I have a pin on my “Refinished/Repurposed Furniture” board of a secretary desk that has been painted grey with a coral/peach desk surface.  That desk image has stuck with me for ages, so when the chance to make over a secretary came around, I had to jump….

even if it came with a $30 price tag.  ($30 seriously? – this thing is a MESS!)

Step-by-step tutorial on how to makeover a secretary (or any) desk

Someone has attempted to refinish it more than a few times as you can see by the brown, mint, royal blue and white.  I’m going to hazard a guess and say that they thought they could get away without sanding.

I’m a firm believer that you can’t.

No matter how good the paint, you have to have a smooth surface and something for it to adhere to if you want your piece to both look good and LAST.

Which this one didn’t.

Secretary desk 2

Normally, I just sand the piece down – but this one had layer on layer of paint, so I had to get out a chemical stripper.

I really don’t like using chemical strippers because I always seem to get burned – even through my latex gloves.  This time I unknowingly brushed against the desk and ended up ‘feeling the burn’ through my yoga pants, onto my butt.  YOWCH!

But it worked – look at that paint crinkle up:

Secretary desk 3


If only it was this effective on my butt!

Then you just wipe it off with a metal scraper.

Secretary desk 4

This is the point where I chant my mantra (inside my head) – “It always looks worse before it looks better, it always looks worse before it looks better”.  It offsets the panic that sets in when you see the mess above.

Sure enough, after a sanding, this is how it looked:

Secretary desk 5

I didn’t strip the inside of the cubbies because I didn’t want to risk more stripper on my arms.  Besides – they are hidden with shelves and a drawer, so a smooth sanding was all that was really needed.

A coat of pre-stain primer and then Special Walnut stain:

Secretary desk 6

I darkened the stain up a bit by doing a second coat in Dark Walnut.

Then Provence blue by Annie Sloan on the desktop.

Secretary desk 7

The drawers were stripped on the fronts, then the insides sanded and painted in the blue to match.

I put a coat of triple-thick varnish on the entire piece, including the desk surface, which yellowed it slightly, but will make it more durable and long-lasting in the end.

The brass hardware I found in my bin where I keep old hardware from other pieces I’ve refinished.  What luck – they look perfect!

Secretary desk 8

Pretty spectacular right?

I love it – and I think I’m almost on par with the grey and peach one that inspired this.

Secretary desk 9

This seems romantic somehow – the image of someone sitting here with a cup of tea, writing a letter…. no one hand writes anymore, but the nostalgia of it is pretty appealing.

Secretary Desk 10

This one is available for sale should you want to bring a little “romance” into your home.  Click over to my “Shop” page and scroll down to the bottom for measurements and pricing.

Desk makeover - Secretary Desk

Photo tutorial on refinishing a secretary desk.


Have a great one!

Too funny


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