The Makeover of a French Provincial Desk

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I absolutely looooove the combination of grey and white, and I’ve been dying to make over a piece of thrift store furniture with this color combo for quite a while.

Enter: this beat-up (but cute style!) French Provincial desk that I picked up at my favorite thrift store.


French Provincial Desk BEFORE1

Isn’t it amazing what paint can do?! With this type of transformation, who would ever need to buy NEW??

1_Thrift Diving French Provincial Desk

You know that when you shop thrift stores for furniture to make over, you know it’s always a toss up about whether it will require a nip here…..a tuck there…..and sometimes, a whole face lift!!

Thankfully, this desk wasn’t a total “face lift” but it did throw me for a loop with a few things that ended up eating away a lot of my time!

Don’t you hate when projects go like that?? What you thought was going to be a quick, easy, satisfying project ends up turning into the project that needs to just “END, already!” so you can move on to something else.

Yeah, well, that was this project.


Do You Ever Paint the BACK of Furniture??

I know….”Who’s ever going to SEE it?!” is what you’re probably thinking. That is what I used to say, too. But ever since I decided that I may try my hand at the ‘ole “entrepreneurial thing” (read: selling some of my stuff on Craigslist and at flea markets, which hasn’t happened YET; just gearing up), I decided that it’s unacceptable (and UGLY!!) to leave the back and bottom untouched.

When I found this French Provincial desk, this is what the back of it looked like: covered in thick, torn cardboard MDF-type boards. It looked horrible!!


Even though it’s the BACK, seriously, would you want to see this when you turned the desk around?? I wouldn’t! It would be a nasty reminder of the “old” that’s just sitting under 2 layers of paint. And, sorry, but when I make over furniture, I want to erase any thought of the nastiness that used to be 🙂 It needs to look as fresh and clean as possible. NOT with old holes in the back, like this one! LOL

back holes


First, I thought I would just remove the back and put on new backs.

I tried to remove the staples that were holding the back on, but they were huge and long and my tools–well, I may as well have been using a toothpick to pry the staples out! LOL

So I decided to cover over it with a whole new panel and just leave the existing old backing on. No one would even know! (well, unless they find me blabbing it here…..).


 See those panels??

Um…..guess where I found them?


Yep! Hubby, me, and the kids were driving along and I saw about 6 of these MDF boards just SITTING on the side of the road, in the trash pile. Hello!!!! Pull over! Pull over!

Hubby sucked his teeth and complained, but when I’M the one driving, he has no choice but to oblige! And wouldn’t you know, a couple of those boards came in handy for this project!

**sticking my tongue out good-naturedly to hubby**


I used my little Dremel Trio rotary tool to cut the sizes I needed. At the time, I didn’t own a circular saw, which would have been super easy. So I settled for the Trio. Now that I’ve got my circular saw, I’ve been doing all kinds of projects I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise do, like when I turned my toddler’s changing table into a desk!



back dremel

I nailed the panels onto the back. It looks a bit “not even” but that’s because I was trying to go directly over the existing pieces, and those were a little crooked to begin with. Oh well, it doesn’t have to be PERFECT. (Later, I got an awesome Ryobi brad nailer, and let me tell you, that baby makes nailing eaaassssyyy!!)

But even THIS is a major improvement over the holey back.


With a coat of paint, it blends in with the rest of the body without being an ugly eye sore. Again, it doesn’t have to be perfect; but at least it’s an improvement, right??

back fixed


Drilling New Holes

Don’t be afraid to drill new holes for your hardware. Sometimes you want to reposition them, or maybe you just need to rework it, the way I needed to do.

It’s super-easy to do.

This French Provincial desk had 2 knobs on each top drawer, but because one was MISSING, there were only 3 knobs when there should have been 4. (See the missing knob on the left drawer?)

french provincial BEFORE in garage2

Two knobs….

french provincial desk before2

Now there’s only one….

thrift diving french provincial desk 3

I used Wood Filler to cover the existing knob holes, then drilled a hole in the center to create just one knob hole.

holes filled2

When the wood filler was dry, I sanded it down to blend into the wood.

front part

I drilled a new hole in the center and just used 1 knob for each top drawer. PROBLEM: solved 🙂

5_Thrift Diving French Provincial Desk


Pass Me the Primer, Please!!!

You might be wondering if you need to use primer on furniture before painting it. Generally, the answer is NO. Most furniture paints today, such as Annie Sloan Chalk Paint, or some of these other best furniture paints, are formulated specifically to use on furniture and don’t require primer first. However, with that being said, sometimes you do need a good ‘ole can of primer if you need a stain blocker or your paint isn’t adhering to the furniture if there is silicone or some other substance that is preventing the paint from sticking.

I love Annie Sloan Chalk Paint and have used it for many pieces of furniture, because it sticks to everything, apparently.

But one thing it DOESN’T do is act as a stain blocker, and that what an issue I ran into with this French Provincial dresser.

Primer and Chalk Paint

You see these drawer fronts?? They were horribly stained and no matter how much cleaning I did, and how many coats of chalk paint I used (I painted at LEAST 3 or 4 coats of white over that gold trim part), it wasn’t sticking well. There must have been some stains or something on it because the paint was beading up with each coat. In order to get the paint to stick, though, I whipped out the good ‘ole primer and slathered on a coat. Worked like a charm!

Head’s up–sometimes you will get problems with paint sticking, or with old stain bleeding through. I wrote an entire blog post about the 10 Most Common Furniture Painting Mistakes and How to Avoid Them. Be sure to check it out!

So back to this post…  🙂

Drawer facing -- YUCK!

So to reiterate, you don’t necessarily have to prime, but if you run into an issue with your furniture paint not sticking, try some primer.

I didn’t have to prime the entire dresser, just the gold.


I kept the existing hardware because it had such a nice shape. I just painted them white, too.

Thrift Diving French Provincial Desk Drawer Handle


However, if you want to refinish the French Provincial handles or knobs gold, try using some Rub n’ Buff metallic wax finish. It works wonders on handles that are tarnished and that need a refresh. If you’ve never bought knobs and handles, they can be expensive. So reusing your old ones, and just refreshing them with Rub n’ Buff, works extremely well!



So let’s take a look at what it looked like “before.” It’s such a beautiful style of furniture that many little girls in the 70’s and 80’s had! It’s become fashionable again, and is pretty good quality. So if you have a set that a parent passed down to you, or you’re passing it down to your daughter, you can refresh it.


french provincial BEFORE in garage2


3_Thrift Diving French Provincial Desk


And here’s another French Provincial dresser makeover that I painted for my mother-in-law. Yes, same gray and white. 🙂 What can I say?? The gray and white combination looks fabulous! You’ll definitely want to check out this dresser because there was some repairs with wood filler that I needed to make to the top before I painted it. You’ll want to check that out if you dresser has surface imperfections, too.


BEFORE: Ugly French Provincial Dresser Makeover


French Provincial Desk Makeover from Thrift Diving


Lessons Learned

It’s true that with each project you learn a little something more than you did before you started. With this project, I learned that:

1) Sometimes primer will be needed if you’ve got areas that need stain blocking. Primer will never completely go out of style, so be sure to have a can nearby if you need it.

2) Sometimes hiding a flaw is just as good as correcting it!

3) It’s okay to hoard trash you find on the side of the road because one day, you might just need it. Just don’t go crazy with your hoarding. 😉


What are some of YOUR Lessons Learned from doing projects? Please leave a comment!


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  1. Hi Serena,
    I have the French provincial desk very similar to the one you did a makeover on. I’m very excited to do the same, but being a first time for me I have some questions. My top is a laminate, which I intend to paint. Should I sand and prime, and what time of paint should I use? Should it be a paint/primer or should I primer then paint? Also what finish should I use overall? Satin, semigloss, chalk or is there a specific paint I should be using for this project. What time of paint did you use for the hardware? Will a spray paint work and what finish? I know I’m making this harder then it should be, but my husband thinks this is a waste a time and I want to prove him wrong. lol
    Thank you for your input.

  2. Danelle McCoy says:

    How did you get the handles off? I have the same desk but the pulls don’t have screws and I can’t figure out how to get them off.

    1. Hi Danielle! Snap a pic from the front and back of the drawer and send it to me. I’d like to see. Mine had screws! I wonder if they could be glued on….? Email me: [email protected]

  3. I have a vanity of the same style basset brand. I am wanting to refinish it. Also love the wood stained top and painted front. Mine appears to have a laminate or Formica top on it that is very faded. How can I retain the wood look if it is a veneer?

    1. Hi Jennifer! Good luck on refinishing your piece! If it’s a laminate that’s not a WOOD laminate, it’s very difficult to make that look like wood, since it’s not wood and doesn’t have a “wood grain” look to it. If it has a wood veneer, that can just be sanded and stained if it’s a real wood veneer. But the type of top on this piece of furniture wouldn’t work for having a stained top and painted body.

  4. Elizabeth Spradley says:

    How do you prepare the top of the laminate so that it will stand up to tough use?? My tops have a heavy, shiny finish. I need them to be tough for lamps to sit on, drag around on, school books stacked and moved etc….. How do you keep the top finish from pealing off?

  5. I have a French provincial chest of drawers amd dresser that my mom purchased on 1965. I do not like them at all! But they are made well so I’m going to try amd paint them to see if maybe I will like them after the paint job. Thank you fir the great pics amd post! Love what you did with the gray!

  6. Amy Clark says:

    I do have a question on the hardware. You painted it white. Did you use the Beyond Paint? I am going to tackle a 1960’s-1970’s Magnavox Stereo that was my parents. Daddy ran into to it with the Hoveround and scraped the front so it gives me a good excuse to modernize it.

    Thank you!

  7. I have two of these exact dressers, one longer one with a mirror ($75); the other is shorter ($15), both of which I bought off craigslist. I also have two side tables ($70 for both) that I bought at a barn sale. The side tables had been painted a robins egg blue before I bought it; I haven’t done anything with the dressers, which were bought about 8 years ago! LOL
    I am assuming that, because the side tables have been painted (I don’t know with what type of paint) that I will have to sand and prime those before I repaint? I am loving the grey/white combo!

    1. Hi Anne! If you’re re-painting the side tables and the paint is in good condition, you shouldn’t have to sand and prime those to repaint them! Same for the dressers. No sanding or priming needed, unless they’re in bad condition or the old stain is bleeding through. Good luck!!

  8. Amy Hughes says:

    Hi! I have this same exact desk and I love what you did with it! Can you tell me the name of the grey paint you used and also did you prime the whole desk prior to painting?

    Looks terrific!

  9. I like your lessons learned! Everything you did was definitely an improvement to this piece and whoever buys it will appreciate the new back. Great project again! Thanks for sharing each week at #HomeMattersParty

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