Fancy to Fantastic Antique Secretary Makeover

6 Materials
5 Days

If it’s free or cheap then it’s for me! That is exactly what I got when I picked up this solid antique Secretary, I paid $20 for it. At first I was just going to clean it up a bit and resell it as is but as I started cleaning it up I just could not resist the urge to do a makeover. To paint it not to paint, to keep everything as it was or change? I hate making decisions so I will often take pictures at different angles, take pieces off such as doors or fancy pieces and just stare at it...As I was looking over some magazines I noticed people are really into primitive pieces and decor. This was not a primative piece but I thought for sure I could get it to fit in to that style of decor. I just love primative and I am seriously thinking about changing up my decor. So where do I even begin? See my detailed journey from fancy Secretary to primative desk below. Hope you enjoy the projects outcome as much as I did.

Here it is when I picked it up. So excited. It is a solid wood piece, yea!!!!!! Can you guess where I will go with this? I bet people who follow me know exactly where I am going, lol.

Top is off and bottom is all sanded down. I started with a 120 grit and finished with a 220. At this point I was just going to use the bottom half.

Can you guess where I am going with this? Hint: this is the middle of a flower.

Yep! A stain shaded design. A big Sunflower right on the front of the Secretary. This is a process called stain shading. And it is done with just stain. I use wipe on stain only, you cannot use quick dry or stain with poly in it. I have a couple video tutorials on my project titled “big ol sunflower table” check it out to see how this is done. I basically draw the design on with a pencil and then use stain like paint to create the image. A stencil is not used. A good way to try this is on an old piece of wood and start with a flower like a daisy or sunflower.

I went ahead and added the top as I just thought it would work better. I painted with a peach chalk paint. I make my own chalk paint. I like making my own because color choices are abundant.

Chalk paint recipe:

1cup latex flat primer

1/4cup plaster o paris

2 tablespoons of water

I put mine in an old blender and let run for about 3 minutes. This recipe can vary, it is not an exact science, at least not for me.

After painting I let my piece dry for 24 hours. Chalk paint dries super fast but I like to let it sit a day before sealing. I sealed with clear wax and then with a old brush I used dark wax to get that rustic look! When done over the peach paint it just looked very primitive and changed the look of just boring paint! At this point I decided I also wanted to add the doors but I wanted them stained like the front desk. I did remove the decorative top piece as it definitely was not in the style I had chose.

I love the dark stained doors, I feel they really pulled the piece together

side view

All finished! I have to say that it turned out better than I had planned. I think it definitely has that primitive/rustic feel. To see more of my work you can visit my facebook page

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Have a question about this project?

1 question
  • Beverly
    on Aug 1, 2018

    i have a desk just like this how did you get the top off and the cubbys out

    • Kevin
      on Apr 23, 2020


      Many secretary desks are in 2 pieces some are not.

      I have 4 secretary desks and 3 of them are in 2 pieces, 1 is not.

      Cubbys pull out or yank them out with the claw of a hammer, I bet you could cut the top off if you wanted OR find a secretary cheap at Salvation Army or Craigslist.


Join the conversation

2 of 21 comments
  • Linda Abate
    on Jan 31, 2020

    This secretary is stunning. The way you finished it is sooooooo beautiful. I can see a lot of love from your went into this fine piece of furniture. A piece to treasure for years. Definitely a piece that should be show cased in a home decorating magazine for sure.

  • Jessica
    on Feb 2, 2020


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