Desk? Vanity? Whatever it is, I enjoy it.

I learned long ago that the more we embrace the quirks in an old house, the better our rooms turn out. I’ve talked before about how hard the layout in this room is, with the bay and the turret and six full-length windows…. but that weird layout is what gave us the idea for the wardrobe, so I love it.

I really wanted to work a desk into the room, but wasn’t sure how or where to do it. I also have a habit of buying things that I don’t have a full plan for, just because I love them.

Remember this mirror? If you don’t, here’s the post. We bought it originally because it seemed like a fun project, but we didn’t really have a set place for it in our minds.


And I ALWAYS see these sewing machine cabinet drawers for sale, and think they’re great. So I bought a set of four, cheap, because one of the knobs was missing (as you can see).


As the room started to take shape, with the storage wall, and the bed wall, it just left one little wall left. Currently, this wall serves a REALLY IMPORTANT PURPOSE, as it holds the punchlist for the remaining tasks in the room. So important.


I started to think that this might be a great place for a desk. I didn’t want anything big (lest it block the windows), and I also didn’t want anything with legs because the vent on the wall is SO BEAUTIFUL and I wanted that to be really visible.

And since I needed a place for the mirror and the sewing machine drawers, it all clicked into place. A small writing desk that could act as a vanity, using the drawers within the desk! I also had a pair of cast iron brackets that I found in an online auction, and those would be the perfect way to mount the desk to the wall.

Here’s my first “sketch.” This is where I can’t even comprehend how the designers on Project Runway make such amazing sketches that end up being identical to the end product. And that’s with fabric and shape and lace. I can’t even draw a box. But, whatever. All I have to do is draw it well enough so that after I incoherently try to explain to Doug what I want, he can look at it and go, “Oh. That makes sense now.”


Basic box, slots for drawers, and a small backsplash for detail.

I ended up getting a little fancier with the backsplash later on, and Doug started making dimensions and cut lists!

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He built the front first. Initially we discussed smaller boards between the drawers, but the end result would have been a desk that was just a little too small for the scale I was imagining.


This badboy has pocket screws and biscuits. So much woodwork in one little piece!


They fit! We numbered each drawer, because with anything vintage or antique, never assume each one is the same size. Because they never will be.


Doug made the sides and the bottom, and then we glued and clamped it all together.



W didn’t make a back, since it would be mounted to the wall. And the top would be a separate piece.


Seriously – if Doug owned stock in something, it should be clamps or truck tie-downs. The man has a plethora. If clamps and tie-downs were a currency, we would be zillionaires. (Not that I’m complaining.)


We really didn’t get too fancy with the interior. But it’ll work. Doug cut strips of wood to act as slides. There’s nothing holding the drawers, like a channel, but they really don’t move anywhere because they can’t slide past the opening.



On the back, we put a stop to keep the drawers from going back too far.


So cute. I mean, let’s be real : these aren’t going to store a lot. As a vanity, this works well – make-up and hair-ties can hang out in these. As a desk, I can seriously organize my colored pens and sharpie collection (I’M NOT KIDDING I’M TOTALLY EXCITED ABOUT IT). But the thing that’s super great about these? We’re not great woodworkers, so we aren’t at the level of creating intricate mouldings or fancy things on our own. These drawers are awesome, because we can make a simple shell, and the drawers themselves bring the intricacy and Victorian aspect, as well as making it feel old, even though it’s not. At $5 a drawer, they do their job!


Seriously. I didn’t even know this world existed. It’s pretty great. I might start hoarding these things.

I stained the interior next, which was the rough side of the wood (it’s finish plywood). I’ll be honest, I just did one coat and wasn’t super perfect with it, because you aren’t going to see it. I just needed it to not be raw wood, and I needed to stain it before the top was on, because that would have been HORRIBLE access.


Doug cut and routed the top and the backsplash, and somehow we got it all biscuited and clamped together (it was kind of awkward).


Remember that drawer that was missing a knob? I was guessing I could find a solution for it. I just bought a wooden knob at the craft store, and Doug used the drill-press and a Forstner bit, and just made a little circle on the top to resemble the carvings in the other ones. It won’t be exact, but that’s part of the story.


“Match the Stain” is one of my FAVORITE GAMES. Not bad, right? And then we cut it to size and pinned it in place.


Doug added some moulding to the top of the backsplash. Dear kids at home : this is the reason math is important. And geometry! Doug is patient, and therefore perfect with it. I would not be.



First round of stain and a horrible picture quality! I actually used a combination of dye and stain, and then topped it off with wipe-on poly. I used the leftover dye from the laundry room countertops. Blending stains and dyes gives the best chance at finding the perfect match – in this case, I was trying to match the mirror and the drawers (but mostly the drawers).

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Bad picture, decent stain job. We can’t have everything.


I took almost no pictures of installation, because it was not possible to have a phone or a camera and help to hang it. Doug used L-brackets on the interior of the desk to hang the desk to studs in the wall. Those brackets are doing the brunt of the work. The cast iron brackets are also really secure in the wall. A happy accident was the fact that I didn’t consider height (either baseboard height or desk height) when I chose the brackets. If we had put the brackets UNDER the desk, either they would have had to go below the baseboards, or the desk would have been a standing desk (this is a prime example of how I don’t always think things all the way through when it comes to math). We didn’t realize this until we were about to hang the desk up. Super great timing. My first gut move was to try and find smaller brackets, but I LOVED these and hated the idea of putting the project off a few more days. The solution? Putting the brackets on the outside of the desk, and not underneath it. In hindsight, if I knew we were doing this, I would have made the desk top 1/2″ wider on each side. But it’s fine. I actually like what it did to the design – the pattern of the ironwork is front and center now, and it’s super cool seeing the wood through the sides!


My motto is “If you own an old house, make sure you find a way to make every mistake or problem into something you love more than the original plan. Because the original plan never works.”

First peek with the mirror! EEK!


Original knob on the right, replacement knob on the left. Not perfect, but that’s okay.


I’m really excited by the scale of this piece. It’s perfect.



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I love this mirror. The glass itself is so perfectly imperfect. Mirrors age so well.


Straight on shot. With my beloved register cover.


With the mirror.


The chair might not be the chair forever, but the price was right. I bought this chair at Goodwill when I got my first apartment in college (my senior year, 1998), and it was $5. I just recovered it with leftover valance fabric. The curtains are up – I’ll promise you’ll see them all soon. There are a few other hints in these pictures (the carpet, and things in the mirrors….). We’re so close.


Do you like the brackets on the outside? I love them on the outside. I was so upset that I hadn’t thought about it, and was so upset that it halted the project, that I was upset – Doug didn’t want me to put them on the outside because he thought I was settling. I said, “No, I REALLY LOVE THIS. I’m just so mad I messed up.”





Life goal : I’m going to start writing letters again. I used to have tons of pen pals when I was in middle school and high school. This is a letter writing desk. I’m going to get stationery made and sit down at this desk and write a letter a month to someone. I think that’s totally reasonable.

Desk 2

Almost done!!!!!


  1. It turned out so beautifully. I wouldn’t have thought a floating desk would look appropriate in the space. Yet you did such a great job! I am now smitten and contemplating building a corner version for an awkward nook in our house. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I always look forward to your new posts! I must say you and Doug do a lot of fantastic things! I will have to say though, I think this desk / mirror combo is my favorite thusfar. I just LOVE it! The room is really coming together!

  3. So much excellent work. While it is very inspirational I’m feeling that my skills are inadequate to creating such a perfect solution. I even have two sets of those drawers in the studio.
    Keep up the fantastic work.

    1. Oh my goodness, you could totally do this! And I think I’m going to collect a few more sets of drawers, though I don’t know what I’ll do with them yet!

  4. It’s so beautiful, Amy. I love it! I think it needs a bench though. The chair is just hiding it. I can’t wait to see it finished!!!

    1. The chair was always a temporary solution (since it was already here and had no home) but I hadn’t decided what the end game would be there – I think you’re totally right, it should be a bench! Which I think takes it squarely into vanity territory…. Thanks, Beth! You’re so right.

  5. Very nice! Expert woodworking, and your skill at matching stain continued to impress me. I should hire you to mix me a batch for my next upstairs millwork project; I currently have about 10 test batches, and am not perfectly happy with any of them.

    1. I love matching stain, and I wish I had a fool-proof suggestion for you to make it easier! I’ll be honest – I have only once made a batch where I mix stains together to try and get one formula that matches. And that time was just OK (it was the curved woodwork under the turret). Usually I do layers of different stains on top of each other – one layer, wipe and dry, another layer, wipe and dry…. until I get what I like. I used to do it without test pieces (which made Doug a bit crazy, even if I did it right), but now I usually do a test piece first, so I have to try and remember exactly what order I did things in. My way is probably horrifying, but it seems to work, so I’m not messing with it. 🙂 Good luck with yours!!!

  6. Please be my pen pal!!!! Lol

    Hi Amy….I wrote to you about 6 months ago asking you for advise on painting my claw foot bathtub. You promptly replied – I took your advise and it it turned out beautiful!! (Pics to follow)

    Reading your blog is like listening to myself think. Full of energy and full of ideas & creations yet to be tackled with a sprinkle of crazy!! Lol

    Here’s my address when you finally take a break to sit down at your little amazing desk.

    Eileen Shea 2608 W 106th Place Chicago, Illinois 60655

    Sent from my iPhone


  7. I’ve ghosted this site for a long time now but this is the first time one of your posts had such an immediate effect on the Farmhouse – a day after I saw this me and the hubs were off to pick up a narrow hutch to rehab and wall mount in our kitchen. I know… sounds unrelated, but I promise you it was a direct ripple effect from seeing this post.

    Thanks for the amazing site and thanks for sharing all the amazing work!

  8. Great desk, and the brackets on the outside really set it off. These old houses were originally full of custom and built-in pieces, so your desk looks like it could be original. I don’t comment often, but your house is really looking AWESOME!! You need to hurry and finish this house, then you guys can start up your own TV show restoring houses for clients who lack the energy and imagination! And I want to submit our house to be the first episode, LOL!

  9. I LOVE THIS DESK/VANITY! So much. The shape of the backing with the moulding is fantastic. The next time I find a beat up sewing cabinet I know just what to do with the drawers and legs.

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