Friday, August 23, 2013

French desk surgery

Warning - terrible photos because I just couldn't be bothered. I feel like I've performed major surgery on this piece! It's a bit like Michael Jackson - tighter and whiter.

My childhood friend Kari who lives in my hometown on the Far South Coast is redecorating her daughter's room in a French provincial style and recently bought the Vintage sideboard turned TV cabinet.  She also was looking for a big French provincial desk with loads of storage. I told her that French style desks with loads of storage are very difficult to come by. But the very next day I came across one. I initially saw it on the internet and said to Kari I would go check it out. Well it was in worse shape than I could ever imagine and I said to Kari that we should pass it up. But Kari said oh no please I really love it so I bought it on her behalf and got to work.

It had been chemically treated for insect damage and had been painted terribly at some stage.  It originally had been a really beautiful timber parquetry desk but was now covered in disgusting paint and it really smelt and was sticky and not quite solid.  So my first step was to wash it all down and strip off the paint.  I sanded it with 80grit sandpaper on my ROS and ripped that disgusting paint right off. Can you believe it took about 6 hours. I had a terrible headache for a whole day afterwards and my hands vibrated!  I was worried I'd poisoned myself to be honest. I also cleaned the inside of the desk with wood cleaner then oiled it with orange furniture polish and that left the desk and drawers airing in the sunshine for days on end.

At this stage I got quite sad as the desk was gorgeous (minus the holes and scratches and peeling veneer). But you could tell it had been beautiful. The photos don't tell you the full story - The top had huge patches on veneer missing but I forgot to take a photo of that and you can't see the borer damage. I painted a coat of zinsser primer (shellac based) and all the damage pops up against the white so I mixed up a huge amount of wood putty and got busy with it.  I then painted another coat of primer. The white paint is Dulux Limed White in quarter strength mixed with Websters Chalk Paint Powder that was sent to me to trial by Monique of Dandelion Wood. I will do a separate blog post about my thoughts on the chalk paint powder soon.  I painted the top to look like old leather using Annie Sloan Chalk Paint in graphite. I then waxed and antiqued the desk. It took me around 4 hours to wax this beast beauty.Does it take everyone hours and hours to wax and dark wax? I also replaced the handles by drilling new holes. 

Anyway after a week of sanding, puttying, priming, painting, waxing etc I could not be bothered moving it and taking photos. I just snapped a couple on my iphone. poor ones at that. I nearly didn't even blog about it. But here it is in all it's glory now.  Actually I took these photos while the wax was still wet and not buffed so it is less patchy now and looks like aged leather.

I'm going to pick a few easier pieces to paint for a while!  I hope Kari loves her desk - it's really lovely now after it's operation!

Dr Fiona x


  1. WOW! Fiona what an amazing transformation. I was thinking exactly as you said - how sad that it had been covered in such awful stuff when I saw the photos of it sanded, the wood underneath looked lovely. But poor condition is poor condition and it looks beautiful now!

  2. What a labor of love!! I can totally relate to this experience right down to taking pics on my phone because I was just so tired of it. :) It turned out beautifully and I know your friend will enjoy it for many years to come! You did the furniture world a great service by giving this piece a new life! Great job!

  3. You gave it a new life with a fabulous makeover! I have had a few of those beasts of a project too. I think they happen with the piece is huge and heavy!
    I had a lot of trouble with Annie Sloan waxes. I found a much easier way to use the dark wax. I add paint thinner or mineral spirits to make it more like a glaze and it is a lot easier to use. I just put it directly on the paint--I don't clear wax first, and then buff when dry. For the clear, I actually don't use it any more--I switched to Minwax Finishing Paste, but I don't know if you have that in your area.

  4. Fiona,
    Truly a labor of love, devotion to your craft. You gave that tired, old desk a beautiful new life!
    Now what's this about doing some 'easy' pieces? Is there such a thing? :)

  5. Wow, what a labor intensive job - don't know if I would have stuck it out or had to do it in stages... Love the transformation it is lovely....

  6. labor of love, indeed! but it really was worth it- how stunning!!!

  7. It has been brought back to be a beauty again.great job but like you said do something easy next time -love dee x

  8. Dr Fiona, you are amazing! Enjoy this wonderful Saturday! Xxxx

  9. You are a true miracle worker. Isn't it a dirty shame somebody would do what was done to that beautiful old desk? Feel bad it was so neglected for quite awhile looks like. Sure glad you took on the job. Your friend should be very pleased besides being happy with the job you did on the desk. Great job and save.
    Every tine I get on an Australians' blog and see the place called Carmel I have to remind myself it's Australia. The San Diego, Ca area has a little beach town called Carmel, really nice beach town. It's a bit North of San Diego. Happy weekend

  10. Dr Fiona, you are amazing! Enjoy this wonderful Saturday! Xxxx

  11. I agree with everyone above - it looks SO much better now! Sounded like a drag doing it tho' - btw love the ranunculas - we're having really warm weather up here in Qld - gorgeous days, no clouds, no rain, great weather for painting and renovating (which I'm doing!)...


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