Updating A Craigslist Desk For The Office

Before we dive into our recent office progress, we just wanted to send out a heartfelt thanks to everyone who left such sweet comments on yesterday’s announcement. To say that it has been completely surreal and that we’re so grateful are two of the biggest understatements we could make. But back to the office. You might remember on our initial planning post, we left off saying “We’re still letting the concept simmer in our heads, but we’re fairly confident that we’ll start heading in that last layout’s direction since it feels like it makes the most sense for the way we work.” 

We still wanted to tape things off on the floor to really get a feel for things, and after 700+ comments rolled in with ideas and suggestions, we had fun mulling over every last alternative. After a whole lot of thinking (and debating, and sketching, and standing in the room with tape lines all over the floor) we decided:

  • an optimal layout would be some sort of floating double desk so we could both be in the middle of the room, instead of sitting right against the wall (we both would have window views, and would prefer to orient it so nobody has their back to the door)
  • a meeting table in the office would make that the third room on our first level with a table in the middle of it, so although there was some initial embarrassment at the thought of holding meetings in our blue-trimmed dining room, we’re planning to redo that shortly, so it makes sense to let it multitask. It honestly might get more use for meetings than formal dinners anyway – plus we won’t have to worry if our office is a mess before meetings
  • a craft/photography zone would still be most useful right in the office – and would most likely work best against the back wall of the room since the sunlight can’t stretch that far (that’s where John has been sitting/working for the last nine months)

So with those three slow realizations (sometimes it takes us a while to get there…) we determined this layout might give us more function (and less wall-staring time) than the one we were initially leaning towards in our last office planning post.

We even dragged the comically small desk into the middle of the room just to picture things a little better. We both LOVED being sort of cradled by the bay window, and sitting in the middle of the room, so it confirmed that we were finally on the right path. Psst- the plants are fiddle leaf figs from Home Depot (on sale for $59 with a 1 year warranty) so here’s hoping I can keep them among the living…

Ever since we’ve been keeping an eye out for something to use as a double desk that could float in the room. We assumed we’d need to adapt it in some way to make it wider or longer to accommodate two people, but we knew a good solid piece would be just the “bones” we’d need to begin, so we’ve been hitting up thrift stores, checking out craigslist and freecycle, and even the occasional yard sale (theeeeeey’re staaaaarting up again guys! hooray spring!). After at least eight failed missions/searches, this nice big, packed with storage, solid wood desk popped up on craigslist as a curb alert.

It was sheer luck that I saw it about twenty minuntes after it was initially posted (free curb alert items don’t usually last long) and it was even better luck that it happened to be a Wednesday, because on a weekend I think it would have been gone in a minute. We dropped Clara off with John’s parents so we could fold down the seats to make room for something big, and raced over to the curb… hoping to see something on it.

Oh happy day, we made it! And it fit into the car by about two inches (if the legs weren’t removable it would have been too tall).

There might have been happy tears from this highly emotional pregnant lady. I also cry during commercials and the occasional youtube video about puppies.

Anyway, once at home we set it up on a dropcloth with four small pieces of wood under it to lift it up a few inches off the ground. The drawers were still out from our travels, and the other side was a cabinet with a faux-drawer front. There was even a pull-out thing on the right.

It was pretty beat up, so we were glad we were both sold on painting it white from the start.

We’ve been craving a clean/light/airy office from day one (we have dark walls in our bedroom, and more planned for the dining room across the hall from the office – but we always envisioned a light and bright work space). So although we LOVE a good old piece of furniture that’s unpainted, like our media cabinet, which we just cleaned up and brought back to its original beauty with a combination of this method and this method; and Clara’s dresser, which we just stained with a painted top; and this hand-me-down dresser from John’s dad that now lives in our closet

… painting the desk a no-brainer thanks to the combination of more wear and tear along with our desire for a clean and light office.

We also removed all the hardware, drawers, and doors to prep it. That’s when we saw this tag with the maker’s info. Doesn’t “Administrator TM” sound official? I loved squinting at the old drawer lock that said 1968 (it kinda looks like 1999 in in this picture, but up close it’s definitely ’68). In fact in googling around for “Alma Administrator Desk 1968” I found one (albeit in a lot better shape) on eBay for $1000! Is that crazy or what?

How cool is this world we live in, where people leave things they no longer want on the curb and they just might happen to be exactly what someone else is looking for.

I’m sentimental these days, huh? It’s just a desk.

Anyway, next up was the “remove all the other random stuff” stage. This included using a straight razor to scrape off some paint blobs, weird raised areas of glue, and some old tape that had been stuck to the surface.

Then it was sanding time, so John donned a mask (sanding old wood can be particularly dusty) and used our hand sander to really rough things up.

Once it had all been sanded down, we applied wood putty in a few spots, just to fill in the divots and low points. We sanded those areas again when they were fully dry, and we were good to go.

Next I wiped it down with liquid deglosser, just to remove any leftover sawdust or grease/build-up that might be lurking. Then John broke out the Kilz Premium primer and applied one thin and even coat with a small foam roller. It’s what we used to paint our kitchen cabinets, which didn’t give us any issues with bleed.

One coat only took about an hour, and we did the back and fronts of the cabinet door, and the fronts of the drawers (so we left the interior of the cabinets and the drawers wood, which we did in our last office as well).

Before painting it, we decided it was probably smart to bring it into the house so we didn’t risk dinging up our paint job by moving it afterwards. We used the same dolly that came in handy for getting the fridge on the back porch a few weeks ago but this time John and I got ‘er done. The dolly did all the heavy lifting, so John pulled and I just sort of steered it, opened various doors, and made sure we weren’t hitting anything or falling off the front pathway while we pulled it along.

Once inside, we set up the same drop cloth + four scrap pieces of wood system to slightly lift the desk off the floor and used the same Simply White Advance paint that we used for the upper cabinets in the kitchen (it’s self leveling and specifically made for painting cabinetry or furniture). Once again we applied it with a small foam roller – using a small angled brush to get into some of the areas a roller wouldn’t reach, and then rolling over them as much as we could to blend everything together.

John did the first coat, and tagged me to do the second one the next day. If you can imagine, I looked even less graceful doing this part. Thankfully there is zero photographic evidence.

It just took those two coats to get it covered, and the following day I applied some satin Safecoat Acrylacq to the desktop just to seal everything and give it added protection – once again with a small foam roller (I did two thin coats).

We also decided to have some fun with the legs and the handles by painting the wood parts the same Simply White color as the desk itself, but once that dried we taped off the freshly painted parts (or disassembled the handles) so the old silver metal could get a subtle metallic-champagne color (I used Champagne Mist by Rustoleum).

It definitely has that light/airy office vibe going on now.

You can catch a glimpse of the legs in this photo.

Overall, we’re really happy with how it came out. Especially since it was a free secondhand find, which means we can put more money towards other things we want to do in here – like window treatments, an awesome overhead light, storage systems, nice new office chairs, etc.

So here’s how the room is looking now:

With more of a handle on our layout, we’re excited to move on to other steps, like painting the office (so far we’ve only done the trim) and working out how we’re going to make a wall of organization (we’re planning to use the wall behind this shot, since it’s hidden from the foyer (that way the room won’t look messy even if our command center gets chaotic).

As for adapting the desk to work for two people, we think it’ll be a pretty simple cut-a-hole-in-the-back-and-trim-it-out process, and we might add a wider top down the line (wouldn’t soapstone be cool?). But we didn’t want to rush into that just in case over the next few weeks as this room comes together we change our mind and want a single desk for some reason (with another desk area somewhere else). So we’re resisting the urge to rush into any decisions that we can’t undo, like cutting this baby open.

Update: Apparently using laptops for scale would have been helpful to show how two people can easily fit at this desk (it’s 34″ wide and would be 38″ if we added some sort of counter with a 2″ overhang) so here’s that pic for you guys! Our first house’s double desk was 18″ deep, and we each had ample rooms for legs and computers, so we think this plan should work well – but of course we’ll keep you posted!

What secondhand finds have you guys been hunting down lately? Have you ever actually gotten in on a curb alert before someone beat you to it? This was our very first time. Gotta say, I liked it. I liked it a lot.


  1. says

    oh my gosh that DESK is beyond!!!!!!
    How you have the vision to transform these things is beyond me.. lol it’s amazing!
    I love it.

    I finally got the courage to attack a tranformation that YOU guys inspired – I turned my little girl’s closet into the most ADORABLE reading nook/nap spot. She LOVES it so we have to thank you – and Clara! – for such an amazing idea!!


    Mary Beth

  2. says

    That desk looks AMAZING all spiffed up! So I’m thinking of painting my armoires to save some money since we still like the lines but not the colors. Would you suggest foam rolling or would be better off investing in a sprayer? I really want a smooth finish because if there’s one thing we can’t stand when we’re in antique stores is when people paint furniture and the finish is “textured” where they painted. We’re weirdos like that.

    • Crystal says

      I also like using mini nap rollers (more than the foam type) and the type of paint could make a difference too for getting a nice, smooth finish.

      The desk did turn out amazing and I love that you went ahead and painted the desk rather than sitting on the project while you figure out how to handle the backside.

  3. Alison says

    AMAZING DESK! This is exactly what I’m envisioning for my future desk in my future home!! Quick edit- (….it to lift it up a few inches off the grount.) I think you meant ground. :-)

  4. Sara says

    You all continue to amaze! I love what you’ve done with the desk (particularly the champagne touches!~) One question though-do you ever experience bubbling when using a foam roller? I’m a DIY newbie, and used a foam roller on a bathroom vanity and found bubbles–any tips? Thanks!

    • says

      Hmm, I wonder if you rolled too fast or used thin paint (both seem to get bubbles since things are riled up/thinner). We love Advance in thin even coats with a small foam roller, applied nice and steadily (not crazy slow, but not super fast either :)


  5. says

    I love seeing your “thought process” with layout and design… but I have to ask… who is going to have to have their back to the window? I’m probably a little nutty… but I wouldn’t want to be the one with that side of the desk (Never know what could be lurking outside the window / or alternately, you can’t daydream out at the lawn…)!

    • says

      We both sat on either side of the desk and didn’t mind, so I guess we could flip a coin. We just wanted a window view somewhere (since the bay is right there, we both get that). We also spun the table so one person faced the bay and one person faced into the room, but neither of us liked facing the bay since our back was to the door and we felt like someone could sneak up on us. Haha!


    • says

      hehe… ok… fair enough… I like your set up, and agree that seeing out the bay window, and having a view of the door is very important! :)

  6. Britt says

    Yay! I’m so glad you guys changed your minds about the layout. I like this one so much better. No more staring at the wall. Also, the desk looks great! The metallic ends on the handles add just the right touch.

  7. says

    No honestly I thank you guys… I was stuck in the biggest decor rut for about 5 years before I found this site. You have literally changed my home, and KIND of also my life. Suffering through postpartum depression as a stay-at-home mom of three was really tough, being able to turn my attention to fixing up this old house has truly been an amazing hobby and I am feeling great again.
    I know it might sound odd, but I really do credit you guys for some of that!
    : )
    You brighten every day for me!!!

  8. Bethany says

    Awesome find! Love the champagne details, they make this free desk look so expensive! I never would have thought to do that, but I love how it turned out. Do you think this desk will be wide enough for both of you to work at comfortably? I tend to have tons of paper spread out around me, but you might be neater than I am.

    • says

      Good question! I just added a picture to the post (at the bottom with an update) about that. In person it’s a monster (see how it fills the whole trunk?!) but we realized without laptops on it for scale it looked like it might be too narrow. We especially think if we add a wider top down the line it’ll be nice and roomy – but it should also work as-is for us I think!


    • Bethany says

      Thanks for the update, it’s definitely a lot bigger than I originally thought! It’s nice that you also have the option to add a wider top if you decide you want that later on.

    • says

      I was thinking that you could attach a shelf on the back side (with decorative brackets on the ends) instead of cutting a hole in it. That would add a little extra surface area, too.

  9. Maureen says

    I love it! I had a desk just like this once, but it was so old and beyond my ability to repair. It’s hard to catch these at a good price! Yay Craigslist!

  10. Evelina says

    Congrats on a great FREE find! You guys made it look gorg with the white treatment! Hurray for yard sale season!

  11. Susan says

    I love that desk! I can’t believe it was free… I’m sure they could have sold it for a little bit of money at least! I have one that is very similar and have been thinking about painting it but have no supplies. What brand of sander do you guys have? I’m guessing you like it?

    • says

      They’re from Home Depot on sale ($59 for those giant guys). They’re fiddle leaf figs – the quintessential blogging plant. Haha! So far I haven’t killed them and I’m thrilled.


  12. Elaine in Ark says

    Love the desk! This is the kind we had back in the olden days, when I was a young clerk-typist. The pull-out tray was sometimes used for a typewriter, or as another writing surface when the top of the desk full of other stuff. I feel like I should apologize for all the old scotch tape on the tray – we used to tape different notes, calendars, schedules, etc. on the trays for quick reference. It was really handy to have that info close by.

    I wish any of the desks I’ve ever had looked as clean and beautiful as your new/old one!

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