In Part 1 of our under stairs kid’s study nook, we created a feature wall using magnetic paint. We also made some cool magnetic frames using washi tape. In Part 2 we upcycle an awesome old school desk, and create a storage space for all the art supplies. 

Under stairs kid’s study nook part 2 – Whiteboard desk and storage

We spent ages thinking about all the different options for a desk under the stairs. From flatpack, to pre-built, to built-in. We did a lot of serious ‘research’ on Pinterest! But nothing really ticked all the boxes.

Then one day while ‘researching’ on Trade Me, I found a listing for an amazing 1950s double school desk.

Made from solid rimu native timber, it was in totally mint condition. None of the steel was rusted. There were just a few knocks and dents in it. And there was almost no graffiti inside the desk.

The seller did live 2 hours away from us… but that was just a minor issue!

Long story short, we placed a bid, and won it, and the next weekend we were off to Whanganui to pick it up. The desk was in even better condition than we hoped for, and was even stamped underneath by the manufacturer DF Cowan Pty Ltd. DF Cowan was a 1930s Australian furniture company that specialised in tubular steel furniture. This desk has history!

Back in the day it might’ve looked something like this:

New Zealand Classroom in the 50s

School desk upcycle with whiteboard lids

So the upcycle project was fairly straightforward. Fill holes, sand desk, apply primer and paint, and finish the lids with our secret paint effect.

We wanted to paint the whole desk a super-bright, kid-friendly colour. And we wanted the colour to be a nod to the modernist era of the 50s. We landed on a bright, retro orange, called Resene Daredevil.

But first, we needed to prep the desk, and apply a special primer called Resene Smooth Surface Sealer. This seals right over the top of all the old varnish, and provides a new surface to paint onto.

The filling, sanding, priming part was messy work. So I took the job outside into the sunshine:



With the prep sorted, and 3 coats of the retro orange applied, it was time to paint the lids. We wanted to give a nod to that age old practice of graffiti-ing your school desk. If you’re like me, you’ll have fond memories of having to sand all the graffiti off your wooden desk and the end of each school year!

Of course we don’t want our kids to write all over the desk, and have to keep repainting it all the time. So we applied a really cool product called Resene Write-on Wall Paint. As it says on the tin, this paint turns any surface into a white board!

We were warned that it’s for creating white boards, and not ‘orange’ boards like our desk. And it does mean some coloured whiteboard pens don’t show up that well. But the dark colours work great, and the final result is so cool, and so much fun. We’re really happy with the outcome.


Bookshelf upcycle with storage baskets

So now we have the feature wall with magnetic display, and the retro school desk with write-on, lift-up lids. Now we just needed a storage solution for all the arts and crafts bits and bobs the kids will use.

We had an old pine bookshelf in the living room not doing much.

So we thought we’d give this a new lease of life, and paint it up in the wall colour. We just used Resene Quick-dry Primer to seal it, as it wasn’t varnished, and applied 3 good coats of Resene Bullitt with a brush and roller.


For the storage, we originally wanted cane baskets to match our window bench seat. But we couldn’t find any that fit the bookshelf that well. I eventually found these white storage totes from Kmart that fit perfectly, and are a bit more sturdy than the cane ones anyway.


We got a couple of extra baskets to slide in under the stairs too. It’s obviously not quite on the same level as Mister Maker’s Doodle drawers, but this should be more than enough storage for 2 kids.

Hope you enjoyed reading the understairs kid’s study nook series. For more great upcycling and recycling ideas, check out our DIY section.

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looks fantastic!

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