10 Tips for Painting a Rolltop Desk

There is something so rewarding about taking an old and unexciting piece of furniture and giving it a completely new look! I love painting furniture, and our most recent project was this rolltop desk we were given. It has always lived in our office and while I didn’t love the finish, I LOVE all the little cubbies and drawers. It gives the illusion of organization at least. In our efforts to baby proof, we moved my craft table to the office, and now the desk is in our living room. Now that the desk is more visible, it really needed to be updated. So, instead of giving you the blow-by-blow, I thought these 10 tips would really cover the important points and convince you that anyone can do it!

BEFORE:
Rolltop Desk Before Picture closed

AFTER:
Rolltop Desk FINAL closed

1. Use chalk paint.
Chalk paint rocks! You don’t have to spend hours prepping the surface, and it comes out with a great matte finish. There are a lot of great brands out there, but there is a local place that sells Shabby Paint and their colors are great. For this project I used Snow White, Licorice, and Sheer Vax to finish it.

2. Use spray paint.
Because I wanted to give the desk a distressed look with some “layers,” I used black spray paint (satin finish) on all the edges and corners of the desk before painting it all white with the chalk paint. So when I distressed the desk, you can see some great added dimension with the black layer. It really adds to the overall look in a big way.
Rolltop Desk Spray paint edges

In addition, I used black on the cubbies inside the desk. There really wasn’t a good way to get a paint brush into those tight areas. Just using a bit of spray paint made my life way WAY easier!
Rolltop Desk cubbies

3. Take time to disassemble the desk.
It might seem like a bit of a pain, but you will save yourself quite a headache if you at least take off the top of the desk, and remove the rolltop. You will be even more pleased with your result if you take the time to do this step. Make notes to yourself as you take it apart to make re-assembly go smoothly.

4. Consider a two-toned look.
I really like the way this turned out. I decided I wanted the horizontal surfaces to be black. It adds interest and makes the finished desk unique. I love the contrast of black and white, but lots of other color combos would be cool. Maybe Vogue and Garfield Grey, Emily Ann and Lillian Grey, Paper Doll and Alamo White…

Rolltop Desk After 1

5. Paint the sides and inside of the drawers.
In keeping with the two-toned look. We painted the inside of the drawers black. This feels so good when you open the drawers and see a nice completely finished piece. Another fun idea, especially if you are going with one color on the desk, would be to paint the insides and sides of the drawer with a fun pop of color. This extra step is worth it! BTW, we used spray paint on this step too.

Rolltop Desk side angle of drawers  Rolltop Desk side angle of little drawers

6. Dry brush the rolltop piece.
Every project inevitably has a lesson you learn the hard way. The good news is that you can learn from our mistake. I’m going to reiterate step 3, take the rolltop out and lay it flat. You then want to carefully dry brush this piece. It will take extra time, but you don’t want the paint to puddle between the slats. Otherwise you will end up with cracked paint you won’t be happy with. Take your time, it might take an extra coat or two.

7. Buy new hardware.
This desk had wooden pulls that just didn’t excite me so we decided to update the majority of the hardware. New hardware doesn’t have to be expensive (we paid like $1.79 per pull) but it can make a big difference!

Original pulls     Update hardware

8. Spray paint existing hardware.
While I didn’t love the wooden pulls, I do love the plate on the front of the rolltop as well as on the plates on outside of the little drawers. I just decided to get ride of the gold and spray paint them black. Looks super cool!

Rolltop Desk spray paint existing hardware

9. Have fun distressing.
You work so hard to carefully paint the piece, then you spend time destroying the perfection. I oddly love this step, go figure. It actually lets you off the hook, and you can embrace any areas you felt like were “mistakes.” We can celebrate the imperfections now! I use 60 or 80 grit sandpaper on a sanding block and go to town. Concentrate on corners and edges that would normally experience wear and tear. I also like to use it as an opportunity to highlight interesting details in the piece. I just try to maintain some distressing consistency as I go along, comparing to previous sections as I go.

Rolltop Desk front desk drawer details   Rolltop Desk front drawer details

10. Print fun tags.
Just a final touch. I picked a vintage looking (and FREE) font and had fun printing out labels for the fun little drawers. I love this finishing touch!

Rolltop Desk drawers closeup   

Feels like a brand new desk!
Rolltop Desk FINAL open     10 Tips for Painting a Rolltop Desk DIY1
–h

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12 thoughts on “10 Tips for Painting a Rolltop Desk

  1. Wow, the desk looks great! I really like the two tone with black and white. We’ve done something similar on a couple of pieces and it’s a great finish.

    The new hardware is also a big improvement.

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    1. Ours is wood, but I’ve done plenty of painting projects with particle board. I would recommend using chalk paint, it works really well on a variety of surfaces. Good luck!

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  2. What does dry brush mean when referring to the hilltop piece? This is the only part I’m not sure about how I should paint!

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