Upcycled Desk: Our First DIY Project

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April 30, 2013 by erikacsc31

Last year, while my husband & I planned our wedding, we kind of went mad for flea markets, recycled & upcycled home décor, and all things vintage, okay mostly me. I found there were lots of hobbyist that started their businesses from taking something old or deemed “junk” and turned it into something of greater value. I LOVE that idea. My husband works in the furniture business, so naturally he knows a good deal about wood and other stuff. Since our home is a work in progress, this was a perfect project for us. The idea of filling our home with unique, affordable items sounded both practical and fun! Therefore, it only seemed logical that we get out there and dive into the world of yard sale cruising-bargain hunting-thrift store shopping-flea market finds! FUN!

Okay, maybe I didn’t exactly delve into garage-surfing or dumpster-diving. I thought we’d better start off checking out some local flea markets. Although there were no shortages of antiquities or knickknacks, the Long Beach Flea Market didn’t seem like the right fit for a novice like me. Still, everything seemed to cost more than what we were looking to spend for a first project.

After meeting with our wedding photographer last year at a cool café in Pasadena, we decided to just go for a drive and explore the neighborhood. Soon, we found ourselves following the Estate Sale This Way signs.

COOL! I thought. I wonder if we’re going to end up in some old manor-esque secluded home with lush landscaping and a long iron-gated driveway that once belonged to a former legendary Hollywood producer??!!Nope.

We ended up at what appeared to be a senior living apartment complex.

Not quite as glamorous, but the neighborhood was nice and the allure of both mystery and spontaneity still peaked our interest.

We made our way into the complex to find a hand full of experts eager to find some treasure too. There were lots of finds: trinkets & treasures, thingamabobs, whosits and whatsits galore! Ha! Had to make The Little Mermaid reference!

I was surprised to see that many of the pieces were already marked “sold.” We had the extra-long bed truck with us, so we had to get a big ticket item! We made our way into a room that had this dated desk. Hmm … This could do.

Brian, my husband, examined the quality of the wood and deemed it valuable. We’re sold!  We can definitely turn this into something good! Plus, we NEED a desk. My wheels were turning…now it was time to bargain. I was prepared for some major wheeling-and-dealing. There wasn’t a price marked on the desk. PERFECT. Here’s our chance…

“How much for the desk?” Brian asked.

“Fifty dollars.”

“We’ll take it!”

What??!! He didn’t even give me a chance to bring the price down!  Oh well. This was still a pretty good deal for a solid furniture piece with good bones.

So we loaded up the desk and were about to go home when a fellow bargain-hunter asked if she could borrow our truck. She asked if we could load her buys-I think a dining table and chairs-follow her to her place, and bring them up to her apartment building. Sure! Why not?

So we made our way to this stranger’s house, parked in front of a busy street, unloaded the truck, took turns making trips up & down the elevator to her apartment, and I sat there watching her stuff to make sure nobody would steal it. After thanking us several times, she INSISTED we take her dresser and some chairs for free. FREE?! Okay, we’ll take it!


It turns out the blue dresser she gave us was a perfect fit in my son’s room. See?! It pays to be nice!

Back to the desk, here’s a picture of the original desk:


I know, not much of a looker, right?

We covered the top of the desk to protect the original leather top and used a power sander to sand the big flat areas of the desk.


After discovering the drawer faces were a tedious sanding task because of their grooves and ridges, we ended up using paint stripper to remove any remaining wood stain and sanded any remaining residue with 220 grit sand paper.

Finally, this bad girl was stripped down to her original bones ready for some paint!

Here’s a picture of some of the supplies we used for this process:


  • Painter’s Tape ($5.00)
  • Craft Paper ($10.00)
  • Valspar Translucent Color Glaze (1 @ $19.99 ea)
  • Krylon Spray Paint + Primer (6 bottles @ $5.00 ea)
  • Krylon Clear Protective Spray Finish (5 bottles @ $4.00 ea)


We used craft paper and painter’s tape to protect the leather and drawers.We painted the desk an ivory color. We were going for an antique stained look.

Next, we stained the desk and drawer faces to give it an antique look.

Work in progress:



It’s looking good, right??!!

We let the paint dry, covered it with a coat of protective finish, and put the drawer faces on.

So far, the only challenge we had was finding handles that matched the width of the existing drill holes: about 5 1/2″ wide. This size is very uncommon and costly.

We opted for a 3 1/2″ wide handle. Only problem was that the wider drill holes would show and look tacky.

***Solution: handle design that covered the drill holes. Problem solved.

It worked perfectly.  All we had to do was add a step:

Drill new holes in drawers.

DSC_0472 (2)DSC_0679

See??!! You can’t see the original drill holes!

Here’s the finished project


Below is the original pattern work on the leather. It’s a bit worn, but I think it’s pretty cool. Gives it character.



Some before and after pictures:












Not too shabby-right?! More like shabby-chic! Ha!

**Total project cost: about $135.00

You can’t even buy a plywood desk at Ikea for this price! Ok, maybe for this price, but it’s particle board people. This is real solid wood!

Thanks to my hubby for his skills. He ended up doing most of the work. This was a fun project to work on together. I can honestly say we both enjoyed it. I look forward to the next one!

I hope you enjoyed and let me know what you think of the desk, or if you have any tips!


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