A Different Kind of Makeover

Colour Saturated Life | A Furniture Restoration

I promised a different kind of makeover today and I hope you won’t be disappointed with this one! I was emailed pictures of this dresser by my client and the story goes that her husband bought this dresser at a garage sale 15 years ago for $15 and has moved it around with him and stored it for most of that time. He really wanted to see it restored one day and that is where I come into the story 15 years later. I went to see the dresser to give a quote on the work and it was in bad shape, but I could see that as a whole it had the potential to be something special again.

Colour Saturated Life | A Furniture Restoration

The top was in terrible condition with stains and marks all over it, I was hoping it was mainly superficial but some of those darker marks looked fairly permanent.

Colour Saturated Life | A Furniture Restoration

I started by taking the dresser apart – removing all the hardware and the backboard and mirror supports (the mirror was also removed I just didn’t use it in the before picture as mirrors are a pain to photograph) then I stripped off all the original finish. I then washed it down with mineral turpentine and steel wool before letting the wood dry. Next I sanded it with 120 grit sandpaper on my power sander to remove any residual finish. I used wood filler to fill the holes from the old hardware. I then hand sanded with 100 grit sand paper and finally with 320 grit sand paper to get the wood smooth.

The wood was then stained with Feast Watson in Walnut which we chose to go with existing furniture in my clients home (the original wood was a honey colour). Finally the wood was coated in three coats of wax and buffed so it gave a light sheen. The hardware was replaced as it had an unmatching set (someone must have had to replace two handles at one point) I found these “vintage replica” handles with copper details that were quite similar to the originals and my client loved them.

Colour Saturated Life | A Furniture Restoration

The top came up beautiful with all marks removed. With the new stain and wax the wood grain in this looks breathtaking.

Colour Saturated Life | A Furniture Restoration

Colour Saturated Life | A Furniture Restoration

Colour Saturated Life | A Furniture Restoration

I think the handles pay homage to the era of the piece and give it the authenticity I was hoping for.

Colour Saturated Life | A Furniture Restoration

All the drawers were lined with fresh paper (I forgot to photograph those). Don’t you just love the little jewellery drawers on top? This is one place you can still see the shadow marks the original handles left behind.

Colour Saturated Life | A Furniture Restoration

Colour Saturated Life | A Furniture Restoration

Colour Saturated Life | A Furniture Restoration

The mirror was also replaced as the original had crazed over time so a fresh new bevelled edge mirror gives it that final finishing touch.

Colour Saturated Life | A Furniture Restoration Colour Saturated Life | A Furniture Restoration


Colour Saturated Life | A Furniture Restoration

Colour Saturated Life | A Furniture Restoration

I could stare at the grain in this wood all day.

Colour Saturated Life | A Furniture Restoration

Colour Saturated Life | A Furniture Restoration

I wasn’t expecting to love this project as much as others, I thought in a way I might be disappointed with the end result. I was wrong. This one is special, it took hours of hard work to get this wood looking beautiful again and I can say I have never felt more rewarded by a project. I am not going to tell you restoring a piece of vintage furniture is easy, it really is way more work than painting, but I have to say it is exceedingly more gratifying.

There is nowhere to hide when you restore wood….when you paint a piece of furniture you can just paint another coat to hide mistakes, or sand it back and try again. Wood restoration is less forgiving, there is a delicate balance you have to play with stripping and sanding so that you do not destroy or damage the wood. Sanding can be a deadly game to play and I have seen several pieces of furniture ruined by people who got overzealous with their sander. I have heard woodworkers call sanding “the devils work” and in a  way it is true. I don’t claim to be an expert on restoring wood furniture but I have learnt a lot of things over the years about how best to go about achieving a beautiful finish.

Ultimately it was my clients I had to impress. When the day came to deliver this dresser I was nervous, as it was the husband that I had to mainly please and men are hard to please at the best of times! However, the husbands passing words to me as we left their home were “you impressed me” – I don’t think you can get better feedback than that, to me that is high praise. Men are creatures of few words and those three words were all I needed.


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  • Janet A. - October 13, 2015 - 11:56 pm

    I tried to comment on this when it posted but my computer was not being very compliant. So, a half a world away, I recently bought a similar dresser. The restoration job you did on it is amazing! The wood on my dresser was in good shape, it just seemed dry, so I polished it with a beeswax mix of something and now one drawer seems cloudy. Any advice on how to fix it? The seller of my dresser was selling the mirror separately, so I didn’t buy it, even thought it pained me to split them up. Now I’m sort of wishing I had because I could have updated my bathroom mirror. (Updated it by taking it back a century, I mean. 🙂 ) My dresser is so plain and the accompanying mirror was crazy ornate! I’m amused by that contrast. And I don’t know what it is about these dressers with those seemingly random drawers making a multilevel surface, but they totally charm me!ReplyCancel

  • Darrielle Tennenbuam - October 9, 2015 - 1:34 am

    Gorgeous! Way to go and take the time to bring this back to like!ReplyCancel

    • Gilly - October 12, 2015 - 11:10 am

      Thanks Darrielle, was definitely worth it.ReplyCancel

  • Jamie | anderson + grant - October 8, 2015 - 9:14 am

    This is a beautiful piece of furniture. You did an amazing job bringing it back to life. More and more I’m being drawn to stained furniture when it looks like this.ReplyCancel

    • Gilly - October 12, 2015 - 11:11 am

      Thanks Jamie, yes I am with you, I am being drawn to stained furniture.ReplyCancel

  • leonor - October 7, 2015 - 6:41 pm

    Lovely, lovely
    There are pieces that is a crime to paint…
    I love paint and especially your work but wood is such a nive natural material.ReplyCancel

    • Gilly - October 12, 2015 - 11:12 am

      I agree Leonor but I appreciate that you can like both painted and unpainted pieces, there is a place for both.ReplyCancel

  • Last Minute Lynn - October 7, 2015 - 10:48 am

    I really like painted furniture, but some pieces are too beautiful to cover with paint. This is one of them. You did a fantastic restoration.ReplyCancel

    • Gilly - October 12, 2015 - 11:12 am

      Thanks Lynn and I agree with you.ReplyCancel

  • Sharon - October 7, 2015 - 10:32 am

    I love it! Such a beautiful job and I can totally relate to wanting to stare at that wood grain all day. You are so right about the extra care needed for staining wood – so unforgiving, but so worth the effort to get it right. Lovely work! ps. I’ve just subscribed. 😉ReplyCancel

    • Gilly - October 12, 2015 - 11:13 am

      Thanks Sharon and welcome to the community! xoReplyCancel

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