A Hometown Desk Makeover (v.2)

We took an extra long weekend away celebrating a job well done for my favorite guy (a work-slash-reward-trip for Scott; congrats! You deserved it!), and as is typical upon returning home, it’s been tough getting back into the swing of things. Chicago is finally feeling warm – it took long enough! – but the trees in our lawn have already started dropping leaves as if it’s fall. Identity crisis with all the cool weather these last few months, maybe?

I did, however, finish up a project right before we left, and look! We finally remedied that desk problem!

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About a month ago, Scott texted me the link to a desk on Krrb. It was within our budget, even slightly larger than my farmhouse desk (coming in with a large working surface of 6′ x 3′), and it had drawers! We’d been on the lookout for something more practical for months, and while I waxed on about the hopes of a desk with drawers but shallow aprons, well, I quickly realized that this simply does not exist. The thought alone is an oxymoron (the magical unicorn pony of desks?), so instead I set my sights on something large… with drawers. And this one fit the bill!

There was just one catch, of course. The previous owner mentioned that the top was covered in a soft suede fabric and had been fitted with a thick sheet of glass. She had never messed with the fabric (as the glass protected it well enough), so there was no telling what might be under there. It had been owned by at least one person prior to her, and she left it as is when she purchased it, fabric and all – leaving the mystery to us. Challenge accepted!

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We stuffed it in our wagon, and as soon as we came home, we waited all of 5 minutes to flip it over and get to work. We had high hopes that it would be miraculously refinished, brought back to its original glory! Or it would be shiny and new, having been covered in fabric to protect it for decades to come! But let’s be honest, that wouldn’t make for a good story, right?

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It was a mess. This is the part where we looked at each other with horror. We said, well, hmm. Can this be salvaged? Look at how deep that scratch is! Wait, what’s that? Oh, dear. There were scratches, yes, but not just a few – a lot! There was water damage and black marks and scuzzy, sticky residue.

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For a while, we threw the glass top back on and let it sit in the studio. The drawers, base and legs are all solid wood, the handles and leg caps solid brass. The top – the most damaged part! – was a wood veneer, but fortunately, even a real wood veneer can be sanded down. This desk is solid, and having already fallen in love with its little brass toes, I decided to eventually just dive in and refresh the wood the best I could.

I started by sanding the entire top several times, starting with an 80 grit sandpaper and working my way down to 220 grit. (Remember: Always sand in the direction of the grain! Always.) I also skimmed over the more damaged areas of the apron, legs and drawer fronts, but I didn’t focus on bringing down the entire finish. The many, many scratches didn’t come out completely, and there were still dark marks that simply kicked up black saw dust. Even still, I wasn’t too worried about a pristine finish, as I love a good dose of character. This desk was very obviously loved, and just like those nubby chairs, that’s the best part.

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After wiping off all the sanding dust, I washed the entire desk down with a no-rinse TSP – a lesson learned from our contractor, Mike, during the refinishing of the farmhouse table. I’ll never skip this step again on a vintage piece, as it helps pull out lingering oils and ensures more even coverage for the next steps.

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Rather than stain the table, I decided to try Restor-A-Finish. We’ve used it in the past for various other wood refreshes, and while this desk was far worse off than our projects of yore, I pushed through, as I only have great things to say about the product. On the left, you’ll see how the desk looked after the TSP rinse but before the Restor-A-Finish …

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… and below, you’ll see that it darkened it beautifully! There are absolutely still dark marks (seriously, what are those?), and although the scratches aren’t invisible, they are far, far less noticeable. The difference is quite literally astounding; worth every minute (er, hour) of sanding. Truly! I must have been excited to skip to the next step, Feed-N-Wax, because unfortunately, I don’t have a full shot of the table post-R-A-F. I applied the wax heavily, and within 15 minutes, the table soaked up every last bit! I applied one more coat then wiped off the excess, which gave the desk a healthy glow.

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Finally, I used our metal polishing weapon, Nevr-Dull, to shine up the brass drawer pulls. I purposely restrained myself from overdoing it, as I wanted to keep a bit of character on the handles. The back plates were tarnished almost completely, but even they shined up to a perfect, not-so-perfect antiqued finish!

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When we returned home from out trip, Scott helped me to wipe down the glass and carefully place it back on top. We shuffled out the farmhouse table – which, really, is still just sitting in the studio waiting for a good home! – and pulled the new-to-us desk back into place:

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I debated leaving the glass off altogether, but Scott made a good point by claiming that it’s like, in his words, framing a photo. (What have I done to him?) It truly pulls the whole look together, and I don’t need to worry about setting down my morning coffee or a glass of sweating ice water. The reflection also helps to deflect some of the imperfections, but honestly, I am over the moon with the little flaws that show through.

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The whole point of desk swapping was to keep things practical and more efficient for my work day. I’m no longer stashing my painting supplies in a rolling cart, rather, I picked up a utensil cubby and now all my tools have a home. I can view everything at once! There’s an organizer in the other drawer, too, and I’m able to hide away all my office supplies (pens, markers, a stapler, ruler and calculator, you know). Between this desk and my filing cabinet, I am set. Organization. Be still my heart.

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But! Can I share the most exciting part? This old desk is a Lincoln Desk. I hadn’t heard of that before, so a quick Google search led me to this site. I know I say this a lot (I’ve already mentioned it in this very post), but man, I love a good back story! As it goes, Lincoln Desk was a family business founded in the late 1800s (when our house was born!) and closed in the 1950s. As the grandson of the founder writes:

The time of WWII was hard on the business, as wood was not available in any quantity for production. Most all of the wood for the factory came from Northern Wisconsin. By about 1950, when my father wanted to retire, his brother Alfred was living in California and didn’t want to take it on, and my older brother Jack, who worked at the factory, also did not want to take it on and I was still in high school, so it was closed.  It was a good sized factory, occupying about a half of a square city block at 2739 West Chicago Avenue. […] The construction quality was very high and was about as fine as you could buy.  Their trade mark was “Lincoln Desks” and also usually included a wood burned inscription or medallion in one of the right hand drawers, “For the work of the world.” [Source]

The factory that’s mentioned? It’s right down the street, hence this post’s title! Our ‘new’ desk was made right here, and maybe as far back as 100 years. (For Chicago locals, you’ll know that’s in West Town, just south of Humboldt Park. Or is it Humboldt Park? Those neighborhood lines can get blurry.) We’ve passed by that old (abandoned?) building for years, and I love seeing it through a different lens now, so to speak.

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And one last thing! I realized that I’ve rarely shown the entire studio as a whole (at least, not lately), so here is how it looks today:

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Two of my favorite framed pieces are simply propped against the wall for now (I couldn’t bear to keep them in hiding while I decide on placement!), and while we obviously still need baseboards and a good window sill – coming soon! – we also need a rug or two for color, among a few other things. The old credenza will get a paint job someday, and we have fun plans for the wall behind my desk. Just like the living room, the studio will likely slowly evolve over time as we fully knock out other rooms.

What is it I always say? Oh, right. Patience.

PS… I found a similar Lincoln Desk right here on Ebay. Rest assured, I paid nowhere near (and I mean nowhere!) that dollar amount. I’m unsure of the year of our desk, but we can absolutely say that it’s stood the test of time.

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  • caroline [the diy nurse] - August 21, 2014 - 7:58 AM

    It’s stunning. Those brass toes are everything!ReplyCancel

  • KM - August 21, 2014 - 8:59 AM

    Beautiful restoration of a charming desk!

    Question – what is the office chair you’re using and would you recommend it? Thanks!ReplyCancel

    • Kim - August 21, 2014 - 9:13 AM

      Thank you!

      I got the chair YEARS ago, and while it’s comfortable, I’m actually hoping to change it up sooner than later. I cannot remember what it’s called (there are no markings either), but I picked it up from Wayfair.ReplyCancel

  • ten - August 21, 2014 - 9:18 AM

    That desk is so cool! I, too, love it’s little brass feet. :) Great find!

    I was wondering – when you sand something this size, do you do it outside? Or do you tarp off /seal off an area inside and sand?ReplyCancel

    • Kim - August 21, 2014 - 5:22 PM

      I did all the sanding outside, but then I brought it back it in for the color and finish. It gets way too dusty otherwise! Not to mention, our back yard is still in complete shambles, so we don’t mind making a mess back there!ReplyCancel

  • Debra - August 21, 2014 - 9:32 AM

    Your studio is so clean and airy. I was having a hard time picturing the “whole” from some of the recent pics. This is lovely!ReplyCancel

  • AnnMarie - August 21, 2014 - 9:32 AM

    Oh man, I have SERIOUS desk/table envy! I love the proportions and the solid lines of it, but I have to say it’s the brass details that make the piece for me.

    It’s times like these when I wish I weren’t a starving grad student who rents a room in a house with three other women and thus has no room (or money, let’s be honest) for pieces like this one. ~sobs~ReplyCancel

    • Kim - August 21, 2014 - 5:21 PM

      Believe me, I remember those days! Enjoy them while you have them though, I promise ;)ReplyCancel

  • andee - August 21, 2014 - 9:37 AM

    That desk is crazy beautiful!! It is perfect for your space.ReplyCancel

  • Sheila - August 21, 2014 - 9:48 AM

    Beautiful desk and the studio looks like a such lovely place to work. How are you handling power cords on a floating desk?ReplyCancel

    • Kim - August 21, 2014 - 10:01 AM

      Thanks, Sheila! I only have 1 cord that comes off of the larger display, and I just run it down the leg and back towards the wall. Once we’ve finished with the baseboards, We’ll also use that plastic stripping to hide the cord and run it along the wall. There’s an outlet really close to the desk, even though it is floating. I’ll definitely have to take a closer photo once we get to that!ReplyCancel

  • jenn aka the picky girl - August 21, 2014 - 10:16 AM

    That desk is amazing, and that pulled-back shot of the room? WHOA. The studio is looking crazy awesome!ReplyCancel

  • Cara@theProjectAddict - August 21, 2014 - 10:19 AM

    Thanks for this post. I love the brass toes too! I purchased some 70s dining chairs I plan to reupholster. The wood is in somewhat decent shape but there are some scratches. I just purchased some Restor-A-finish from tjmaxx but didnt know much about it. After reading your post I ordered some feed-n-wax too. Maybe I can avoid having to completely refinish them.Love the studio.ReplyCancel

    • Kim - August 21, 2014 - 5:21 PM

      Feed-N-Wax is the last step that’ll make sure your Restor-A-Finish stays gorgeous! So happy you ordered it.ReplyCancel

  • felicity - August 21, 2014 - 12:39 PM

    I love it. I would steal that desk from you in a heartbeat. Those brass accents… I die. :)ReplyCancel

  • qlkowa - August 21, 2014 - 1:04 PM

    Well done, it’s beautiful and elegant!ReplyCancel

  • Colleen - August 21, 2014 - 3:14 PM

    That desk is AMAZING. I can’t help but wonder what the hell happened to it to get it all dinged up like that though. The studio is looking great!ReplyCancel

  • Jannike - August 21, 2014 - 3:30 PM

    Beautiful desk. The great thing about the glass top is that you can slide mementos under the glass, or a large poster, or a beautiful scarf, etc.ReplyCancel

  • Joyce H. - August 21, 2014 - 4:13 PM

    you guys did a fantastic job on restoring this table! It looks awesome; I love it!
    Could you do a quick house tour once you get all the baseboards/doors in and painted? I want to see everything in its (more finished) glory!ReplyCancel

    • Kim - August 21, 2014 - 4:59 PM

      Thanks, Joyce!

      Man, we are really slacking in that department, aren’t we? It’s been on my to do list for months! But yes, we’ll need to do an updated tour, absolutely.ReplyCancel

  • Trude - August 22, 2014 - 5:14 PM

    How cool is that! Gotta love a good backstory. And I can’t believe how beautifully it cleaned up!ReplyCancel

  • LET'S PROCRASTINATE! - August 25, 2014 - 9:23 AM

    […] Restor-A-Finish remedy for an old desk makeover. (Remember our experience with that amazing stuff […]ReplyCancel

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