The Yellow Desk

By | November 20, 2012


It all started with this board on Pinterest.

See, I saw a blue piano and a coral dresser and I was in love.

Then, I saw a yellow pantry door and knew I was in trouble.

I had to have a bright-colored piece of furniture in my house as soon as possible.

I just didn’t have a piece of furniture in mind yet.

I mean, for one thing, I don’t have a piano to paint bright blue, and for another thing, I can’t play piano.

(Well, I can play a little, bitty bit because my mom plays piano-and is amazing-and tried to give me lessons once or twice when I was little but I hated how bad I was and how simple all the songs I had to start with were, so I quit. Now I regret it, but let’s get back to the topic at hand, okay?)

Anyway, I had to find something to paint. And I needed it to be big enough to make a big impact but cheap enough that I wouldn’t give Hubs a mini heart attack when I told him I was going to paint it bright, bright yellow.

So we scoured garage sales and thrift stores until this beauty found us at the thrift store near our old apartment.

It’s an old writing desk. It was solid wood (not laminate) and in really great shape, just a few nicks on the top surface and the legs. Simple style but interesting details, easy to open drawers, large work surface, feminine without being girly. It was perfect for what I wanted to sit at and write everyday. And it was only $20.


We started with a light sanding, Hubs helped with that step.

And then it was time to paint.

I read all sorts of blog posts and forums about painting furniture before starting this project. Some of my favorites were this one and this one. But really, I’m not very good at following directions (ask Hubs about how well I follow a recipe!) and I wanted to do this my own way, so I’ll tell you what you need to know about painting furniture, from my point of view.

1. You CAN do it. No, it won’t ruin the furniture, contrary to what my family might tell you about painting “good wood.” Yes, it takes time, but yes, it’s totally worth it.

2. You have to prep well. I already told you that we sanded the surface before we started, even though the primer we used said that wasn’t necessary. Then we primed. You might be able to skip this depending on the finished look you are going after, but overall, I would say, it’s not somewhere to skimp.

Which brings me to the next point. Which primer?

I am a believer in Zinsser Bulls Eye. There are several choices so just read the labels to see which will work best for you. I went with the latex version because I hate “wasting” brushes or using paint thinner to clean them. I also bought the brush-on as opposed to the spray cans because it’s more economical. (And this primer isn’t super cheap as it is, but you pay for what you get in my opinion.) We also bought the big bucket because we have lots of painting projects to work on over the course of this remodel and again, it’s more economical. It is a bit harder to work with though because it’s heavy and bulky to move around.

So, I primed my desk with 2 coats of this amazing stuff. It covers so well by the second coat, I promise. Take your time because it will drip, especially on the legs and that just means more work for you later to sand out those spots once they dry.

I didn’t bother painting the inside, bottoms, or sides of my drawers because it can make them stick to the desk and it just isn’t necessary. It’s up to you, though. For this project, I brushed the legs and used a small foam roller for the top to make it extra smooth. Again, that’s up to you and your comfort zone.

Also, a note about priming. This primer is designed to stick to whatever surface you put it on and make like a “second skin” per say. Keep that in mind when working because though it will wash off with soap and water as a latex product, once it dries, it’s NOT FUN to scrub off. I tend to be a messy painter in that my product looks great but I get paint all over me. Ouch.

Also, a friend told me to try vegetable oil on a rag in the shower when scrubbing off paint. This helps, but the longer you let this set on your skin, the harder it is to remove. Consider yourself warned, ok?

3. Time to paint!

I painted outside, which is great if it’s not too hot or cold or windy outside. There were a few bugs that got stuck on the top so I had to scrape them off and go over them again, but still, it was better than being in the garage and having to put up tarps everywhere.

For my desk, I wanted a glossy, super-smooth finish. And I wanted it super fast. So I went with spray paint. You certainly can get paint to brush on, and it will be cheaper, but this was worth the extra cost to me so I went for it.

I used Krylon in Sun Yellow from Walmart, but if I had to do it over, I’d go with the Rustoleum paint+primer we used for some other projects. The Krylon was fine, and I liked the nozzle a lot, it just didn’t cover very thickly.

As in, it took me about six coats, or more to get the look I wanted.

It did turn out really, really well and is holding up fine, it just wasn’t a very bold color until you got it built up through several layers. I’m sure it I had gone with a darker, richer color, it probably would have been fine, so just use your discretion on choosing a brand.

Remember, you generally get what you pay for, and in this case, I think the Rustoleum would have been worth the extra few dollars. You can see that I had a little trouble getting an even, thick coat.

Just keep with it, though, making sure to let coats dry in between applications. And remember that more, thinner coats are ALWAYS better than fewer, thicker coats. You don’t want drips!

If you do get any drips, just wait for them to dry and then lightly sand them down and paint over them again. It may take a few coats, but they’ll disappear completely with spray paint.

4. Control. For the drawers, I wrapped them in newspaper to avoid getting any spray inside them or on the sides since I was only painting the front surfaces.

I also had to prop them up since I was working outside where there was some wind. Paint cans worked fine for this job.

If you are painting the whole thing, you won’t need to do that, but do keep in mind you’ll need to be careful while spraying that you don’t get any drips on the inside or outside because of over-spray issues. Just watch the entire surface closely and go as slow as you need to in order to do a neat job. (By slow, I mean, time in-between strokes. In general, you want to use short, quick strokes and release the nozzle in between each pass to avoid getting any too-think spots.)

5. Protection. We used a glossy spray paint so there was no real need to add another clear gloss coat. If this piece of furniture had been more “high-traffic,” I probably would have, but since I’m the only one that uses it, I’ll be careful not to scratch anything. And if that does happen, I can always just retouch it with a few quick sprays, or decide to add a gloss layer later on.

6. Hardware. Originally, I had wanted to buy new, fancy glass knobs for this piece. I have a love for clear, vintage knobs and it’s for my office, after all…but those little beauties aren’t cheap (or always easy to find if you want actual vintage ones in good condition) so I opted to just paint the metal knobs for now.



I went with the same color that we put on the side walls in my office, a teal blue color. I even rigged up a super fancy painting stand system out of newspaper so I could paint these on the kitchen counter.



I think the blue actually ended up looking great with the yellow.


All in all, I think we ended up spending about $35 on this project (when we consider we bought the primer for other projects, too.) so it was a pretty cheap way to get a great, bold look for my office.


I centered the desk on the striped white and gray wall and love the effect of the bright pop of color. Of course, we also have bright pops of colors on the two side walls, which are painted a bright teal color that I got for a free sample from Benjamin Moore.

So that’s it, and I couldn’t be happier with it!

I still want some other new furniture for this room, like a new reading chair for the corner, and some bigger bookshelves. On the other wall, I have the printer cart I made from an old microwave cart I had in college. It’s still a work in progress, but the yellow desk certainly adds a big splash of my character in there, don’t you think?

Let me know your comments, questions or concerns! I’d love to hear about any painting projects you’ve tackled!

I’m linking this post up to East Coast Creative’s Creating with the Stars Contest.

8 thoughts on “The Yellow Desk

  1. Mom

    Nice tutorial… and yes it does look amazing and definitely didn’t “ruin” the desk. Also sorry I didn’t teach you more piano, and thanks for the compliment! Love you.

  2. Sarah Balding

    I now want to paint something in my house that bright coral color from your Pinterest picture. I love the desk a lot!!! 🙂 Good work. 🙂

  3. Donita

    Excellent information. Even though I don’t have a place to put a piece of bright colored furniture, I would like to try your technique on something!

    1. Melissa Post author

      You can put something bright in “our room” downstairs! I bet John could find another pig to paint! 🙂


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