Metal desks are blank slates ready to be dressed up with colors and patterns.

How to Make an Ugly Metal Desk Pretty

by Christine Bartsch

Metal desks may be inexpensive and functional, but they leave much to be desired when it comes to aesthetics. Rather than ditching your metallic monstrosity, refurbish the desk to complement your existing decor. Home decorators can transform any metal desk with their choice of minor or major alterations, whether standard office issue or schoolhouse.

Pretty Paint

Traditionally, metal desks come in drab army greens and blah beiges, but these ugly colors are easily covered with any pretty paint of your choosing if you follow the proper steps. Clean off any rust spots with rust remover and apply a metal primer undercoat to prevent paint from peeling and to keep the rust from bleeding through. While metal can be painted with a brush or a roller, both will leave visible streaks or brush marks, plus the paint will appear thick and heavy. For a smooth, clean, light finish, use spray paint or a professional paint sprayer. Begin the spray stream off to one side rather than starting directly on the metal surface to avoid unwanted drips.

Whimsical Wallpaper

Wallpaper was once considered an outdated relic, but the textile has come back in a big way, and it’s not just for walls anymore. Take advantage of the bold colors and imaginative patterns available in modern wallpapers, or pick up vintage wallpaper at a remnants shop. Given that a metal desk has a smaller surface area to cover, one full roll will more than cover the entire desk. For a funkier look, cover the drawer fronts only in wallpaper scraps with various complementary colors and patterns. To apply the wallpaper, carefully clean and dry the metal desk, then follow the instructions included with self-adhesive wallpaper, or on the wallpaper paste container.

Dramatic Decals and Magnificent Magnets

When you don’t have the time or permission to transform your desk with permanent alterations such as paint or wallpaper, you can still beautify the metal with an easily removable decor solution. Self-adhesive wall decals are available in many styles including cute cartoons for kids and chic, modern designs for adults. Apply the decals to the sides and drawer fronts in the same way you would adhere them to a wall. Magnets are the quickest way to hide an ugly metal desk, and it’s the best solution for decorators who crave design flexibility. Display a large collection of small magnets arranged in a tight pattern that can be easily switched out or rearranged. Large, blank sheet magnets that are wide enough to cover the desk are also available; they can then be hand-decorated.

Feminine Fabrics

Adding interesting colors or patterns will pretty up an ugly metal desk, but they cannot hide the style lines. When you cannot stand the desk’s basic shape and look, a desk skirt is your best option. For a pretty, feminine look, create a desk skirt with a soft, floral print fabric and lots of tightly gathered accordion pleats. If you’d rather achieve a chic, dramatic look, select a luxurious, solid color fabric, then assemble the skirt with wide, elegant box pleats.

About the Author

A former art instructor, high school counselor and party planner, Christine Bartsch writes fashion, travel, interior design, education and entertainment content. Bartsch earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in communications/psychology/fine arts from Wisconsin Lutheran College and a creative writing Master of Fine Arts from Spalding University. She's written scripts for film/television productions and worked as the senior writer at a video game company.

Photo Credits

  • Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images