Thursday, June 28, 2012

Roll Top Desk Makeover

So a few days ago (seems like months), I posted a list of furniture items that needed a makeover I wanted to re-do.

This large roll top desk was one of them.

As I mentioned in that previous post, my son-in-law answered a CraigsList ad for a power washer and while there, the owner of the power washer asked my son-in-law if he had any use for this desk. Being the, ever-ready-to-please, good-son-in-law that he is, he said "I don't. BUT... I know someone who would".


Good boy knows how to suck up to the mother-in-law, yep, that he does.

It was purchased from Montgomery Wards sometime in the 70's so it's slightly vintage-ish. Maybe not. The 70's were my teenage years so I'm really not willing to admit that it might be considered a vintage era.


For the most part, it was in great shape. The top shelf and writing surface had some varnish peeling issue but being the 'absolute novice' at furniture rehab that I am, I thought..."NO PROB".
You see this is pretty much my very first attempt at a serious furniture makeover.
Oh, I did make a chair into a planter for my mother for Mother's Day. But this is a serious makeover not a, for-the-fun-of-it, lets-see-what-I-can-do-with-this-chair makeover.

I've read so many great things about paints made from chalk in the many blogs I follow (see my "Blogs I Love To Read" section on my main page...shameless begging going on here), so I started by ordering my first can of CeCe Caldwell's Paint in beautiful Carolina Sun Yellow.
I really wanted to go to the nearest store that sold the paint but that's 4 hours from where I live. As much as I would love a road trip, I didn't have time for it now, so I ordered it based on the color sample online. I have to say based on the finished project, I am pleased that the online color really is close to the actual color.

I started with a coat of KILZ Premium Water Base Primer/Sealer/Stainblocker because I was worried that the brown wood grain color of the piece would be to much for the light yellow of the paint.

After several hours of drying time, I proceeded to apply the paint to the interior shelves of the desk.


I thought I was following the directions but for some reason it looked more like I used a dogs tail to slap it on there. I tried 2 coats with a paint brush and I tried to cover the terrible streaks left by the brush by dabbing at it with sponges. Finally I gave up and bought a small foam roller.

Two coats with the roller later....

Much better results!

You can't even tell how bad I had botched the first few coats.
From there, I moved on to sanding the top surfaces. 

I sanded, and sanded, and sanded....
I did not realize just how much sanding it would take to get all that old varnish off.
And....yea, bad me, I was sanding in the house because it was raining outside and I don't have a nice dry garage to do this kind of stuff in. I did stop when I realized how much dust was building up on my counters and furniture. Two rainy days later, I was finally able to move this project out onto the deck and into the sunshine.

For staining the top pieces, I used ZAR Oil-Based wood Stain in 121 Black Onyx applied with a foam/sponge brush. That cheap little thing (4 for .98) worked really well with the stain and I didn't have to worry about cleaning it. I just tossed it when I was done.
And by the way, this roll top part was seriously a beast to sand. All those groves and rounded slats. UGGGG!

In case you can't tell, my picnic table and deck could use a makeover too.

I applied only one coat of stain because I really liked the way the wood grain still showed through. Then I applied 2 coats of ZAR Ultra Interior Oil-Based Fast Drying Polyurethane in Clear Gloss. They're not kidding when they say fast drying. It was drying so fast I was having a hard time getting all the brush strokes smoothed out before it got tacky. Overall, I really like how glossy it came out.

Each piece received at least 2 coats of the CeCe Caldwell's Paint (a few received several more...see above fail). I lightly sanded everything down with a fine sanding block then rubbed on CeCe Caldwell's Clear Wax and buffed everything out after several hours. I'm debating if I should press my luck and try distressing it or if I better leave it as is for now.
After all, I wouldn't want to become an expert at everything at once. Ha! The only thing I will ever become an expert at is figuring out how to cover up my messes.

I scuffed up the original hardware that was more of a brassy color and spray painted with Black Rust-Oleum Gloss Enamel.

So here ya have it.

All back together, which was a 4-letter-word project in itself (actually several 4 letter words were harmed in the process).

Can you see that nice grain showing through the black stain? I like it. 



Just Beautiful!

P.S....This desk is for sale. Please see my Showroom Page for details.


  1. Fabulous make over. Love the bright yellow! You should be proud. Visiting from the Seed

  2. I love the colors and especially the dark top contrast with the painted green. Looks fantastic!

  3. Did you use an electric sander or do it by hand? I think I inherited the EXACT rolltop desk, and I'd like to redo it, but like you, it would be my very first furntiture remodel. How did you get the pieces all apart?

  4. Hello Kelly. Thank you for reading my post. The areas that I stained black, were sanded with a Black & Decker Mouse Sander. The areas that are yellow, were not sanded. I just primed then painted with chalk paint.

  5. Hi - I like how the desk turned out. Question: can you think of ways I might repurpose an old rolltop? Not just make it look prettier but use it for some other purpose. A friend suggested using it as a bathroom vanity. It's too big for our bathroom though. Any ideas? I hate to part with it; the piece is sturdy and solid. But right now it's mostly a place to hide piles of paper. I'd appreciate any input!

    1. Hi Kim. Thanks for reading my post. I'm not sure what else you are thinking about making out of it and I don't know how big of a desk you are working with. If you can remove the top, you can possibly make the base of it into a bar/island area. If you can remove just the roll up face of the desk, you might be able to turn the top and bottom pieces into more of a hutch.

  6. I just received a roll top as an early birthday present, and I am going to be refinishing it soon. Do you have any tips on how to take it apart? Thanks!

    1. I'm not sure how your desk is assembled. There were just a few screws holding the top part on to the base of mine. I did not remove the top of the desk itself, I just painted around it. The rolling part just slid out the back of the top section.
      For the most part, taking it apart isn't the difficult part, it's getting it back together that brings out the best four letter words.
      Good luck.

  7. I love the colors. Don't you hate selling beautiful treasures like this? You put your soul into it!


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