Saturday, October 15, 2011

the $20 desk and 3 lessons learned

So quick recap - I picked up this desk from a charity shop for $20. We needed a desk and I was inspired by makeovers like this and this so decided to give that a try. I reckoned at this price it was a good opportunity to try something different (and learn a few lessons along the way....)

The top was pretty marked and a little dented so i sanded it smooth and managed to remove most of the marks. My electric sander is the most amazing bestest thing very good at doing that.

There was a dent and some nail heads that needed filling and hiding so I used some latex wood filler and a spatula and filled away.

When it was dry, I sanded down the excess filler by hand, taped off the top, removed hardware and primed and painted the body and spray painted the hardware.

I had never used stain before so, I got hold of a few different colours (around $5 each from home depot) and a bit of scrap wood in roughly the same colour as the desk and tried them all out

I chose English chestnut and (top middle). I primed the surface with one layer of wood conditioner - I'd read about this on other blogs and thought this would do the trick to even out the few remaining marks. It didn't cover the wood putty but that didn't put me off. I went ahead and did a layer of stain with a foam brush....

So lesson number 1: Wood stain doesn't stain wood filler... clearly because wood filler is latex, not wood, may already know this, in fact I'm sure you do, I didn't....good job this is a cheapo desk! Disappointing though I have to admit. I was tempted to paint over it in white to match the body but my husband persuaded me to just go with it, mistakes and all ("it's only for us it's not going in a museum"). The rest of it was such a lovely warm deep colour. So I agreed and went ahead and worked on the side panels.

I picked up some wrapping paper from paper source (my favourite place for this kind of stuff - so many amazing prints and colour palettes to choose from) and some mod podge (like PVA glue I used to use in school). I chose a silver and white print to match the newly painted silver nickle hardware. I cut it to size.

So, lesson number 2: Paper really does expand when it's wet. Ignoring what I already knew, on my first attempt I painted the paper with glue and tried to fix it to the wood. This was a disaster- tons of bumps, bubbles and creases. I quickly pulled it off and discarded it. Second attempt - I applied the glue to the wood and fixed a new piece of paper to it. This worked much much better although it is still harder than it looks! Thin paper is so difficult to work with. I wonder if wall paper or scrapbooking paper is easier?

Anyway, when it was dry and applied another thin layer of mod podge over the top with a foam brush and repeated when that was dry - 2 or 3 top coats in all I can't quite remember. Then I chose a different paper to line the inside of the drawers cut to size and just placed this in the drawers, no glue.

Then finally a couple of coats of this all over (except on the mod podge bits)

So lesson number 3: A few light coats is nearly always better than one thick one. A universal truth. I tried to spray as lightly as possible but despite my best efforts it managed to turn the white paint slightly yellow in places which can only be from excess dried spray. Thankfully it's not really noticeable unless you're close up but annoying none the less. This was so hard to spot when I was applying it - anyone have any ideas how to prevent this in future?

Anyway, after all the drama,and all the lessons it now looks like this;

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and it's in the guest room with a few books hiding the ugly woodfiller-that-won't-stain-mark

What do you think? I actually really like it and all it's imperfections. Just need to do the chair now to match.


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  1. Sophie this is gorgeous! So glad your husband made you go with it, the wooden top looks lovely with the white :) The paper makes it look much more interesting too. I'm so coming to stay in that guest room ;)

  2. I love the stained top with the white! It looks great. Nice job!

  3. I am totally impressed and love the transformation! Thank you so much for sharing it at the "Meet Me Monday" linky party! Love, Me