Vintage Desk Makeover Using Exotic Wood Veneer & Chalk Paint

2 Materials

Using exotic wood veneer and chalk paint, I turn a vintage yawner of a desk into a sleek stunner in black, blond and brown.
My wife and I found this desk made by Grand Rapids Chair Co. at an antique shop this past summer. It was more than we usually like to pay (free or a few dollars), but it had great potential. The veneer was peeling and it was pretty scratched up. My plan was to remove all the old veneer from the desktop, the drawer faces and the sides, then re-veneer the top and the faces with walnut burl and cedar bosse, then paint the sides, legs and trim.
Since I'd never worked with veneer before, I decided to start small and work larger. I stripped and sanded the drawer faces, cut the veneer slightly over-sized and glued it on.
I followed the same procedure that I did for the smaller drawers.
Due to picture limitations on Hometalk, I'll skip the pull-down desk drawer.
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Next I started work on the desktop. This was the hardest, as it combined two types of veneer arranged in a pattern. I cut the pieces in place. This part took a long time!
Eventually I got everything cut and fit and ready for gluing. It is important to clamp or weight down the veneer as much as possible. Pros and others who know what the heck they are doing use vacuum presses and other fancy ways of gluing veneer. I used clamps and heavy hunks of iron.
When all the veneer was glued and sanded, I sealed the grain. Should I have done this? Who knows! I make this stuff up as I go.

Another quick sanding, and it was time to finish the top.
When all was finished to my liking, I moved on to painting for the legs and inside the desk. I chose black, as it would contrast beautifully with the cedar and walnut. After painting, I waxed all the painted surfaces.
The final step was to reassemble the desk.
Check out our blog, link below, for many more pictures and descriptions.


Suggested materials:

  • Paint
  • Veneer

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Want more details about this and other DIY projects? Check out my blog post!


Have a question about this project?

3 of 9 questions
  • Dea30299191
    on Jan 10, 2018

    Where can you buy different types of veneer?
    • Elaine
      on Mar 24, 2019

      There’s a bunch, Sauers comes to mind as this is what my local woodworking shop sells. Do a google search for your area

  • Barb C
    on Jun 28, 2018

    How difficult is it to remove veneer? I've never tried it cause I envision patches of it that I can't remove.

    Your desk is lovely.

    • Elaine
      on Mar 24, 2019

      I agree with jacx, heat gun on low and a putty knife. Try a plastic one if you think you’ll mar the wood underneath. If the veneer is in poor shape, as in already lifting or cracked, it will be much easier. You can also use turpentine, work it under the damaged veneer with a syringe and needle, Rockler should sell them. If it’s just darkened with age, and in good shape, try an antique restorer that will remove the old wax

  • Deb
    on Jan 10, 2020

    That is a sexy piece of furniture. You did an incredible job

Join the conversation

2 of 403 comments
  • NancyMaria
    on Jan 14, 2020

    Awe-inspiring job! Reminds me I have a vintage Hope Chest with a huge gouge in the top that needs some tlc.

  • Eliza
    on Sep 7, 2020

    Have attitude with veneer but think really is snobbery without substance as own many 18ième 18th century pieces passed down & always heard people babbling 'Only a cheap veneer' in new furniture stores...well the French artisans loved veneers to make probably the most elegant furniture my brain is in high drive and thinking....hmmmm....veneer... not only roadside desks but.........what about kitchen cabinets(1930's originals but some are water damaged...replacing appliances eventually with black ones} & Veneering with an ebony veneer might be just what the veneer doctor ordered...

    🖤 👏🌹. ~~~~~~~ Eliza ~~~~~~~

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