Tired Old Desk Makeover with Furniture Transfers

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Hi Friends!  I have an out-of-the-box transformation for you today.  A very tired old desk got a colorful and feminine refresh with paint and furniture transfers.

My client Suzanne had someone lined up to paint her desk, but fortunately for me, she didn’t show up.  So Suzanne took to Facebook looking for recommendations, and a couple people pointed her to Wise Little Owl Furniture.  I’m so flattered and appreciative to “my people” for recommending me!

This was our starting point.  Hopefully it’s obvious why I called this desk “old” and “tired”.  It is sturdy and was probably quite a beautiful and practical piece in its day.  But, it had seen better days. 

desk before

Repairs

There were lots of scratches, dings and character.  A lot of those were repaired or hidden in this transformation, but when refreshing a piece in this state, you should know unless you are willing to put in a huge amount of time and effort, there will still be some signs of age.  The veneer was lifting on a couple drawers, and on the side and back.  I pulled off the loose veneer, and used Bondo to repair it.

desk repair

Bondo can be found in the automotive section of Walmart.  To use it, you mix a putty with a bonding agent and have a limited amount of time to get it into place before it starts hardening.  Once dry, it sands really smooth.  After repairs and a good cleaning with warm water, I began painting. 

Blended Painting Technique

I have been watching a lot of Facebook Lives from painters I admire lately.  The main one is Brandy of Brushed by Brandy.  A lot of her looks are more glamorous and complicated than I do, but she is full of practical tips and information, and I’ve learned a lot from watching her paint.  For the desk, I used Aubergine and Driftwood.  I used my mister bottle to dampen the surface, and painted on the dark purple Aubergine using my large round brush.  In the center areas of each drawer or side of the piece, I added the driftwood, using a clean brush (I like the small round for this).

Then I went back to the large brush and blended the 2 colors together.  I mostly blend horizontally, but you can also blend vertically a bit.  The goal is no harsh lines between all the color variations created by the blending.  Looking back, I think I could have gotten an even more seamless blend if I had used a dry brush to lightly go over everything before it dried.

My plan was to keep the darkest shades on the outside edges, and have it get gradually lighter towards the center.  I did this technique on both my first coat and my second coat, but I did blend more thoroughly on the second coat. 

furniture transfer desk front

Applying a Furniture Transfer

From there, it was time to start playing with my furniture transfer.  I had never used a transfer before, but I was excited to give it a go!  Suzanne selected this one by Prima called “Imperial Garden Mixed” that I purchased from Amazon.

This transfer came in 6 sheets that make a picture 2 sheets wide by 3 sheets tall.  My desk was not big enough for  the whole thing, so I had to select the parts I wanted to use.  I wanted a big floral section for the back, which was going to face into the room, and additional little sections to place on the sides and front.  You just cut it apart with scissors, making sure to keep the white backer paper in place. 

furniture transfer desk back closeup

When you’re ready to apply it, you peel back the white backer paper and stick it in the desired spot.  The transfer comes with a stick to burnish it into place.  You just rub out any air bubbles, and slowly peel back the plastic sheet rubbing any areas that haven’t transferred yet.  I found this part pretty easy, with the biggest challenge being trying to turn corners.

furniture transfer desk right side

I did some floral sections on each side.  There can be a white “halo” around the transfer after it’s applied.  To remove it, I used a finishing pad to “sand” it lightly.

desk details

Finishing Touches

Since I’m trying to up my detail finishing game, I painted out the drawer dovetails.  I just love how this highlights the craftsmanship of the piece.

desk dovetails

I vacuumed out the drawers and refreshed the interiors (which were in salvageable shape) by rubbing in some Tobacco Road gel stain.

drawer refresh

I sealed the whole piece with Gator Hide, a water repellent polycrylic finish for durability.  To apply it, I used the flat mini brush, and used long even strokes for a light coat.

Suzanne also wanted a touch of red.  To do that, I mixed Barn Red with some clear wax.  Using a chip brush, I applied the red wax around the edges and blended it out.  If it got too heavy in areas, it was easy to wipe away with a paper towel, since it was sealed with Gator Hide.  The wax will cure and harden within a couple weeks, so I didn’t seal over it.

drawer red wax detail

The final touch on the base of the desk was hardware.  I found these black fleur de lis knobs at Hobby Lobby.  To make them a bit more glamorous and feminine, I gilded the knobs with warm gold wax.  In the picture below, the top knob is after gilding and the bottom knob is before. I used a small artist’s brush and a light hand to brush it on.  Again, since the wax will cure and harden, I didn’t seal over it.

fleur de lis knobs gilded

Stripping and Staining the Top

I attempted to use Citristrip to remove the old stain and varnish on the desk top, but sorry to say, it really failed me this time.  It took nothing off.  I resorted to a chemical stripper from the hardware store, and even that took a few coats to get the surface down to bare wood.  Then, I used a product called Afterwash and a Scotchbrite pad to get off any last little bits.

For stain, I used water-based gel stain in 3 different colors – black, brown and gray.  I applied them with a chip brush in sections, blending them together while they were still wet.  I sanded with a finishing pad, and then applied 2 coats of Gator Hide, sanding again between coats and after the second coat was dry.

Here are the products I used for this project:

Resource list

(These are affiliate links, for which I may earn a small commission, at no extra cost to you.)

Hopefully you love all the details of this piece as much as I do!  You may enjoy these other projects as well:

Brushed Metallic Desk (this is my client’s husband’s desk!)

French Provincial Bedroom Furniture Makeover

Desk Makeover | Italian Villa Look

Please Pin!

furniture transfer desk before and after

If you’d like to get my free 1-page guide called “6 Elements of Farmhouse Style”, click on the picture below.  Let’s stay connected!

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14 thoughts on “Tired Old Desk Makeover with Furniture Transfers”

  1. Jennifer says:

    Those are definitely not my colors so I would be hesitant to do it, but you made it look beautiful! What a transformation!

    1. Shannon says:

      Thanks, Jennifer! She was one bold color lover of a client!

  2. Karolyn Love says:

    Sooo very regal looking! Love what you did with the gorgeous deep purple with the red blending in! Love red and purple together…great end result. The transfers just make it even more special!

    1. Shannon says:

      Thanks, Karolyn! I didn’t know I liked red and purple together until this client requested it. Now I love it!

  3. Kaz says:

    Holey Dooley. .totally love it. There all my colours in my bedroom..I’m a medieval lover so these colours are just perfect. Great job and great tutorial. Thanku 😊

    1. Shannon says:

      Glad you love it! Thank you!

  4. Wendy says:

    WOW!! This is truly an epic transformation 😀 Kudos on your work of art!

    Btw, I tried to pin it but there was no way to do it..

    1. Shannon says:

      Thanks, Wendy! (thanks for mentioning the Pinterest thing; I’ll check it out)

  5. Barbara says:

    So pretty!

    1. Shannon says:

      Thanks, Barbara! The first time I used a transfer, and I went big!

  6. Cheryl Atkinson says:

    what a beautiful transformation. You even made the red look good with purple and that is not an easy task.

    1. Shannon says:

      THanks, Cheryl! The transfer helped with that, since it tied in both colors.

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