before & after: rustic refinished desk

I see desks like these in thrift stores and on the side of the road all the time, and honestly, I can’t say that I feel inspired when I look at them. However, now that I’ve seen this refinishing job from Rebekah Disch, I’m reminded yet again that every piece of furniture can have potential in the right hands. I really like the color she’s chosen, and the subtle aging is a great little detail. Nice work, Rebekah! — Kate

Have a Before & After you’d like to share? Shoot me an email with your images right here! (Low res, under 500k per image, please.)

Read more about Rebekah’s rustic refinished desk after the jump!

Time: 4–5 hours

Cost: $40 (desk was free, cost includes paint, poly, and hardware)

Basic Steps: First, I removed the drawers and drilled a hole where I wanted my hardware to go, seeing as the desk wasn’t made with knobs. Then, after sanding, dusting, vacuuming and wiping down the whole piece, I put on a coat of light gray paint. After letting that dry for a while, I put on a couple coats of dark charcoal-colored paint. After everything was dry, I sanded down the corners, edges, and sections of the top, sides and drawers with an orbital sander. There was no rhyme or reason to it — I just sanded away to my heart’s desire, and it was so fun watching the antiqued effect appear. The light gray coat was a happy accident — after that first coat went on, I didn’t like it, which is why I then used a dark charcoal. But after sanding it down, I really liked how the light gray showed through in places, giving it just a little more texture and depth. After getting it to look just how I wanted, I put three coats of poly on it, let it dry thoroughly, attached the knobs (from World Market) and called it a day. I love how it turned out, and it is now being used in our home office as my new workspace.

While the orbital sander is a great tool, be careful with how much pressure you use and the direction you sand in. My mistake in the past has been to move in circular motions, and that caused tiny circular marks on the paint that I didn’t like. The idea is that it’s already orbital in the way it sands, so let the sander do the work :) You want to sand firmly, but in a straight motion up and down the edges and sides of the piece, depending on where you want the distress marks. Rebekah

  1. I love the “D” painted in the recess. Gives it so much more personality!

  2. Katie says:

    This turned out so beautiful! The distressing was done very well!

  3. Megan says:

    I’m not a huge fan of distressing, but the dark paint really transforms it! In the before photo the desk looks like the one I had in my dorm (sad sad furniture), but the after looks like something I’d want in my house. Brilliant.

  4. To me this is one of the more impressive transformations. I see pieces like this in thrift stores all the time and they just look sad. But the finish and those knobs completely give it a very distinct and gorgeous overhaul.

  5. tracy says:

    I’ve been wondering how furniture in that specific style could be given a cool vintage-y makeover…I couldn’t think of how myself, I grew up with that kind of furniture because my dad loved the style (ew)…and seeing this totally blew my mind! Awesome work, Rebekah! :)

  6. Helena says:

    What an amazing transformation! About to do a similar thing with my horrible bed- but painting it white.

  7. So many people own dressers just like this one. I love how you turned it into something chic and memorable. Lovely makeover!

  8. Katie says:

    I love what you did with this desk! My husband and I have two like this, picked up at the side of the road, that I’ve been trying to figure out how to improve. Right now, they look just like the desk in my old dorm room, which is really not the look we’re going for!

  9. Courtney says:

    Wow, I love this! You made it look so vintage!

  10. Miss Milky says:

    Wow! I like to watch your changes of look :-) good work!

  11. Kiki says:

    fabulous job! i think i’d have thrown that unsightly desk into my fireplace :)
    congratulations

  12. Stacia says:

    This is amazing! I wish I had that same vision when I looked at furniture. Wonderful!

  13. Bonnie Henry says:

    What a fabulous transformation ~ I love it! I’m just wondering how you got the previous paint off?

  14. Lauren Penn says:

    Yay Rebekah! This looks so great. Love seeing your stuff pop up on d*s!

  15. Karen says:

    Really great work, I agree, I usually pass these guys by, no more! Love the black and the light distressing, it truly looks old and not just another “Oak Desk”.

  16. Kate says:

    I completely agree with you said about seeing desks like this everywhere and never really giving them a change. Definitely inspired! Gorgeous before and after.

  17. Abigail says:

    I’ll never look at those discarded desks the same way again. Great job!

  18. Rachel says:

    I LOVE this makeover. You are a genius, and I’m so thankful I found your site. I’m getting so many ideas — I can’t wait to find a heap of junk so I can try them all out.

  19. Hannah says:

    It really is a major transformation. In it’s original form the desk looks like an old office desk with very little character. Once transformed however it looks like a really expensive elegant piece of furniture.

  20. Thanks so much – glad it inspires you all! Seriously, it’s so easy if you have some spare time, a can of paint and an old piece of furniture.

    @Bonnie Henry – there was no paint on the piece when I got it. Just a poly finish that I had to sand down. I think if there would have been paint on it, I’d probably just paint right over it!

  21. KatG says:

    This is one of the most inspiring before-and-afters I’ve seen in years. The creative vision behind it is astounding. I didn’t think there was hope for that style desk! Now I can’t wait to get my hands on one!

  22. Jenna says:

    Great work! Wow. I had an old desk that looked similar to the before, and I would’ve NEVER thought it could look as good as the after does. Fantastic job Rebekah!!

  23. Thanks, Ladies. And Jenna, your Etsy shop is adorable. Love the bags!

  24. Liz says:

    Do you think this would work on my Malm dresser and sidetables? Would I even have to remove the original paint (IKEA “black-brown”) I absolutely love the look and I saw some fetching brassish hardware at the flea market this weekend…

  25. Luwam says:

    Amazing! I love this rustic look and just the inspiration I need to re-do a table I have at home, thank you!

  26. Precella says:

    LOVE IT!

  27. Bosko says:

    What kind of color did you use ?

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