Before and After: Painted Dresser

Yes, you read that correctly: painted dresser. Those of you who know me well know I’m a purist and you’ve probably endured one of my rants on the evils of painting mid-century furniture—and you’re probably wondering if I’ve had a stroke or been replaced by my evil twin. Nope. It’s the real me. While I generally prefer mid-century modern furniture to remain in its unadulterated original form or to be restored as close to original as possible, occasionally some pieces are too damaged to be worth the work of a total restoration. That was the case with this dresser.

BeforeThis before picture probably doesn’t look all that bad to you. When I saw a similar picture of it on Craigslist advertising it for $40, I didn’t think so either. In person, however, this little chest had several missing pieces of veneer from the drawer fronts. Large, noticeable missing pieces. At the time I told myself I’d just fill them in or splice in some new veneer. But as time passed my desire to enact any of those solutions was waning against the probability that they would yield less than satisfactory results. The devil’s last resort? Paint.

But if I was going to paint this, I wasn’t going to paint any more than was absolutely necessary to correct the damage. And it would need to look like it could have always been painted since the day it was new—not a trendy chevron-striped nightmare. I created a plan to paint the lower drawer front and arched appliqués on the upper drawers bone white. With that plan, I set to work.

Kwik_WoodFirst, I needed to fix the missing veneer. If I were finishing this, I would normally use color-matched wood filler. But since this was going to be painted, I chose a faster and stronger alternative, J-B Weld KwikWood. This stuff is great. You simply cut off a chunk, kneed it in your hands until it’s uniform in color, apply to the area to be fixed and it’s hardened and ready to sand smooth in less than an hour. This gets hard as rock, so avoid using too much as it can be a pain to sand the excess level with the wood.

KwikWood pressed into place

KwikWood pressed into place

KwikWood after sanding

KwikWood after sanding

Now on to masking. Since I was painting a relatively small surface area on each drawer, I decided to use spray paint instead of latex. This would ensure there would be no brush marks or sticking of drawers. The flat drawers only needed cling wrap to mask off the drawer interiors from overspray. The top drawers, however, required some fancy taping. Whenever you’re masking off a curved area, it’s a good idea to have some 1/4″ tape on hand. It is easier to bend and using a small tool like a flathead screwdriver can help get into the shape you need. I used paper to mask off the flat areas.

Thin painters tape and a flathead screwdriver were my best friends on this

Thin painters tape and a flathead screwdriver were my best friends on this

Ready!

Ready!

And after a few quick coats of bone white spray paint, I had created this:

After

Ok, there were actually a few more steps to it than that. I rejuvenated the finished wood with Watco Danish Oil and I clear-lacquered the hardware to give it a new glossy sheen. In the end it all comes together to make something really special. While I’m not a fan of painting furniture in most cases, I love how this came out. It looks like it was meant to be. The key was to develop a scheme that complemented the wood and design rather than competing with them.

After_Arches_DetailThis project may have given a new lease on life to a couple other sad cases I’ve got sitting around. I’ll be less trepidatious in the future when it comes to those pieces of furniture that, unfortunately, refinishing simply cannot save. Touché, paint. Touché.

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2 Comments

  1. Posted August 28, 2013 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

    I could not believe you decided to paint that at first, but literally gasped out loud at how awesome it looks. (literally Gasped Out Loud. GOL, if you will.)

    One more for the Win column.

    • Austin
      Posted September 17, 2013 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

      Thanks Deb! Painting is a tough choice for me as I see it done so often with no regard for the piece’s original character. Plus I spent a lot of my childhood years stripping paint from antique furniture—it’s the worst. But this exercise helped me understand that when it must be done, it can be done without destroying all of the character.

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