Desk Transformation

A couple of years ago I was in the market for a new office desk for our house.   We have a loft area that just screams “office” but I wasn’t loving the hand-me-down-dorm-style particle board computer desk we were rockin’.  It was creaky, wobbly and ugly.  Sorry Hubs.  You know it’s true.

The Hubs had mentioned wanting to build a “big corner” desk in the loft where he could setup a home network/media center/geekville.  Now, I’m all for the geeky stuff….but get real.  The Hubs isn’t going to be staying home (gasp!) for the required weekend or two to actually build me something.  I’m not being mean, just realistic.  Some people like to stay home and work on projects on the weekend.  I did not marry one of those people.  I have to beg to stay home for a weekend. 

Soooo….when we upgraded a few desks at work and the email went out proclaiming “FREE DESK!  Get ’em while they’re hot!”  you know I was all over it.   I don’t think the email even had time to cache before I responded.    And yippie!  I scored a free desk.  A corner desk nonetheless.   A good solid wood desk that was nearly impossible to get up our stairs, around the corner and into the loft.  It took The Hubs and his biggest strongest friend to accomplish that feat….to which he afterwards said “when we move, the desk stays here.”  So I gave him my sweetest “thank you honey….you’re my hero” while handing both of them a cold beer.  Mission accomplished.

Problem was, the desk was….meh.  I mean functionally it was great, but I’m more of a dark wood kind of girl.  Give me chocolate, espresso or mocha and I’m a happy woman (that goes for paint, stain and the real thing).   I knew someday I would need to spend some time and refinish that sucker to make me fall in love with it.  So finally almost a year after bringin’ her home I started.  And just because I love before-and-afters….here’s a little sneak peek of the finished product:   

I apologize for not getting before-before pictures of the wobbly desk.  Most of this happened before I became a big fancy blogger and took pictures of every little thing.

The first thing I knew had to be addressed was some serious sanding.  And unfortunately it wasn’t really an option to move the desk back downstairs and to a suitable place like the garage.  Do you see where I’m going with this?  I had to sand the entire desk inside the house.  Inside the house in a loft.  In a loft that overlooks our dining room and kitchen area.  You picking up what I’m throwing down here?  Or should I say….what the sanding is throwing down?  Yes, every time I sanded, the dust would hover around me like a cloud until it moved over the ledge….and settled down into a nice little home in the kitchen area. 

So. So. So. Annoying.

That meant every time I wanted to work on the project (even just a little) I would have to account for the time it would take me to clean the entire kitchen afterwards.   Well this lasted all of about two times before I went all “ET” and bought two packages of plastic drop sheets.  I promptly ripped them open and taped those suckers up over the loft ledge so that the dust would stay where it belonged!  On me!  And in my carpeted loft damn it!  Ha ha…yeah, the clean up was something else.  I would recommend not sanding furniture in the house.

Trust me. There is no such thing as a “free” anything!! I paid for this sucker in elbow grease and sweat.

Pause.  See that yellow “orb” on the top of the desk….bottom right of the picture?  There’s a story there.  I hesitated to even tell you about this…but because I vowed to keep it real with ya’ll on this blog (and that means the good, bad and ugly) here goes.

That orb just happens to be the first place I chose to start sanding.  Forget being careful and testing out a hidden section of the wood; I’m throwing caution to the wind!  So I started sanding lightly back and forth with the grain….rreeee eerrrrr  reeee errrr (that’s me sanding).  Hmmm.  Nothing seems to be changing.  What the hell?  So I put a little more pressure on the sander hoping that will help:  RReeee   EErrrr RRReeee  EErrr (yes, that’s what sanding sounds like in my head)!  Still nothing!  What.  The.  Hell.  I’ll get you my pretty!  So I lean into the sander and give ‘er hell  RREEEEE EEEERRRRR   REEEEEE EEERRRRRR (who knew sanding was so hard?!).  And finally I start to see some color change.   Thank.  God.
Oh.  But what’s that?  The grain of the wood is disappearing?  All you’re seeing is a nasty yellow?? 
It couldn’t be.  Could it?  I was told by a “really smart” employee at work that this desk was solid wood.  Solid wood = no probs sanding.  More importantly, by definition “solid wood” = no veneer.
But veneer there was.  Turns out the top of both pieces of the desk are veneer.  And just-my-luck that’s where I started sanding.  Just-my-luck it was in one of the most prominent places of usable (and noticeable) desk space.  Awesome.   Why-oh-why would anyone make a solid wood desk and cheap out on the actual desk part?  It’s beyond me (actually the desk was probably cheaper because of it and that’s why my company bought it in the first place).  Typical.
So…I decided to move on and deal with the orb later.  I wasn’t sure if I’d have to somehow patch it, replace the veneer or what.  But it was getting me down so I decided to move on to the real wood part and get some real sanding done. 
Chalk this up to stupid mistakes.  There’s always at least one for me on a project.   

It took me a long time to get to this point. Ready to stain!

After several days of living in a plastic room, I finished the sanding – with no other orb episodes mind you.  But now for the fun part…on to the staining!  Again, most of this was before I had a blogging-brain, so I really hate to report that I have no pictures from the staining process!   Staining really is my favorite part of this whole project….I love watching something transform before my eyes. 

I used Minwax Polyshades in Bombay Mahogany.  The Polyshades are great because they combine a stain and a polyurethane….so no top coat required.  And when it comes to work for Janna….I’m all about less of it.     Which worked out well for me because it took FOUR coats of the stain to get the deep, rich color I had imagined. 

Oh, and guess what?  In a moment of pure laziness I decided to “just see” if I could cover the orb with stain (figuring it probably wouldn’t work).  Well?  I’m happy to report that with some patience and good technique I was able to just stain right over that sucker.  You can’t even tell!  And I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I was that it worked.  I guess sometimes laziness pays off.   

I also decided to dress the desk up a little bit with some fun drawer pulls to give it a little femininity.  I found the perfect ones at Anthropologie:

Image courtesy of Anthropologie

Aren’t they darling?

Oh, we also needed to drill some grommets in the desk to help wrangle cords.  I can’t stand cables just flopping all over the place.  So a 2″ drill bit, muscle and some plastic grommit-covers did the trick.  Ahhh….it’s the little things the make the difference.

So here she is in all her glory: 

ooo, you can even see the new grommets in this picture.

Next on the agenda....get rid of that unsightly chair mat. Shhh, don't tell the Hubs.

Just because this picture cracks me up. Apparently someone wasn't getting enough attention....

I’m officially in love with her now….so much that I’m adamant that “when we move, the desk comes.”   Sorry.

I’ve still got some work to do in the loft.  Like hang pictures, ditch the mat/chair and get a fun new chair (remember that’s a secret from the Hubs), purchase some glass for the top of the desk/credenza (hey, something has to protect my  hard work), figure out if we really need a couch up there….you know.  Good stuff like that.

And if you can imagine, it’s only four months later and these pictures are already out-dated.  We now have a new dual-monitor setup and geekville going on up there that is just begging for some organization.  I’ll be tackling that soon as well…so updates-to-come my friends!

Now, do any of you have an old piece of furniture you’ve redone and fallen in love with?



  1. Ok I’m dying to know who Eric’s “biggest strongest friend” is? Also did you say you had to go “ET” on it? Does that represent what I think it does? And let me know when you want to look through my photography for wall art. :D

    1. Ha Ha….why don’t you tell me who you think his biggest and strongest friend is?

      ET…ah. Quite possibly confused with The Hubs? Or my sister? Actually I meant like the movie…you know….at the end….when everyone is surrounded by plastic sheets and it’s spooky and scary??

      I’d love to look through some photos….unfortunately the behind-the-desk space might have to be negotiated as the elk rack location. “Anything to keep it out of the kitchen.” That’s what I always say….

  2. So I tried to reply to this post on my Crackberry. It locked up and lost the message. It was a long clever message. I will now regurgitate it on the computer. I NO HEART my Crackberry. The life of a phone appears to be about 1.5 years, whereas the contract is 2.0. I digress.

    So this refinishing topic. I feel the pain. I nabbed an old cheap pine dresser from my dad’s house YEARS ago. I refinished it in a dark mahogany (as opposed to light mahogany??) after sanding off pink/white/green layers of paint. I put new knobs on it, polished silver round and expensive. My sister saw the dresser and insisted it was hers, although she didn’t fight me for it PRE refinishing. *Fist fight ensues.* (I won.) I then find a similar dresser, but a bit more rickety. Knowing the agony the first refinishing job cause, I instead went for a shabby sheik look by sanding down all the edges of the already white dresser, then bought knobs to match the first. I am not and never was into shabby sheik. I just couldn’t stand the thought of so many wasted hours on another dresser. I also have a mahogany desk that I finished. My dad built it for me, using my design and specifications. I had measured a doorway and went from there. I wanted a BIG desk. I too had intentions of a glass top, but, 8 years later, still no top. There are a couple spots of shiny polyurethane that have started to peel, but I figure it gives it character. I have since discovered paint, and have not (re)finished a thing since. I have discovered the versatility and simplicity of paint. Maybe one day Miss Maysa will refinish the desk and think to herself, “What was my mom thinking when she chose this dark color?!” Oh, I should also mention there is a table in my living room and a set of shelves in Maysa room that have absolutely NO finish on them. Plain old wood. I am kinda into the bare wood thing these days. You can call me lazy. I see myself as a trend setter. Janna, you may understand and end up with some naked wood in your house.

    1. Eek…sorry about the crackberry malfunction. I understand your pain and also do NOT heart mine!!

      Looks like I should have turned to the expert before spending hours upon hours upon hours upon hours sanding that damn thing. :) I’d love to see pictures of your desks and dresser! They sound lovely (and “holla!” for winning the fist fight with your sis. No way would I give up this desk after all that trouble! So I understand).

      The paint thing….I totally considered it, but am not quite convinced yet that it gives the same look as stain. Don’t get me wrong I’m not against it. Hell, I’m not against spray paint! But for pieces that I expect to have forever….I’m still of the opinion that it should probably be stained. I don’t know. Convince me otherwise Katie because my back will thank you!

      And yeah….I often wonder what future generations will think of the dark colors I’m doing to everything. I think I’ll just tell them to hang on to it for a few more years and it will be back in style. Ha.

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