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Natural Looking Wood Finish | Secretary Desk Makeover

Are you ready for a natural-looking wood finish for old pieces of furniture? Let me show you how to achieve that look without chemicals!

a look back

Can you remember how this desk looked when we started?

Drab. Dirty. Dingy.

antique fold down secretary desk

The piece had good bones, or in this case, good wood. It was solid oak and fairly sturdy.

All in all, it was in pretty good shape. Just not pretty enough for our client’s home.

A vintage fold down secretary desk before a makeover with ugly finish that will become a natural looking wood finish.

We made a few easy repairs…..

minor repairs being made on antique oak fold down desk drawer

…and we sanded the antique oak fold-down desk down to the bare wood….

lady sanding antique oak fold down desk with DeWalt sander

antique oak fold down desk

….and wa-la!! Didn’t this desk turn out so gorgeous??

Vintage oak fold down desk with desk section open, showing the natural looking wood finish and staged with a brass lamp and desk supplies.

By far, oak is my favorite wood! The grain is obvious and unique.

The oak grain shows so much texture and character. I was thrilled that our client chose to finish this piece in natural wood.

Antique oak fold down desk with desk section open and showing the natural looking wood finish acheived after a furniture makeover.

clear coat with a vintage feel

We finished the piece with three coats of General Finishes High Performance in Flat.

I use this finish often – especially on surfaces that are going to get a lot of use like this antique oak fold-down desk. the Flat option of this poly-acrylic creates a hand-rubbed finish with a time-worn appearance that I love.

antique oak fold down desk with desk section open

covering ugly wood

I also chose to cover the backboard of the desk. The backboard was made of poplar and had been stained dark. Poplar can have a greenish tinge to it so I knew this would be the perfect solution.

Interior of antique oak fold down desk showing a natural looking wood finish and shows a stack of vintage books, notepad and an ironstone pitcher on the shelf.

The process is easy. All you need is decorative paper, Mod Podge, an Exacto knife, and something to smooth out the paper. Here is a little video with step-by-step instructions that will help you cover the back of the furniture as well as line the drawers.

It is a super easy project and so satisfying! Look at the results!! We also lined the drawers with the same paper. Keep scrolling to see the drawers!

interior of antique oak fold down desk

The organizer had an orange tone to it. A layer of black spray primer and then a layer of black spray paint fixed that!

Interior of antique oak fold down desk that shows a natural looking wood finish.

gorgeous grain

Remember how I mentioned the gorgeous grain patterns found in oak wood?? Just look at it!! See why it is my favorite type of wood for furniture??

 interior of antique oak fold down desk
An antique oak fold down desk with drawer pulled open and also showing natural looking wood finish.

The bottom piece between the two back legs on this antique oak fold-down desk was missing and needed to be replaced. You would never even know that it wasn’t there originally!

Antique oak fold down desk after makeover showing a natural looking wood finish.

The lined drawers provide a cohesive look to the piece, and a bit of a feminine touch as well!

antique oak fold down desk showing interior of lined drawer
antique oak fold down desk showing lined drawer

no key, no problem

The antique oak fold-down desk did not come with a key. I just cleaned up the lock and let it be. Back in the day, important papers could have been locked up in the desk. Now we just store all our important documents on external hard drives!

keyhole detail on antique oak fold down desk

vintage hardware restoration

The hardware was so lovely on this piece! All it needed was a quick wire brushing and then a bit of Rub ‘n Buff in Ebony.

Restored vintage hardware on antique oak fold down desk that shows a natural looking wood finish.
restored vintage hardware on antique oak fold down desk

Rub ‘n Buff comes in small tubes in a variety of colors. In my opinion, it creates a more authentic and vintage feel to the hardware. Much better than spray paint! I learned that the hard way!

close up of repair on fold down secretary desk

The top piece of trim cleaned up nicely, don’t you think? It took some patience sanding and a special tool, but the results were so worth it!

Graphic showing before and after of antique oak fold down desk

natural looking wood finish

This desk was a labor of love! And honestly, the labor wasn’t all that bad! The finished antique oak fold-down desk looks so amazing now! I am sure our client will love it in her home for years to come!

Antique drop down desk that shows a natural looking wood finish.

so glad you stopped by!

Thanks so much for stopping by! I really appreciate your time reading our tutorials! Stay in the loop by subscribing to our email list! Promise I won’t share your email with a soul – it’s just between us friends!

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Pinterest graphic showing before and after makeover of an antique oak fold down desk.

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4 Comments

  1. Cindy, this looks gorgeous! ? Cant wait to bring it home! Thanks so much for all your hard work!

    1. Cynthia Gayle says:

      You are most welcome Linda!! I can’t wait for you to see it! Take care?

  2. Your work is always so inspiring to me and this transformation is no exception.
    I am so glad that you are saving old and neglected items and bringing them back to life!!!!!

    1. Me too Maria! I hate to see the beautiful pieces tossed aside. Thanks for stopping by today 🙂

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