We were raised to be independent problem solvers. Give us a project and we will find a way to get it done. Bring it on. Dad watched This Old House and The New Yankee Workshop after Sunday brunch every weekend and now there’s nothing he can’t do when it comes to home remodeling and carpentry. Watching with him was where I learned a lot of wood working myself. My mom is an accomplished cook, seamstress, crowbar-wielder, and gardener. By having us work with them, my parents passed at least a little of their knowledge on to us and that broad, liberal-arts style education gave us the wild DIY streak that makes me tackle so many projects. Parents, teach your kids to work and let them see you tackle projects, learning as you go. They’ll be confident doers someday!
Maybe I’m a little too confident and bite off more than I can chew sometimes. That might have happened with this latest project, but I just couldn’t pass it up. When all you see is a picture it’s impossible to tell just how much work a piece will need. But if an antique secretary desk comes along for only $20 it doesn’t matter. You buy that baby.
I recently missed out on a couple great deals for gorgeously detailed antique ladies’ secretary desks, so I couldn’t let another slip through my fingers. It was missing the front drop down, but my dad said he could easily enough make a new one if I wanted it. Sure the wood was pretty dirty, but a little sanding and some paint could cover that up, no problem. It wasn’t until we picked it up that I realized the drawer was almost falling apart and it was a bit wobbly. But did you see those original handles? Gorgeous.
I dove right in. The back probably needs to be replaced since it’s dry and cracking around the edges, but a remainder of the original tag is there and I don’t want to lose that. According to the tag this desk was made by the Larkin company. I did some reading and here’s a brief history of the company (this is just based off a Google search): the Larkin company originally sold soaps in the late 1800s directly to customers rather than via traveling salesmen. Clubs were formed with neighborhood women much like the product parties we have today with some makeup and kitchen wares brands. Hostesses could redeem their points for products all purchased from a catalog. As the company grew, it ventured into other products such as furniture including the secretary desk. These desks were often assembled in home once purchased so they weren’t of the highest quality, but they’re still fairly collectible. The Larkin company suffered during the Great Depression, as many did, and eventually went out of business in the 1940s.
Back to the project: I strengthened a few loose spots with nails. Immediately the whole desk was less wobbly; a strong back is important! The drawer was also falling apart. I had two options: 1. Rebuild the whole thing (with tools and expertise I don’t have) or 2. Salvage what’s there. I went with #2. After further inspection one back corner was all that really needed to be fixed. A few precisely placed nails put everything back where it’s supposed to be. It’s still dirty, but I have a plan for that.
After a good scrubbing, removing the non-original cheap hinges, filling the holes left by said hinges, and sanding down the two layers of wood filler required, it was time to paint. Blue seems to be my go-to when I’m veering away from white or gray. What can I say? I like blue! At least this is a new shade from Martha Stewart’s line of chalk paint called Parisian Blue. Ooh la la.
I painted the entire drawer including the sides to make sure the desk looks complete and not like old dirty wood. I lined the inside of the drawer and the inside back of the desk with a pretty contact paper because who doesn’t like a fun pattern? You may not may not be able to see the green blob on the desk in the “before” picture. It was some sort of paint or ink that bled through my blue paint. I could have sanded it down but that required making a mess and using energy I didn’t feel like exerting (hey, I’m allowed to be lazy once in a while). The lazy-woman’s solution is to brush a thick layer of Zinsser shellac over the offending spot, let it dry overnight, then paint another coat.
With a little distressing and the original handles back in place, this beauty has another chance. She may not be the sturdiest desk in the world, but she sure is cute.