Restoration of a Leather Top Desk

5 Materials
2 Days

I was ask by a local doctor if I would have a try and restore his office leather top desk. He said it had been in the family for awhile and had sentimental value. When the desk arrive it looked a lot worse than when I looked at it in his office. The computer and notepads were hiding all the damage. He was also under the impression that it was an antique.

Once I started sanding the wood I realise the top, sides and drawer fronts were a veneer and the base front was MDF.

To clean up the leather pad on the top I used Dove Bath soap and a soft cloth. Using a damp cloth and soap I cleaned the leather using small circles at a time. This did take some elbow grease, but the results were great. Don't add to much water or the leather will become soggy and pull away from the table. If this does happen , wait until the leather is dry and using a syringe add contact glue and hold in place.

Next, I put some Kraft paper over the leather top to protect it from getting damaged by the orbital sander and stripper. The layers of varnish were so thick and cracked, that in the end I used Citri-strip to remove most of the layers.

Once the varnish started to lift I used a scraper and remove the bulk. The surface was then smoothed out using the orbital sander. I added a dark mahogany stain and 3 coats of oil based gloss varnish

This is the before and after of the table top

The fronts of the drawers were veneer which was very thin. I used an orbital sander with 120 grit sanding discs to remove all the old varnish and stain. These were fairly straight forward. The drawers were missing some handles, and as luck would have it I had some spare ones from an old piece of furniture I stripped down for parts. If you are a regular DIYer this article will interest you. How to find your DIY materials for free.

Next, I tackled the front which was a total disaster. It was all MDF which had gotten wet at some stage in its life and had blown out. It was too late to change my mind and take it back.

So I used the orbital sander to try and smooth out the edges that had blown out. Most of the varnish had chipped off the front and looked awful so it all had to be removed. Once smooth I added dark mahogany stain to the MDF. But it just kept absorbing the colour straight away. To stop this, I added a thin layer of varnish to the MDF to seal it. Once it was dry, I added some dark mahogany stain to the varnish and added a few coats which worked great to hide a lot of the damage. I cleaned up the hardware and attached them back to the drawers.

The finished desk after the restoration. This was a real trash to treasure project. The desk is now back in his office looking good.

The before and after of the drawers

Before and after of the top. There were some areas of the leather that the gold design had worn but it was still 100% better than what it was.

Side view of the restored desk.

If you like this project here are more you will find interesting. Antique Rocking chair restored and this great captains chair.

Any price and availability information displayed on [relevant Amazon Site(s), as applicable] at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product.
Hometalk may collect a small share of sales from the links on this page. More info

Top Hometalk Projects

Check Out These 30 Incredible Sharpie Makeovers
30 Brilliant Things You Can Make From Cheap Thrift Store Finds!
31 Creative Ways To Fill Empty Wall Space
30 Of The Best DIY Mirror Projects Ever Made
4 Chemical-Free Ways To Clean In Your Home
Super Cool Painting Techniques You've Probably Never Seen!
18 String Art Ideas That You'll Want To Hang In Your Home
18 Adorable Container Garden Ideas To Copy This Spring
15 Unbelievable Ways People Paint Their Walls
Beautify Your Home With These Flower Ideas
20 Ways To Improve Your Drop Cloth
15 Perfectly Round Tables
Do Your Kitchen Cabinets Need an Update?
15 Genius Hacks to Keep Pests Away
17 DIY Projects You Can Start And Finish Tonight
Unique Creations By Anita

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


Have a question about this project?

2 questions
  • Rosy
    on May 30, 2019

    You did a beautiful job on this desk. Just curious why you used Dove soap on the leather instead of saddle soap?

    • Alison Baker
      on Jul 13, 2019

      After a fire almost distroyed some 1930's mahogany furniture I had inherited, it was sent for restoration and he did a good job, but it cost a fortune! You did a wonderful job on this piece.Antique or Unique It looks fabulous

  • Charlotte Peters
    on Jun 1, 2019

    My question isn't so much related to your beautiful desk but in reference to the decorative "statue" - I cannot make the picture larger to get a good look at it, but I was wondering if it is created from miscellaneous metal parts such as screws, nuts, bolts, gears, chain etc...? A friend of mine had two such metal statues - one was "Predator" and the other was "Alien" and they were really neat!

    • Unique Creations By Anita
      on Jun 2, 2019

      We bought ours at paddies market in Sydney for $100 which is a huge Asian market. So I would not think they are very valuable just unique.

Join the conversation

4 of 50 comments
  • Carey
    on Jun 11, 2019

    What a marvelous job you did. I like your Logic on the Dove! I will definitely remember that! I have saddle soap so I would have used that, but having an alternative is not a bad thing! I have an Antique dresser that has the veneer on the top, curled up in the middle. Not torn, or broken, so I have thought that it would be possible to moisten it and flatten it down again, but hesitate since I don't know what kind of glue to use to put it back down and it would have to be with some sort of a syringe in order to get the glue under it. I don't want to have to remove it if at all possible, so I have just lived with it as is for the time being.

    • Unique Creations By Anita
      on Jun 11, 2019

      I restored a piano a few years back with loose veneer in places. I used a syringe and regular wood glue a pushed the glue under the veneer. I then put saran wrap over the repair and put some heavy weight on top of the repair while it dried.

  • MakeStuff
    on Jun 25, 2020

    My parents bought such a desk plus two dressers and matching night stands which we've had for about 60 years. I know there were variations, but the pieces we have are solid wood and real wood, not like the crap they make today.

    My mother loved her old furniture unfortunately my father is using the desk and dressers and night stands and he treats everything like a workbench or an old orange crate. One day I hope to restore the furniture and remove all the scratches caused by neglect and careless baboons over the the years. My concern is that I hope to restore them as close to the same color (Glossy reddish brown) as I can.

    Some people have no respect or appreciation for well made, quality wood furniture or anything good unless it belongs to them.

    Anyway, nice to see you showing that desk some TLC. Those are such impressive looking desks.

Your comment...