Private Stash: Drexel Profile Tambour Desk

Some thrift store finds make you smile, some make you laugh, some just make you happy, but occasionally there’s a find that makes you simultaneously shaky and sweaty and able to leap rows of crappy pressboard furniture like an Olympic hurdler. Such an incident happened to me last week when I spotted this amazing writing desk.

IMG_5018 Is that really sitting over there? Can all these shoppers walking by it really be oblivious to the fact that they’re in the presence of such amazingness? Am I having a stroke? Yes, yes and (probably) no. This Drexel Profile desk really was just nonchalantly standing amongst old cd towers and torchiere lamps, completely unnoticed by passersby. Just a day or two before I was ogling examples of tambour door mid-century desks and pondering how I had never run across one in the wild. And then there it was, standing majestically in the clearing—just waiting for me to bag it and tie it to the hood of the car. I ran to it. Unsure of how to claim it (in the absence of any claim-staking tear-off price tag), I debated peeing on its leg and proclaiming “This is mine, all mine!” while perched atop it. Instead, I settled on pulling out the drawer and calmly proceeding to the cashier. It was mine, all mine.


Drexel’s Profile line was designed by noted jewelry and industrial designer John Van Koert and produced from 1955 to 1961. The Profile grouping features many standout pieces like this, including hutches with “shed” or pitched rooflines, round spindle-based occasional tables, and amazing leather-topped desks. All of the pieces are a blend of walnut and pecan and are finished in kind of a peculiar light-walnut shade that was intended to allow it to be paired with blonde or dark wood furnishings. The pulls on all of the cabinet pieces are silver plated, a nod to Van Koert’s extensive work in jewelry and flatware.

IMG_5022This particular example, however, has had a rough life and will need a full restoration to bring back its full glory. But the work will be worth it. I’m very much looking forward to bringing this beauty back to life. While I intend to give it a faithful restoration, the only change I do plan is a slight change to a darker walnut color to better blend with my Drexel Declaration pieces. Now I must begin the search for a matching chair.

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  1. Kristine
    Posted May 12, 2014 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

    This is awesome! I have a Drexel Profile high boy that I scored from Savers for $25 and later saw on 1stdibs for $3100. I love it. I refinished mine and the finish came out a bit warmer which I really like.

    I love the shape of this piece. What are you going to do to the door, if anything?

    • Austin
      Posted May 12, 2014 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

      Great find Kristine! I actually saw an example of this desk with the tambour door refinished in bare wood, but I think I’m going to stick with the original design and keep it white. I may repaint it though as it appears to have yellowed significantly over time.

  2. Jacqui
    Posted September 17, 2014 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    Nooooooooooo… Tell me you didn’t change the color. Please? Because that would be a shame.

    • Austin
      Posted September 22, 2014 at 10:16 am | Permalink

      Well, I haven’t—yet. Don’t worry though, any color shift will be well thought out. Unfortunately the finish that it is on this can’t be salvaged and because of the production techniques used in the original finish, it really can’t be recreated without special chemicals, spray-equipment and know-how. But I’ve got a lot of tricks in my arsenal and am fully confident this will be a beauty in the end.

  3. Terry
    Posted July 25, 2015 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    Do you have any photos of this desk as a completed project? I have the same desk and I’m in the middle of stripping it now. Would love to see how yours turned out.

    Thanks ,

    • Austin
      Posted September 8, 2015 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

      Terry, I’m sorry for my ridiculously delayed response to this! Unfortunately I haven’t had a chance to get to this project. Sadly many of my projects sit in queue for years and this one is no exception. I will definitely post when complete, however. If you haven’t finished your project yet, I’d offer the following finishing advice. Use the instructions for refinishing Broyhill Brasilia ( only substitute Colonial Maple gel stain for the Antique walnut used on Brasilia. Should get you close to the original look.

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