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Bureau desk - Side view open

Bureau desk upcycle

I was lucky enough to retrieve this vintage bureau desk from a house clearance in my street. It had been gathering dust in a corner for about 50 years, so I thought it would be nice to give it some love and return it to its former glory. And so began my bureau desk upcycle project.

After completing the initial assessment I was pleased to see that the bureau desk was in pretty good shape structurally. However on the surface it was a different story. Bruised, battered and covered in deep scratches, I quickly realised there was a lot of work to do for this bureau desk upcycle.

Prepping for the bureau desk upcycle

After sanding all the old lacquer off, I noticed that there were sections carved out for hinges, but no hinge present. This was possibly an attempted repair job that went wrong, so I cut out some wooden pieces to fill the holes.

I then spotted some strange holes on the top. I don’t like using filler for holes this size, so I cut a dowel and glued it in. A tip here is to position the dowel so that the grain goes in the same direction as the surrounding wood. This helps it blend in once the stain or paint is applied.

I then noticed a weak point underneath the bureau desk. It looked ok, but when a heavy load was introduced I could see a bit of movement in the wood. So I added an extra piece of wood to reinforce it. This ensures that heavy objects can be stored without any problems.

Upcycled bureau desk - Adding support to bottom


I decided to paint the inside a different colour to the rest. And I wanted something bright but not too crazy. So I went with cranberry from Fusion Mineral Paint. The photos show the primer applied, then the first coat of cranberry, and then the final coat.

Next I did the drawer. I painted the inside with cranberry paint, and added a black, wood effect lining paper by Fablon. This paper is great because it’s strong, easy to apply and washable. I then added a stopper to prevent the drawer being pulled out and falling on someone’s feet. Most of these vintage pieces don’t have this, and it’s a bit of a safety issue, so I always try to add it wherever possible.


I used danish oil to finish the bare wood surfaces. I like it because it goes on like an oil, but adds a bit of extra protection. For furniture like this I prefer not to use varnish, because if it gets scratched in future, it’s a real pain to repair. You’ll also see the new handles have now been added.

Door fittings

I bought some shiny new hinges as the old ones were bent and damaged. Once these were attached I had to shave a bit off the door to ensure a smooth fit and allow for expansion of the wood.

The completed bureau desk upcycle

You’ll notice I made a last minute decision to paint some of the panels black. After applying the cranberry paint and adding the contemporary handles, I felt like it needed a little something extra. So I changed my plan. No shame in that, it happens to the best of us! I’m glad I did it though, I’m much happier with the end result.

If you’d like to know more about upcycling, feel free to contact me and I’ll be happy to help. Or you can receive our newsletter to get the latest news, updates and projects straight to your inbox.