Serpentine Secretary - Juniper Home

Serpentine Secretary


I can’t stop/won’t stop with the Craigslist shopping lately. There are so many great finds here and most everything is so incredibly affordable that it’s hard to pass a lot of it by. Some things need more work than others though and part of me wonders if it’s worth it in those cases.

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Like this secretary I recently picked up from a Craigslist seller. I am so in love with the scalloped, serpentine drawer, but man, does it need some work!

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When I came by the seller’s house to look at it, I was a little disappointed with the condition of the wood. From the photos, it looked like it was in original condition, but I could see right away in person that it had been painted and then (mostly) stripped and that it needed some love. The wood is pretty dry. The seller gave me really great deal on it though and it was hard to pass by since the shape is so unique.

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I think with some cleaning the solid brass flower pulls could be cute. Though maybe on a different piece?
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Check out the carved curve of the drawer

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I also love the unique leg shape that’s so slim from the front and much wider from the side view.
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I love tiger oak, but I think this piece would look better painted. If the wood was in better shape, I’d totally fix it up more and keep the wood stain (you know I’m all for wood furniture), but I think this would look better in a painted finish – either a gloss or a chalk paint.

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I thought I would like it here in the entry, but the curve of the stairs sticks out too much. There’s still several feet of clearance, but I think I’ll keep my eye out for something with a slimmer profile for here – maybe wall-mounted.

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I’ve actually been thinking it would look really cool in the landing upstairs by the girls rooms, especially if it was painted.

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I imagine the girls leaving each other fun little notes inside and storing their treasures in the drawers. We’ve been collecting seashells for a few years now from our different travels (and my parents have been bringing some to the girls too – they went to Ireland and Scotland this month and they brought back some beauties for us) and this little secretary seems like a perfect place to keep the shells.
I know I’ll be glad I bought it when I do get around to refinishing the secretary. My threshold lately has been “will I regret not buying this a year from now?” and if I can honestly say yes, I go for it (and then cram it into the garage! ha!). What is your rule?
What did you think?
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61 thoughts on “Serpentine Secretary

  1. That really is a unique and beautiful piece. Totally worth getting!

    I've never seen one like that and I haven't seen legs like that on a piece. They remind me of a federal style but that isn't what they are. I worked for a consignment store for a number of years and it's new to me. Might be worth looking up a little information on.

  2. I look at that and think "What an easy redo"! Fine steel wool, minwax stain and a couple of coats of shellac brought down with more steel wool.The tiger oak is fabulous and really accents the shape of this desk. Painted it would just look like any other piece from Pottery Barn, (although cute, I'm sure). Feel free to email me if you'd like any further info. I've done restoration for years and would be glad to help.

  3. What an interesting piece! I actually LOVE the wood…I just used Minwax Finishing Paste Wax on a bathroom vanity and loved the end result. I think it would be beautiful on this piece, although I love every piece you do painted or not. :) Can't wait to see what you decide!

  4. I'm sure it will look great no matter what you do. Have you considered putting wax on in places and then painting it with old fashioned milk paint in say the salmon or slate color? Where you put the wax the paint should flake off and give you a really nice combo of wood and paint look. How much and where you put the wax will determine the level of distressed-ness. It might look really pretty.

  5. Fun piece! I agree with some of the comments. Leave the wood…with some work…and maybe highlight that rougher strip right above the scallop with a dark stain/black paint. Making it look like a tuxedo stripe or something tailored. Although, as always, whatever you do will look great!

  6. Fun piece! I agree with some of the comments. Leave the wood…with some work…and maybe highlight that rougher strip right above the scallop with a dark stain/black paint. Making it look like a tuxedo stripe or something tailored. Although, as always, whatever you do will look great!

  7. You should go down in the Craigslist Hall of Fame for this one. This piece is phenomenal! I mean, that serpentine drawer is breathtakingly beautiful. I am going to have to vote for painting it. Yes, the wood is pretty, but the curves and dimensions will really shine with a high gloss finish. Nice score!

  8. I love tiger oak, but paint this sweet piece! It would be such fun in an accent color or even a soft cream. Perfect as a hiding place for all the girls treasures. Enjoy it as you like, now. You can always strip and refinish it after the girls grow up.

  9. Wow that serpentine edge really made me sigh. That's a gorgeous piece. I can't tell from the photos that the wood is in bad shape. Pity. But it's still going to look amazing painted. Can't wait to see it!

  10. That is totally salvageable! The wood is just a little thirsty since its been stripped. I vote you spruce up the stain if you want then give it a nice oil rub. If you like the wood grain give it a shot before you paint it! (And I am so pro paint, I love to paint everything!)

  11. This secretary is very beautiful and I think it would be even more beautiful with a glos paint!
    I'm like you, when I have a crush on a furniture I buy because I'm afraid to regret it after if I miss it. And sometimes the most difficult thing is to find a place in my little home to put my furniture crush…!

  12. What a beautiful piece!
    I usually don't mind when people paint wood, especially as it can make mass produced, ordinary pieces look more interesting/versatile/clean/etc, but as a furniture maker that makes one off items, I can tell that this has been handmade and isn't a mass/machine produced item and loads of time and love has gone into it. Painting it would could cover up everything that makes it such a great piece – the curves on the front and legs are accentuated by the grain of the wood, the hand cut dovetail joints would disappear.
    I honestly don't see how painting it would be that much quicker than restoring it – you'd still have to sand it and prime it. Feel free to email me if you'd like some advice!

  13. Another furniture maker coming out of the woodwork here to beg you not to paint this baby. Like Katie said, paint would totally cover up instead of accentuate the unique, handmade charm. She's a lovely lady that just needs a day at the spa, not plastic surgery. ;)

  14. How about a combo approach? Paint for the legs and sides. Refinished wood for the tiger maple front and drawer. Can't wait to see what you decide to do.

  15. I'm all for painting furniture but this piece is such a beauty and I would keep the gorgeous wood! I actually like the rustic look of it now, but I bet some good furniture wax or oil or even a stain would go a long way. Such a great find!! Can't wait to see what you do :)

  16. It is a beautiful piece and will be fabulous in the upstairs hallway either way, but I vote to try to salvage wood first, then paint second if you aren't happy. Great find!!!

  17. Oh, I agree with TD – this is one piece I wouldn't paint. I think it is worth attempting to refinish it first – the curves and legs will show their best beauty as wood I think. Great find.

  18. I have also been obsessed with CL lately. My rule is… "Will my husband notice this in the garage?" He totally thinks I have a hoarding problem… which I so do not, once you see the inside of our house. I just use the garage as our "staging area"! I just bout an amazing vintage Bernhardt campaign bookshelf this week. Cannot wait to paint it, I am thinking of Navy. I wish I could attach a picture, but I have no idea how to do that. Thanks for my great morning reads with my coffee every morning!

  19. That is such a beautiful little secretary! I think the tiger oak adds to the overall appeal of the serpentine drawer so I'm in the 'please don't paint' group.
    Check out Miss Mustard Seed's recent post on what hemp oil can do to restore dried out wood. Amazing.

  20. My current rule: If in doubt, DON'T. Also, I must know that I have a place for it. Having been all too impulsive previously, I have learned my lesson. I wasted money because I saw potential in all too many things. I've moved to a smaller place where we will stay. I had to give away things I had never used. Too soon old,too late smart.
    PAINT it.

  21. The shape of that drawer. OH MY WORD. It's the stuff of dreams. I don't think I've ever seen anything like it! I'm sure the Wood Purists are going to DIE if you paint it. It really does have gorgeous wood tones, and I bet if you worked on it, it could be restored beautifully. BUT, it will be gorgeous no matter what you do. I'm just glad it won't end up in a dump somewhere. Yea for you!

  22. Hi Jenny! I LOVE the wood on this secretaire! I had rescued an armchair whose wood made it a borderline Lost Cause. But as the commentor, "td" suggested I used extra fine steel wool and Howard's Restore-A-Finish after I cleaned that puppy off, and the chair looks like a million bucks! Howard's Restore-A-Finish costs about $30 and the process is fairly quick. If you're curious about how the wood would look restored, I say give it a shot and then if you don't like the results, paint it.

  23. Just finished painting a desk is Annie Sloan's Napoleonic Blue. It is gorgeous. I did the inside parts in cream. Wish I could post a picture here for you. It's a great color.

  24. I've got to agree about not painting the wood, and I'm one of those "paint all the things!" people (drives my husband nuts haha). My dad was a wood worker, and one of my favorite lessons was when he explained to me that a woodworker takes time and consideration to pick out all of his wood choices, visualizing where the grain will accent the piece best. And in this piece I see the type of love that he put into his work. The tiger wood drawer really adds to the scallop shape, giving it more flow and a serpentine nature that you would lose as soon as it was painted, and the direction of the wood grain on the legs adds to height and the interesting shape. The wood is definitely in rough shape, but with a few coats of conditioner and new stain or oil, you could absolutely bring it back. It'll look cute if you do, but it'll lose its soul.

  25. I scored a roll top desk that was extremely dry. Stripped 30 years ago, and not touched since. I agree with trying to restore the wood, instead of paint.

    I used Minwax Wood Hardener and it is fabulous for stabilizing wood.

    You should stain the piece BEFORE you use the Wood Hardener because it does interfere with the absorption of the stain.

    Also, in Chicago, I could not find the product at Ace or the big box stores, so I had to order it from Amazon. I'm on my second bottle this year!

  26. Like the wood finish on the outside, but is it possible to paint just the inside (cubbies look like they'd be a pain to strip, sand, etc.) Would look nice in white with the natural wood ( or fun color.)

  27. Hi Jenny,

    I've been reading your blog for awhile now and so admire everything you do! My husband and I are in the process of buying our first house and can't wait to get started on decorating/projects.

    One question for you – do set any safety rules for yourself when it comes to craigslist shopping? I've been an avid user of craigslist for finding apartments, furniture, concert tickets, etc. But whenever it involves going to someone's home I never go alone…maybe paranoid, but you never know. I definitely plan on doing lots of furniture shopping for our new home on craigslist, but just wondering what you think?


  28. Wowzers what an incredible piece. If you work that wood right it could look even more incredible. There is a lot of variation and texture just waiting to be revived. I think you'd be in awe of the depth a beauty like this can show. Of course a high gloss would look awesome too on those curves, the way it'd catch the light. Just seems this interesting of a piece needs a little awakening of its soul, nothing more. What a find!

  29. Your year rule sounds pretty smart! My problem right now is not having room for things. My husband doesn't like a lot of "stuff" – he's more minimal, so he doesn't like things everywhere.

    I passed up this amazing dresser for $40 a few weeks ago and am still kicking myself daily. :( I think that secretary is really beautiful and I love the idea of your girls having a little area for there things!

  30. I agree with most; give the wood some moisture and don't paint it! I have a somewhat similar piece I brought home from my grandma's house about 25 years ago. It was a piece from the 30's. Mine is the same tiger oak with a drop down desk lid on top, but instead of the drawer, mine has a bookcase on the bottom with 2 glass doors that open. Mine was painted cream when I got it (by someone in my mom's family), so I stripped it and sealed it. For some fun color, I painted the cubbies inside the desk a soft, fresh green. I love mine! Have fun with yours.

  31. Love this piece Jenny. Im totally playing devils advocate on this one and crossing my fingers that youll paint it something fun and vibrant and high gloss. I love the idea of such a vintage slightly traditional piece with a fresh spin on it. I think it would be fun in something like chartreuse, or magenta, or kelly green, or red, or really I could go on…

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