BEFORE & AFTER: A DIY Desk Makeover From the 1980’s

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This before and after desk makeover is controversial–you either love it or you hate it. Personally, I love it! I do love natural wood, but sometimes natural wood just needs a little sprucing up, like this DIY desk makeover from the 80’s!

 Watch This DIY Desk Makeover in Action!


I struggled with this DIY desk makeover when I got started because not every piece of wood furniture should be painted.

In fact, after I found it from the ReStore for only $40, I posted it on my Thrift Diving Facebook page and asked people, “Should I paint this desk or not?”

People had some great ideas, like creating a game table…going metallic…painting the body and staining the top…

Some people suggested I leave it “as is.”

And I was seriously considering doing just that: leaving it “as-is.”

But there’s this moment when your piece of thrifted furniture is sitting in front of you, and you’re in the brink of a day’s worth of sweat and effort, and you think, “What’s my gut telling me to do with this piece of furniture?”

My gut on this one said, “Keep it classy and classic, girlfriend.”

But in the midst of having these serious one-on-one conversations with my gut, I had one fleeting moment where I thought, “Oh, but the wood grain is so pretty. Maybe I should just leave it alone….”


Hold up.

Let’s take another look at this $40 thrifted desk.


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Please tell me, dear reader, would you have left this piece of wood furniture untouched?

Don’t answer that.

It wasn’t until I was looking at a picture of it and the realization hit me:

It’s the color O-R-A-N-G-E!

And if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you’ll know that I generally hate orange.

Yep, you can throw in dated, orange wood tones into that category, too.

Yes, it had great bones…great legs… Call it sexy, if you want.

But the color was all wrong.

What this beauty needed with an upgrade to the 21st century. 🙂

Now, seeing how it looks after I got my hands on it, I can’t believe I was even considering not painting and restaining it!

AFTER – DIY Desk Makeover!


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Sometimes we hesitate when deciding how to refinish a piece of furniture, but if you stop and think, look it over, and ask yourself, “Can I see this in my house??” you’ll come to the right answer.

Now…..let me show you how I completed this DIY desk makeover from the thrift store!

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  • Orbit sander with 60-, 100-, and 220-grit sandpapers
  • Beyond Paint (Bright White)
  • Wood stain (I chose the darkest I had on hand–a mixture of Minwax Jacobean and Espresso)
  • Paintbrush or small roller
  • Natural bristle brush for stain
  • Lint-free towels
  • Dust mask
  • Gloves

STEP 1: Clean, Baby, Clean!

With all furniture makeovers, you’ve got to clean them first. Even though I planned to sand the top, it’s always a good idea to wipe down the whole thing. I use Simple Green for cleaning down my furniture makeovers.


DIY Desk Makeover with Beyond Paint - Spray the desk with Simple Green


STEP 2: Get Your Sand On

I’ve used chemical strippers before, yes. And while there’s something so satisfying about scraping the gunk off of wood, have you ever seen the mess it makes??

So usually, when I want to strip something, I break out the ‘ole sander and sand it down.

Related: How to Strip Furniture and Stain It: A Complete Guide


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But there’s a method to the madness: start with 60-grit sandpaper and, then work your way down to the 100-grit (or P150-grit), then finish it off with a 220-grit sandpaper (depending on the type of wood, you may be able to stop at the P150-grit sandpaper).

While I may not have done it for this project, your final sanding should be by hand.

(Working from one grit to another grit helps to minimize swirly marks from using an orbit sander).

Take your time when sanding edges, cracks, and crevices!

Wipe all the dust off with a tack cloth to get all the dust off before re-staining and painting.


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STEP 3: Wipe On….Wipe Off

When I re-stain something, I usually apply it pretty liberally, then wipe off immediately with lint-free cloths.

It usually isn’t as dark as I would like, so I do a second coat.

Keep in mind that stain has pigments that sits on top of the wood (the stain doesn’t soak into the wood). So after one coat, there’s not much more you can add in order to change the color. If anything, you’ll get a slightly darker color, but it won’t be much darker.

Here’s how it looked with the stain wiped on.

I don’t recall exactly the shade of stain I used, but it was the darkest I had on hand, which was likely a mixture of Minwax Jacobean and Espresso.

Wipe the stain off with lint-free rags.


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STEP 4: Break Open the Paint

I save painting for last.

That way, if any stain has dripped onto the body, I can wipe that up easily before painting. If you paint first, you risk ruining your beautiful paint job!

For this project, I used Beyond Paint in the color Bright White.

I’ve used this paint on many other projects and have grown to like it more and more each time I use it.


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When using Beyond Paint, you won’t have to strip, sand, or prime your furniture (as long as it’s in good condition and doesn’t need any prep work). It also works on not only wood, but plastic, masonry, glass, and many more surface areas.

This piece of furniture was perfect in that it didn’t have any gouges to fill with wood filler…and it didn’t need any other prep other than wiping it down first!


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(TIP: If you’ve got bleed through, where the old stain is bleeding through your paint, you’ll have to add a coat of clear sealer to the furniture first, to create a barrier between the old bleeding stain and the new paint. Once the sealer is dry overnight, then you may try painting your furniture again).

It’s Got “Spreadability”

If you’ll notice, this paint isn’t a drippy-drippy kind of paint.

I’ve always said it reminds me of custard, in a good it’s-making-me-hungry-kind-of-way. 🙂


Beyond Paint Reviews - Thrift Diving


As soon as you put it on furniture, you see how smooth it goes on, whether you’re spreading it with a roller or using a paint brush on intricate areas.

I find that it’s one of the most spreadable paints I’ve used, which is why I like using it, especially when I’m trying to get a project done quickly!


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Typically, when using Beyond Paint, they recommend using a paint roller so it minimizes brush strokes. When you get to corners, you can use a paintbrush to smush the paint into those cracks and crevices.

However, since this desk body was full of so many angles and cracks and crevices, I decided to use the paintbrush instead.


DIY Desk Makeover with Beyond Paint - Thrift Diving


The DIY Struggle is Real!

Even after you’ve decided to paint a piece of furniture, sometimes what happens is that you can’t decide what color to choose!


This happened to me during this project, too. 🙂

I thought maybe I would want to paint it with Beyond Paint Pewter, so I did a little test.


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Why not paint one leg each color? 🙂

Whichever color “grabbed” me, I would go with that color.


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So you see which color won, right??

I loved the Pewter, but the white made a world of difference, especially with the stained rich top!



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STEP 5: Protect That Top!

Most likely, my kids will be sitting at this desk using our new laptop, drawing–you name it.

So I definitely wanted to seal the top.

Beyond Paint makes a sealer, so I used that on the top. I decided not to seal the body because the paint is self-sealing.


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You can also use a roller to apply the sealer, but I used a paint brush because I wanted the top super smooth.

It goes on very milky, but it dries clear and satiny! Just make sure to use light coats because if you don’t, it may dry milky.

My camera battery died in the middle of applying the sealer, so, unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of that step!

But it’s really easy.

I waited until the first coat dried and then added a second coat.


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DIY Desk Makeover From the 80s - Restained Top 2 - Thrift Diving Blog


STEP 6: Pick Out Pretty New Knobs!

I’ve been wanting to use these Old World glass knobs with vintage maps for the past 2 years since I found them!

But you know how it is–you can’t use knobs until you’ve found the perfect piece for them.

A classy knob for a classy desk. 🙂

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I think these knobs look great!!

Updated, not too flashy, and lends to the classic look of the desk!


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The Pitfalls and Mishaps

Yep, these things happen, folks!

I can’t lead you astray to make you think this project was perfect. 🙂

Guess who got a little too Orbit Sander Happy?

As a result, I took a bit too much off a couple ends, down to the “meat,” which doesn’t take stain very well.


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BUT….I choose to look at it as….oooohhhhh…just a little bit of inadvertent distressing. 🙂


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Just be careful with that orbit sander! LOL

Overall, it still looks fabulous, I think!

Let’s have another look:


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I decided to put the desk in our “computer room.” My middle son uses it to play computer.

You can see how I created the DIY wooden wall photo collage here.


For now, I’m just glad that it’s one less piece of furniture in my garage!

I’ve been working on cleaning up the garage, painting the garage floor, and trying to turn it into a pretty workshop.


So what do you think of this DIY desk makeover?? A good decision to get rid of that orange wood, right?! 🙂

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  1. Hey Serena! You have heard my belly aching about painting wood….but in this case I totally agree that the end result is excellent. I grew up and my bedroom was knotty pine tongue in groove paneling. As it aged, from 1966 till 2010, it got darker. The room was claustrophobic. But God forbit the wood get painted. When we moved into our current house, the family room had dark brown standard paneling. I think it must have been cheaper than drywall. ? After nagging for several years to pleeeease paint the paneling, we did. Well, my husband did because he says he does not like my painting! (BooHoo) we have painted it twice. It does take several coats of good quality paint, but it was worth it.
    Back to your desk, have you thought about having a piece of glass cut to cover the desk? It is not horribly costly but protects the wood from all the nicks and dents everyday use can cause. And it is easy to clean. Get the invisible round things to secure it at the corners. It will be kid proof.
    As for stripping the legs with the fancy woodwork, we had a table and my husband took it apart and we took the legs to a professional dipping place. When we wanted to stain it, Steve, very cleverly hung the legs by wires and attached them somehow, to the ceiling in the garage. Stain and oil poly worked great, and put it all back together.
    Great job. And yes, the white was a good choice, compared to gray. Another great project.

  2. Rebecca S Barbarino says:

    OMG! You so nailed that desk. I think I have desk-envy! LOL Loved it!

  3. Kathy Carlson says:

    Congratulations on taking the remodeling class. You are awesome. I can’t wait to see what tidbits I can learn from you.

    I love, love, love the desk makeover. I have been wanting to paint some furniture and I really would like to get my hands on some of that paint.

    Keep up the inspiration!!!

    1. There are a million different ways you could have painted/dyed that desk and you honestly picked THEE perfect color and stain! I love it !

  4. GREAT JOB! Gonna have to see if I can find that paint here in St. Louis. Glad you chose to use the white instead of the pewter color. Nice job!!

  5. The desk is amazing. The difference between the dark top and the white bottom really make it shine. The grey color would not have done that. One of my favorite redos. I have a couple of pieces that I need to do that to. They would look great like that. Thanks for the beautiful redo.

  6. Serena,
    The desk is gorgeous. While I like natural wood finishes, I agree with you about the orange tones. The white legs and “skirt” look great against the darker wood top. Love those knobs, too! You’ve done a wonderful job from top to bottom!

  7. Great result, Serena! The desk turned out beautiful. Your are an inspiration…I have a garage full of projects calling me and you are getting me motivated to dive in. And thank you for including info on good products to use that make the pieces look great. Thanks!

  8. Aracellis Lopez says:

    Serena, girl you did it again! I just love this desk. The colors are so beautiful and the knobs are a perfect compliment. During the Spring, I intend to do some projects in my home. I have learned so much from you; so I feel confident to go forward. THANK you so much sweetie.
    By the way, Happy Thanksgiving Day to you and your family.

    1. YAY! This makes me so happy to hear, Aracellis! That’s my main goal: to inspire people to do their own projects, not to be scared, and to learn as much as you can! šŸ™‚ … inspire people to flex their creative muscles! I can’t wait to see what you create!

  9. It’s gorgeous now and those knobs!!!!!! I think you made all the right choices.

  10. Debra Viola says:

    Love how it turned out! Another good move. I could not live with that orange, dated finish. In this case….you had no choice. lol

    1. Thanks, Debra! I agree! Dated wood has no place in my house. LOL šŸ™‚ And since I’m trying to work on my garage, it needed to get OUT of there! šŸ™‚

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