April 25, 2019

How We Painted an Old Desk and Figured Out What NOT To DO

DIY, House Remodel

My oh my. If you follow along on insta, you’ll know that my husband and I tackle a lot of projects that involve painting. I mean, let’s be honest, painting is the easiest way to change or freshen up a look. HOWEVER. It does take some time (so maybe not easy?) so when something doesn’t go right, it can be disheartening from ever painting again. So long story short? We were amateurs who thought we knew what we were doing when we tried to paint an old desk that I found for 10 bucks. But fast forward some time and guess what…that paint is now slowly yellowing and seeping into the desk. Good job, Leo and Gloria. Good thing that desk was only 10 bucks. But not everything is 10 bucks and not everyone wants to waste time on something that won’t even work out. So with that said, let’s go back to the day Leo and I began working on the desk.

“Good thing that desk was only 10 bucks. But not everything is 10 bucks and not everyone wants to waste time on something that won’t even work out.”


Funny story! Doing thing post now and looking back, I kinda dig the brown stain look. Or even just the plain sanded look (pic below). HAH! Things change often with me, what can I say. 

What We Already Knew

  • From another past project, we knew that painting hard surfaced furniture with an oil-based latex paint a BIG NO-NO (it will be sticky to the touch) 
  •  Don’t get the cheapest brushes/rollers (a good brush costs around $10-$16) for big surfaces
  • Always sand before painting to make sure the surface is smooth and the paint can grab onto the surface

How We Painted the Desk

Well, we did what any normal person would do and applied what we already knew.

  • Disassembled the desk by taking all the drawers, handles off, and even the top
  • Started sanding where we were going to paint
  • Cleaned and wiped down all the dust from sanding
  • Leo sprayed the base with Pro Classic paint by Sherwin Williams while I used a tiny paintbrush to paint the detail on the drawers by a yellow all-purpose paint from Hobby Lobby
  • I then rolled the Pro Classic paint onto the drawers
  • Waited for paint to dry and reassembled the desk once it was

We left the top as it was since it was cheap laminate and nothing we could really do unless Leo made a whole new top. So we just worked with it! 

Sounds pretty straight forward and not too bad. However, here is what we needed to find out before we got to painting. Because knowledge is power, right? And because well…our desk is slowly turning yellow and simply because we didn’t do the research shown below.


What We Should’ve Researched

  • What type of wood the desk was made of
  • If primer was necessary
  • Was the paint that we used really the best choice

finished desk

So What Did We Do Wrong?

 Well the first obvious thing that we failed to do was the research. I’m not saying that we needed to track down the maker of the desk and have a scientific experiment done on our furniture just so we can paint it a different color. Instead, we simply needed to know what kind of wood we were dealing with so that we could know if we needed primer before the layer of paint. Not all wood accepts paint that easily. We thought we didn’t need primer because the Pro Classic paint already had enamel in it, but a year or so later, we know now that we were wrong. If you don’t know what kind of wood you’re dealing with (and even if you aren’t dealing with wood), ALWAYS use primer before your actual paint just to be sure. 

“Instead, we simply needed to know what kind of wood we were dealing with so that we could know if we needed primer before the layer of paint.”


Just because the desk started yellowing in some spots, doesn’t mean we used the wrong paint. In fact, Pro Classic trim paint with enamel is not the cheapest but I think it worked amazing. It went on super smoothly. We just needed the extra protection of the primer underneath because no matter how much we sanded the desk down and no matter how much we paid for the paint, different woods act in different ways. It’s similar to why different types of wood react differently to the same stain color. You can use the same stain color on three different types of wood, but all three types of wood will have a different hint of color. It’s just the way it is! 

We actually just used leftover paint that we used to paint the trim in the house. We got lucky this time but knowing what kind of paint you need for your project is always a must. For example, we used oil-based latex paint for one of our past projects and it just ruined all the hard work Leo put into it. It was always sticky and if something sat on it for long, it would leave a noticable mark. So not all paint is the same for every project. For hard surfaced furniture though, no doubt that Pro Classic trim paint with enamel works amazing. In fact, if you want an even BETTER OPTION, Sherwin Williams is out with a new paint that is called Emerald Urethane trim paint. I haven’t tried it yet but others have judged it to be super amazing. Of course, those aren’t the only two options you can use. For our master vanity, we used an All Surface Enamel paint that worked really well too. I’ve also painted with chalk paint in our little babe’s closet and I LOVED IT. It’s just all about doing your research and judging how much coverage you need on your project and how much traffic will be around it. But if you are ever in doubt, use primer for extra protection or an extra coat of clear enamel over the already dried piece. 

paint seeping into wood

“We got lucky this time but knowing what kind of paint you need for your project is always a must.”

 I hope this information was helpful enough to inspire you to finish painting a piece that has been patiently waiting in your garage. Painting can be simple but it’s also a simple thing to screw up. As lovely as trial and error is, it’s better to learn from other peoples’ mistakes. Well, mostly. At least in terms of painting! In our case, we learned from that 10 dollar old desk and learned what NOT to do. I guess in a way, it gave me something to write about and help others with. Good job, Leo and Gloria. 😉 


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