Before & After: A Child’s Vintage Roll-Top Desk Gets a Playful Makeover for Under $40

published Aug 27, 2021
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Our daughter starts kindergarten this fall, so we’ve been on the lookout for a desk for her bedroom. We came across this vintage, kid-sized roll top style desk while walking the aisles at our local Habitat ReStore, and she immediately fell in love with it. All the drawers and cubbies, the little pull-out writing table, and of course, the roll top were big selling points for her! As for me: the price was right, the size was perfect — almost a match made in heaven. The only downside was that  the orange-red wood didn’t quite fit the aesthetic of her 70s-style bedroom. We brought the desk home anyway though, because I immediately had a vision. All we needed to breathe new life into the little desk was a little can of inexpensive paint and a fun stool that we already had on hand.

Her bedroom has a definite retro vibe, so we chose the color palette using a vintage floral sheet set with lots of varying shades of greens, pinks, and golds. Hot tip for parents: look to textiles and existing art for your colors; the artists have already done the color-picking work for you! I knew a sample size in my favorite Sherwin Williams shade of green (Verdant SW-6713) would be more than enough to paint the desk, but they’re currently dealing with a paint shortage so I had to buy a quart

I gave the desk a very fast, far-from-thorough sanding with whatever sanding block I could find, wiped the dust away, and started applying the green paint. I love this Sherwin Williams paint for furniture because it doesn’t need a primer coat, and the brush lines just fade into oblivion, making the surface look super smooth and professional. 

My original vision was to paint rainbow stripes on the roll top, but it ended up looking way too busy, so I decided instead to paint the roll top in the same gold color I chose for the drawer pulls. The interior drawer got a lighter shade of green to complement the tones and add a bit of variation.

I installed a pink knob for one of the cubbies, giving a little unexpected and playful touch to the desk, and painted the bottom portion of the stool legs in the same pink. This two-toned look is very popular right now, and extremely easy to DIY. Just tape the portion where the secondary color starts to make sure your lines are clean and even. Another tip: when redoing a set (like a table and chairs), try to call back to some of the details by using the same complementary color in unexpected ways. I finished by spraying everything with an acrylic clear coat to protect the finish. Do not skip this step. For well-used furniture especially, the top coat is essential. Without it, you will be left with scratches and dings quicker than you can say “roll-top.” 

It took about half a day to finish the piece, but it’s become one of the statement corners of my daughter’s room. For the finishing touches, I added a beautiful piece of art by Chicago artist, Natalie Osborne, placed a pink guitar in a basket nearby, and added fun desk accessories that my daughter helped pick out. Just like that, we had a stylish little space for her to do homework, create, and just hang out. My daughter loves her green desk, and for $40 bucks and a can of paint, I love it too!