From seriously damaged, to seriously gorgeous, this antique desk makeover is one of my favourite before and afters of all time!

Funny story (at least I thought it was funny);

I asked my BF “if I were to go into a coma, what would be your favourite memory of me?”

Him:  “the day you went into a coma”

That’s love folks!   Oh I laughed!

Speaking of love; I LOVE today’s makeover.

Like love, adore, am thrilled with and crazy about.

I won’t go into the details of every single step – I have a few articles on how to refinish furniture on the blog already – today I want to show you a crazy before, during, and after on my antique desk makeover.

It started with a MaxSold auction that was taking place at a local antique shop.  I scored the industrial cart coffee table, my antique desk and two bookshelves that I’ll refinish and show you later.

antique desk makeover - before

In the photos on Maxsold, you couldn’t see the damage to the top of the antique desk – but it wouldn’t have deterred me anyways…  I was in as soon as I saw the double pedestal legs and claw feet.  You don’t see desks like this anywhere – it’s ridiculously beautiful!!

IF you look past the damage.

antique desk makeover - before

If I told you I paid $160 CDN for this desk, would you think I was crazy or that I got a steal of a deal?

antique desk makeover - before

What I didn’t know on purchasing was that the top was plywood with a veneer over top.  Still no big deal, fixable – except that this one water spot (below) was so bad it had rotted through the veneer and through the plywood underneath as well.

antique desk makeover - before

Usually you can sand stuff like this out, but you’ll see below that it was too far gone to save.

antique desk after sanding

I didn’t lose heart!  It was the legs and base that sold me to begin with, so I continued sanding and stripping the rest of the piece:

sanding down an antique desk

paint stripper on antique desk

This is my favourite stripper par none – Smart Strip Advanced Paint Remover (Amazon affiliate link) – non-toxic, doesn’t burn and can remove up to 15 layers of paint with one coating.

Smart Strip by Dumond Chemical

The next part of the antique desk makeover was to replace the top.  I was able to easily unscrew the rotten top from the base (thank goodness no one used wood glue!) and use it as a template to cute a new desktop from a piece of ¾” red oak plywood.

I did get some chatter on the edges – tiny slivers where the saw blade pulled up a bit of the oak veneer – but by the end I’ll show you that they are barely noticeable.

new oak plywood top for antique desk

A bit of oak edge banding.

Don’t get me started on edge banding!  You’d think at some point your body would be completely saturated with slivers right?  Not so my friends!  Oak edge banding, especially around these rounded edges, sloughs slivers like dandruff and inevitably found another spot on my hands to stab.

I f*&!’n HATE edge banding!

I REALLY hate Covid lockdown with it’s alcohol hand sanitizers finding EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. of those sliver entry points.


new oak top on antique desk

The the antique desk makeover was looking pretty good.

Because I wasn’t able to get all of the dark stain out of the pores/grain of the wood, I decided I was going to “ceruse” the desk.  This means staining the desk one colour and then going over it with a white wash/lime stain etc to fill in the grain with white.

You can see below I applied two coats of Minwax Weathered Oak stain which made the oak grain very dark grey.  I then went over it with Old Masters Pickling White gel stain, rubbing the white into the grain and then wiping off anything that wasn’t ground deeply in.

weathered oak stain and white gel stain

Doing this helped to hide some of the darker areas that were still showing in the older sections of the antique desk – see the darker feet and slivers of dark in the desk front and base?

antique desk makeover, refinishing an antique desk

It also helped to give the desk a more uniform look since the stain took differently on the old sections as compared to the new.

Alright – quit babbling Shelly – give me some before and afters of this antique desk makeover!

antique desk makeover, refinishing an antique desk

I tried to hide the computer cord as best I could by running it along one of the pedestal legs on the side of the desk that you don’t see from the doorway.

It’s not perfect, but it’s considerably better than having a slew of cords dangling messily for everyone to see.

antique desk makeover, refinishing an antique desk

antique desk makeover, refinishing an antique desk

I had a couple of extra knobs (Charmaine collection by Liberty Hardware) leftover from my kitchen makeover and they fit in with the gold handles on the bookcases I refinished a year or so ago.


new hardware on antique desk

feminine home office

antique desk makeover, refinishing an antique desk

I absolutely LOVE how this turned out!  There are a few flaws, I’m the first to admit, but come on!  You saw what I started with!

antique desk makeover, refinishing an antique desk

I added a few pieces of scrap wood, just glued together, to create a bit of organization in the desk drawer:

scrap wood desk organizer

Along with my desk organizer lazy susan, I also brought in my pottery fish bowl for decoration (and sugar sustenance).

fish candy bowl

I made this in a pottery class a couple of years ago, but I FIRMLY believe that if you don’t have a fish bowl (with boobie eyes) full of candy on your desk, you are missing one of the necessities of life.  It’s decorative, it makes you smile and it keeps you fed – mandatory in my books. lol

Get on to the pinnables (Please pin!  It helps me out so much!)

antique desk makeover, refinishing an antique desk

antique desk makeover, refinishing an antique desk

antique desk makeover, refinishing an antique desk

It took a bit of work, and a small investment ($160 for the desk, $80 for the oak plywood (but there’s still half left), $30 for the gel stain, $20 for the edge banding) the rest I had on-hand from other projects.  Roughly $250 – maybe a bit pricey, but I don’t think you’d be able to find/buy a desk like this anywhere else for that much?

If you can, don’t tell me – let me be proud of my new-to-me baby.

Have a great one!





Linked to:  Between Naps on the Porch