How to upcycle a writing bureau

Give an old writing desk a colour-drenched update

If you need a desk to work from at home but you’re short on space, a vintage writing bureau is ideal. They’re cheap and easy to find in junk shops or on online auction sites, great for storage and they fold neatly away when not in use.

Once found, give your desk a mood-boosting colour drench effect to make your working day feel more cheerful.


…and after!

If you love a bold pop of colour, be sure to check out our sample paint project ideas here for more ideas!

What you’ll need

  • An old writing bureau 
  • Screwdriver
  • Sanding block
  • Paintbrush
  • Valspar
  • Furniture paint in Aloe Vera, £22 for 750ml, B&Q
  • Furniture paint in Grand Estate, Valspar
  • Royal Metallics in Gold, £1.98 for 125ml, Protek Woodstain
  • Artist’s paintbrush
  • Tape measure
  • Pencil
  • Craft knife
  • Straight edge ruler
  • Cutting mat
  • Wallpaper off-cut
  • Spray adhesive
  • Decorative washi/masking tape


Step 1


Begin by carefully removing the handles of the desk using a screwdriver. Be sure to store all the fittings safely so you don’t lose any pieces, as you’ll need them later. Use a sanding block to give the surface a light key to help the paint adhere better. Once you’ve finished sanding, wipe the surface with a damp cloth to remove dust and dirt. Allow to dry.


Step 2

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Give the exterior of the desk, including the external drawer fronts, two coats of green furniture paint, allowing the first coat to dry thoroughly before applying the second. Once the paint is dry, replace the handles on the desk.

Step 3

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Give the interior of the desk, including the internal drawer fronts, two coats of ochre furniture paint, allowing the first coat to dry thoroughly before applying the second.

Step 4

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Using a small artist’s paintbrush, carefully apply two coats of gold paint along the edges of the pigeon holes and shelves inside the desk to highlight them.

Step 5

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On the drop leaf of the desk, measure a rectangle 4cm smaller on each side than the size of the drop leaf. Lightly draw the outline of the rectangle in pencil centrally on the surface of the drop leaf. Using a craft knife, a metal ruler and a cutting mat, cut a piece of wallpaper to the same size as the rectangle and use spray adhesive to glue it firmly to the surface of the drop leaf. Gently glide your hands over the surface of the wallpaper to remove any air bubbles and ensure a smooth, flat finish.

Step 6

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Cut four lengths of washi tape slightly longer than each side of the wallpaper rectangle. Carefully stick them along each side of the wallpaper, slightly overlapping the edges. Run your finger along the tape to ensure it is firmly adhered to the desk. Use a craft knife to make a 45-degree cut in the overlap of washi tape at each corner. Gently peel away the excess tape to create a neat corner. Press each corner down firmly to ensure it is well adhered to the surface.


Main photo Sussie Bell