10 Tips For Painting a Rolltop Desk (DIY Guide)

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 needs to be updated. So, instead of giving you the blow-by-blow, I thought these ten tips would cover the crucial points and convince you that anyone can do it!


Painting a Rolltop Desk


Painting a Rolltop Desk

1. Use chalk paint

Chalk paint rocks! You don’t have to spend hours prepping the surface, and it comes out with an excellent matte finish.

There are a lot of great brands out there, but there is a local place that sells Shabby Paint, and its colors are great. I finished this project using Snow White, Licorice, and Sheer Vax.

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 before painting it all white with chalk paint.

So, when I distressed the desk, you can see some great added dimension with the black layer. It adds to the overall look in a big way.

Painting a Rolltop Desk

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

Painting a Rolltop Desk

3. Take time to disassemble the desk

It might seem like a pain, but you will save yourself quite a headache if you at least remove the top of the desk and 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 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 many other color combos would be fantastic. Maybe Vogue and Garfield Grey, Emily Ann and Lillian Grey, Paper Doll and Alamo White…

Painting a Rolltop Desk

5. Paint the sides and inside of the drawers

In keeping with the two-toned look. We painted the inside of the drawers black. When you open the drawers, seeing a nice, utterly finished piece feels so good.

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.

Painting a Rolltop Desk

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 your mistakes. I will 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 didn’t excite me, so we updated most of the hardware. New hardware doesn’t have to be expensive (we paid $1.79 per pull), but it can make a big difference!

Painting a Rolltop Desk

8. Spray paint existing hardware

While I didn’t love the wooden pulls, I loved the plate on the front of the rolltop and the plates outside the little drawers. I just decided to remove the gold and spray-paint them black. Looks super cool!

Painting a Rolltop Desk

9. Have fun distressing

You work so hard to paint the piece carefully, and then you spend time destroying its perfection. I oddly love this step; go figure. It lets you off the hook, and you can embrace any areas you felt 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 typically experience wear and tear.

I also like to use it to highlight exciting details in the piece. Compared to previous sections, I maintain some distressing consistency as I go along.

Painting a Rolltop Desk

10. Print fun tags

It’s 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!

Painting a Rolltop Desk

It feels like a brand-new desk!

Painting a Rolltop Desk


Painting a rolltop desk can be a rewarding and creative project that breathes new life into a cherished piece of furniture. These ten tips will ensure a smooth and professional-looking finish and make the process enjoyable and stress-free.

Prepare the desk thoroughly, choose the right paint and tools, and take time during each step. Don’t underestimate the power of proper ventilation and protective gear for a safe painting experience. Experiment with colors and techniques to achieve the desired look that complements your style and decor.

Taking on a DIY painting project allows you to express your creativity and transform a functional piece into a personalized work of art. Whether you’re a seasoned painter or a novice, these tips are a valuable guide to help you confidently navigate the intricacies of painting a rolltop desk.

As you embark on this journey, relish in the process and appreciate the transformation unfolding before your eyes.

With patience, attention to detail, and a dash of creativity, you’ll soon have a beautifully painted rolltop desk that not only enhances the aesthetics of your space but also carries with it the satisfaction of a job well done. Happy painting!


1. How do I prepare the rolltop desk for painting?

Start by cleaning the desk thoroughly to remove dust and grime. Sand the surface to create a smooth base, and don’t forget to remove any existing finish or paint. Fill any cracks or holes with wood filler, and prime the desk to ensure better paint adhesion.

2. What type of paint is best for a rolltop desk?

Choose high-quality furniture or chalk paint for a durable and stylish finish. Consider the desired color and finish, and opt for paints specifically designed for wood surfaces.

3. Can I paint over an existing finish?

While it’s possible to paint over an existing finish, stripping or sanding it down is recommended for better adhesion. If the current finish is in good condition, you can use a bonding primer to help the new paint adhere.

4. How many coats of paint should I apply?

Apply at least two coats of paint for a uniform and long-lasting finish. Allow each coat to dry thoroughly before applying the next. You may need additional coats depending on the color and type of paint you choose.

5. What tools do I need to paint a rolltop desk?

Gather essential tools like brushes, rollers, painter’s tape, sandpaper, and a drop cloth. A high-quality paintbrush will help you achieve a smoother finish, while painter’s tape ensures clean lines and protects areas you don’t want to paint.

6. How can I prevent brush strokes in the paint?

Use a high-quality brush and apply thin, even coats to minimize brush strokes. Work toward the wood grain and consider using a foam roller for larger flat surfaces. If needed, sand lightly between coats to smooth out any imperfections.

I’m Willie, the passionate mind behind this blog, and I’m thrilled to share my love for crafting beautiful and functional spaces with you. I started this journey with a simple belief – that everyone deserves a home that reflects their personality, style, and, most importantly, creativity.

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