Old desk with a new outlook on life

DSCF1006I found this old oak desk at the thrift store, a bargain at under $20. It was just what I have been looking for a work area that will fit all of my beading supplies in its ample drawer space. It was missing the pull out surface on the right, but I figured I could cut something to size to replace it. The only thing was that I hated the drawer pulls. They seemed out of proportion like very big noses on small faces. Sorry — I see faces everywhere! In the knots of wood, leaves and branches of trees, etc, etc, etc. In this photo you can see that I have already removed the pulls.

DSCF1010Here the pulls are sitting numbered on my counter. I looked through my online sources and found other options that might look nice. Some cool new ones that had an old world feel, and some neat vintage pieces. Of course, they would cost more than what I paid for the desk. Now I might have gone with that idea. Hardware is expensive. But I thought that maybe these handles could be modified to make them smaller and more proportional. I decided to cut off 1/4″ from the top edge, and then cut the wide angles off each side. This might work. I could still mount them on their original screws. My man in residence did the dirty work for me. Hallelujah, since I dislike scary-sharp power tools.

DSCF1012I went to work on painting. I knew that this piece would be perfect to try using milk paint. I had seen some great tutorials at Miss Mustard Seed’s website, and knew that her technique gave the effect I was looking for. I had a bunch of milk paint already and chose a white, and dived in. The great thing is, there is no preparation necessary if you want that chippy, vintage look. Which I do. I did have to power sand the drawer fronts where the old handles left marks to camouflage the fact that I changed their design.

DSCF1011Here are my new and improved drawer pulls that I sanded. They are waiting for their turn to be painted. I thought that I would need 2 coats of paint, but I ended up using 3 for this project. I wanted it to cover more solidly, and not look whitewashed. So it really needed a full 3 layers of paint. I got away with doing 2 on the drawer fronts and the pulls.

DSCF1013After it was completely dry, the next step it to lightly go over the piece with a scraper, which lifts off any paint that did not stick to the pre-finished surface beneath the paint. This is where it really gets fun! You can never be quite sure of how chippy your piece will come out.

DSCF1014One of the features of this desk is that it has 2 keyholes, which look so yesteryear.

DSCF1021The pulls went on the drawer and I am happy with the results. They no longer overwhelm the desk, and the effect is so old school! The last step of this process is to wax the piece, which seals the milk paint and brings out the richness and quirkiness of the milk paint. I bought Miss Mustard Seed’s Antiquing Wax, which is soft and easy to apply, and does not have a chemical odor. It gets an A+ from me. You can buy it on Etsy from several sellers.

DSCF1015Here is my finished piece. I am considering putting castors on this 5 legged creature, as my plan is to be able to move projects around as needed. The pull out desk-top surface still needs to be made, but all in all, my desk is ready to be filled with beads and baubles and wire. Glory!

More fun to come as I move everything around in the studio to make room for all this new-ness and to hang some of my vintage rugs on the walls!

Thanks for coming over for a visit today ~ Karen

22 thoughts on “Old desk with a new outlook on life

  1. My husband found a desk like this in a dump! He refinished it down to the oak but it is still one of my favorite pieces. Ours is a small child size desk and the pull out writing board was missing as well! Great job on your pulls!


  2. I had a desk just like that when I taught school. I loved it! All the teachers had new modern desks, but I wouldn’t let them switch mine. When I left, I took it with me and did a little sanding and finishing on the top. It still has carved places from years of use in other classrooms. I put it in my husband’s studio/office. It’s now buried beneath boxes of negatives, photos, etc. But I’m glad it lives on usefully here with us…… Yours is gorgeous!


  3. Most definately put it on wheels. I turned an old dresser into a cutting table for my quilts and put it on wheels…it is my favorite piece of furniture in my sewing area! Very handy for all kinds of projects and I can easily move it when not in use (
    almost never…)


  4. Thanks for sharing your desk and outlining how you put your special touches on there. I would love to do the same, but I am not that good at seeing the beauty in wonderful old pieces like that.
    I am putting in my two-cents worth of opinion on casters. And I suggest it as long as you get the kind that have a brake on them, at least I think that is what it is called. It just stops the piece from running away with you when you aren’t keeping an eye on it. They also save our backs from moving furniture, something in my old age I appreciate more and more.



  5. Karen you can really see a diamond in the rough. My favorite parts are the little moldings below the wide drawer, and the keyholes. And how you modified the drawer pulls rather than replacing them…they look as if they were always that way. I have a little old oak desk in my attic that is prime for a redo. Hmmm…


  6. My Dad had a desk just like that that my nephew has now – I’d love to own it – sure brings back memories! You did a fantastic job! Love it! I know you will enjoy it!



  7. hi karen! love what you did with the desk! i have usally used a rough sandpaper but love the look this gives and will give it a try! love the step by step instructions! perfect now for what you need it for! enjoy!!


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