Restoring an Antique Desk

Something you may not know about me is that I’m a crafty, build-with-my-hands bottom. I’ve got two pieces of furniture that don’t match my apartment’s decor: a buffet my parents bought when they were married and my maternal great grandmother’s desk. I don’t have the heart to part with either of these pieces because I’m super gay and sentimental. My mother (Laura Henson) was very close to her grandparents, MiMi and Daddy Joe. Many years ago, Mom gave me MiMi’s secretary desk.

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This thing is beyond an antique. I decided that I’d rather restore it than give it away. First, I purchased $150 of materials from Amazon. In case you’re interested, I used General Finishes QE Milk paint in Emerald, Rust-Olem primer and metallic gold spray paint, and Miniwax glossy polcrylic.


The next step in my restoration was sanding. I carried MiMi’s desk to the lobby of my building, plugged in an orbital sander, and sanded for THREE hours. You should have seen the dirty looks the Russian Jewish immigrants in my building gave me as they walked through the sand-stained air. But, like Allstate, I’m a good neighbor. After I was done sanding, I vacuumed and mopped the hideous tile floor.

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Freddy Krueger once said, “Welcome to prime time, bitch.” And that’s where I’m at now: prime time. I painted on my first layer of primer, waited an hour, and then put on another coat. Once that’s dry, it’s time for the real paint: emerald.


After the primer dried, I put on my first of four coats of paint.  The first coat ALWAYS looks patchy, uneven, and awful. Luckily, I’ve painted enough furniture to know that the color will become bolder and bolder with each coat. And the stuff will really shine once the poly is applied. Getting there. Step by step.


This is the desk after its third coat of paint:


After the fourth coat of paint, I added a few gold accents. I also painted the two drawers metallic gold but they’re drying in another spot so you can’t see them in the photo. This restoration gave new life to this piece. Amazing what a little elbow grease will do.


The following pic shows the desk after the first of three coats of poly. The gloss really makes the emerald pop.  Furniture restoration is a lot of work but it’s fun and rewarding. I recommend keeping an eye out for expensive furniture you like and then asking yourself, “Can I approximate this look with a piece of furniture that’s seen better days?” I got the idea for this project after seeing Bethenny Frankel’s home in the Hamptons? (Has a gayer sentence ever been written?) She’s got a beautiful lacquered emerald buffet in her living room. The piece provides a vibrant pop of color and makes the room interesting. I’ve got a lot of brass, brown, and gray in my place. The restored desk should really bring my bedroom to life. Almost there!

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Looks pretty cool with the gold sculpture on top of it. Man, oh man. That was a project. The desk came a LONG way, baby.

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