Antique Desk Makeover Idea

Today, I am sharing an antique desk makeover idea that wasn’t supposed to happen this way! Wondering what I am talking about?? Read on!

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Pinterest graphic with text overlay "Antique Desk Makeover" with an antique desk in the background after the makeover was complete also showing the before shot.

old desk on Facebook marketplace

You know those times that you open up a local sell and swap page on Facebook and the first thing in that feed is a deal?? That doesn’t happen too often but when it does, grab your keys and head out of the door!

That’s exactly what I did. I checked my local Facebook sell and swap and low and behold, the very first post was this late 1800’s antique desk! Believe me, I responded as fast as my little fingers could type and then grabbed my keys! I was headed out to pick it up! 😃

Little Barkly came with me!

Antique desk in a garage workshop before the makeover with a small lhaso apso dog standing in front of the old desk.

how to make an old desk look better

This gorgeous antique desk sat in my workshop garage space for several weeks. I had plans to refinish it for my own use. But while on Instagram stories one day, a local follower saw it in the background and asked if it was available.

Of course, I said yes. There’s not much around here that I won’t sell! 😉

She sent me her ideas for the desk and we agreed it would be hers in the near future. Come to find out, her hubby is working from home indefinitely and he needed a designated space for work.

This antique desk was just what he needed.

Her biggest problem with the desk was the top. It had been recovered with faux leather and was just not what she wanted. Can you blame her?


  • milk paint
  • paint brush
  • chisel
  • orbital sander & sanding discs
  • hemp oil
  • wax

Top view of desktop with a faux leather topper on a vintage desk.

how to remove leather on desktop

We fixed that problem for her by ripping off the faux leather!

It wasn’t the easiest task, but we tagged teamed, and got it done! I started the process by using a chisel to slowly loosen and peel back the faux leather.

After removing the faux leather, we were left with an extremely sticky mess of adhesive. It looked like black tar, no kidding! 😫 Nothing was taking the adhesive off — heat gun, scrapers, adhesive remover….. Nothing!

Hubby got out the big tools – his belt sander. He sanded the top down to bare wood one evening after dark so we don’t have any pictures of that process. But it did remove all of the adhesive!

View of the restored top on an old desk makeover project. There are various desk items on the desktop including stacks of books, a notepad and pencil.

The wood underneath the faux leather was gorgeous! Nail holes and all!

Close up of nail holes in a desk makeover project called Antique Desk Makeover Ideas.

antique desk makeover

We chose to remove the top completely from the base to make sure it was solid. To do this, we had to remove the nails. And how happy I was to see these square nail heads!

The rectangular shaft and square nail heads help to date the piece – late 1800s!

We secured the top down to the base with modern-day screws from the underside so they wouldn’t be visible. Using these hand-forged nails to attach the top could damage them. Screws will hold the top more securely.

I have a little plan for these nails. As soon as I have that project finished, I will let you know!

Close up of restored desktop for a blog post called Antique Desk Makeover Ideas. Also showing square head nails original to the desk.

old desk restoration

After the heavy-duty sanding with the belt sander, I used an orbital sander to smooth the surface. I started with 100 grit and worked my way back to 220 grit. Our client decided to go with the black wax that I suggested to her.

The wax was so easy to mix myself! I used one part of Miss Mustard Seed Milk Paint (still in the dry form) to three parts of Miss Mustard Seed Furniture Wax.

I applied the wax in the same way as I have with other pieces. Super easy process, apply the soft wax with a brush and then buff with a soft, lint-free cloth.

I’ll show you how to apply wax to furniture in this post: “How to White Wax Dark Furniture.”

Top and side view of a hidden compartment in an old desk from the 1850s. Various desk items on the desktop and wall decor on the back wall behind the antique desk.

antique desk with hidden compartments

Let’s talk about the details of this antique desk!

See that little door on the side of the antique desk towards the back? It’s kinda like a hidden compartment! I do believe the door was added sometime after the original maker built the desk. The door doesn’t have the same design as the drawer fronts or the door on the front of the desk.

I love that this antique desk has already undergone a makeover!

Before shot of an old desk that was restored for a blog post tutorial called Antique Desk Makeover Ideas. Also showing the hidden compartment on the back of the old desk.

Honestly, it is just a smart design! How often do things get lost and stuck in the back of cabinets??? Such a great way to reach those little lost items!

View of the hidden compartment on an antique desk that was resorted and shown in a blog post titled Antique Desk Makeover Ideas.

antique joinery

The drawers. Do I need to say anything else?? Take a look at the Knapp joinery on this middle drawer!! The craftsmanship is stunning!

I ran the sander over the drawers to clean them up. Doing this helps to highlight the beautiful workmanship of the Knapp joinery (also called Pin & Cove and Pin & Scallop.)

The before shot of the Knapp joinery on a drawer of an antique desk.

repair drawer on antique furniture

Take a close look at the side of this drawer. It had been repaired in our modern time. See the lighter shade of wood along the bottom edge? There were several areas on the antique desk that had repairs just like this!

I love that someone saw the value in this treasure years ago and repaired it with the care that the original craftsman had. They even took the time to cut around the joinery. Love that!

Close up shot of the Knapp joinery detail on an antique desk drawer. The joinery is also called Pin and Cove.

paint for antique furniture

Our client wanted the antique desk to have a masculine feel to it so she chose Miss Mustard Seed Milk Paint in Typewriter. I applied two coats and then a coat of MMS Hemp Oil to nourish the wood.

I also applied a coat of MMS Furniture Wax to add some durability to the finish.

Side view of an old desk that was restored with black milk paint and a stained wood top. Various items on the desktop including a notepad, pencil, antique desk lamp and a potted plant.

old desk with drawers

Can you see the circular spot on the third drawer? I can’t be sure what that is or how it got there but to me, it’s part of the story this antique desk has to tell. Not all ‘imperfections’ need to be removed. Those are the very details that make antiques rich in history!

Left side of the antique desk with drawers that was painted in Miss Mustard Seed Milk Paint 'Typewriter' and also showing an antique desk chair on casters and various items on the desktop.

antique desk makeover idea

I can see lots of meaningful work being accomplished at this desk! I mean, who wouldn’t want to bust out some work while sitting at the gorgeous antique desk?? 🤓

BTW, are you wondering where the hardware is? I thought you were! My client wanted to take her time looking for the hardware herself and will be installing it as well.

Front view of antique desk that has been madeover using black milk paint. Various items on the desktop.

Thank you! ☺️

Thanks for stopping by for this antique desk makeover idea! I’ve enjoyed having you here and I hope you found this post helpful! ☺️

I would love to know your thoughts about the antique desk makeover. If you have any questions about its history or the makeover process, ask in the comments below!

Front view of an antique desk makeover idea showing the black milk paint and antique desk chair. Also showing various desk items on the desktop including a desk lamp, a potted plant, an antique toy car and stacks of books. Wall decor hanging on the wall behind the old desk.

more desk makeover ideas

We love sharing step-by-step tutorials of many of our projects here on the blog. Here are a few more desk makeover ideas for you to enjoy! Just click the image to see the full story 🙂

Pinterest graphic with text overlay Old Desk Restoration

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  1. Your antique desk makeover is lovely, Cindy! I had to read and re-read that you used black wax on this! It looks SO good! Pinned, and I’m happy to be able to feature you at Tuesday Turn About this week!

    1. Was the top covered in black wax with milk paint mixed in? If so, what color paint?

      1. Hi Wendy! I did mix the wax myself. I used one part of Miss Mustard Seed Milk Paint in Typewriter (still in the dry form) to three parts of Miss Mustard Seed Furniture Wax. Mix in small amounts and use what you need to. I have found that the mixture won’t keep so I only mix what I need for the project. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Wow, beautiful makeover. And what a cool desk – I have never seen joinery like that!

    1. Cynthia Gayle says:

      The joinery is called Knapp joinery. It is also called Pin and cove. Isn’t it so pretty?? Thanks for stopping by Jeanne!

  3. The joinery always amazes me on these old pieces. Gorgeous makeover my friend! You can’t go wrong with black and wood tones. 🖤🤎

    1. I’m always looking for that old joinery – I love details like that. Thanks for stopping by Do!

    1. Thanks, Kristin. It was a labor of love 😊