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DIY Desk Makeover: A Thrift Store Makeover

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Every piece of thrift store furniture has a story to tell, especially this DIY desk makeover. I picked it up from my favorite thrift store about three years ago (that’s how long it’s been sitting in my garage!!!), and you won’t believe that it was just a mere $11.00. But when you see the BEFORE pics, you can see why it was so cheap:


DIY Desk Makeover - Thrift Diving - yucky top


Clearly, nobody or their mama was jumping at the chance to buy it. The top was badly marred, and it wasn’t like it was an antique or anything!


DIY Desk Makeover - Thrift Diving - Damaged, but it could be saved


But for $11.00, I couldn’t pass it up. Could you?? I saw its potential even if no one else could! I imagined a pretty vanity or something…


DIY Desk Makeover - Thrift Diving - This thrift store find was only $11!


But it sat in my garage, collecting dust–a wonderful safe-house for spiders. LOL.

For this month’s Room Challenge, my readers and I are working on our 6-Week June Room Makeover Challenge where we tackle one space in our homes in just 6 weeks. I bravely elected myself to whip this garage into shape so I can get my workshop together. But I sort of forgot that I can’t possibly get a workshop in here until all this stuff gets made over and finds a new home!

[insert face palm slap here]

I don’t know what I was thinking. This is going to take at least three months to purge and pull together!


DIY Desk Makeover - Thrift Diving Blog - BEFORE 3



But I’m glad I had the vision that others didn’t, because I’m squealing inside with how much I love this piece! It looks like Chinese Silk!


DIY Desk Makeover - Thrift Diving 5


DIY Desk Makeover - Thrift Diving - AFTER

The Story of This DIY Desk Makeover

My friend had recently bought a sewing machine and I had hold her that I would give her the desk, but if she could pay me to make it over, that would be great.

Well……she must not have had much faith in my DIY desk makeover skillz, because she was like, “Ummmmm, yeaaaahhhhh.” Actually, she didn’t respond at all when she saw it. That was a clue she wasn’t interested.

But can you blame her??

Most people can’t see past the damage and ugliness.

This is what it looked like when I invited her over to have a look (gouges and everything):


DIY Desk Makeover - Damaged edges




This is what the top looked like after I finished with it!

DIY Desk Makeover - Thrift Diving - Shabby Paints Gelato Gel used for the top after the other stains didn't work well. Loved this!

Materials Needed

  • Paint – Annie Sloan Emperor’s Silk Chalk Paint
  • Royal Stencil Creme – Aged Gold
  • Orbital sander  from Amazon or Home Depot (use a dust mask, too)
  • Sandpaper for orbital sander (60, 100, and 220 grit paper)
  • Wood filler (if needed)

STEP 1: Get stripping.

As much as I actually like using chemical stripper to remove top layers of furniture, an orbital sander is sooo convenient to get the job done. It’s what I usually use. I don’t know if I love the results over using chemical stripper (orbital sanders tend to leave little marks; or maybe I’m just doing things wrong).

DIY Desk Makeover - Thrift Diving - Part of the desk top sanded



DIY Desk Makeover - Thrift Diving - Sanded down top of the DIY desk makeover


Be sure to use the 60 or 80 grit first….followed by the 100 medium grit…..and last, with the 220 grit.

DIY Desk Makeover - Thrift Diving - Sanding pads for sanding DIY furniture3

STEP 2: Wipe on the stain.

This part was tough. I wanted to use what materials I had on hand. I could not get the right color. I didn’t want this reddish tone…

DIY Desk Makeover - Thrift Diving - Wipe on the stain


…and when I wiped it off, it was a little more rustic [read: spotty!!!] than what I was going for. I still wasn’t sure what color the body was going to be!!

TIP: To help your furniture stain be less spotty and more even, be sure to use Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner. Pre-stain helps to prevent the stain from soaking in too darkly in some spots. 


DIY Desk Makeover - Thrift Diving - Wipe off the excess Minwax stain. I didn't like it though

I tried adding some additional stains I had around the house, but I still wasn’t feeling this look. You can even see the swirly lines from the orbital sander. Rustic–yes, but not the look I wanted.

DIY Desk Makeover - Thrift Diving - Restained top, but not loving it


Towards the end of this project, I settled on some samples of Shabby Paints Gelato Gel stain (which is new–just came out June 2015). Apparently you can just go right over existing stains with this stuff, so that’s what I did. It just sponges on and has a sealer in it, so no need to apply another sealer. Woo hoo! (Excuse the gross looking plate. DIY gets dirty, yo!).


DIY Desk Makeover - Thrift Diving - Shabby Paints Gelato Gel on a saucer



STEP 3: Paint the body.

Oh man, I was soooo not inspired by this desk when I started with it. I thought I would paint it white, but realized that was too bland, so I quickly covered the white test area. I didn’t want that. So I went with Annie Sloan Emperor’s Silk. TOTALLY not a color I have ever used except for when I painted my kids’ nautical themed wooden play sink. Otherwise, it’s a color that I have considered way too “loud” for me. I’m a turquoise kind of gal. I decided to try red since originally this was going to my friend. She likes red and deep colors. Sure, I’ll give it a try!

DIY Desk Makeover - Thrift Diving - Thought I would paint it white but decided for Annie Sloan Emporer's Silk red


At this point, it was looking really rough and I just wanted to be done with the whole thing! LOL

DIY Desk Makeover - Thrift Diving - 1


STEP 4: Jazz it up!

So at this point, I had two coats of paint on the body…the top was as good as I could get it at the time…but it needed something. I just didn’t know what. I realized that’s what I love about painting furniture: the details.

DIY Desk Makeover - Thrift Diving - Annie Sloan Emporer's Silk with two coats


I decided to go with a free-hand gold leaf pattern!

You know what’s amazing?? This is the same pattern I used to draw when I was in 5th grade! HA! 🙂 I used to draw tons of trees with this same pattern. Heck, why not on furniture, too???


DIY Desk Makeover - Thrift Diving - Handpainted stencils of leaves


I used Royal stencil creme, which was a metallic dream!


DIY Desk Makeover - Thrift Diving - Royal Stencil Creme used on the drawers

It reminded me of Chinese silk brocade!! Loved it!

DIY Desk Makeover - Thrift Diving - Gold leafing on the drawers


Here’s a quick video (2:50 seconds) showing how I painted the gold leaves:


STEP 5: Get some handles.

I didn’t want to spend a dime on new handles, which would have been $15 – $20.

I had found these from that old pretty vintage buffet I refinished last year.

DIY Desk Makeover - Thrift Diving - Old knobs used from another project


I had to drill new holes so that the pulls could be centered.

DIY Desk Makeover - Thrift Diving - Drilled new holes


DIY Desk Makeover - Thrift Diving - Drilling holes


I added some wood filler to the old holes, then sanded smooth.

Notice how I did this AFTER I painted the drawers. STUPID! 🙂 A word of advice: plan your project better than me :).

I had to touch it up afterwards. LOL

DIY Desk Makeover - Thrift Diving - Had to touch up with paint and fix


I only had 6 pulls, so for the center one I used an extra pull left over from this super cute vintage dresser makeover I did.  Glad I didn’t have to spend money on those!


DIY Desk Makeover - Thrift Diving

STEP 6: Gel stain the drawers.

I used the same gel stain on the inside of the drawers. It just added a layer of “freshness” to the drawers without them needing to be painted, which would have taken so much time!


DIY Desk Makeover - Thrift Diving - I used the Shabby Paints Gelato Gel inside the drawers to freshen them up without having to paint

I went through and fixed up the edges, too, to make it clean.

DIY Desk Makeover - Thrift Diving - Putting the finishing touches


Even the Family Liked It!

My husband isn’t one that doles out compliments often, but when he came outside and saw the “after,” he actually said, “Wow!”


And my 8 year old son, Kwabena, told me, “That looks really good, Mommy. I really like how you took a lot of time to do the details.” Awwww…..hopefully it was a teachable moment for him, to always take your time and put in your best effort!

Ohene and Kojo really liked it, too!

DIY Desk Makeover - Thrift Diving - AFTER with the kids




DIY Desk Makeover - Thrift Diving - This thrift store desk sat in my garage for 3 years!



DIY Desk Makeover - Thrift Diving - Top of the desk

DIY Desk Makeover - Thrift Diving - I used knobs from an old vintage dresser for this projects


DIY Desk Makeover - Thrift Diving - The top on this thrift store desk was in bad condition



DIY Desk Makeover - Thrift Diving - View of the refinished wood top of desk makeover


DIY Desk Makeover - Thrift Diving - AFTER - Gold on the edge


DIY Desk Makeover - Thrift Diving - Annie Sloan Emporer's Silk red and gold desk


I love this DIY desk!

I think I’ll be keeping it for myself, or selling it. My friend doesn’t even use her sewing machine, so I know this desk wouldn’t get any use at her house. 

DIY Desk Makeover from the Thrift Store Thrift Diving Blog

So what do you guys think?!?! Have you ever worked on a project that totally didn’t grab your heart until the end? Leave a comment below and add to the discussion!


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  1. Hi Serena,
    Just found your blog yesterday while searching paint colors…stumbled upon Sea Salt and Rainwashed…how many times have you heard that so far. You must get a lot of traffic from people searching for paint.
    My comment here though is about your furniture. If you ever have another piece like this particular desk in red that you originally were going to give away, but then the friend didn’t like it, you should definitely style it, take a great photo and sell it on Craigslist. Take a look at this example of a blogger who did a furniture makeover, then styled it, and sold it. She had people ask to see a “real” photo of the desk…they thought she posted a stock photo because it was that good. Happy selling!! http://sawdust2stitches.com/dresser-makeoverflip/

  2. I love your skills, I love how you test out new paint and let us know how it handles. Also your chose of colors for a sewing machine table just made me all squishy. Red and gold oh so not my colors. But this project helped me to think out side the box. I have a wood kitchen table I want to make over for my sewing machine. I’m planing something awesome for the legs.. get back to you with pics. šŸ™‚

  3. Janice Farnsworth says:

    The desk came out beautiful! I love seeing what you do to upcycle furniture and other items. I have never been very good at furniture repair but I am good at crafts. I’m watching what you do with those too ? You are very talented and I always love getting posts from your blog. Your kids are adorable!

    1. Thanks, Janice!!! šŸ™‚ I’m still learning the art of furniture repair myself, and it’s been a few years! šŸ™‚ I just think the more you do it, the more you learn! And we can never stop learning, so we must just keep keepin’ on! šŸ™‚ Thanks for reading my blog. That means a lot!!! šŸ™‚

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