpaper (medium and 220-grit): already had
  • Putty knife and paintbrushes: already had
  • Quick Wood: $7.50 (I only used about a 1/2", so I have plenty for future projects)
  • Latex paint: $11
  • Polyurethane: already had
  • Hardware: $8
  • Total cost: $40
Well worth it for a custom desk!


  1. absolutely LOVE it. Great job and awesome price too. May look at doing the same thing to JJ's dresser this winter. I will keep you updated! :)

  2. Looks great. Are you going to put a piece of lucite or glass on the top to help prevent scratches or marks. Great place to tuck notes, reminders, pics, etc.

  3. Very pretty. I usually paint my pieces rather whimsically with lots of pattern but I am ready to do a calm piece and I am drawn to these blues. Nice work. I would buy it. :)

  4. Thank you!! I was really happy with how it turned out as well. If The Niece decides to take it with her when she moves, I'll be happy. Otherwise, I'll sell it on to a new home.

    I'm going to try to be brave and do some pattern (or a patina of sorts) on another antique desk that I picked up. That will be a first for me.

  5. I did two protective coats of polyurethane, letting it dry completely after each coat, so I think it will withstand scratches fairly well. I thought about a topper of sorts, but that's where it ended for a thought!! :)