How do I transform an ugly desk without taking it out of the room?

Updated Oct 12 2015
Offbeat Home & Life runs these advice questions as an opportunity for our readers to share personal experiences and anecdotes. Readers are responsible for doing their own research before following any advice given here... or anywhere else on the web, for that matter.

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Homies, I need help. I have the ugliest desk imaginable. What I can't figure out is… how it made it's way into my house. It was here when I moved in, and even without the unscrewable legs, we can't take it out any of our doors. It's in our dining room/office.

There is a gorgeous built-in bookshelf to the left of this thing, we've painted the walls a lovely turquoise, replaced the flooring, added a beautiful table — but I have to do something with this abomination of a desk.

I need to paint it, style it, anything — but I have to be able to do it inside. Can you homies help me transform this ugly desk? -Shelly G

Shelly's provided more photos of the "ugly desk" over here. Check 'em out and then let her know how YOU would deal with this desk makeover.

  1. what about decoupage? the internet has TONS of tutorials on that. you could even paint it with a good old fashioned brush…just be sure to cover the floor underneath and open some windows. If possible, find a paint that has low VOCs (which means you won't feel woozy painting indoors).

    • Yes! I totally had an ongoing decoupage project going on the side of a similarly ugly dresser throughout most of my childhood, and I grew so attached to it that I've lugged that sucker up and down dozens of flights of stairs to keep the project going.

  2. My first thought was "it looks industrial, you should graffiti it". Use some concert posters and wheat paste like the street artists do… that way it's totally non toxic and can even be removed. Or even some wallpaper that doesn't suck. And For the top you could even do a layer of clear thick enamel or epoxy to give it a cool shine without messing too much with it. You'll need a lot of open windows for that part.

    Another alternative is brushing the whole thing with steel wool in a cool pattern.

    And DEFINITELY change out those drawer handles and pulls. That will update it so hard.

    • There are lots of glass artists that make unique and custom glass handle pulls… sure you could find some on etsy, and I have a friend who does them too (she is doing our kitchen cabinets)! Her company is called enchanted chic and I bet you could get some to match whatever you need!

    • It is metal. Not sure what kind exactly, but partially covered in flaking grey paint and slightly rusted on a couple corners.

      • As there is some rust, I would make sure that you properly prepare it for anything you're going to do with it. I've used Naval Jelly on a rusty trunk before as a prep before using metal paint. A lot of metal paints are intended to go over rust but it's worth cleaning it up if the paint is also flaking. Steel wool is incredibly useful. Just make sure you wear a good dust mask, possibly goggles/glasses, and have some ventilation so nobody breathes in icky paint.

  3. I would paint the hell out of that… White, with ombre drawers perhaps. Or decoupaged drawers. You can roller paint metal, its not ideal, but since its indoors spray paint isn't a go. If you go the paint route I would choose a high wear paint like General Paints HP2000 (sorry for the Ad, but I love GP's HP2000 and have used it for all the furniture I have refinished so it's a paint I can stand by and recommend), and definitely do a light sanding prior to painting as well as use a good primer.

    Totally agree with changing out the handles too, though it may be hard to find handles that match the holes exactly.

    The desk has really good bones, it just needs an update ๐Ÿ™‚ Have fun with it and post after pictures, I'm excited for you!

    • I'm looking at it thinking "paint it…with chalkboard paint"
      Also if you can take the drawers outside to spray paint them on only roller the frame itself that would be easier. We once painted an entire 1970s laminate bedroom set (dresser, nightstands, armoire) without removing the furniture. Just sand and prime properly and most surfaces will hold paint. Since it's kind of beat up looking already a perfect paint job isn't really necessary.

  4. Do you actually use it? If you don't need all the drawers to open very often you could easily slip cover it, just make a pleat or slit and back panel at the opening when you want to sit and tuck in your chair. Covering it could also give you a bit more hidden storage if this is in a main room of your house.

    • This is a pretty good idea! It's not for me (we have a built in wet bar also in need of a renovation, lol) but I'd love to see someone do this!

  5. I'm inspired by the "Prevent Wildfires" bumper sticker on the side there. Sticker it! Cover it with magnets and bumper stickers until it's a glorious improvised collage. Make it a game with your friends: Whenever someone visits, he/she has to bring something to decorate the desk.

  6. I'm looking at the dings and dents and kind of wanting to work with that to create a kind of colorful 'punk' sort of look, for lack of better way to put it. Find a low VOC, metallic or metal friendly paint and if possible, move this into the most ventilated room in your home. At least open all your windows and doors. Tape off the desktop and the legs, I'd like to leave those silver, and the doors, which will be a different color. Paint the rest a nice shade of purple/magenta. Once the purple has dried, remove the tape, then start taping out a diagonal checkerboard pattern on the sides.
    http://www.ehow.com/how_6136368_paint-diagonal-checkerboard-floor-design.html

    Paint the doors white, and the checkerboard pattern white, as well. I'd paint the handles you have, but you could also try replacing them with small lengths of nylon rope, tied off on the inside of the drawers.

    Rough up the paint a bit with some sandpaper, just enough to give it a little bit of a worn texture. Don't worry if the paint goes under the edges of your tape a little, too; it'll add to the rough look.

    Personally, I kind of dig the bumper sticker on the side, but it would look kind of odd to paint around it. I'd remove it with a scraping tool and some goo gone, and then find a new yellow bumpersticker, and maybe another sticker or two to suit your tastes.

    This is sort of what I'm seeing. http://i48.tinypic.com/2nbzt48.png

  7. Well, that depends on whether you actually like the desk.

    We have a similar huge desk in the office right now, and we're looking at using the office for something else… the only way that desk is coming out is in pieces, and we have a circular saw, so… ๐Ÿ™‚

    That desk could potentially look interesting with no paint/really neutral paint and interesting knobs…

  8. This may not be what she wants to hear, but I actually think its a pretty sweet desk! I like how industrial it looks in contrast with everything else in the room.

    That being said, I would suggest spray painting. I Understand that she can't move it, but as a garden-level (i.e. glorified basement) apartment sweller with no patio or balcony, I have spray painted, laquered, bleached, etc a ton if things inside by simply opening the windows, using lots of fans, and wearing a respirator.

    She could also try contact paper for a temporary solution. I've never used it on metal or drawers, so I'm not sure how long it would last.

    I'm also wondering how one of prime it? If there's a way, it would look totally rad covered in chalkboard paint.

    • Gripper Primer by Glidden. I work in Home depot paint, and that stuff sticks to oil based paint, PVC, rubber, and even high gloss bathroom tiles, no sanding required (I would neutraulize that rust first). It's water based and hardly smells at all, so it's super user friendly too, and is only aroun $12 for a quart and $25 for a gallon. If you go to a home depot there's grey, and the paint desk can tint the white to match your top color (although the colors are always light and pastelly since it's already fully white).

      You can ALSO makew chalkboard paint out of any old flat or eggshell paint (low sheen is key) by mixing in nonsanded white grout. It takes 2 or 3 cups per gallon. THen let it dry two days and temper it with chalk (cover it lightly…a piece of chalk on it's side does fine) and the erase that chalk and it's ready to go.

      From my job i get to experiment with so much paint it's awesome. ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. We had two couches that came with our apartment and we could not figure out how the hell one of them got into the house. We finally ended up removing the closet door, the thermostat, the light switches, and any other fixtures in the hallway, and just squeezed it out. We had to do something similiar with a desk in one house where we needed to remove the banister because we couldn't get it out (and realized the banister hadn't been there when we moved in). So if there is anything removable on your walls/in your hallway that is between you and getting the desk out, try taking it off and then seeing if you can get it out. Alternatively, if you take out the windows, can you get it out?
    Also, check if the top of it is removable. Sometimes with those kinds of desks, there is some way that the top comes off (because presumably it is heavy, and would be easier to lift without it.)

    This tutorial seems to be for this kind of desk: http://reviews.ebay.com/How-to-Take-Apart-an-Invincible-M-Line-Tank-Desk?ugid=10000000176226120

  10. I'm zeroing in on that darn dent.
    My mom and I did this with an old office desk but the dent eventually popped back in. Still, it'd be worth trying.
    Have a friend hold a piece of wood on the outside, leaning against it with their weight, cushioning themselves with a tshirt or something. Pull out the drawer. Hammer out from the inside of the drawer hole using a rubber mallet. Start gently at first to test the dent and your friend's comfort.
    I think you could use a regular hammer if you wrap it with a t-shirt or put a piece of wood between the hammer and the desk to soften and disperse the blows–otherwise, you'll get round hammer marks.

  11. What you have here is a treasure–maybe not to you, necessarily. But what you've got is a Tanker desk, which is considered by many to be a classic example of American mid-century design: http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/the-tanker-desk-an-american-mo-126417
    Restored Tanker desks can sell for thousands of dollars.
    The link above also links to this guide on how to restore a Tanker desk: http://www.retropeacock.com/how-to-restore-a-tanker-desk-for-your-1950s-retro-office.html

    Since I am a broke grad student, DIYing it is going to be my project this summer. ๐Ÿ™‚ I'd recommend doing image searches for "Tanker desk" or "Tanker desk diy" to find some fun and colorful inspiration. I found one where they used old floppy disks to cover the top!

    • Had not even the remotest idea that this old beat up desk was any sort of treasure. I would love to restore it (special significance due to my beloved late pooch carrying the name Tanker) just to see if we can. If the pictures do it justice,it might just work!

    • Yes! I often ogle these desks at antique shops and flea markets, but alas, wouldn't be able to get one IN to my house. (The grass is always greener, isn't it.)

    • I noticed that the last picture in the first link includes one taken apart. So the screws may be hidden inside the drawer compartments to present a smooth outside. In case you ever wanted to take it apart. It might be a total pain in the ass to do, but it is probably possible.

      My parents moved in a slate pool table before they put the house on top of their basement. I think my dad may have actually gotten it out when the sold the house but I'm betting it involved taking out some walls.

  12. I think this desk has a lot of potential, but you're getting stuck by the fact that you can't seem to move it outside. I get the urge to DIY a lot of stuff in the winter to keep myself active, but that means having to find ways to do it inside. Honestly, if you can clear some room to work, put down some sheets under the desk, open some windows (weather providing), and put a fan on you can probably do just about anything to it right where it is!

    Anyway, you said the legs are unscrewable, yes? You could always unscrew them and update them with something more appealing, or just leave the legs off altogether. Updating the drawer handles would also be a really easy way to start. (And dealing with the dent, but I wouldn't know how to do that).

    As many people are suggesting you could just pick an awesome colour and paint the whole thing in it. I've also seen a cool post on Offbeat Home of someone's DIY chevron wall, and I kind of think a chevron or other interesting pattern could really liven up the desktop or sides.

    If you don't like that idea, I updated my own ugly desk just by cutting up a bunch of free paint sample cards into triangles and gluing them on top. I then covered the top with plexiglass (varnishing it was taking too long, haha!). Or you could go to a local thrift shop and pick up some colourful plates, smash them, and decorate the desk in a sort of mosaic fashion (cover heavily in lacquer, plexiglass, etc).

    I've been seeing some pretty cool suggestions in the comments, so I think whatever you do it will end up being super awesome! Good luck ๐Ÿ˜€

  13. My dad had/has this desk as well, it's been around my entire life. The desk actually comes completely apart, not just the legs. So if you really want to get rid of it that's an option. It's the only way we ever moved it (which we've done many times). If you really hate it try putting it on craigslist with the stipulation that whoever wants it has to take it apart and remove it themselves – that's what we're doing with my dad's desk since he died a few years ago and no one in the family has room for it.

  14. If it was my husband, it would be plastered in comic book pages. For the top, you could consider the super classy Epbot penny desk or you could consider getting a custom-cut glass top on little rubber supports which could then be placed over artwork, ticket stubs, awesome paper, etc. That way you could avoid wrecking things in case you don't want to keep them there or could change it out.

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