One of my clients, a 13-year-old girl, wanted a roll top desk in her room. For kids, it’s like combining a desk with a toy. For parents, it’s a perfect way to hide all of those glitter pens, packed binders and messy notes in a flash. But the typical roll top desk can be, shall we say, old fashioned and dry. The solution, repaint it. This is not the “I need to kill an afternoon” type of DIY. It takes time, and patience. But the reward will give you something completely unique and fresh. To keep it as easy as possible, I will give you every tip I know.
First, roll top desks can be pricey and hard to find. The solution…Craigslist. This is the collection I found during a search of my area within the range of $300 and $750. They all have some solid bones. But we need to remember a few priorities. First, it needs to fit in the space with room for a chair. Second, it needs to be big enough to have ample storage and writing space. Third, it needs to feel youthful. Some of these were too large, too masculine, too symmetrical or too short. Narrow it down and pick a winner.
When moving it, don’t be fooled by the size. Roll tops consist of many different pieces of wood to make all of those drawers and nooks. Extra wood means extra weight. Get some help with delivery.
Next, supplies. Here are my favorites and Why
1. Citristrip Stripping Gel - Smells like oranges, goes on nice and thick
2. Industrial Rubber gloves – The stripper is powerful. It can burn holes in thinner gloves.
3. Blue painters tape. Can be removed easily even after a few days.
4. Plastic Paint Scraper – Will take paint off Smoothly. Will clean easily. Does not dig holes in wood like some metal scrapers can.
5. Junky brushes to apply stripper. Old ones are fine. You won’t be re-using these. And a bowl to poor the stripper into. Plastic is fine, but I prefer glass. Because it is heavier, it will stay in place when you are scooping up the gel.
6. 3 Plastic Drop Cloths AT LEAST 1 ml. thick. Go any thinner and you will be kicking yourself while trying to pull the folds apart.
7. Steel wool. Thinner is better for little grooves.
8. Box of Rags – These are thicker than regular paper towels. They don’t leave as many little linty pieces. Also, they pull out with one hand, right out of the box, which can be kept right beside you. If you use a roll, you will find that handling it with both hands will eventually soften it into a large mushy mess.
9. A roll of painter’s paper. Putting this over the plastic, but under the furniture, helps to sop up drips. With only plastic, it will get under your feet, get messy, and track around where ever you walk.
10. You will also need semi-gloss spray paint in the colors of your choosing. But you won’t need those until the next day.
The first step is too remove the current finish. Even a clear gloss will prevent the new paint from sticking to the surface. That means easy chipping and scrapes, which we can't have on a piece that demands a lot of use and handling. Lay out your plastic drop cloth in a preferably open outdoor space, . Cover with the painters paper roll. Sit desk on top. ***Just as a side note, we will not be painting inside the drawers. That tends to hurt their smooth function; and makes the sliding of them much more difficult. You can always embellish the bottoms of them later with some pretty wallpaper. While wearing rubber gloves, poor the stripper in your bowl. Scoop it up with the brush and lay it on thickly. IMPORTANT- Don’t apply to more than an area maybe 2’ by 2’. Even though the stripper says to let it sit for 10 to 20 minutes that is waaaaayyy to long. In that much time it will bubble and dry up again. When you see the paint bubble and bleed into the gel, its time to scrape. Use the scraper for flat areas. Use the paper towels to wipe off smaller sections. Just scoop it and dump it right into a garbage can (which you should also have ready and near by.) As you move along, gelling and scraping you will see some bits still get stuck in grooves. Leave it for now. Just do your best.
Once you complete the whole desk, and this will take some time, go back and lay gel once more where there is still some residue in grooves, corners, etc. This time, use the steel wool to rub it out until it is removed. That should get it all. Let your desk dry over night because the wood will be wet and softened. It needs to be hard and dry for painting.
You are ready for the fun part. Pick your paint colors. Spray paint comes in every color you can think of. Go to an art store rather than a hardware store. There you will have many more choices of colors. Tape off the edge of the inside area on the desk. Once you have your solid taped edge, go back and tape on the remaining drop cloth so it covers the outside area you just taped off. Time to spray away. Keep your hand about 12 inches from the surface and move constantly. Do light coats, over and over with a good 5 minutes of drying time in-between. Doing this will keep it even and avoid drips. This takes a little practice so do some practice runs on cardboard. You will feel when it’s right. Don’t be surprised if it takes an hour to complete…with about 2 minutes of that as broken up spraying time and the rest as drying periods. It’s like I said earlier. Patience is key.
Once it is nice and solid, let it dry. Again over night is best. You will be taping on top of your paint for the outside color and it can NOT be sticky.
The next day, reverse the entire process. Tape along the edges you made the previous day and close the roll top. Be sure there are no holes for the paint to fly into. It will destroy the work you have already completed. Once again, Spray away. Same rules apply. BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY, since we need this top to continue to roll, after each spray, roll the top up and down several times to be sure it doesn’t stick. Don’t leave this step out or you will want to jump off a bridge and take me with you. Spray. Roll. Spray. Roll. Continue until the entire desk is even and glossy. Let dry over night.
The next day, remove all of your tape. Be sure the top rolls freely. If it is a little stubborn due to the new layers of paint, put some olive oil on a Q-tip and run it in the grooves where it slides. You can use WD40, but if you do, go gently. That stuff has a habit of dripping out hours later.
You now have a groovy one of a kind roll top desk. Use some creativity when accessorizing it and adding lighting. Maybe throw in some pretty tassels. I also decided to give this one a quick distressing with some light sandpaper to add some extra character. The choices are all yours to make. Happy painting. And send along your own creations. I would love to post them for other readers to see.