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Redesigned Furniture: Dresser Project [and Design Contest Winner!]

Redesigned Furniture: Dresser Project graphic

I am so excited and honored to have placed third in General Finishes 2017 Design Challenge - Dye Stain category.

This gorgeous vintage Hepplewhite dresser brought home the prize, so I thought I’d share the process!

Vintage Hepplewhite Redesigned Dresser

You Never Know What You’ll Find at a Garage Sale

This vintage dresser belonged to a client of mine. Charissa found it at a garage sale for $30. Yes, $30! What a score. When she showed me pictures of the dresser I just could not wait to get my hands on it!

First of all I love Hepplewhite furniture. Simple lines that can work with so many styles. Plus, the flamed mahogany drawer fronts had me swooning.

Now I have to admit I tend to immediately see a finished product when I initially look at a piece to refinish and I sort of pass over the condition portion. I have to purposely look for the flaws and parts that will need “work.” And this piece did need some repairs, plus some of the gorgeous hardware was broken and missing.

Challenge: Matching Old Hardware

I quickly realized that finding replacement hardware to fit the existing holes would be my first challenge. Who could paint over that stunning grain?

Of course, you can fill when staining, but it’s difficult when filling hardware holes. They are a good size, for the most part, and there is no way to replicate the grain pattern in those areas. The best solution is to use the existing holes.

So I started my search for a match, although I knew these intricate handles would be a tough find. After weeks of my usual searching I starting thinking about Charissa, and how she would be using this dresser for her two boys. What if we went modern? Changed it up? While still keeping it classic?

I went back to Charissa with my new ideas. Medium colored wood drawer fronts and top, with a medium gray base. And instead of going vintage with her replacement hardware — new and modern, with a whimsical twist for drawer liners.

I sent her my two favorite bin pull options from Pottery Barn.

It was a perfect solution. They were wide enough to cover the original holes, and modern while still classic. Plus perfect for a boys room! Charissa love the ideas and picked the classic pulls in brass, which would pair perfectly with the color we had planned for the wood.

I ordered the hardware (which of course was on backorder), and I got to work on the dresser.

When to Work Backwards

Normally I would start with the wood elements, then choose the paint color, and finish up the design with hardware and drawer liners. Since I really wanted to be certain if we should stain the top along with the drawers — and how many of them should be stained vs painted — I decided to work backwards.

We picked the hardware and chose liners first. Now it was time for paint. We decided to go with Miss Mustards Seeds Trophy — one of my all time favorite grays.

Prep and Paint: How to Pull Off a Full-Coverage Milk Paint Finish

But first we needed to address the chipped veneer. If i was planning a rustic worn look I would have skipped this step, but we were going for a modern twist so I used my favorite filler: Bondo. I clean the piece, mixed Bondo, and filled the chipped areas. Once the Bondo was dry, I sanded.

Next, I prepped for a full-coverage milk paint finish. Milk paint chips by nature, so there are some additional steps you want to take for a full-coverage finish:

  1. Sand with 220-grit sandpaper.

  2. Clean.

  3. Add bond 50/50 to milk paint mix.

  4. Paint.

  5. Wait 12 hours.

  6. Paint second coat without bond.

With the body painted and the drawers still original, I could decide if we needed to paint just the top drawers or leave them all wood, and whether to include the top in the staining portion.

Also, the hardware had arrived. I knew that would be a ton of work, so I wanted to get them installed. Plus, if I need to make minor adjustments, it would be easier if the drawers were not finished.

Hardware and Stain

For the hardware I made a template from paper to help line up the holes.

Tip - I recently found the most amazing tool that will allow you to complete this portion in a fraction of the time! And you will never have to hand make a template again.

Hardware Installed Image

With the handles installed, we decided to stain the top and all the drawers.

I wrapped the dresser in plastic to protect it while I stripped the top. I stripped the drawers as well.

Drawer with Stripper Image

Then I sanded. When using an orbital sander, I always follow up with hand-sanding.

Now for stain. I knew I needed to dye this wood. I wanted the grain to be the showcase and there is no better product than GF Dye Stain to do so.

The only things to consider is that it’s hard to test this on an actual project. It’s like ink, and is completely absorbed into the wood. You will have to test on a different piece of wood. Also, once you dye wood, it’s done. There is no sanding it off and changing your mind.

I was positive, however, and I wanted something medium so it was an easy choice: Medium Brown.

  1. Use a foam brush to apply.

  2. Wipe off excess with a clean rag.

  3. Dry for 24 hours

Next, I needed to choose a top coat.

Disaster Strikes

I really wanted to use Arm R Seal. Two reasons: First, this top coat soaks into the wood for a hand-rubbed finish. Second, it ambers, which enhances the color and — in this case — the grain we just beautifully highlighted.

Look how it changes with the top coat!

Arm R Seal Image

It seemed to all be going as planned ... until the top coat.

I did a few coats, but was not getting my usual results on the top.

Notice how ...

Honestly, I sort of panicked. But one of the many reasons I love GF is they answer user questions! I sent pictures via Facebook and asked for their advice.

I had two ideas in my mind, but wanted them to confirm. Either I didn’t have enough product on the piece, or some sort of silicone was on the wood. (Silicone and other contaminants can be left on furniture, even after stripping and sanding.) Thankfully, they told me what I was hoping to hear: more product. I added several more coats and it turned out perfectly.

Now with the wood perfect, I lightly sanded my paint with a 220 sanding pad, and sealed it with wax.

Tip: If you wanted a slightly darker color, use hemp oil instead of wax to seal.

I reinstalled the hardware and lined the drawers.

A Beautiful Dresser and Contest Winner!

This is one of those pieces I wished was mine! It turned out absolutely gorgeous. I knew it would be a lot of work between stripping, sanding, and staining all the drawers and the top — and the meticulous job to install the new hardware. But it was truly worth it in the end!

When GF announced they had added a Dye Stain Category this year, I knew I wanted to enter this project. By the cut-off date for entries, there were so many amazing pieces I wasn’t super confident. I was, of course, delighted to hear later that this one took third place!

And (hint, hint) I’m looking forward to working with General Finishes more in the near future!


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