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Natural Wood Desk

There is something so classic about an antique writing desk. While searching for a desk online, I searched for a desk with character and defined shape. I couldn’t find the desk that I wanted, so I hit the local thrift stores in search of the perfect desk to refinish and makeover into a natural finish.

Well, that thrifted desk went viral with over 6 million views and if you’re here searching for a tutorial, this is how I refinished the antique writing desk! The natural wood desk is a true antique from the United Kingdom and is worth a LOT of money. I found it at a local thrift store for just $35 and “Coastal Oaked” it to acheive my desired look – not totally uniform, imperfect, bleached, aged, and with some warmth to it. Think, Restoration Hardware and Arhaus… without the price tag.

Thrifted furniture that has been refinished to a weathered and natural wood desk.

I often get asked what the “Coastal Oak” look is. Picture a piece of furniture that has been sitting in a clapboard cottage by the sea: it’s weathered, bleached, and possibly whitewashed. It’s relaxed and distressed, making it perfectly coastal. This look has gained popularity in recent years amongst popular home decor retailers like McGee & Co., Restoration Hardware, and more.

Keep on reading to find out exactly how I created this gorgeous natural wood desk and how you can achieve this popular look in your own home!

This post contains affiliate links and as an Amazon Associate, I receive commissions from your purchases. Thank you for supporting my blog and please read my disclosures. Always use caution when working with chemicals and refinishing furniture. Follow the safety recommendations on each agent and make sure you’re wearing proper protection like masks, gloves, and goggles.

Refinishing the Natural Wood Desk

In January of this year, I found this gorgeous, but cast aside, antique desk at a local thrift store for just $35 and knew that I could make it into something amazing with some time and a little bit of elbow grease. Upon further research, I found out just how valuable this piece was and was ready to dive in and make it my own.

Visiting thrift stores to find an antique writing desk to refinish with bleach and the oven cleaner method.
Visiting thrift stores to find an antique writing desk to refinish with bleach and the oven cleaner method.

I’m not here to restore antiques, so stop right here if you’re not into refinishing furniture. The techniques I’m sharing added zero “value” to this piece and honestly, a lot of collectors shook their fists at my methods. But, there’s something so amazing about saving a discarded and dusty piece of furniture, and flipping it into something YOU will love. Ok, off the tangent. Let’s talk flipping it.

Removing the Leather

The first step was removing the original leather top by wetting it and carefully peeling it off, so as not to damage the wood. I sprayed it with water and let it sit for about ten minutes, then I pulled it off. I scraped any remaining pieces with a putty knife. This leather was in rough shape and already coming off, so removing it was not difficult. You can also use some of the methods to remove veneer if you find a tricky leather top.

Removing the leather from antique desk and refinishing for a natural wood look.
How to remove the leather from an antique desk to achieve a natural bleached and weathered desk.
How to remove the antique leather from the top of a desk.

Once the leather was removed, I sanded the “border,” the raised area along the edges of the desk. Using 60-grit sandpaper and my orbital sander, I was able to sand through that layer easily and make a uniform surface on top.

Next up was trying a few different methods to see what worked best to remove the original mahogany stain and varnish. While I wish there was a foolproof method to refinishing furniture, it really is all about trial and error.

Every piece is different and will require varying methods to achieve the desired look, but that’s part of what I love about my job! It’s a fun (albiet sometimes frustrating) challenge to see what works and what doesn’t!

Stripping the Finish

In order to get down to the stain, I had to first remove the shiny varnish topcoat. I used my beloved oven cleaner method for this part. Simply spray, let it sit for 10-15 minutes, scrub, rinse, dry in the sun, and lightly sand! While that method is quick and easy, there are several other methods for stripping furniture that you can try! Unfortunately, this didn’t completely get rid of the red tones of the desk, so I had to move on to another method to get a bleached look.

Always use caution when working with chemicals and refinishing furniture. Follow the safety recommendations on each agent and make sure you’re wearing proper protection like masks, gloves, and goggles.

Bleaching the Desk

Next up, I used my favorite two-part wood bleach kit and was able to get a lot of the stain and red undertones out of the desk. This process is made of up of two products, sodium hydroxide “Solution A” and hydrogen peroxide “Solution B.” First, I applied Solution A to the desk and let it sit for 5-10 minutes. Then I followed up with Solution B and let it sit overnight. This gave me the perfect base for my stain and took out any unwanted red tones, ensuring I could achieve a weathered and coastal look. Read more about using two-part wood bleach to bleach furniture.

How to use two part wood bleach to remove the red tones from a desk or piece of furniture.

Staining the Desk

Once the desk was down to a more natural state, I did some light sanding with 220-grit sand paper to buff out any rough spots and make sure it would pick up the stain evenly. In order to get a nice weathered color, I had to layer a couple of stains. First, I did a light coat of Minwax ‘Weathered Oak’ stain and let it dry. I wasn’t totally thrilled with how the color came out, so I put a layer of Minwax ‘Early American’ stain on top to warm things up and give the natural wood desk a totally unique color.

Whitewashing the Desk

The desk was just a touch too warm for my coastal aesthetic, so I topped it off with an easy whitewash. I simply combined 1 part Mineral Fusion paint in the color ‘Casement’ to 4 parts water; I rubbed the solution on with a rag (I love using old t-shirts for this step!) and rubbed it off immediately until I achieved my desired color for this natural wood desk.

Whitewashing technique used for making an antique desk look weathered and natural.

Sealing the Natural Wood

If you plan on recreating this look with a piece that will get heavy use, I highly recommend sealing with General Finishes Flat Out Flat or Polycrylic Matte. It’s my favorite topcoat that doesn’t change colors or give any weird sheen. It’s perfectly matte and one of the only topcoats I use! Check out my full tutorials and tips for sealing furniture.

Natural Wood Desks

Is DIY not your thing? Not into thrifting and refinishing furniture? I’ve got you covered! I scoured the shopping sites to find the best natural wood desks for every budget. You will love these light wood desks that resemble the antique writing desk that I refinished.

Natural wood desks with spindles and bleached wood appearance, modern desks, and white washed oak writing desks.

ONE | TWO | THREE | FOUR | FIVE | SIX | SEVEN | EIGHT | NINE | TEN | ELEVEN | TWELVE | THIRTEEN | FOURTEEN | FIFTEEN

Navigating Backlash

Unfortunately, while this furniture flip received a lot of attention on social media, it wasn’t all positive. I know how valuable this wood desk is to antique collectors and several of them let me know their thoughts over on Instagram. This job is sometimes an open invitation for criticism and I know that, but I personally love flipping discarded furniture, not restoring it.

How to refinish an antique writing desk by removing the leather, sanding, bleaching, and staining to get a natural wood desk look.

In my mind, rather than having an old piece of furniture sit in a thrift store or garage and collect dust, I’m turning it into something that can be an integral part of someone’s home. I’m creating something that will be loved, used, and appreciated rather than cast aside in an unused corner, with its recepients scratching their heads as to how to incorporate it into their own home.

Natural bleached wood after refinishing and staining.
How to refinish an antique writing desk by removing the leather, sanding, bleaching, and staining to get a natural wood desk look.

This $35 desk that was sitting unwanted in a thrift store is now being used by a local Charleston artist, surrounded daily by creativity and love. Call it what you want, but flipping furniture that brings other people joy brings ME joy, and that’s what I’m here for!

Natural Wood Desk

So what do you think? Will you be trying out this furniture flipping method on any pieces in your own home? Let me know in the comments below and be sure to tag me on Instagram so I can see all the beautiful finished products!

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9 Comments

  1. I love it. And hope to recreate a similar look with my bed, and another pine desk-like table. That’s my question….you don’t mention what kind of wood it was? Thanks for sharing!

  2. That turned out fabulous!! Working with the red mahogany is a tricky beast. I recently spent a ton of time refinishing my very expensive formal dining table…wood purists would be appalled, but the size and shape were exactly what I wanted, so I opted to change it. I couldn’t get all the red out, but am happy with what I ended up with. Love all your projects!!

  3. I love this look!!! It is gorgeous. I want to replicate it on an antique family pedestal table. Can’t seem to find the zinsser bleach product anywhere. Anything else you would suggest? And do you have a youtube video of this procedure? Thank you for your inspiration.

  4. Hi again! I found the bleach!!! I sanded and stripped and am ready to apply the bleach. I picked up the stains but can’t find the mineral paint. I could order it on amazon, but where I live the weather is changing really fast and I don’t know if I can wait for amazon to deliver. Is there another type of paint that I can use as a white wash that would give me the same effect? I only have a couple days of nice weather in the forecast. Really excited to try this method but am a little nervous as I don’t want to have to go through all the work of stripping it again if it doesn’t work!! Wish me luck and thank you so much for the inspiration!!!

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