When it comes to furniture, secretaries are a New Yorker’s dream. There’s plenty of storage space, plus a work surface that folds down for all those overdue Thank You notes. Modern versions abound, but I prefer one with a bit more history to it. Take this Chippendale style secretary I found at a consignment shop in Princeton, New Jersey.


I loved the shape, as well as its scale, and I knew it would fit perfectly in my bedroom. What I didn’t love was the red mahogany tone of the veneer. It just looked dated…and dusty! These pieces were mass produced back in the 20s and 30s, so the finish really wasn’t that precious. All wood, you know, isn’t created equal, especially when it’s a veneer! A fresh coat of paint would take care of that. The other thing I loved about it was the fretwork pattern on the doors, but if you’re like me, you don’t always want to display your business for the world to see. (Just most of the time!)  Replacing the glass with mirror would be the perfect solution.


When the next weekend rolled around, I headed up to the roof, dismantled the secretary and got to work. As you can see, I started by sanding it down with a fine sand paper, just to scuff up the surface and give the paint something to adhere to. For the primer, I used a shellac-based product called Zinsser. I love it because it dries super fast. And it prevents any dye from seeping through the top coat. Check out the final result!


For the paint color, I chose one of my favorites: Farrow & Ball’s All White. I use it on everything. The mirror I had cut to size for $20. The easiest way is to take the original glass with you. That way, you’ll always get a perfect fit. With the shelves now hidden behind mirror, I could make all the mess I want, and it would still look just as pretty! Fold down the desk, and I have plenty of storage, plus the perfect surface for writing letters or working on my laptop.


As a collector, one thing I’ve learned over the years is to be fearless. Just
because something’€™s antique doesn’€™t mean it’s precious. Don’t be afraid
to alter a piece to make it your own. Strip it. Sand it. Recover it in
fabric you adore. Like I said, all wood is not created equal. If a chair’s
lines are good but you’re not in love with the finish, paint it another
color and you’€™ll probably be much
happier with the result. I know I am.