DIYdiy projects

diy project: faux top-stitched leather desk

by Grace Bonney

with so many fantastic entries from this year’s diy contest, i’m still poring through them and sharing some of my favorites that didn’t make the finals. this project from jason halstead was a favorite of mine because it combines my two loves- before & after makeovers and diy projects. unhappy with his ‘ugly 50s-era sewing desk’ jason decided to give his lackluster desk a luxe makeover. faux finishing turned his previously tacky cabinetry into a custom-fitted, (faux if you prefer) leather wrapped piece of furniture with ‘top-stitched’ detailing. the result blew me away and thought it would be a great project for those of you out there looking for something a bit more sophisticated and masculine. click here for jason’s full instructions or just click “read more” below. [thanks, jason!]


What You’ll Need:

-Sand paper
-Painter’s tape
-Black paint, satin finish, 1 quart
-Leather (or faux leather) strap drawer handle hardware, style and quantity as needed (here are just a few options: here, here, and here)
-Extra fine point (0.7 mm) quick-dry paint pen. (in white or silver)
-(Optional) real wood veneer, laminate, or other resurfacing material
-(Optional) glides and keyboard shelf


-Brushes or paint sprayer

Step-by-Step Instructions:

Step 1: During a large-scale kitchen remodel, I simply had the cabinet maker install leftover real wood cherry veneer right over the top of the ugly 50s laminate counter top of a built-in sewing center. A piece of matching wood trim on the facing edge hides the original extruded aluminum counter edging. (If the top of your desk is already wood, you can simply strip and refinish it.)

Step 2: Remove the old single drawer pulls, putty the holes, and sand the face of the desk and drawers to prep for paint. I preferred to sand and paint the entire drawers inside and out, not just the drawer faces. Sanding also removed the five plus decades of dings and wear.

Step 3: Tape off and paint the desk face and all of the removed drawers in a satin black paint. Gloss is too harsh. The satin finish helps to create the illusion of the matte surface of leather and gives you soft reflected highlights at corners and edges. Sand and re-coat as necessary to achieve a rich, consistent finish; a paint sprayer can help achieve a more even result. (Tip: number the drawers to make sure you reinstall them in the same order.) If you’re refinishing the desktop, tape it off and coat in a glossier finish. On my real wood veneer, I went for a medium cherry stain to ‘age’ the top and a lacquer finish. The contrast of the glossier top and matte base creates a more luxe look.

Step 4: Center the new drawer pulls, measure, mark, drill, and install new hardware. I chose leather strap handles which completes the leather-upholstered illusion. (Tip: Leather strap handles stretch and bow out with use, so install them flat and tight. As they relax they get a slightly bowed and broken in ‘luggage handle’ look.) I used Mockett leather strap pulls with matte chrome standoffs and caps. (Product #DP88, $27.25 each, plus shipping at www.mockett.com.) Keep in mind that the hardware will be the most expensive part of your makeover, but can make or break the effect.

Step 5: The true DIY magic trick to this project is the easy detailing that creates the illusion of a custom, top-stitched, leather-wrapped piece of furniture. Remove the drawers and outline all drawer face edges and the desk’s corners with continuous dotted lines of ‘stitches’ in paint. After experimenting unsuccessfully with several fine paint brushes, I found that opaque white or silver ink from a permanent paint pen from the local art store gave me not only easier, but more consistent results. Silver (in these small quantities) seemed to have a subtler feel that looked more like thread stitches than white. Purposely free-handing without a straight edge, and including some irregularities to both the outline and the width of “stitch,” makes it look even more like hand-stitched leather upholstery. You don’t need to measure the stitches but plan your width of stitch, as you near an edge, to start and end appropriately at corners. The additional trick to realism of the effect is to stitch outline all of the edges and corners, including tight areas at wall joints, under the desktop’s edge, and in the knee cubby.

Step 6: Top your finished projects with black leather top-stitched desk accessories and watch people gush.

(Optional Step: Install glides and a hidden keyboard shelf below the desk surface with enough clearance to allow a closed laptop to stow underneath for ultimate clutter management and impact.)

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