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How to Transform a Shabby Chic Bureau

Many of us need a place to sit and work and often end up taking over the kitchen table. If you don’t have space for a big desk, consider revamping an old writing bureau.

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These units are compact and slim-line, so fit neatly in a hallway or corner of a room.

They cost between £20 and £40 from charity shops or can be picked up cheaply on Ebay. Ours took a weekend to transform. Ideally, take the furniture outside to work, and always cover the area with dust sheets to protect your surroundings as you work.

Choose a bureau with pretty detailing and give it a make-over.

You will need
solid wood bureau (£20 from local charity shop)
bucket of water
sugar soap
pan scourer sponge
old soft cloths
fine & medium sandpaper
Dulux Trade quick drying wood primer undercoat in white, £11.48 per litre, B&Q
Acrylic Eggshell paint in chosen colour, £15 per litre, the Little Greene Paint Company
4 hinges (if old ones are damaged) £2.90 each, eBay

Ideally, take the furniture outside to work, and always cover the area with dust sheets to protect your surroundings as you work.Old furniture is often very dirty, and it needs to be clean before you start work. Use warm water and sugar soap or a household cleaner to get the surface clean, then rinse and dry with a soft cloth.

Take off the doors, remove the hinges, any other catches, and the stays on the flap down piece, and put to one side. If the top section behind the flap has a partition, gently remove it too – it is likely to be held in by small nails so can be carefully levered out. If there are any loose pieces, now is the time to glue them back in place. Allow the glue time to dry before proceeding. If there are any large dents, cracks or holes you can fill them with wood filler, though if you’re happy with an aged finish these imperfections can add to the charm.

Use fine sandpaper to ‘key’ the surface, which will smooth any imperfections, as well as help the paint adhere. Wipe away all dust with a cloth, then paint the whole piece with a primer/undercoat and leave to dry thoroughly. Follow with two coats of cream eggshell paint allowing each to dry thoroughly before applying the next.

Once the paint is completely dry, rub the painted surface with medium grade sandpaper to expose the wood beneath giving a distressed finish. The places to work are those that would naturally get wear and tear over the years – notably corners, edges and handles.

Clear the dust away with a clean cloth, then stand back to see if you want to distress more. Do a little at a time until you get the finish you like – there is no right or wrong – it’s personal choice. Just a few edges gives a softer look, or for a more dramatic finish, you can do the panels and sides too.

Replace the stays that hold the flap down panel, as well as any other catches removed earlier. Sticky drawers can be made to run better by rubbing a white candle on the edges and runners

Add the Final Flourishes

Personalise your piece with a pretty stencil and apply to the front of the bureau – check out The Graphics Fairy website for free transfers. You can line the interior with a pretty floral paper too if you wish..

Useful Tips
This bureau had broken hinges, so we removed them and replaced with some in the same size and style, which meant we were able to use the original holes. If you’re unsure, take the old hinge to a DIY store to compare it. Replace the screws too if the original ones are a different coloured metal, or if the heads are damaged.

When applying paint, finish off with light strokes in the direction of the grain as this eliminates heavy brush marks on the finish OR use a small gloss roller for a really smooth finish