Roll Top Desk Makeover with Miss Mustard Seed Milk Paint

If you are a furniture purist…this isn’t a post you’ll enjoy. I just thought I’d better warn you, because this old roll top desk got painted – with Miss Mustard Seed Milk Paint.  If you hate to see old furniture painted, you’ll probably hate what I did to it, and you may feel just a wee bit happy to hear about the difficult time I had painting it.  It was like a comedy of errors – except it wasn’t funny.  Get comfy…it’s a long story.
Antique Roll Top Desk

It’s a wonderful old desk that my mom gave me a long time ago, but it’s had some large stains in the wood that have been there as long as my mom can remember, so it’s needed a makover for a LONG time.

I was using Miss Mustard Seed Milk Paint (Typewriter), and didn’t really want the paint to chip, so I sanded the top of the desk and top of the roll top portion, so the paint would stick. I also sanded the edges, planning to stain them.  So far, so good, right…or so it seemed.
Miss Mustard Seed Typewriter Milk Paint

While the paint dried, I worked on the roll top.  I decided to leave the panels as-is, knowing I could always go back and paint them if I didn’t like it.  At this point, I was really happy with how it was starting to look, but this is where things started to go south…fast.

Miss Mustard Seed Typewriter Milk Paint

What took place after this point is a blur.  By this time, I was sweating like a pig, and I think my brain cells were starting to fry, because I did one.stupid.thing.after.another.  I didn’t photograph every stupid mistake I made, because I was too busy trying to fix my mistakes.  I’ll try to give you a mental picture though.

First, I grabbed wood stain to use on the edges I had sanded.  The stain really brought out the beauty in the aged wood, but I just kept going with the stain…over the milk paint.  Why?  I have no idea.  I blame it on midlife brain fog.

That was stupid mistake #1.  That made my nice matte black finish really shiny and I didn’t want a really shiny finish.

I figured I better just go ahead and keep staining, since I had started, but I was using a shop rag to apply the stain…a red shop rag, which was stupid mistake #2.  I realized that I should have lightly sanded over the paint first, because apparently I hadn’t mixed it well enough, and it was grainy – Stupid mistake #3, so….my red shop rag was leaving red lint stuck on the grainy dried paint.  I decided to let it dry for awhile, then try to lightly sand off the red lint.

Okay – sanding it got the red lint off, but the finish didn’t look so great now, so in all my furniture-refinishing wisdom, I decided I would wax over it.  Here comes stupid mistake #4.   It was hotter than heck by this time, and my wax got soupy quick.  You’d think I’d be smart enough to go easy with the hot, soupy wax, but no…I practically poured that wax on.  I put an insanely thick coat on.  Once I realized it, I grabbed a flour sack towel, because I didn’t want more red lint on my desk, but it was like trying to wipe off motor oil.

By this time, I was regretting the fact that’d I’d announced on Facebook that I was painting my antique roll top desk – stupid mistake #5.  Otherwise, no one would have been the wiser about what I had done.  Several people actually commented that I shouldn’t paint it – I should just leave it original.  I was starting to wish I’d listened.

There was no going back though.  I needed to try to salvage the train wreck, or have to explain to my mom why I destroyed the desk she’d entrusted to me.  I buffed, and I buffed, and I buffed that wax.  Once it was no longer a soupy mess, I sanded it some more, and buffed some more.  By that time, I was exhausted, and decided to take a break for the rest of the evening, and come back to it the next day.

The next morning, I felt refreshed and ready to work on it, only to discover stupid mistake #6.  I had left the desk outside overnight, dew had settled on it, and I woke up to discover there was a strange white, chalky film covering all the black paint.  Needless to say, I freaked out, thinking that if all my previous mistakes hadn’t ruined the desk, surely this one did.  Lesson to others – don’t leave your painted furniture sitting outside, or in humid areas.

Painted Furniture Tips

After taking a deep breath, I grabbed a flour sack towel and started buffing like crazy…again.  Thankfully, the white film came off, and didn’t seem to do any real damage.  Sigh…thank goodness.

Miss Mustard Seed Milk Paint

I painted the drawers, went to Hobby Lobby to pick out some knobs and pulls, came home and attached them, then stepped back to look at the desk.  I’ll admit – I was pretty happy with it – mistakes and all, but the 2 panels in the roll top portion just seemed bland to me.  I was afraid painting them solid black wouldn’t look good either.   That’s when I got the another idea…

Feel free to get up and stretch now – this drama continues in Part 2.



  1. You left us hanging!?! I thought surely you had painted one too many layers and nothing would close. I have found the more a piece of furniture fights you, the better it turns out!

  2. Anonymous says

    Actually, It was kind of refreshing, although I am sorry you had so much trouble. All of the tutorials make the painted furniture procedures look mistake proof. I learned a lot from you mistakes. glad it all turned out okay, can’t wait to see what you did to the panels. I have two sets of “cubbies” out of roll top desks that I am going to attempt to redo so need to learn all I can.

  3. Brain fog will attack when you least expect it. I am waiting with baited breathe (I’ve always wanted to use that phrase!)…

  4. That’s the kind of day I’ve had today!!! So far I’ve done 2 of the same stupid mistakes! I put mine away for the night (yes it’s indoors) Can’t wait to find out how yours turned out!

  5. Oh. My. Goodness. I have to wait for the end?! are you kidding me?
    Well, I’m sure it’s just going to look wonderful! I can’t wait to see it and to see what you did with the inserts.
    I think those mistakes are going to be the very thing that takes your furniture makeovers up a notch…
    I totally get the mid-life brain fog—

  6. Oh man, I know that brain fog! Must be this “special” time of life : ) Can’t wait to see part 2.

  7. PMS?
    You left us on tenter hooks!

  8. I’ve a similar desk, and though it’s not a heirloom, I wouldn’t paint it for the world. I don’t mind seeing them painted thou. There’s staff you can put on the wood before painting it that protects ot in case you want to get it back to its original state. In spanish is called goma-laca, but I don’t know the word for it in english. You soray it on, then you can wash the milk or chalk paint off if you get tired of it.

  9. You poor thing! I too have struggled with projects when ‘brain fog” kicked in. It does take extra work to fix the mistakes, but eventually things work out. (Well, most of the time anyway.) Can’t wait to see your desk.

  10. I hope it all worked out fine in the end. Can’t wait for the reveal.

    Mary @ Orphans With Makeup

  11. I have a large beautiful cherry rolltop desk that my father had since he graduated from college in 1932. I kept going round and round about painting it and felt my dad would be horrified. Just before Christmas I went to pay my bills and opened the desk and found on top of my papers, a small receipt, showing payment of my dad’s tuition for a semester, dated June 1932. This receipt fell from nowhere!! Yet somehow it must have been wedged into the roll top. My dad was a teacher for over fifty years!! and opened that desk everyday. I was amazed and felt like it was a message from my dad…go ahead a paint, if you must. Well I decided to paint the roll top, the panels and the drawer fronts with Rustoleum Chalkboard which I have painted lots of furniture Hutch, chairs, tables, etc. (not to use as blackboard, just that I like the matte patina). It wasn’t until I was actually seasoning the dried paint with chalk that it dawned on me!! My dad was a teacher and used chalk every day and so of course wouldn’t mind my painting the desk, which btw, looks fantastic!! We all struggle from time to time with what we do, and mostly, perseverance and good intentions pay off!! can’t wait to see your desk!! Always blessings to you!! P.S.: that little receipt is now framed and sits on the top of the desk :^)

  12. I thought I was the only one who had these bumper pack brain flips but I’m getting the idea all will be well. I would love to see Liz Thomas’s’ dads desk turned out too.

  13. Yesterday was “that kind a day”! We live in the country, I was mowing with the gas push mower and my”Dear Husband”, thought he’d help with the rider! Only to run over the garden hose, tangle the hose around the blades and stop the rider, and braking the PVC water pipe to the water meter!!!! After checking our PVC supply, we needed cleaner , glue and some curved joints. Called the hardware store and they close at 4pm. We had 25 min. to get to the store 15 miles away(like I said we are in the country). It started to rain but we made it with 5 min to spare. And the rest of the story……finally water at 8:30pm!
    Your desk will be fine!
    Thanks for listening.

  14. I have no doubt you’ll end up with a lovely desk, and look at all you learned in the process! 🙂

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