The Roll Top Desk

My husband sent me a text message a few months ago telling me that one of our family members was looking to re-home his roll top desk. I could tell by his wording that he really wanted to have it.

I, however, had no idea what it looked like nor any idea where we’d put it in our small-ish house. But, these were things I resolved we’d just figure out when it got here. Since he wanted it, and I didn’t, I told him he’d have to be in charge of getting it into our house, and as long as I didn’t have to do anything to get it here, I’d figure out how to live with it.

Aren’t I a supportive wife?

After thinking through things, I decided the only place the desk would work in our home would be in our master bedroom. So, I moved things around and measured out where the desk would go once it arrived. It’s a good thing to, because once it was put in that spot, the fellow helping David move it stated he wouldn’t be moving it again on account of how heavy it was.

David could tell I didn’t like it. But why would I? It was a man’s desk. Nothing about it was “my style.” It was dark and heavy, and I NEED light and bright and open. However, quickly I came to recognize its value. We were days away from traveling for Christmas, and I had presents to wrap and keep away from little fingers. The top of the desk was the perfect spot. Secondly, I now had a large workspace that didn’t have to be cleaned off every day so we could eat dinner OR, again, so little fingers wouldn’t be able to reach it. Within a day of using it, I loved it and thanked David over and over again for seeing its potential and getting it to our house and began to call it “my desk.”

Now, I just had to make it look like “my desk.”

Since both David and I wanted the desk to not be so dark, I decided to start with white paint. He, however, didn’t want it to be “just a giant white desk.” Our kitchen is white- white walls, white floor, white cabinets, white table. I understood his sentiment. So, the project became an interesting challenge.

Since I’d painted several pieces of furniture in our home already, it wasn’t too daunting of an idea to paint this as well. I knew it’d be a project though, so I asked David for a power sander for Christmas to speed up that step of the process. I also gave myself an entire year to complete it, so I wouldn’t feel rushed.

And so I started… in our bedroom. The desk couldn’t be moved, so I’d have to work on the majority of the desk inside.

I began sanding the big spaces, and then removed hardware. I honestly didn’t know what I was going to do with this “beast” as I came to call it along the way. But, I knew I wouldn’t ever get it done if I didn’t start, so I’d have to just experiment along the way.

As I progressed, I began to like the idea of doing a two-toned desk. What I really wanted was white and blush pink, but I knew that was too feminine for our master bedroom. So, I channelled the image of David and I on our wedding day- black tux, white dress- and decided to go with black. This also turned out to be a safe choice, because the only way I was going to be able to get paint all the way into the back of those shelves was to spray it in there.

My dad bought me a paint sprayer for this project, but I didn’t feel confident enough using it inside our bedroom. So, I used the paint sprayer in the safety of our garage on all the drawers, and I used the spray paint I’d bought for the hardware inside. It was too shiny to be the end result, but it worked for those impossible to reach spaces.

My dad had painted our shutters black for us awhile back, and I still had plenty of left over black paint, so I used that to paint over the spray paint which gave it a matte finish.

The black and white was feeling really fun and classic, but it was a little too clean. I started wanting for the piece to look like it had been hand painted and had lived in a French home over 100 years ago, not like it had come from a store looking this way. So, I decided to antique it. I knew I was going to use Valspar sealing wax, because that’s what I’ve used on every piece of furniture I’ve redone, so I decided to give their antiquing wax a try.

It changed everything about the piece- for the better! I couldn’t believe how easy it was and what a dramatic change it made.

So, the last thing I needed to figure out was hardware for the bottom drawers. Since I’d decided to take the wooden handles off, I would have to buy something new to replace those pulls. I had no idea how expensive hardware is, or how tricky certain lengths can be to find. After scouring the internet, and a few local stores, I finally found a pull from for about $2 each. The color wasn’t right, but that was ok. I just spray painted them with the same spray paint I used for the top hardware.

And, then, after all of the hardware was put back on, it was done…

My favorite things about this project:

Doing it with my daughter. She helped me paint the inside of some of the drawers – with nail polish.

That so many people rallied around me. I felt like I had a group of cheerleaders in my corner the whole way.

Keeping it in the family. We were touched that David’s grandpa included us in the list of people he offered the desk to. My mother-in-law (one of my biggest champions of this project) told me that I had turned it into a family heirloom, and I love that it will be a place where my kids will sit and work at too for years and years to come.

The most challenging piece of this project:

The hardware. Some of it was pretty hard to get off. And like I said earlier, it look awhile to find the right pulls for the drawers. But, because I’d given myself an entire year to finish the desk, I just took my time, and while it was challenging, it wasn’t stressful.

My most frequently asked questions about the desk:

Do you have to sand furniture before you paint it? I’m terrified that if I don’t it won’t stick the way I want it to, so I always sand. And I always have used Valspar sealing wax. You don’t even have to put a coaster on my furniture. It’s a great product. But, I don’t know if it would work as well if I didn’t sand first.

Did you use chalk paint? I had originally planned on making my own chalk paint like I always do (by mixing paint with caulk), but I didn’t. I just used regular ole’ Antique White paint from Walmart.


It’s good to have hobbies that you can do at home. If I had a day when I didn’t have work (for my job) to do during nap time, or dishes or laundry calling my name, I worked on the desk. After the kids went to sleep, on nights where I didn’t have a million things to do, I worked on the desk. I loved doing something that was just for me. It didn’t matter if I messed up, it didn’t matter if it took me six weeks to sand the drawers, and my kids saw me doing something for ME. They know I work out at the gym for me, but the other things I do for me, they don’t really SEE. They saw the desk.

It’s also good to learn. I learned how to antique furniture and a little bit about hardware doing this project. It’s good to try new things. It’s good to stretch yourself. And it’s good to make time for little projects.

I hope this post has encouraged you to try something new, take on a home, DIY project, and to get your family involved in projects with you too. Just remember to give yourself plenty of time. It isn’t fun if it’s stressful. ; )

Until next time,

❤ Lindsay

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