Before and After: Desk and Lamp Duo

I’m a glutton for punishment when it comes to furniture in need of serious rehab. No matter how many times I tell myself, “never again” I just can’t seem to say no and walk away. At first I think, “yikes, that needs some work.” But as I turn to walk away I become paranoid of the shadowy figures closing in behind me with evil plots of milk paint, chevron stripes, and stenciled zebra print on their minds—just waiting for me to step away so they can seal this poor furniture’s fate. And I can’t do it. I just can’t. That’s exactly how I ended up with this.

Well, from here that doesn't look so bad…

Well, from here that doesn’t look so bad…


Oh GOD!!

Oh God!

Sigh, why do I do this?

Yeah, train wreck. Total. Train. Wreck. Water stains, flaking finish, spider nests galore, marker everywhere and something whitish spilling down the sides. Every red flag in the book. I walked away from it three times before succumbing to the vision of this desk restored to its former glorious walnut and milled aluminum. Load ‘er up!

A similar thought process occurred when I found this desk lamp.

Cool, but sad.

Cool, but sad.

Why tape? Why here?

Why so much tape? Why here?

The decision to buy this wasn’t so laborious since it could be carried out of the sale in one hand. It’s an odd marriage of styles, with a traditional base and modern industrial polished metal arm. The bronze metallic finish was cool, but destroyed beyond salvage. For some reason this had been used as a bulletin board with nearly an entire roll of ancient, burned-on Scotch tape covering the lamp that had to be razor-bladed off. I’m sure all of these things frightened other buyers, but not me. Give me your tired, your poor—your battered lamps.

After I had them both, I sort of felt like they belonged together. The polished metal detail and slight industrial flair on both made them a perfect match. First I set to work on the desk. It honestly wasn’t as bad as I feared, but I did hit one hurdle. Usually I recommend using furniture refinisher to remove lacquer and varnish from clear-finished vintage furniture. But after an hour of rubbing away, the finish on this thing wouldn’t budge. I realized it was likely finished with a synthetic product, probably urethane, which is impervious to furniture refinisher. After about 15 minutes with paint stripper, however, I had the surface perfectly clean. I followed that up with some power sanding, Watco Danish Oil and three coats of General Finishes Arm-R-Seal satin polyurethane. The result? See for yourself:

This is why I do it.

This is why I do this.

Only a faint ring is left from the devastated original surface

Only a faint ring is left from the devastated original surface

To say I am pleased with the result is a massive understatement. For awhile after it was complete I’d just stand and stare at it and occasionally run my hand over the smooth satiny surface that was once a splintery, toxic-waste laden nightmare. Without that disaster of a top to cause a distraction, the beautiful simplicity of the legs—practically the whole reason I bought it—can really shine through.


But what about that lamp? All it really needed was a new cord and a new coat of paint to give it a new lease on life. After sanding down the finish, I taped off all of the metal areas and gave it two coats of Behlen gloss white lacquer. What I love about this stuff is that it cures in about 15 minutes and is ready to roll. And with that, it looks as though it was born of another era entirely.

Lamp_AfterLamp_After_SideOnce a 1940s misfit, this lamp now has some mid-century flair. The gloss white really brings the base and shade into the same aesthetic as the metal arm and it also fits better into the 1970s minimalism of the desk. It meets my criteria for refurbishing vintage items: better than before, but period correct.

After_GroupingAssembled with a few of my other recent finds, this team rounds out the perfect vintage modern home office. Well, I guess the requisite personal typewriter is missing from this scene and perhaps a globe or two, but I’m sure Angela could hook me up.

This entry was posted in Before and After and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  1. Amy
    Posted September 19, 2013 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    Where do you buy the Behlen spray paint?

    • Austin
      Posted September 19, 2013 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

      Hi Amy. If you’re in the Des Moines area, you can buy it at The Woodsmith Store. Otherwise you’ll have to do a bit of searching online. If you have a Rockler store nearby, you might check that. You can learn more about their products at

Post a Reply to Amy Cancel reply

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>