DIY mid-century modern desk makeover

In the summer I work in my caravan. I spend hours in that little tin box, writing, sewing and drinking tea. The birds are singing and a cool breeze is blowing through the open windows. I love every minute of it and I can’t wait for the start of ‘caravan season’. In the meantime – when it’s cold and wet outside like it is today – I find it hard to drag myself outside to my garden workshop. I prefer to stay close to the radiators and kettle indoors, so during the dark winter months I set myself up at the dining table and work my socks off from desk makeover project - mid-century modern-3The trouble with not having a dedicated work space is that I end up with mess everywhere and I can never just leave my work at the end of the day. It either needs to be tidied away because we’ll be using the table, or the mess stays where I leave it and brings down neatness of the whole room. Plus, because I can see my laptop sitting there, I tend to go back to check emails and do just a little bit more in the evening when I should be relaxing. So I decided, as part of my new years resolutions, that a dedicated workspace was in order and I set out to find myself a desk. diy furniture makeover project - desk and shelf

diy furniture makeover project - desk and shelf-2Do you know how difficult it is to find a mid-century modern desk? Especially one that fits in with my thrifty budget? I can’t even answer that because I never did find one. My search for a desk lasted for weeks and by the end of February I’d come up with a different plan. If I couldn’t find one, I was going to make one, so I splashed out a whole £15 on this chest of drawers in a delicious teak finish, which coordinates perfectly with my living room sideboard and mid-century wallpaper, and I began thinking of ways to turn it into a desk.

I thought back to my student days and remembered that my old Ikea desk had a pull-out desktop for the keyboard to go (in the days of tower computers etc). I wanted to replicate this pull-out idea to create a desktop, so I found an old shelf in the shed to sit on top of the drawer, which would extend the work surface when the top drawer was pulled out. This also provided the overlap needed for knee-space, the only problem was that the height was still too low to create a desk.

A video posted by Cassiefairy (@cassiefairy) on

I enlisted my husband to help add some castors to the legs of the drawers by pulling off the existing foot-pads and drilling out bigger holes to fit the shiny gold castors. I now have a desk that is the right height to get my knees beneath the over-hang surface plus it can be easily wheeled around if needed. Next task was painting the horrid old shelf to make it look like a part of my mid-century modern furniture makeover project - desk and shelf-5 diy furniture makeover project - desk and shelf-6 diy furniture makeover project - desk and shelf-21diy furniture makeover project - desk and shelf-7After sanding the piece of wood for the desk, I used a coat of Rust-Oleum grey primer and at the same time I sprayed the lids of a few empty glass jars to create matching storage pots for my paper-clips and pencils. After the primer had dried, I used a selection of metallic bronze, orange and clear gloss paints to finish off the lids, and even tried out spraying the glass itself. I found that spraying inside the glass works well for all finishes except for metallic, which slid right off the glass! But when I sprayed the outside of the glass with primer and then a layer of bronze paint, it worked perfectly.

I chose to do fine coats of spray paint so that it would dry more quickly and give an even finish to the gloss surface. In total the desk insert needed three coats of Painter’s Touch gloss in ‘Real Orange’, front and back. While this was drying I decided to carry out an experiment on another piece of mid-century furniture that I’d picked up for £10 – a telephone furniture makeover project - desk and shelf-12 diy furniture makeover project - desk and shelf-13 diy furniture makeover project - desk and shelf-14 diy furniture makeover project - desk and shelf-15This shelf was covered in old paint and scratches so I sanded it down and wiped it clean before masking off a section of the wood, leaving about a third exposed. I sprayed this with one coat of primer and two layers of the same orange gloss paint before peeling off the masked area. diy furniture makeover project - desk and shelf-16 diy furniture makeover project - desk and shelf-18 diy furniture makeover project - desk and shelf-17I had no idea whether this would work well, and couldn’t be sure that the paint wouldn’t bleed underneath the masking tape so I was delighted when I peeled it off and there was a crisp, clean line between the orange and the teak wood. I finished the telephone shelf off with a top-coat of Crystal Clear semi-gloss varnish and now I have a shelf above my desk to store my jars of pins and pencils.

The whole area is finally starting to look like a dedicated workspace now that my newly revamped furniture is in place and I love having space to store all my paperwork in the drawers below. And at the end of the working day I can put my laptop inside the top drawer and close it away so that I’m not tempted to carry on working all evening. And even just that has made the whole project worthwhile!

Let me know what you think of this project and whether you too have created your own desk from an unconventional item of furniture – leave me a comment below or tweet me @Cassiefairy, I’d love to hear from you!diy asymetric shelf makeover project_ diy asymetric shelf makeover project_-2


11 Responses

  1. Love this upcycling project – great use of old furniture 🙂

  2. Hi, In the 60s when living room sideboards were all the rage but expensive, I once used a wardrobe on its side covered with a pretty table cloth no one who visited ever realised

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Cassie is a freelance writer with a Masters degree in Lifestyle Promotion Studies and is trained in Personal Money Management. She loves to ‘get the look for less’ so regularly shares thrifty-living advice, DIY interior design ideas and low-cost recipes on her blog.

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