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How To Makeover An Old Desk With Paint (Easy DIY Tutorial)

by - Tuesday, July 06, 2021

It’s been a few weeks since I gave my home office an update and I have to say, I absolutely love working in this refreshed space. My favourite element in the room has to be my DIY desk makeover

I’m glad that I resisted buying a new desk and instead scoured thrift stores, yard sales, and Facebook Marketplace for just the right old piece to give a new look. Furniture makeovers not only keep usable items out of landfills, they are also a great way to create something that is uniquely yours.

This is a very easy DIY and you can achieve spectacular results with a few simple materials, not a lot of time, and without spending a ton of money. Here’s how to makeover an old desk with paint. 

Thank you to Jolie Paint for providing the materials used in this makeover!

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DIY Desk Makeover


The first step to achieving a great results with an old desk makeover is in selecting a piece of furniture in good condition. You’ll want to check the desk for looks and functionality. 

I planned to have my desk placed in the middle of the roam so I had a few specific criteria: 
  • finished on four sides (i.e. the back of the desk was not unfinished and meant to be up against a wall) 
  • open legs with no cross braces or shelves below the desk 
  • some storage drawers 
  • less than 5’ long so it could fit in my small office room and have space for circulation around the desk 
  • in great shape with no broken or missing parts 
  • traditional lines to fit with the classic decor scheme of my office 
  • a real wood top that I could refinish 

Finding just the right old desk may require patience but desks come up fairly frequently on the resale market so don’t settle for a piece of furniture that isn’t perfect for your needs. Here’s the desk I found on Facebook Marketplace. It had the traditional lines I was hoping for and looked to have a decorative real wood top beneath the stain. 

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Once you have your old desk, set up in an open space with good ventilation. I worked out in our garage with a drop cloth on the floor and the garage door open while I painted. 

Materials: 

Old desk 
Wood filler, spackling, or joint compound 

What kind of paint do you use on a desk? 

 
You can use latex or oil based paint in a satin or semigloss finish for painting furniture. However, for a super easy yet equally durable finish, I prefer to use a chalk paint. Even if this is your first time painting furniture, you can achieve a professional look with chalk paint. 

Chalk paint is actually a registered trademark owned by Annie Sloan but more generically refers to paint that has a matte, chalk-like finish. There are many brands which produce chalky finish paint including Annie Sloan, Fusion Mineral Paint, FAT paint (which I used on my blue bookcase), BEHR (they also make a chalked spray paint), and Jolie Paint, which is what I’m using for this project. 


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Chalk paint requires no prep work. You can paint directly on previously-painted surfaces or unpainted surfaces. It applies easily, doesn't show brush strokes, and dries quickly. You can distress it for a more rustic look, or use protective waxes to enhance details and provide a more durable finish. 

Step 1: Clean and vacuum the desk 


Empty out all the drawers and vacuum to remove any remaining debris. Remove the drawers. Spray the desk with an all purpose cleaner/degreaser and use a cloth or non-abrasive sponge to wipe it down. For more stubborn grime or dirt, use a heavy-duty cleaner like TSP. Let the desk fully dry. 

Step 2: Sand parts that will be left as natural wood 


For this desk, I wanted to have a two tone finish: a chalk finish paint on the legs and body, and natural wood on the top of the desk. As I was using a chalk finish paint for this project, I could paint directly on the previous paint on the legs and body. They did not need to be sanded down. 

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The desk top however would be left as a natural wood with a protective top coat. I sanded this area down using my power hand sander and 100 grit sandpaper. Sand in long strokes parallel to the wood grain. 

The decorative pattern on my desk top was actually a thin wood veneer. I used medium (100 grit) and fine (220 grit) sandpaper to ensure I did not sand the veneer too deeply. The curved edge of the desk top started to lose its shape as I sanded so I decided to paint that part as well. Once you are finished sanding, wipe the entire desk down with a cloth. 

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Step 3: Fill any holes 


Using a putty knife, fill any holes, dents, or scratches in the furniture. If you will be changing out the old hardware for new pulls or knobs that are a different size, fill in the old hardware holes with putty and drill new holes. 

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You can use wood filler, sparkling or joint compound to fill holes. Apply using a putty knife wider than your hole. Level the surface and let dry. Then use a fine grit sandpaper to sand down the filled areas. Run your hand over the surface to check for any high spots. Keep sanding as needed then wipe with a cloth. 

Step 4: Apply first coat of paint 


Prepare your materials and desk in preparation for painting. For my desk, I combined Jolie paint in Swedish Grey with Jolie paint in Gesso White to create a custom paint color. This fresh coat of paint in an almost white paint colour would highlight the curves of the piece of furniture and keep it from feeling too heavy in the room. 

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Use painter’s tape to tape off any areas that won’t be painted. Apply the chalky finish paint in long brush strokes to the entire desk. You’ll notice that chalk paint is thick but goes on and spreads easily. You don’t need to be conscious of applying it in thin layers as you would a latex paint. 

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The Jolie signature brush was ideal for painting the curved legs and getting even coverage on the body and back of the piece. Be sure to paint the drawer fronts and any edges exposed around the drawers. You don’t need to get opaque coverage in the first coat. Just be sure to cover each surface with a first coat and let it dry. 

Step 5: Sand then apply second coat of paint 


To ensure a smooth finish to your desk, be sure to sand in between paint coats. Use a medium to fine (150 to 240 grit) sandpaper and lightly sand in long, light strokes. Sand off any paint drips and high areas. Wipe down with a cloth after sanding. 

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Apply your second coat to your old desk. Again, apply in long brush strokes. You should have an even layer and no bare spots with your second coat. Let dry. Sand and apply additional coats of paint if necessary. 

Step 5: Apply protective topcoat to natural wood areas 


Give the natural wood areas a more durable finish with a protective topcoat. For a clear gloss finish, I recommend Minwax Polycrylic. This water based finish accentuates the beauty of natural wood and dries to a crystal clear gloss finish. 

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how to make over desk with paint, diy desk makeover, painted desk diy makeover



For this desk, I preferred a less shiny look so I applied two coats of Jolie Low-Luster Varnish using a foam roller and was extremely pleased with the end result. The varnish appears dark when applied but dries to a neutral, low sheen finish. Be careful not to apply too much pressure and “work” the varnish in as this will make the finish uneven. 

As you can see, this product did a great job of bringing out the beauty of the wood veneer pattern. 

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Step 6 : Apply wax finish to chalk painted areas 


Similar to the wood, you’ll want to give your painted areas a protective coat of wax. Waxes come in clear or coloured finishes and can be used to highlight interesting details. The wax allows you to clean the surfaces more easily, prevents fingerprints, and makes the chalk paint more durable. 

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Use a lint-free cloth or wax brush to apply the wax to the entire desk. Work in smaller areas and apply in shorter strokes, ensuring that you cover every bit of paint. Use a cloth to wipe off any excess wax. 

If you prefer a slightly polished finish, let the wax dry overnight and lightly buff it with a clean cloth the next day. The wax requires 24 hours drying time but takes about 2 weeks to fully harden and cure. Don’t place any heavy objects on the surface of your desk during this time. 

Step 7: Finishing touches 


To give your desk a fully updated look, consider adding new hardware, adding drawer liners, and using drawer inserts to keep things organized. These small improvements can improve functionality and give your old desk a new and modern feel. 

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As you can see, my old desk has been completely transformed and given new life. What was once a dark, heavy, dated desk has become a fresh, classic, beautiful desk. Who knew Cinderella was hiding beneath all those rags! 

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I hope you enjoyed this DIY desk makeover and are inspired to undertake your own.

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