Part of the fun of moving into a new house is decorating, right? It’s like a fresh canvas and a chance to have a “do-over” on some tired, old decor. But, who has the money to buy all new furniture? Not me! So, I decided a DIY desk makeover was in order.

DIY desk makover

As most of you know, I am NOT a DIY expert by any means. I was really going out on a limb here. But because the desk is not a cherished heirloom, I wanted to experiment and try something a little different.

This is a pretty basic black desk (not solid wood) from Staples, but has good bones and all the drawers work.  I just found it a bit too stark in my very white office. It has a wood veneer with pressboard underneath, so I wanted to be careful not to sand it too much.

After perusing Pinterest for a while, I was inspired to give the modern desk an antique feel with milk paint. After reading the comments, I learned that this wouldn’t be the easiest stuff to work with, but everyone agreed milk paint was the ideal finish for a chippy distressed look.

I roughed up the surface with a light sanding and mixed the milk paint with water as per the directions. It went on pretty easily and I was feeling hopeful until… it started to dry. As it dried, it literally started bubbling, rippling and peeling away from the surface of the desk. A little wouldn’t be too bad, but this was just too much. Clearly, this attempted DIY desk makeover was not off to a great start. DIY desk makeover I have since learned that I should have done one of two things (or maybe both): either sanded the desk right down to the bare wood or used a bonding agent to help the milk paint stick better.

I reached out to some of my crafty friends, who told me chalk paint might be a better option, since it’s easier to work with. I headed to my local Benjamin Moore dealer and purchased a regular latex matte paint and chalk powder. It was super easy to make chalk paint…you simply stir the powder into the paint! I sanded the desk again, by hand, and figured the chalk paint would cover up any remnants of the milk paint disaster. And it did. The desk was looking great, but feeling way too bumpy. I guess that’s something I never really thought about. The distressed look is great, but it also needs to be smooth enough to write and work on.

So, guess what? I decided to sand it AGAIN. But this time I had help. My husband felt sorry for me and he got out the big gun – the electric sander! I should have been using that baby ALL along. It didn’t take him long, and he had the surface of the desk down to the bare wood and silky smooth. “Stop right there,” I told him before he had a chance to continue. “What if we leave it just like that?”

DIY desk makeover

We both agreed to leave it with the chalk paint bottom and natural finish on top. All it needed now was a few coats of clear varnish for protection. The varnish definitely darkened the color somewhat, but I liked the look and was happy to have the project completed…it only took a month!! I still need to replace the rug and the chair, but I keep reminding myself to take it one step at a time.

DIY desk makeover

To be honest, I don’t think I will use milk paint again – it seemed very finicky to me. I’ve never seen paint peel off like that before! I realize I didn’t prep it properly, but if it requires that much prep, well…I’m not into that.

For me, the chalk paint was way easier. It went on great, adhered well and definitely gives a chalky finish, which allows you more control over where and how much you want to distress. You will need to either wax or varnish it for durability.

Did I really save any money by going the DIY route? Definitely! Furniture is so expensive these days. Similar looking desks I found online started at around $300, going all the way up to $1,000 at Pottery Barn. So, for $60 worth of paint (I have a lot leftover), I think it was worth the time and effort.

So, here are a few things I learned during this DIY desk makeover:

  • sand it right the first time! All this stuff you hear about “no prep needed” is not really true, especially with milk paint
  • when working with wood veneers, be careful not to sand too much or else you will start to see the pressboard underneath
  •  milk paint will not adhere to shiny, glossy surfaces unless you use a bonding agent
  • you can make your own chalk paint by adding chalk powder to almost any type of paint; I used Benjamin Moore latex matte finish
  • if it doesn’t work the first time, try and try again. Eventually, you will end up with something you love!

Leave a comment below, telling me about one of your DIY projects…whether it was a success or a fail…I want to hear about it. 🙂

I would love it if you would join the Party of Five Facebook group, where we dish about parenting teens, tweens and other things of interest to modern moms like you!


Author Michelle

More posts by Michelle

Join the discussion 2 Comments

Leave a Reply