What Would You Do W/this Desk? Pass or Fix It? See How I Fixed It!

I've been refinishing vintage furniture for many years. And fixing what I call, "horrendous waterfall desks/vanities" is not new for me. I've done a few of these over the years and am always amazed at how forgiving the wood really is on these babies!
Since the top was flaking and peeling, I just used a sander and sanding blocks. be careful with orbital sanders (and don't even think of using one on the waterfall portion) because they can sand right through the veneer. I used one with 80 and 120 grit to get the majority of the old finish off and then switched to a sanding block of 150-220. Anytime you are going to stain, you should really use a stripper to get off the old finish, but since this old finish was practically falling off, I just did the sander.
Yes this is the same guy. I'm telling you, there is no need to paint or pass on what can turn out to be nice wood.
I know from doing many of these waterfall styles (popular in the 1930's) that the wood top was usually walnut, along with the drawers. Often times they used pine for the rest of the body. Pine is very soft and tends to be splotchy when you try to stain, so I usually just paint the Pine parts.
This was how it looked after the sanding was completed. I didn't bother sanding off all of the finish on the pine part since I was going to paint it. You just want it nice and smooth. Your hands are your best tools for this. If it feels lumpy, it's going to look lumpy after applying paint. Your finished product is only as good as your prep work. Don't skimp on the prepping! I also had to glue a piece of the scalloping on the bottom left skirting to match the right side. See the above finished picture to see how it matches.
While two of the drawer bottoms were in good shape, the other two, not so much. I used this pretty paper to line the bottoms. The sides all got a pale, soft pink shade and the handles were sprayed a soft, metallic gold.
I was lucky enough that two of the drawer bottoms were still intact and looked good.
General Finishes Milk paint in 'Lampblack' was used for the body, Spiced Walnut was the stain, and the wood was given a few coats of semi-gloss Arm r Seal.
And that's it! Never say never! At the very least, give refinishing a try. That's how you learn.
To see the first waterfall desk I did, click on this link. It has helpful hints and a quick tutorial on how to finish the wood.

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Beth H.    Makemeprettyagain.blogspot

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


Have a question about this project?

3 of 9 questions
  • Sara
    on Jun 10, 2017

    What is the brand of your Spiced Walnut stain?
  • Cyn Thee Ahh
    on Jul 16, 2018

    I have this exact same desk. I started saying it and I lost the curved edges somewhat at the top. I had to strip 3 layers of high gloss lead paint and a sticky top that has been adhered since the early seventies. How do I recreate the top curve detailwithoug ruining it further? What sort of stain and paint did you use. I lost over how yours turned out!

  • Ruby77
    on May 15, 2020

    Any ideas as to where I can find handles like that? I have a deco desk I found but someone replaced the handles with pulls that don't go with the style. I love the desk but need to replace the handles. Your piece is beautiful

Join the conversation

2 of 211 comments
  • Susan Moon
    on Apr 12, 2018

    Stunning save. Just beautiful!

  • Richard Smiraldi
    on May 26, 2018

    I've done one as well with very nice veneer work - very Gatsby. I sanded down top with coarse, medium, fine and used a golden stain. With the panel where scratched I lightly sanded with fine and used Restor-a-finish mahogany. I recently purchase a 1923 bed and dresser at an estate sale but didn't want the vanity - figure I'd just put a large mirror above this for my "gatsby" room.

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