After lots of sanding and a few coats of red spray paint, here is the end result.
It was actually E that helped me to come up with the idea to glue cork squares to the side of the desk, because he wanted to be able to hang things on it and of course, I wanted it to look "cute" at the same time...this is the solution.
The key holes and the handles were also covered in the yucky brown paint, I just sanded those down with the sander. I like how the result is a brushed silver look. I also sanded all the edges of the desk, including to the drawers, to make it look older and warn.
Old maps (donated by my mom and dad) sit under the glass top. Yes, the glass top came with the desk!
"Do you think it is only a little thing to possess a house from which lovely things can be seen?"