Easy Secretary Desk Makeover

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This secretary desk makeover is pretty simple, but sometimes simple is the best. Furniture makeovers can be simple, like this green painted dresser or more complex, like this ombre dresser.

This vintage secretary desk is simple, but since this piece is large and has tons of details, it felt like a more complex project.

light gray secretary desk

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Today I’m sharing a furniture makeover that I’ve been working on for months! Months ago I brought home a vintage secretary desk to paint and sell. It’s gorgeous and has so many amazing little cubbies.

But the thought of painting all of those adorable cubbies pushed it to the back burner for a while. I’m happy to say that my secretary desk makeover is complete now and has gorgeous new hardware!

In all of my furniture makeovers, this is the only one that I regret selling.

How to Paint a Secretary Desk (without Losing Your Mind)

secretary desk before

This secretary desk had great bones but needed some love.

tannins bleeding through primer

Seal with Shellac When Painting Light Colors

My husband primed this piece for me using a sprayer and the wood tannins bled through. This shows the importance of using a shellac-based primer to seal those tannins in!

painted secretary desk

Primer Helps When Painting a Dark Piece a Lighter Color

This vintage secretary desk was a dark cherry color before. Painting it with primer first made it easier to cover with light gray chalk paint.

I love the details on this piece.

secretary desk feet

Like these feet! So cute, right?

gorgeous new hardware

Consider Modernized Hardware

The desk received new hardware from D. Lawless Hardware. I’m a huge fan of D. Lawless and buy from them often.

Their selection is incredible and so are their prices. I used their glass knobs and cup pulls in my kitchen, as well as many other furniture makeovers.

secretary desk makeover after shot

Change out Handles for Knobs

This secretary desk has serpentine curves, which made new hardware tricky. It had the typical gold pulls on it, but to be honest, those are my least favorite look ever.

If I’m going to spend the time redoing a piece of furniture, I want it to look completely updated, hardware included.

So I filled the holes with Bondo and sanded them well. I like Bondo better than wood filler because it’s so much smoother.

new modern hardware

Then I drilled new holes at the front of the curves of each drawer for the new knobs. I chose these oil rubbed bronze octagon knobs because I like how classic, yet modern they are.

I love how the octagon shape feels modern and the way the oil rubbed bronze contrasts with the gray paint.

secretary desk without hutch

Use a Smaller Paintbrush for the Cubbies

The inside was painted white to contrast with the gray. It took several coats of paint, but was worth it.

secretary desk cubbies

I love the tiny drawers so much. The knobs are original to the piece and look pretty cute with the new knobs!

Use a Scraper to Remove Paint on Glass

I’ve never found tape to be much help when painting around glass. I would rather just paint and remove the dried paint later. Rubbing alcohol or windex helps with the parts that won’t scrape up easily.

secretary desk makeover

I love how versatile this piece is. It can be used with or without the shelf at the top!

how to paint a secretary desk
Yield: 1

How to Paint a Secretary Desk

gray secretary desk makeover

Learn how to paint a secretary desk without losing your mind. This complicated piece of furniture doesn't have to be so hard to paint.

Prep Time 30 minutes
Active Time 4 hours
Total Time 4 hours 30 minutes
Difficulty Medium


  • Shellac-based primer
  • Paintbrushes
  • Paint
  • New knobs
  • Bondo (to fill old knob holes)


  • Paint sprayer
  • Sandpaper and sander
  • Paint scraper


  1. Remove any hardware.
  2. Tape off any hardware that you can't remove.
  3. Remove the inner cubbies. They slide out of the grooves.
  4. Remove the drawers.
  5. Remove the hutch from the main desk part if possible.
  6. Clean the furniture well. Clean the insides and outside of the furniture.
  7. Lightly sand surfaces that are too shiny.
  8. If you're replacing the drawer pulls with a different size, fill the holes with Bondo.
  9. Prime the entire piece with a shellac-based primer. This will seal in all of the red-tone of the wood.
  10. If possible use a paint sprayer for this part. (It will save time on the cubbies!)
  11. Apply paint to the body of the desk.
  12. Paint the drawers.
  13. For the hutch, it's easier to remove the shelves and paint them separately.
  14. When painting the doors with glass, it's easier to paint and scrape away the paint once it's dry.
  15. The cubbies can be painted with a small craft paintbrush.
  16. Apply a topcoat if needed.
  17. Install new hardware.


It's easier to tackle a large project like this in smaller portions. I painted this desk in sections: the main part of the desk and drawers, the shelves, the hutch, and then the cubbies inside the desk.

Did you make this project?

Please leave a comment on the blog or share a photo on Pinterest

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gray secretary desk makeover

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