Vintage Desk Makeover [+ Brass Cleaning]

Hi everyone! Today I have a vintage desk makeover that has been a long-time coming. I wanted to paint the body of the desk and leave the top unpainted. But that did not happen–best laid plans and all of that.

I finally gave up and painted the entire piece with black chalk paint. I couldn’t be happier with the results(!). In addition, you’ll discover how I cleaned up the badly tarnished brass pulls that badly needed attention.

Vintage desk gets a black chalk paint makeoverThe entire desk ultimately received one coat of Americana Decor chalk paint in “Carbon” followed by a coat of Minwax polyurethane.

Vintage Desk in Need of a Makeover

Old beat-up vintage keyhole desk in need of a makeoverI bought this desk some years ago for our office, always intending to give it a makeover, but never getting around to it.

Part of the problem was deciding what to paint, what-not-to-paint, and what color. It’s a nice sturdy little piece, but it has certainly seen better days.

Stripping Attempt

spray on stripper on vintage deskI finally decided to strip the top and paint the bottom. I bought a can of spray-on stripper, applied it, and scraped off the old finish–twice, but was not happy with the unevenness of the color.   

While the desk is solid mahogany, the tone of the wood after stripping was extremely uneven and therefore unattractive. Sigh. Back to the drawing board.

Chalk Painting the Vintage Desk

I decided, in the end, to paint the entire piece black using the Deco Art chalk paint. After painting, I distressed the high points with sand paper to let some of the mahogany color show through. Then I gave it a coat of poly.

Though I am a big paste wax fan, I have found that on black paint it is terribly difficult to get an even, clear finish with wax, so I’ve begun to use satin polyurethane over black paint to get the finish I want.

Cleaning the Brass Pulls on the Vintage Desk

before and after shots of brass pullsAs you probably noticed, the brass pulls were almost black with age and I decided to polish them up a bit.

Cleaning a vintage cutting board with lemons and saltI soaked them overnight in a mixture of lemon juice and salt. This served to loosen the grime and tarnish enough so I could then polish them with MAAS, which cleans, polishes, and protects.

MAAS metal polishWhen I tried cleaning with just the MAAS, I found the pulls too heavily tarnished; I would have been rubbing for hours. But the lemon and salt worked their wonders, and then the MAAS finished the process beautifully.

The Final Result of the Desk Makeover

best-vintage-keyhole-desk-makeover-with-chalk-paintI really like how they brighten up the desk.

Made-over vintage keyhole desk in office
Here you see it in our office; it’s the desk my husband uses (occasionally). [He prefers to utilize his iPhone for most of his internet needs.]

But it also holds all of his office supplies and various files that he needs access to. It looks so much better now; once again, it’s amazing what a bit of paint will do…

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  1. Oh, it’s perffect! Black works beautifully with so many pieces. I love the highlighted touches, too; they make the desk even more special.

  2. Wow, your desk turned out great!..Never would have thought looking at the before photo, that it could look so GOOD!!!!! What a beautiful piece of furniture to have in your home.

  3. It sure looks nice with the black, although I often like to refinish too. When I had my first booth, I found a desk much like yours, but it had been decoupaged and it was the worst looking job you ever saw. I did the fastest refinish job on it in history, but wanted to get it in my booth as quick as possible. The owner kept saying how much better it would sell if painted, but it sold pretty quickly anyway. Yours reminds me of it. I’m not familiar with “Maas..” Is that a metal polish? Anyway, I’ll remember your lemon juice & salt trick. Does it have to be real lemons? And how much salt?

  4. Diana, I have an old desk almost exactly like yours! I have tho’t about painting it but haven’t known just what color or type of paint to use for it. Seeing yours done in black, I think I know what to do with mine now! Yours turned out so well. It looks elegant. I would probably never have chosen black for mine, but seeing yours I think it is the right choice. Thanks for showing it. I gotta go get some black paint, now!

  5. Pingback: Vintage Charm 48 | The Blue Willow House
  6. Diana,This turned out beautiful! I also didn’t know about soaking old brass in lemon and salt. Thanks for the tip.

  7. This turned out absolutely stunning, pinning to my before and afters board πŸ™‚ And I also wanted to mention that the Wednesday “To Grandma’s House We Go” link party just started over at and I thought you might be interested in joining it, thanks!

  8. Fantastic! Great job. The stripping can be frustrating…that is why I give those jobs to my hubby. πŸ™‚ I am working on a black desk this week as well, not finished yet but hopefully soon! (I’m debating on covering the drawers with French burlap so I too could be going with plan B which is to leave the drawers as is.) Thank you for sharing your project with “Let’s Talk Vintage!”

  9. Diana, your desk turned out great. I am looking for a desk for my office and would love to find one like yours that I could paint. Thank you for sharing at Snickerdoodle.

  10. I just stumbled across your post… I have the exact same desk and I’m in the process of refinishing it. I love the way yours turned out. Thank you for the inspiration!

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