A desk with a genuine leather writing surface is a sign that you have arrived. The destination may be a moving target or somewhat uncertain, but wherever it is that you have arrived, leather is a definitely a desirable companion . The supple feel of the leather, the elegance of the typical gold tooling, the knowledge that the leather surface probably added a grand to the price of the desk, all add together in creating the feel of success. As a writing surface, there is truly nothing like it. We have worked on many leather desks and feature three on this page.
There was a lot to be done on this mid-nineteenth century desk. Besides a worn finish, there were shrinkage cracks, as on the leg illustrated, and on the top surface. Since a leather top would be attached over the center panelling, it needed to be flat and it needed to completely fill the inner portion of the desk. We glued the visible crack and laid wooden shims into the shrunken openings around the perimeter.
After the repairs were completed, we cleaned the surface, then applied a coat of a walnut crystal stain before waxing and polishing all the surfaces. The final step was to attach the black leather top.
This desk went from our shop into the office of a state governor. It accurately represented a desk from the era of a prominent governor in the early history of the state.
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The original beauty of this desk and its potential once restored were as obvious to us as to the owner of this desk. Restorations like this are expensive propositions however. Replacing all the veneer as well as the leather on the top would require deep pockets. If you have a piece like this and pockets like that, the outcome can be stunning. You could feel it very much worth the lightening of your pockets.
It may appear from this photo that the only issue was chipping finish on top of the veneer. The finish was chipping because the veneer had shrunk and was splitting and missing in places.
Replicating this veneer pattern was a significant challenge. Finding walnut veneer with such a consistent straight line was difficult. Keeping the veneer lines straight was challenging, even with that special veneer, since the line of the wood grain tends to fan out over a wide piece of veneer. Careful cutting and aligning and splicing and mitering were all in play. Not a task for a novice!
In this photo you can see the masking used to keep the inner portion of the desk raw so that the adhesive used to fasten the leather would still stick to the wood. We have also stained and sealed the wood at this point. It will need a bit more toning and then will be done.
The finishing is complete, masking removed, surface glued and new genuine leather top applied. The leather is precut to dimension before the gold leaf tooling is pressed into the leather. As it is applied, the leather can be stretched, which can greatly aid the process of fitting it into the space if slightly undercut or if the actual dimensions are not perfectly consistent. The tooling still needs to look straight, so if the person attaching the leather is not careful, the benefit of stretching can be offset by a wavy line of tooling. Nothing about the work we did on the top of this desk was easy!
The desk turned out beautifully!
The sides and legs were waxed and polished to give an overall consistency of appearance.
We do not claim to jacks of all trades and so rarely will do anything more than remove the brass ormolu and reattach it afterward. For needy pieces, the ormolu needs to go to a plating shop or a custom metal-working shop where it can be polished or treated appropriately.
This desk and the desk before are similar in so many ways and yet very distinct. The bold geometry of the veneer on this desk strongly contrasts to the similar but more subdued patterns of the other.
The issues with this desk were also similar but different. Obviously, once again the leather needed to be replaced and the surface of the base needed rejuvenating. The issues around the perimeter of the top were different and we feature the steps that were taken to the right.
Here is the desk when all the work was done. We wish you could have seen it yourselves, this doesn't do it full justice. The cinnamon colored leather works very well with this desk whereas the first desk benefits from the darker milk chocolate colored leather. Overall the desk looks very active, alive. If a business executive used this desk, what kind of a business would it need to be to look like it fit in? It would take quite a personality to sit behind this desk!
This desk top had several difficult issues. The outer shaped edge was a separate piece of wood glued to the inner core. In many areas that outer piece had come unglued and created crack lines as can be seen in the top photo. The veneer on top of the edge was split above the cracks and in some places the outer edge had chipped off as can be seen. There were also areas of water damage where the veneer had buckled. The inner edge had peeled away in places and gave a very uneven edge.
Our solution was to first reglue the outer shaped edge and either replace the chipped sections with wood filler and touch up or with new veneer pieces. Gluing down the buckled veneer worked in many places, in some it had to be replaced.
Straightening the inner edge of the veneer was the most difficult problem. It would not be possible to attach a new band of veneer that would create an invisible extension of the existing veneer. We suggested using a slightly contrasting grain line and color to add an accent. With all that was already going on below, this made sense. We added a band of rosewood veneer with a red dye. The customer liked the idea and it seems to have worked well.
After replacing worn color and recoating the entire edge, it looked very much like this could have been the original design, not an imaginative repair!
This last photo gives a good idea of the interest created by the additional contrasting banding. A lighter, satinwood banding could have also looked very good if the leather chosen for the top had been darker. Challenges like this desk are welcomed. We love the challenge of solving problems like this. It isn't easy but it is very satisfying when we hear our customers express their delight with the finished project.
One more opportunity to enjoy the uncommon design of this desk.
One thing not mentioned thus far is that the space the leather had to fit into was not rectangular, it was trapezoidal. Keeping the very straight lines of the gold tooling appearing parallel to each side when the sides were not all parallel may have been the most difficult of all the challenges we faced. The final result was not perfect, but unless you knew to look, we doubt you would have ever guessed.