Posted by: Small House Under a Big Sky Homestead | February 3, 2013

Mandel Brothers Secretary Desk Before and After


The secretary desk and chair after their transformation. This Mandel Brothers ladies secretary desk was originally wholesaled out of Chicago, IL.


The secretary desk as I found it in the barn with its original glass pulls. The top pull is in the hole where a latch and lock set should be found.

I found this Mandel Brothers secretary desk last summer sitting in the corner of the barn hiding under a sleeping bag. I uncovered it and for $5.00 it was mine. It has the original glass drawer pulls and drawer label. Read all about that experience here.


The inside view of the cubbies (that needed reattaching) and old brass hinges that we replaced.

It came painted in the old “antiqued” style of the 1970’s and I repainted it using ASCP Graphite and Coco. But first we replaced the old shiny and bent brass hinges, handle and lock set with new ones then we sprayed them using Rustoleaum Oiled Bronze so that they blended in nicely with the paint colors I chose.


The former Mandel Brothers Furniture Company, Chicago, Ill., as shown in a vintage postcard.

I really enjoy conducting the research on the pieces I paint.

This retail enterprise, which would become one of Chicago’s leading department stores, was founded in 1855 by Bavarian immigrants Solomon Mandel and his uncle Simon Klein. Their first store was located on Clark Street. In 1865, after Solomon’s brothers Leon and Emanuel joined the firm, its name became Mandel Bros. Purchasing in New York and Paris and selling in Chicago, the enterprise grew. By the 1880s, its new store on the corner of State and Madison Streets employed about 800 people. By the beginning of the twentieth century, the workforce had grown to over 3,000 people. Rebuilt in 1912 and renovated in 1948, the State Street store continued to operate into the 1970s, when the company folded amid State Street’s demise as a major retail center.


The original Mandel  Brothers lable was found inside the pull-out drawer.

In fact, in this instance I contacted the Furniture Detectives and Fred Taylor replied,

“Donna – Your desk appears to be an inexpensive piece made of secondary wood that has been “antiqued.” It has no antique or collector’s value. Less than $100 at auction.”  But to tell you the truth, I didn’t care really because I planned to “transform” it myself.


The cubbies were reattached, the inside of the drawer was painted and the inside of the secretary desk was painted in ASCP Coco and waxed in clear wax.  A simple wood chair was painted and waxed to match and new duck cloth ulphostery was added to the chair seat.

This two piece set is now listed under Furniture for Sale on my Facebook page at

Small House / Big Sky Donna




  1. This is a great makeover! I love the after, and I really like the way you staged it. Looks great!

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. I seriously been studying “staging.” I have a hard time telling the difference between just right and too much. In all honestly I thought this one was on the side of “too much.” But, I was determined to use my handmade papers and handmade paper artwork. My husband contributed the quill pen and ink well and the nice wooden holder that holds another old quill pen.

      Esp. glad to have your staging comment!!

      • I don’t think it was too much at all! It looked great! I definitely need to work on my staging, so it is something particular I look at.

        Thanks again. Yesterday I placed a batch of “styling” books on reserve at the Library. Today I took another batch of photographs, a tad bit simpler. I think I am happier with those as they highlight the secretary desk a bit more. Will post!

        Small House/ Big Sky Donna

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