Restoring Antique and Modern Desks

MPF Conservation specializes in antique furniture restoration, furniture repair, antique upholstered furniture, and traditional woodworking.  This page documents antique and Mid-Century Modern desks.

Right, an American Empire Revival Kidney Desk wiht leather top, circa 1950.

In all cases below, we perform the following details using traditional techniques as needed:

  • Disassemble as necessary
  • Inspect parts for viability
  • Clean all parts as needed
  • Repair / re-glue / amend broken parts
  • Replicate missing parts
  • CHOOSE Finish Method below:
  • Historic varnish is amended with several coats of pure shellac and rubbed to patina or French polished OR
  • Historically accurate varnish coating with combinations of gums, tree resins, oils, waxes and natural earth pigments is applied  OR
  • Historic painted finish is repaired and amended as needed

Before treatment, left, and after treatment, right and
in drawer close-up directly below right.

Spanish Baroque Revival Kidney Desk circa 1880

The desk is a mix of European solid white oak (top, drawer framing, carcass), solid white oak for the appliqued embellishment carvings on desk fronts, and veneered white oak on drawer faces and side panels. The legs, however, are oddly carved from Cuban mahogany.

The desk was cutting edge design relative to the time and place it was crafted. Created during the decade of the rebranding of Barcelona, the desk’s coved sides feature steam bent solid core plywood in white oak veneer and solids. Numerous condition issues were exhibited from decades of hard use, compounded by numerous poor repairs, and improper storage during transit (did we say barn?). This led to de-laminating desk top boards, shedding drawer carvings, undermined leg joinery and scaling traditional finish.

The entire desk was disassembled as there were too many loose joins, above. Drawers removed, top lifted, desk top cabinet support removed (second image), front frame and back panel disassembled. Note the degraded asphaltum and shellac finish on the top.

An example of a repair to the lifting and missing veneer is shown above:

  • Veneer is lifting and missing area below;
  • Original veneer is glued using warm hide glue;
  • New veneer cut for final fitting;
  • Veneer glued in place;
  • finally, several veneer repairs shown jigged to cure.

Right, new hand-carved decorative white oak appliqued trim pieces are glued in place on the drawers and ready for finish.

After the many parts were individually repaired the entire desk was reassembled. The bruised and shrunken mortise and tenons were amended then the joinery was brush coated with warm hide glue, clamped and left to cure over several days, above left.

The desk top cabinet frame support was screw-mounted into the desk top underside, above right.

The original finish clay based grain filler infused with ground earth pigments, and a color coat of asphaltum glaze. After coloring, below right, MPFC topped the entire desk with several coats of brushed shellac. After curing, the surfaces were rubbed out and treated to a hard, carnauba-based paste wax.

Above, applying color to the repaired desk front, left, and right;
after treatment, the completed desk below.

Follow us on the MPF Conservation Blog to be informed of our documentation of this project when posted.  

MCM Wormley Circular Desk circa 1950

Designed in the fifties, original leather with teak wood, built-in bookshelves, and hinged drawers which swing open. Edward Wormley, AIA, 1907-1995.

The desk was in good condition, however, had hinging issues which threatened to fail if not treated. After treatment the entire desk was cleaned and polished to bring up the lovely finish.

Before treatment above: desk is shown upside down and balanced on the side because legs were unable to support the desk. After treatment, below.

American Georgian Revival Mahogany Two-Sided Desk circa 1890

This interesting family desk was fashioned so that two people could comfortably meet or work together, as there is a cut-out for legs on both sides.

Hand-carved Cuban Mahogany cabriole legs in a Baroque style, the desk molding is in the Plateresque style which was an amalgam of elements – Gothic and Renaissance – of a time when styles were transitioning.

This desk is an example of well-meaning family members repairing the desk over many decades, with large nails and screws criss-crossing until the leg joinery was turned to rubble! Other repairs were performed, such as worn drawer skids and the frame structure itself.

Click to see client’s American Mahogany Baroque Revival Captain’s Arm Chair shown right.

Before treatment, above, and after treatment, below.

American Empire Revival Kidney Desk circa 1950

The mahogany kidney desk was created just after WWII when American Colonial and British Empire revival styles were in vogue.

The desk was originally varnished with a nitro-cellulose lacquer over an oil-based aniline glaze applied with an airbrush, giving it the ambiance of an older cabinet. Unfortunately it had been cleaned over the years with Pledge, a popular silicone-based product not advised for many historic finishes, and the material wicked into the lacquer. MPFC used rubbing techniques to cause the original lacquer to clarify.

The leather top was cleaned and waxed and most spots and blemishes disappeared.

Before treatment, left, and after treatment, right.

American Georgian Revival Mahogany Desk circa 1850

The family desk, crafted a decade before the Civil War, had remained within the family its entire life. It was used in the family’s lumber business in Minnesota from the time when that region was dubbed the “Great North Woods” and was a work horse.

It was created using mahogany solids and veneers, with secondary woods of tulip poplar, spruce and pine.

Many issues, both structural and decorative, were evident. They had never been properly repaired, though over the years several family members had made temporary repairs causing further damage. MPFC repaired the issues and replaced the leather desk writing surface.

Follow us on the MPF Conservation Blog to be informed of our documentation of this project when posted.  

Before treatment, left, and after treatment, right.

Before treatment, left, and after treatment, right.

Mason Monterey Drop-Front Desk and Chair, ca. 1930

Mason Monterey is the only true Monterey furniture; all other manufacturers are sometimes referred to as “Monterey” because it has become a label for painted furnishings of this type from the early 1900’s. Frank Mason founded the company originally to supply furniture to the early western movie sets.

This Straw Ivory drop-front desk and chair were hand-painted in the Mason factory in downtown Los Angeles, California. The style is derived from Spanish Colonial, Dutch Colonial, Pennsylvania Dutch, California Mission and simple ranch furnishings.

The desk had structural condition issues; the drop-leaf frame and hinging were replicated then replaced. Drawer skids and drawer framing were repaired as were the internal desk cubbies.

Chair joinery was damaged by the chemical strip. The chair, shown top right, was disassembled, damaged connecting points were repaired and the chair was reassembled and glued then clamped to cure.

Both desk and chair were chemically stripped by someone in the family at least a decade before the desk came to us; thankfully they did not repaint it as ghostings of the historic designs were intact, above left. We were able to make tracings and extrapolate the actual image basted on the tracing and our expertise in Mason Monterey. The image on the right-facing side, above right, is different than the image on the left-facing side, below.

We restored the desk based on the faint outlines of the original decorative ghost on the side. Little was left on the chair which was dipped; we chose to match the desk with a design seen in our files.

To see our blog-post on the restoration of the desk, go here:

Before treatment, above, and after treatment, below.

image 138

Mid-Century Modern Brazil Wood Desk and Credenza circa 1960

image 139

This MCM desk was designed to have the appearance of floating, and the skid-style feet and cantilevered top allowed for the sitter to move freely along the length of the desk. It came with a matching credenza, shown right.

Additional desks, examples shown above (in order), can be found in:

If you are interested in other wooden objects, see below: