Ever since I picked up my first pencil I’ve loved writing. Having been published at the age of twelve for my poetry, I was absolutely over the moon when my mother switched my pencils and paper for a manual typewriter and ink ribbons because it made writing so much faster, neater and more accessible.
Nowadays we tap away at smart phones, laptops and tablets at the speed of light and it’s all very convenient and modern, but something inside of me still craves tradition. I’d always wanted a writing bureau of my own, but sadly never had one because of time, space and money – until I told my daughter Millisent (11yrs) about my childhood dream and to my absolute delight she asked if she could have one for her bedroom!
Modern writing bureaus are undoubtedly practical, aesthetically pleasing and convenient, but you can’t beat the bones of a classic piece of woodwork, the quality, the history and soul of it. We happened to stop by at a charity auction one weekend, totally out of the blue for the very first time, and discovered three writing bureaus were being auctioned.
Thinking bureaus must be ten-a-penny and no longer fashionable I felt a little sorry to see so many go unwanted, hence why I told my daughter that I’d always dreamed of having one as a child. Instead my parents had got me a desk and swivel chair to complete my homework in my bedroom which I very much enjoyed, but missed the magic of a bureau.
My daughter Millie is obsessed with Harry Potter and all things traditional and wonderful. She has wands and books, jewellery and films, all celebrating the magical world of Hogwarts and wholesome traditions. So when we spotted a dusty old mahogany writing bureau looking worse for wear at a charity auction, we both instantly knew that it was a summer art project that we wanted to undertake.
Seeing as Millie will be starting Grammar school in September, we wanted to find her a bureau to store all of her school books, laptops and stationary so that she can have a special place of her own to immerse herself in education whilst at home. And so the fun begins! I hope you’ll enjoy sharing in this mother-and-daughter writing bureau up-cycling project and see how something that was once left behind and unloved can become beautiful and magical once again.
Some of these items you may already have at home in your DIY kit. I happened to help decorate at my parents house this weekend and took all of my sandpaper, masking tape, paintbrushes and rollers to their house to use so didn’t have anything left at home for the bureau, which is why we popped out to get some extra bits. Ordinarily it would only have been the additional cost of paint for us to complete this project.
- 5 Pack Of Diall Paintbrushes £9.99
- Small Diall Paint Roller £4.50
- Wilko 10 Sheets Assorted Sandpaper £1.50
- Colours Quick Drying Mid Sheen Finish Satin ‘Orange’ Paint £12.99
- Colours One Coat Mid Sheen Finish Satin ‘Lauren’ Paint £12.99
- Antique Writing Bureau £85.00
- Replacement Rustic Antique Brass Pull Knob Threaded Vintage Ivy Handle £2.99
- Eiffel Dining Chair Retro Wooden Seat £19.99
- Wilko Cream Scatter Cushion £13.99
Total Expense: £163.94
Simple Steps To Upcycling Furniture
First up we prep! This means laying out plastic sheeting to protect the floor, wiping away any dust and dirt that’s on the bureau and then sanding down the wood to create a surface suitable for painting.
If we paint straight onto the existing wood then the paint could peel up and flake off and it would all be for nothing – preparation is key! Sanding takes place by using a fine sandpaper rubbing in circles across every surface of the wood to lighten the colour by removing the top coat without scratching or denting the wood.
Following sanding, the bureau is lighter in colour which shows that it has been successful and it’s now pretty dusty too, so it’s time for another wiping down with a damp cloth and the surface can then be left to dry for several minutes before painting.
Next up it’s important to mix the paint as sometimes the oil separates in the tin where it’s been stored. Some people like to stir paint with a stick, I prefer to shake the can by tipping it upside down and back upright several times.
Opening the paint pots Millie decided the paint the inside of the drawers orange and left me with the task of painting the outside of the bureau in the off-white ‘Lauren’ colour that she’d chosen.
Seeing as we painted the bureau in the lounge we put on some music to keep us motivated and then watched a movie together; sitting on the floor, chatting and comparing progress as we went and it was such a lovely way to spend the afternoon together.
I find painting very therapeutic and it was Millie’s first attempt, so painting the inside of the drawers was a stress-free introduction as she didn’t have to worry too much about paint dribbling or making a mess and the bright orange shade looked so vibrant against the dark wood which was very exciting.
In all it took us around five hours to complete the painting, allowing for two coats of orange paint (four hours apart for drying) and a single coat of off-white on the bureau. Seeing as the bureau is pretty old, some of the handles were quite stiff to try to remove and we didn’t want to cause any damage or have to replace parts unnecessarily, so we decided the leave all of the brass handles in place and paint around them which was more time consuming but a safer way to upcycle without causing any damage.
We also had to order a small replacement handle for one of the internal drawers which fortunately matched perfectly!
Millie decided part way through to add a white stripe to the pull-down desk of the bureau to tie in the outside colour with the internal dark wood which she wanted to keep because of a gold trim detail to the internal drawers. She laid out masking tape, painted and then peeled it up whilst it was still wet to avoid it drying and lifting off the paint. She’s also a huge Harry Potter fan (everything in Harry Potter is dark!) and so she loves having a dark traditional interior mixed with a modern fresh exterior as the mahogany wood would have been too overpowering in our neutral coloured home.
Before putting the bureau back together we left the drawers out overnight to dry properly and avoid scratching or scraping up any of the wet paintwork, because of this the results were wonderful! We also ordered a modern geometric chair online to accompany the bureau, with a neutral scatter cushion for comfort and staging.
The finished bureau is so beautiful, unique and personal to Millie; she’s thrilled to have something she’s created from her favourite colours and can now safely store all of her school work, cosmetics and electricals in a stylish and thoughtful way that nobody else will have.
Investing her time in bringing new life to the bureau, coming up with a concept for the design and patiently painting it up has given Millie so much artistic confidence and a great sense of achievement for a piece of furniture that she will love and use daily for many years to come.
With a similar style but lesser quality wood bureau costing upwards of £250.00 brand new – solid wood ranging into thousands of pounds – the total expense of this restoration is £163.94, including the chair and cushion, which I think is an absolute bargain! We would have happily spent just as much on a family day out and had nothing to show for it afterwards.
The next time that you need furniture for your home why not consider buying a pre-loved well-built piece of wood and upcycling it to suit your home decor!