DIY Cerused Oak Secretary

The fall issue of Domino is on news stands now and my latest story is right after cover girl Mindy Kaling’s (adorable!) office feature.
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I was SO excited to get to share my transformation of this old tiger oak secretary. Remember this old thing?
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I had been debating whether or not to change the finish for a while, but after seeing this beautiful cerused side table on 1st Dibs, I knew I could achieve a similar finish with a little research and some elbow grease.
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I read about a million different articles about cerusing and liming oak furniture. It turns out that people have been doing basically the same steps for hundreds and hundreds of years! It’s not too hard to do and requires absolutely zero artistic ability. You’ll just need a piece of oak furniture – it has to be oak. And the more prominent the grain, the better.
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The first step is to strip the wood of any stains or varnish. I used a gel stripper and a brass-bristled brush to gently scrub the wood in the direction of the grain. See how the soft brass bristles pull out the little bits of old dark stain from the grain?
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If you’ve done it right, the grain marks will be open and clean and ready to fill with wax.

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If you want the wood to be a natural finish, you can go ahead and skip this next step, but if you want the wood stained at all, you’ll need to use an aniline dye in lieu of a traditional stain that you can get at the hardware store. Dye will beautifully stain the wood without filling any of the grain. You can buy almost any color of dye online. I used the indigo shade for this project.

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I just followed the instructions on the dye container and mixed a few teaspoons of the powder with some denatured alcohol before brushing it on the secretary.

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It only takes a coat or two of the dye mixture to get a nice, deep color.

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As the stain starts to dry on the wood, it gets lighter and sort of chalky. But the color deepens again when you seal it. I don’t have a photo of this step but it’s important to seal it with shellac before adding the liming wax. I like Zinsser’s shellac because it dries quickly and isn’t too thick.

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After the shellac dries, the dyed wood will be a dark navy indigo color, and you’ll be ready for liming wax. This wax is my favorite.

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The actual liming step is super easy – you just wipe the wax on with a soft cloth and then buff off the extra that’s sitting on top. You only want the white liming wax to be in the grain and none on top.

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This is why it’s important to shellac the wood before using the cerusing wax. The wax won’t want to stay on the surface of the sealed wood as much, but it will be happy to hang out in the grain. Check out that beautiful pattern!

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I really love how this project turned out. I think cerusing is such a fun way to show off the natural wood grain of vintage/antique oak pieces!

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And the indigo stain is such a unique look too. I think color stains are perfect for this type of application. The secretary is such a fun statement piece now, sitting up in our landing by the girls rooms.

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Don’t forget to check out the spread in the new Domino! xo

Entry Progress: A Bright Red Secretary

The entry on our parlor level is pretty small. There’s a coat closet across from the powder bath and a teeny tiny little bump out next to the front door and that’s about it. Here’s what the space looked like on move in day.

Not pretty, I know. We’ve since had all the walls painted Farrow and Ball’s Cabbage White, which is bright and fresh, and the doors were painted Pitch Black. We still need to do all the trim work in here, but we had the small floor boards painted BM Decorators White.

When I was trying to figure out how to best use this space, I sort of fell in love with the idea of a secretary (a really narrow one), so there would be a place to throw mail down, but we’d also have lots of hidden storage. The issue was finding a secretary that was less than 23″ wide so that the door could open all the way. Not easy!

For a while we kept the vintage vanity desk from this post in this spot because it fit and it was a place to put things down (you can see it peeking out in this post), but I definitely was left wanting something taller with storage after a couple months of that. Then one day at an antiques store in the burbs, a vintage Thomasville beauty presented itself. It wasn’t in perfect shape and the dated-looking fruitwood needed to be painted out, but the size was exactly perfect and the price was right at $175. (Especially compared to the inspiration pieces I was eying on 1st dibs! yikes!)
I knew I wanted to paint the secretary a fun color (aren’t you surprised!?) because the entry is pretty bland and it needed some cheer. I went to Home Depot to get a color mixed and I stumbled across and ENTIRE GALLON of my beloved Safety Red, formally known to me as only-available-in-spray-can-form-Safety-Red. It’s been a four year love affair, so I couldn’t not try it, right? 
I expected it to smell as horrible as the other Rustoleum oil-based paints (like this one), but this paint smelled more like linseed oil and less like fumes. Sort of like the Ben Moore Advanced line. It had an interesting, very thick consistency too. The finish was great though (smooth as glass), so I can’t complain.

You’re probably wondering what happened to the glass here. I have plans to get mirror cut, but I decided to paint out the glass from the inside so no one could see the things I have stored inside. (it’s a whole bunch of vases and it looks really sloppy). I’m not completely minding the white actually, but I think the mirror will help to brighten up the space. (I was going for this and this look.)

I’m really loving it and am just aching to get that moulding up now!

I did put down a small rug and that helped too (seen here formerly),

And I hung the peacock mirror on the wall next to the kitchen. I need to put art on the wall to the left of the kitchen though and I think that will help even more. 

But, it’s progress! And just in time for holiday dinner parties (thank you so much for your votes, by the way! If you haven’t had a chance to pop over, the $500 contest will go through the 23rd. xx)

PS A little tip about painting mirrors or cabinets with glass panes without using painter’s tape.

Lucy’s Bedroom


One of our goals when working on Lucy’s bedroom redesign was to make it feel different from before, even drastically so. She was ready for this change. But most of all, we wanted her to feel relaxed and comfortable in her room. We wanted the look to be feminine and grown up and serene. Joanna originally suggested the blush color (a color we both love for bedroom walls!) and Lucy was totally on board.



We chose Benjamin Moore’s Love and Happiness in an eggshell finish. I love the coral-y blush color! It’s not too intense – it just feels soft and cozy!


We knew most of the linens and textiles in the room would be white or neutral, so we thought the bed could be a really fun pop of color in here. We chose Blu Dot’s Nook bed in Poppy, which is a bright pinky-red in person. The quality of that bed is TOP NOTCH. I’d love to get one for myself in the blue color.


Once we had the bed picked out, we looked around locally for nightstands to bring to California with us. We found these Danish beauties at Mathematica Modern at Zinneas (the same vendor who sold us the secretary weeks before) and we asked him if he had a mate to the version with the drawers. He did! And we LOVE them!


They’re petite, but I love all the drawer storage. And the hairpin legs the seller added makes the height of the drawers a little easier to access. Somehow Mathematica always has a pair or two of these in their booth, so if you’re looking for something similar, it’s worth a call to Zinnea’s or an Instagram stalking session.


We wanted statement-making sconces that would help to brighten up Lucy’s room (remember, there was essentially no overhead lighting anywhere in the apartment) and I think these steel and brass sconces from West Elm totally fit the bill! I love the masculine/industrial element they bring to the space.


I think every room, especially a pink one, needs a little (or big) dose of black. I found this sweet little black leather slipper chair at a local shop here called Modern on Melrose. It is one of my favorite places to search for amazing mid-century treasures. The chair was designed by Milo Baughman. Did you know it’s pronounced My-low Boff-man not Mee-low Bow-man? I only learned that a year or two ago and have been feeling sheepish about it since. :)


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We wanted the art on Lucy’s walls to be on the softer side too. We found this sailboat photo print from Eventide Collective  that we all loved and felt like was such a peaceful image. The extra dose of white/soft colors is lovely in here, I think.


The bleached jut rug was a steal from World Market and the color was perfect for layering on Lucy’s carpet. I love the sophisticated texture of a natural woven rug!



We chose super simple bedding from Parachute Home in the softest ice blue. It is SO lovely in person and super high-quality. I love, love, love how it pairs with the floral lumbar pillow we had custom made from Stuck on Hue. I bought the Moroccan pom-pom throw from this Etsy store (and it looks like there are a couple more of the same blankets left!).


The block-printed curtain panels are a DIY (tutorial post coming up!) using IKEA’s Ritva curtain line – the very best curtains at IKEA! The price can’t be beat for the size of the panels, and the white color is bright and pretty and has a nice linen-look texture. I also really love that they come lined and with a drapery hook tape already sewn in the back! IKEA sells these three-prong hooks that slide right into pockets of the drapery tape and easily make a three-finger pleat that is ready to hang right on drapery hooks. Our curtain hardware is from West Elm. I love the touch of warmth from the brass in that rod!


In the end, I think we were able to give Lucy a feminine, sophisticated new bedroom that feels comfortable and happy! She has texted me a few times to say that she is sleeping SO well in her new room, which is pretty much the most heart-warming thing I could imagine. :)




Wall color – Love and Happiness (1191) by Benjamin Moore
Bed (Edwards Poppy color) – Blu Dot
Floral Lumbar Pillow – Stuck on Hue
Jewelry Stand – Anthropologie
Gosling Lake by Kurt Tong – 20×200
Brass Rod – West Elm
Curtains – Custom hand-blocked fabric by Juniper Studio
Bleached Jute Rug – World Market
Sconces – Rejuvenation for West Elm
Sail by Kati Dimoff – Eventide Collective
Custom Frame for Sail provided by Simply Framed
White Shams – Parachute Home

Powder Blue Duvet and Shams – Parachute Home
Dish – Schoolhouse Electric
Nightstands and black slipper chair – Vintage, sourced by Juniper Studio
Professional photos by Julia Robbs for Cup of Jo. Floral and Styling assistance by Kendra Smoot.
Additional photos by Jenny Komenda, Kate Lines and Kayla Taylor.