Painting Furniture: A Mid-Century Desk Gets a Little Graceful Age

I’m so excited to finally be able to share this project with you and SO appreciative of my client who was kind enough to take the after pictures and send them to me because life got crazy and I never got a chance to take any myself.

This client contacted me several months ago needing a fairly large desk for her new home, so hunting we went.  After several un-returned phone calls on a desk we really liked (why do people post things in the classifieds if they’re not going to respond!?) we abandoned all hope of that one and continued our search.  Like me, she’s into the old, antique style (I guess that would explain why she hired me) and as many of us have learned in the thrifting world, especially now days, those old charming, just-need-a-facelift pieces are getting harder to come by, especially for what most of us are willing to pay.  

You’ve probably also noticed though, that pieces like this one below are about a dime a dozen.  And if you look beyond the hardware, you notice that this desk is essentially a flat, blank canvas.

I’m here to tell you, don’t discount them so quickly.  Just because something doesn’t start out your style, doesn’t mean you can’t give it a little age and character and make it your own.

These are my keys for giving furniture a little time warp.

1.  Replace the top.  In this case, the top was beyond massive and, I felt, a big contributor to the mid-century-ness of the desk.  So the top came off and in it’s place, a piece of high quality plywood (Pine I believe), cut down to just slightly bigger than the desk so I could still mount it to the existing brackets. 

*A little word about Pine:  if you plan on painting rather than staining YOU NEED TO PRIME with Kilz or something similar that has a sealer.  If you simply paint over the wood, any knots will bleed through (it’s called tannin bleeding) and you will have ugly yellow spots that show up through your paint.  It doesn’t necessarily happen immediately (although I’ve seen that too), but a couple months or years down the road, you will be regretting not priming–I promise!  It doesn’t add age or charm, it’s just plain ugly.

2.  Round the edges of the top with a sander.  Rounding the edges just adds more of that worn in, loved feeling.  Sorry, I don’t have pictures, but this is a great illustration of what I’m talking about and their tutorial will show you how (just click on link below):

I opted to stain the top, with Minwax Early American (it looks significantly lighter in these pictures than in real life, so if you want an idea of what Early American really looks like, you can see it here).

After a light sanding, hardware removal and filling the holes was the obvious next step.  I’ve actually gotten into the habit of always filling the original hardware holes, whether I plan on changing out the hardware or not, simply because a lot of times, I finish painting a piece and realize that the original hardware just doesn’t do it for me anymore and I want to change it.  It’s much easier to just fill the holes and drill back through them if I decide to keep the hardware, than it is to fill the holes after I’ve painted.

2. One of my favorite ways to add character: wood appliques.  Just FYI, if you go asking for “wood appliques” at your store, that might be a word I made up; I’m not sure what the technical name is, but they’re usually with moldings and stuff.

For me, these are a simple way to add a little of that carved effect that I love about antique pieces, and they give the glaze something to grab onto.  They add character!

Glue them on with wood glue and let dry according to the package directions.  If you have clamps to hold them on, that would be preferable, but if you don’t, channel your inner kindergartner and just pinch it on there for a bit until it gets good and sticky, let go, and let it dry.

As you can see, I stained mine before gluing them, so when distressed, the dark wood would come through.

Next comes paint.  My client wanted yellow and sent me this picture as a color reference (which actually happened to be one of the first things I ever pinned).  Yellow is a hard one for me because I think there are so many ways you can go wrong with it: too dull, too shocking, too green, too mustard…it goes on and on.  I originally picked out Valspar’s Mark Twain House Yellow, but wavered on my choice last minute and ended up buying something lighter.  Once that dried, I found it to be too dull and ended up with the Mark Twain House Yellow anyway–trust your gut because I’ve found my new go to yellow.  It’s definitely a furniture color or exterior color for me, because it is a little bold, but it’s my new go-to yellow for furniture.

Painting done and a very light coat of glaze and, I was onto number:

5.  New hardware. There’s nothing easier or more effective than hardware for changing the look of furniture.    I used some brassy bail pulls and and pendant pulls from Hobby Lobby.  The small round knobs at the top are original to the desk.

Some distressing along the edges, and there you have a mid-century desk that took a trip back in time and came back with a little graceful age.

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  1. says

    Love this! I am actually going to buy a mid century desk today after work on craigslist and now I am even more excited because you gave me such great inspiration!! I am so glad to have found your blog and am your newest follower!! If you ever have time I would love for you to check out mine!


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