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Workspace desk work

Desk, before.

My first DIY project was four years ago, when I got a $30 desk from a tip shop. This desk was a big, solid beast, ex-government issue, large enough to fit a desktop and sketchbooks, and in need of some cosmetic attention. And that first DIY project looked simply amazing.

Over-staining – check.
Overly glossy varnish – check.
Unprimed chrome base, spraypainted black which has since rubbed off in places – check.
Faux-leather overlay painted purple – check. Why.

The switched-up vintage handles were a step forward, but other than that, it was no bueno. This desk has some history, and I hated seeing what I’d done to it. So I cleared all the computing junk off the desk, and took a few days to give it the treatment it needed. (Yes, this is going back a bit, before the big fireplace makeover. Shush.) I had tools and experience I didn’t have before, and a yard to work in rather than an apartment balcony.

Vinyl adhesive residue

First I peeled off the faux-leather top to expose the underlying surface. (Before doing this I sliced off a sliver in one corner to make sure it wasn’t, like, styrofoam under there.) Those leather tops were common on “writing desks” once upon a time, as the leather feels nice under pen on paper, but I had no regrets removing this vinyl layer. I especially didn’t regret it when I saw the plywood grain underneath, in one solid sheet! Nice.

Hancock & Gore stamp

(Here’s a fun detail found on the plywood underneath the drawers. By 1945, Hancock & Gore was the largest producer of plywood in Australia. Fits my guess of this desk originally being made in the 50s/60s. It’s too utilitarian to have come earlier.)

Refinished desk surface

I tried a few different solvents to remove the rubbery adhesive residue, but I can’t remember what got it off in the end; turps, a razor scraper and sheer willpower, I think. All that scraping left it pretty smooth, so it only needed a quick, light sand. I gave it a quick stain (Cabots Acorn) to even out the grain, plus poly and polish. The end result is smooth like glass.

Refinished desk

I also stripped back the drawer fronts. Stripping the entire desk felt like a chore I wasn’t up for, especially when the overall finish was in okay condition. The drawers were hardwood Tasmanian oak, just like the plywood top, so I stained and varnished them to match. I like the two-tone effect of the drawers against the body! It feels cute and retro to me, especially with the pulls.

Work desk surface, finished
Vintage drawer pull
Workplace desk work | Saltbush Avenue

And this is what my workspace desk looks like now. I’m so slooowww at decorating! I don’t blame people for not reading this blog.

Here’s a little story about this computer, because this thing is the #1 trigger of stupid couple fights in our house: I wanted a desktop Mac for my work, but Jamie and his brother Sam weren’t keen on the idea, so they put their heads together and assembled this Hackintosh. They’re a popular concept; people buy the exact components of a Mac and then build it themselves, modding the guts out of it where they like and saving hundreds of dollars. (This is also the same brother Sam who helped me create the shelving unit from scratch. The guy knows how build things.) I got an old Apple G4 case for them to play around with and off they went.

The computer was built, but there’s a few minor things that need finishing off and it doesn’t bother Jamie as long as the computer works. I have my issues with the computer — it’s unreliable, I have to input commands to switch drives like it’s 1991, there’s a thousand cords everywhere and the unfinished casing makes it look janky as all hell. Still. It has a solid-state hard drive, it switches between Windows/OSX and when it’s on form, it’s an absolute gun. Jamie can run Windows for his work and for games. I admit that feeling bothered about the aesthetics of the thing is not reasonable.

IKEA cable trunking

I installed IKEA cable trunking under the desk to corral some of the cords. It easily detaches at the bottom if you need to get the entire tangle out. Clever.

Work desk, finished
Work & work & etc.

I potted a small holly fern (you can divide them into clumps!) and have been setting out cut kangaroo paws everywhere, straight from our driveway. (Thanks Trixee, for reminding me!) The print is from Here To There Prints.

“The secret is work and work and etc.” — Charles Eames.

Wall hanging / Inaluxe calendar
Study, desk end

There’s where my wall hanging went, for now. Decorating and styling objects isn’t my strong suit; I’m not sold on the arrangements I have here, it all feels off-kilter somehow. The Inaluxe calendar is a keeper, though. I love their work. If they ever make wallpaper they can just go ahead and take all my money.

Just to give a more recent mention to the paint colour in this room: these walls are Dulux Beige Royal, half strength. I don’t mind it as a neutral backdrop – Emily Henderson had a good explainer on why you don’t want to go bright white in dark rooms. This room sits in the southeast corner of our house and it gets a cold, bluish light, especially in winter, so I wanted a warmer neutral. Mornings are the best time to be in here.
Study, in full

My work here isn’t done (hurrrr) as I’d like to put a few finishing touches in place. A raised platform for the desktop monitor, cleaning up the chair legs, less conspicuous extension cords, that kind of thing. But overall, I’m proud of my big, beautiful, useful desk and happy about the study being nearly finished. Just need to finish off my workbench and I can do a big reveal.

Other updates in the study: Initial plansfurnishingsflat file storageDIY linen-weave roller blindsgiving the disused fireplace a makeover; setting up a dedicated tea station.

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8 thoughts on “Workspace desk work”

  1. I had to laugh at your description of your first makeover effort – it sounds like something I would have done and then wondered why it didn’t look as I’d pictured it in my mind! Your recent effort looks great, I agree that it looks much better than the first attempt.
    And you’re welcome, those kangaroo paws are the bomb 🙂

    1. Thanks Trixee! 🙂 I don’t know how long-lived these little kangaroo paws will be, but with all the flowers they put out I’m certainly getting my money’s worth.

  2. Nice improvement on the desk. I like the contrast between the drawers & the rest of the desk. Drawer color is closer to the couch & mantle color, right? Good work, tying all the woods together.

  3. Hi …iv’e being trying to identify a piece of furniture made from hancock and gore plywood ..i found the brand on the inside of this mammoth side board on plywood… the doors to the cabinet and a few front panels also but the rest is very solid timber .. i have a photo to post others can hopefully shed some light of this piece..being a 3 tier cabinet the smallest being a liquor space with refrigerator style bottle shelves in the doors and 2 other adjoining cupboards are stepping up in size ..having three different levels on the top of the piece ..haha help ?.

  4. Hi Steph
    Great make-over!. Noticed the plywood trademark you found on your desk. I found one clearly from the same period, but instead of the word ‘SELECT’ mine has the word ‘MERCHANTABLE’. The trademark is exactly the same in all other aspects.

    My furniture piece is an Arne Vodder replica rosewood (I believe) sideboard. I was initially confused because it was missing a molded strip of timber across the back of the top surface and an expert I had mentioned this to said that it should have this if it is an original. The Hancock and Gore clearly tells me it was more than likely made here in Brisbane Queensland. Laugh!

    Your desk with it’s mark tells me that my cupboard is more than likely a product of the 60s even though it is a replica. Thankyou for posting your project, you have helped me date my sideboard.
    kind regards
    Clare L

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