Vintage Roll Top Desk Makeover With the BEHR® Color of the Year

October 30, 2019 separator Before & After

Vintage Roll Top Desk Makeover - After 5

This post is sponsored by the Behr Paint Company. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

I can’t even begin to tell you guys how excited I am to be one of the three 2020 BEHRBox Challenge designers! For this exciting partnership, the Behr team sent me a box of goodies, including Back to Nature, the BEHR 2020 Color of the Year. They asked me to bring a project to life with the box and the color palette as inspiration.   

P.S. People wonder what I do with all my projects when they’re done. It’s important to me to make an impact on the community through Shrimp Salad Circus, so I try to donate things when I can. This desk will go to a family getting settled into a new home!

Vote for your favorite project for a chance to win $1,000!

I’ve been working with Behr for years and have basically painted every room in our house with their BEHR MARQUEE ® Interior Paint. Here are some of the projects I’ve done for them:

BEHR 2020 Color of the Year Back to Nature Green and Bubble Shell Pink

The Big Reveal: Vintage Roll Top Desk Makeover

I know you guys love a good before-and-after as much as I do, and this one’s a doozy if I do say so myself! 

This roll top desk is from 1950 (or maybe even earlier!) and was in decent shape but needed a lot of TLC. I saw a ton of potential in it, and I’m so glad I brought it home. 

How Refinish a Vintage Roll Top Desk Makeover Before and AfterVintage Roll Top Desk Makeover With the BEHR 2020 Color of the Year Back to Nature Green

BEHR 2020 Color of the Year Mood Board and Inspiration

BEHRBox Challenge Interior Design MoodboardBEHRBox Challenge Interior Design Moodboard

Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?

A project always has to start somewhere, and for me it was the piece of furniture. I picked up this vintage roll top desk from a secondhand shop and spent a few days getting a feel for the direction I wanted to take it. 

The BEHR 2020 Color Trends palette was inspired by natural elements, seasonal changes, and exploration. I wanted my roll top desk makeover to feel fresh, modern, and earthy, so the palette was absolutely perfect! I put together a mood board with my favorite elements, and my pops of color emerged along the way. 

I used several colors from the BEHR 2020 Color Trends palette:

As I was pulling together my different inspiration elements, I saw a lot of fun surprise details emerging, like pops of brass, textile accents, and a pattern peeking through in a few different places. 

DIY Fabric Lined DrawersBrass Desk Organizer on a DIY Roll Top Desk Before and AfterVintage Roll Top Desk Makeover - After 2 Vintage Roll Top Desk Makeover - After 3 Vintage Roll Top Desk Makeover - After 6 Vintage Roll Top Desk Makeover - After 7 Vintage Roll Top Desk Makeover - After Vintage Roll Top Desk Makeover With Fabric-Lined Drawers Vintage Roll Top Desk Makeover With the BEHR 2020 Color of the Year and a Dog Photo Bomb Vintage Roll Top Desk Makeover With the BEHR 2020 Color of the Year and Fabric Drawer Liners Vintage Roll Top Desk Makeover With the BEHR 2020 Color of the Year

How to Refinish a Roll Top Desk: It’s Makeover Time!

Of course we have to start with all the not-so-awesome before photos to show you what I was working with!

Vintage Roll Top Desk Makeover - Before 2Vintage Roll Top Desk Makeover - Before 3Vintage Roll Top Desk Makeover - Before 1Fixing a Roll Top Desk - Removing the Back

1. Start by unscrewing and removing the back panel. If yours has nails, you may need to very gently pry the back off. Set the back panel aside for later. 

Removing the Roll Top from a Vintage Desk Tambour

2. With the back panel off, you can gently slide the roll top (tambour) out

Repairing a Vintage Roll Top Desk

My desk has had some amateur repairs done, so I unscrewed and removed this wooden brace. 

How to Repair a Roll Top Desk Tambour

The tambour is a sheet of half-round wooden dowels glued onto a piece of cloth. 

How to Fix a Roll Top Desk Tambour

As you can see above, the cloth on my tambour is very old and disintegrating. 

How to Fix a Roll Top Desk Tambour with Sanding

3. Sand the tambour slowly and carefully. I used an electric sander to expedite the process, but you have to be extra careful with it compared to manual sanding.

I started with the tambour flat and went across the top of each dowel. That’s the easy part! 

Next, I folded the dowels onto each other and sanded around them, getting into the spaces between, as you can see in the photo above. 

How to Fix a Vintage Roll Top Desk

4. Disassemble any parts that you’ll need separated, and take out the drawers. 

As you can see above, my desk used to have a drawer in the leg compartment. The drawer was missing when I bought it, so I used a mallet and some pulling to remove the base of the drawer. Later on you’ll see how I still included that piece but without a drawer. 

Vintage Roll Top Desk Before With DrawersHow to Remove a Glued on Drawer Handle

5. If your drawer have glued-on handles, remove them carefully by wedging a chisel or scraper under an edge and pounding gently with a mallet. You may need to chisel away a bit of excess glue as well. 

Refinishing Vintage Furniture Drawers

6. Sand the drawers until smooth. Start with a coarse grit sandpaper and then a finer one. 

You can see a before and after shot of the drawers above. I was able to sand off all the glue and varnish. There’s a bit of the handle outline left behind. It could probably be removed with more sanding, but since I knew I was going to paint over it, I just needed it to be flat and smooth. 

Sanding a Vintage Roll Top Desk for a Before and After

7. Sand the rest of the desk and parts. Again, use a coarse sandpaper first, and then switch to a finer one. 

Note: It’s really important to make sure you don’t inhale the dust from the varnish and wood. Please be sure to use some kind of breathing protection. 

Vintage Roll Top Desk Makeover - After Sanding

Here’s what the desk looks like completely sanded. 

8. Remove all the sanding dust from the desk. You can use a scrub brush first to get into the corners. Finish with a lint-free cloth.

Painting a Vintage Roll Top Desk

9. Paint the body of the desk in your base color. I used Back to Nature S340-4, and since I’m using BEHR ULTRA™ Interior Paint, I didn’t have to use a separate primer. 

DinosaursHow to Makeover a Vintage Roll Top Desk

Now for a little something extra, I decided to line the sides and tambour in a fun fabric. I held a vote on my Instagram Stories to choose the fabric, and I was so happy that this one won. The pops of pink are just about a perfect match for Bubble Shell S160-3 – another color from the BEHR 2020 Color Trends palette. 

How to Cover Wood With Fabric

The sides of a roll top desk are a unique shape, and getting the fabric just right is super important. 

10. Lay a large piece of butcher paper over one of the sides.

11. Rub the side of a piece of chalk or crayon around the edges. You want to see the edges of the track because you’re going to use it as a guide to cut around. 

Tracing Fabric to Decoupage onto Wood to Refinish a Roll Top Desk

12. Trace the shape onto the fabric with a disappearing marker. 

13. Cut the fabric carefully with a pair of scissors. Lay it over the wooden piece to check the shape, and trim it if necessary. 

Decoupaging Fabric onto Wood

14. Brush matte medium onto the wood, and lay the fabric onto it. Use a brayer (a hard roller) to get a really strong attachment and remove any bubbles or wrinkles. 

Brush matte medium back over the top of fabric to seal it down. 

Vintage Roll Top Desk Makeover With FabricHow to Paint a Roll Top Desk Tambour

15. Dry brush a light coat of paint over the tambour. You want the coat to be super thin so that the slats are still able to slide smoothly along the track.

How to Repair a Roll Top Desk Tambour with Fabric

16. Brush matte medium onto the back of the tambour, and attach the fabric over the existing backing fabric. 

Note: Because the fabric backing on my tambour disintegrated, I had to start from scratch, which is a huge pain. It would have been way easier to just affix the pretty fabric on top of the existing backing. If you run into a similar situation, there are websites where you can buy a whole new tambour. DO IT!

How to Fabric Lined Drawers

17. Affix fabric onto the drawer bottoms using the same method as you did for the sides. 

How to Refinish a Vintage Roll Top Desk Makeover Before and After

18. Drill a hole in the center of each drawer, and add a cute little knob. I held an Instagram Stories vote for the knobs as well, but the winning knob style ending up looking way too big on these tiny drawers. 

Vintage Roll Top Desk Makeover - Painting Design

19. If you’re like me and don’t know when to stop, then it’s time to pile on the little extras!

  • I used my Cricut to cut a couple stencils from vinyl to coordinate with the fabric (pictured, above). I painted them in white so that they’d be a cute accent without overpowering the design. 
  • I taped off the bottoms of the legs and painted them with liquid gilding to match the brass knobs. 
  • I found an adorable engraving that a kid made way back in 1952 and knew I wanted to preserve it. Before I sanded this panel, I used a wood burner to carve it in deeper. After sanding and painting, I went over the carving with liquid gilding. 
  • I added a brass letter holder basket to one side of the desk to maximize the usable space and balance the piece out.

Before and After - Initials Carved into Vintage Roll Top Desk 1Vintage Roll Top Desk Makeover - After 4


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  12. First time visitor, coming from The Cottage Market. I have this exact desk, which my father stripped but never painted. The paint that was on it was very similar to the color you choose, which is a lovely choice. I had to comment, when I saw the dinosaurs lined up, I thought you were going to use them for drawer pulls. My son was my dinosaur expert and he would not have wanted them to be fastened to a drawer when he was little.
    Lovely job!

    1. Hi Susan! That’s so neat!! And yeah my daughter would NOT approve of the dinosaurs being impaled for drawer pulls hahaha

  13. love the color thinking about going with those types of green tones for family,hallway,foyer,kitchen & stairs

  14. I absolutely love this. I had a little desk similar but wo the top I had painted a green, for some inexplicable reason I gave it away. Now I know I really want to use green again. You’re So talented. Your instructions are amazing.
    PS I voted for your project.

  15. Love the color ! I feel it’s a fresh happy piece ! It’s also a neutral color ! Love your work ! Congrats ! Shelley

  16. What a beautiful job you did, Lindsay! A lot of work went into it bur it was well worth it. The colors work well together- a unique piece by a unique you!

  17. I voted for you! You just did such a nice job with the project–
    love how you used the colors, and it really looks like a nice, welcoming
    desk and work area that I’d actually enjoy using! Good luck with the contest!

    1. Thank you so much, Starr! I appreciate so much that you took the time. I LOVED doing this project, so it makes it extra special to hear from people who love it as much as I do! 🙂

  18. It’s perfect. I have 2 of these and after seeing this have some ideas of what to do with them. I love the initials and am happy that you didn’t just sand them away. It’s a bit of history. Great job.

    1. Thank you, Janet — this is such a sweet comment that has made my day! Those initials just pulled at my heart and I couldn’t sand them away. 🙂

    2. Love the desk. I need a stool that height for my desk. 25 inches?? Guess I could cut legs down a bit.

  19. This looks so amazing especially for people who live in tight or cramped spaces. I love how it all looks!

    1. Thank you so much, Derrick! It really is the ideal small-space solution and such a little powerhouse. I’m so glad you love it as much as I loved making it!

  20. Hi I think that first top picture and that she amazed me she did out standing job she has my 100 percent votes I take her

    1. Thank you, David! It’s so great to hear feedback like this because I had a blast with this project!

  21. Girlllll this looks AMAZING! An incredible transformation and a piece I would PROUDLY have in my home. I love it!! You’ve inspired me to tackle some furniture transformations of my own!!

    1. Oh my gosh, THANK YOU, lady!!! You are so dang sweet! I’ve gotten so attached to it that I’m going to have a hard time donating it! lol

  22. Adorable!! This took a lot of work, know- how, and patience. The end result is awesome! I love that you kept the engraved initials inside!♡??

    1. Thank you so much, Tammy! This is the sweetest comment! Confession, though: It was a lot of work, patience, and Googling. 😉 I learned a lot along the way!

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