Photo Aug 05, 6 58 12 PM

Refurbishing A Vintage School Desk

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I don’t know about you, but I have a slight obsession with HGTV (and also Food Network). I LOVE to watch the shows where they find things and refurbish them, like on Flea Market Flip. I’ve always loved to see something go from one thing to another, or from dilapidated and making it beautiful and functional again.

So when I came across a vintage school desk at Granny’s Korner in Tomball, TX (where my in-laws live and one of my favorite places to go antiquing), I knew I had to buy it and refurbish it.

I LOVE distressed wood, probably as much as I love HGTV, so that was definitely the look I was going for with the vintage desk. Best of all, one of my sisters-in-law is the bomb-dot-com at painting and distressing wood (among other artistic talents that she possesses).

Plus, I’d been wanting to learn how to do it. Basically the perfect combination of things.

One Saturday in July, her and I got together and created some refurbished magic. We took my old desk and gave it some serious TLC. This was the final outcome:


I turns out refurbishing something with paint and then distressing it isn’t nearly as hard as it looks. I learned how to do it in one day from her and feel pretty confident I could do it again on my own. And the cool part is, we did it all in one afternoon, so it’s a perfect project for any day you’ve got some free time.

Here’s What We Used

  • 1 can of paint in a color of your choice (I used a shade of blue)
  • Small bag of grout
  • Electric palm sander
  • Sand paper in rough grit
  • Can of furniture wax, the clear kind
  • Old rags
  • Plastic tarp to protect ground (optional)

Once you’ve got all that, here’s what you do with it: 

1. We Made Chalk Paint

One of the things Christin, my sister-in-law, taught me was that you can avoid the pre-paint sanding if you turn your paint into chalk paint. This makes the paint stick better and you can save yourself the trouble of having to pre-sand your piece before you paint it.

I love when things are easy.

We mixed 1 cup of paint with 2 tablespoons of grout (the kind you use to tile a floor or wall) and 2 tablespoons of water to create the chalk paint.

Although it’s called chalk paint, I haven’t yet tested out if it works like actual chalk paint that you can use chalk on and then erase and use again. I must test this out.

2. Paint the Desk (Or Whatever You’re Refurbishing)

Next up we applied the paint to the desk.

Two coats was enough to fully cover it, and we didn’t even have to let the first coat dry all the way before painting the second one (though you can wait if you want to or if you’re doing this project over multiple days).

After the second coat of paint we let it fully dry and went to lunch and then to TJ Maxx (’cause why not eat and shop while waiting for paint to dry?).

3. Sand the Paint Wherever You Want to Distress It

When we got back from shopping, we took an electric palm sander to it, lightly sanding the entire thing, while simultaneously intentionally going rougher on certain spots so more paint chipped off. It’s easier than it sounds.

You can also hand-sand it just with the paper. This is good for after you use the electric sander, so you can fix any areas that didn’t chip enough or that look to symmetrical (you don’t want it to look like a machine distressed it).

4. Wipe It Down

Once you’ve sanded it to your liking, then you’ll want to get a damp rag and wipe the desk down to get any dust off from the sanding. Then use a dry rag to go over it and dry it off.

5. Apply the Furniture Wax

Grab another dry rag and dip it in the can of furniture wax. Now rub the wax all over the desk, covering every part of it. Once it’s covered in the wax, go back with another dry rag and buff the wax off. Do this until you get a “squeaky” feel. It takes a few minutes.

Enjoy your piece! That’s the best part. I’m using mine as an entry table for when you first come into my apartment. There’s some personal decor and a bowl on top for storing keys and sunglasses. And I put Weiland’s poop bags inside the desk and then threaded them up through the old ink well, so now they’re easy to grab and go when I need to take him out to potty.

It’s a pretty amazing difference a little paint, sand paper and wax can do.

Have you ever refurbished anything? How did it go for you? Share in the comments. 

P.S. Is it time for YOU to do everything you dream of? Here’s how to pull it all off…

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Jennifer Blanchard

I'm the founder of Dream Life Or Bust, and I'm also a multi-passionate author, screenwriter, developmental book editor, biz mentor, creative entrepreneur, retreat facilitator, success mindset junkie, and gluten-free foodie who believes you can be, do and have anything you set your mind to and take action on. That's what Dream Life Or Bust is all about... living your version of Plan A and doing and being EVERYTHING you dream of. Because the truth is, you don't have to choose just one thing. Ever.