"Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”
_ William Morris
, 19th century craftsman, designer, writer

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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Project: Tanker Desk Circa 1978

In 1978, the Bee Gees owned the airwaves and John Travolta's disco moves caused a national outbreak of Saturday Night Fever. Drivers shelled out a whopping .63 cents for a gallon of gas and if we weren't busy feathering our hair, or crafting macrame plant hangers, we were kicking back on bean bags and groovy shag carpeting to watch brand new episodes of Charlie's Angels, The Love Boat and Little House on the Prairie.

Actor Ashton Kutcher and basketball phenom Kobe Bryant were both born in this year...and so was my latest project: A 1978 sturdy steel "Tanker" desk from the McDowell & Craig company in Norwalk, California.

I recently rescued the vintage, 60-inch desk off of Craigslist ($75) from a Tanker lover who already had two of his own.

The scratched, yellow desk had been serving hard time at the Los Angeles Country Jail, and I was thrilled by the prospect of setting it free.

As noted on one of my favorite blogs, Apartment Therapy, Tanker desks have been manufactured by companies like McDowell & Craig, Art Metal, Steelcase and General Fireproofing since 1946.

Featuring a double pedestal base, made of thick gauge steel Tankers were the largest selling commercial desk in the world (think: schools, offices & institutions) up until the 1970s.

Apartment Therapy writes, "because of the materials and craftsmanship required to assemble these beauties, manufacturing a Tanker desk on a mass scale is nearly impossible today."

Thanks to the durability of the virtually indestructible desks, however, there are still quite a few floating around.

Purists, like restoration experts, Twenty Gauge, Retro Office and Rehab Vintage deconstruct the desks completely; clean them and customize them to a client's color and detail specifications ($850-$2,150). For the budget conscious, online tutorials by enthusiasts like Retro Peacock, allow DIY'ers to tackle Tanker restoration on their own. 

 I chose the latter route, rolled up my sleeves and started with a deep clean. 

Although I didn't take the desk completely apart owing to the fact I would then be required to put it back together...I did take off the drawer pulls (filthy!) and scrubbed the desk inside and out. It was 35 years of dirt, scuffs and grime as well as a few stowaway papers jammed in the back from the old county jail...Of course, like any self-respecting Nancy Drew fan I read them...and, alas, no case-breaking clues...

Next up, the fun stuff...choosing the paint & giving the Tanker a makeover -stay tuned!


  1. Excited for the makeover!

    1. Can't wait to see the final result!!!

    2. Great ideas! I really need this kind of information. Love the way it was discuss. Thanks for sharing!


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