Before and After: A Designer Revamps a Builder-Grade Desk Area in Her Son’s Childhood Bedroom With Some Clever Repurposing and Leftover Materials

published Oct 26, 2022
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Erin Zubot's son's room before, with a view of the desk area
Credit: Courtesy of Erin Zubot

Many empty nesters opt to do a little bit of redecorating after their kids leave home, but not all parents are designers that can truly breathe new life into a tired, worse-for-the-wear space. When designer Erin Zubot’s son left for college, his empty room had seen better days — think wall damage, a half-removed, dated wallpaper border, mismatched woods, and a textured ceiling. Zubot wanted to transform the space into a guest room, but not without making some major aesthetic changes first so she could start with a truly blank slate.

“I decided to give it a paint job and remove the popcorn ceiling before we added furniture back in,” she says. The one thing she wasn’t going to subtract — and the real star of the room now— has to be the newly remodeled desk area, which Zubot had always intended to outfit as a sewing nook that she could share with her daughter.

Fortunately, the room had decent bones and already featured a built-in desk nook with cabinetry above it that Zubot could repurpose and build upon. It bothered her that the cabinets weren’t level but appeared staggered, and the desktop itself needed refinishing. Moreover, she wanted the spot to work with the rest of the room color- and style-wise, which now leans traditional with a twist.

Credit: Courtesy of Erin Zubot

First, she tackled the cabinetry. After removing the uppers from the wall and unscrewing them from each other, she cut the middle cabinet down to fit with the others. Then she nailed all of the cabinets back together and hung them on the wall a little closer to the ceiling line. “The most challenging part was cutting the cabinet, but that wasn’t all that challenging,” Zubot says. “We didn’t even take the cabinet apart; really; we just put the whole thing on the table saw and turned it to cut one side at a time.” To create a little moment for open shelving, she also decided to keep the door off of the center cabinet upon reinstall.

Credit: Courtesy of Erin Zubot

To upgrade this spot further, Zubot used leftover materials from past projects. Crown molding and trim came together to form a valence that adds polish to the uppers, while beadboard adds visual interest as a wall covering that functions almost like a backsplash for the cabinetry and continues underneath the desk to the floor. Zubot gave all the cabinets and drawers in this area a fresh coat of Benjamin Moore’s Knoxville Gray (HC-160) to unite all of the disparate pieces, creating the illusion of one high-end, vintage-looking built-in nook. She even changed out the knobs on the drawers to round wooden handles painted to match the cabinets (elsewhere in the room, this paint color appears as a door and trim color, too).

To finish off the area, she sanded down and restained the countertop then pulled up a vintage chair to the desk. Lastly, she hung a few small brooms and a sweet floral painting in the nook as accessories and placed a sewing machine and vase of flowers on the tabletop.

Credit: Courtesy of Erin Zubot

“I love how much better this space looks now,” Zubot says of the newly finished desk area. “It looks like a considered part of the room design and much more custom, like it fits the little opening much better.” There’s one other hidden bonus of her reconfiguration of this area that Zubot shares. “Adding the valence also allowed us to add a little battery-operated under-cabinet light there, which is much better if you want to use the desk as a sewing area, as we do now,” she says.