Don’t judge a book by its cover. That’s what mom always taught us right? Ok so let’s be honest here.. Painted furniture sells. Most of the time, when I buy a piece, there is so much damage I have every intention of painting it. In this world of disposable everything, I try really hard to take something broken and battered and make it beautiful and relevant again. That means painting it. But occasionally, you pick up a piece, and come to realize that under the layers of ugly, there is truly something remarkable.
Take this antique dresser for example. I was working in my studio, and my dad calls. He’d gone to an Estate Sale and found this dresser. Antique, solid wood, and UGLY. In looking at the pictures he’d sent me, I saw great potential for a little paint, perhaps some decoupage on the flat front drawers, or maybe a transfer. What I did not see was surprising. Maybe it was time to remember ‘Don’t judge a book by it’s cover.’
So, my son drives over with me to pick the piece up. The picture my dad sent me made it look WAY better than it was. To say that it was gross was an understatement. One of the wooden casters was broken and there was this filth all over it. This filth was caked on over the years, and hardened into an alligator skin like coating.
My son and I carry it out of the house, and set it in their front yard. The sun was at just the right angle, I saw something. Something perhaps amazing. We hurriedly put it into the back of the truck and drove off into the sunset. My excitement was mounting at the thought of taking off that nastiness to see what lay beneath.
Now normally, I’d get out the old stripper and strip it all down, however, I knew that I didn’t want to disturb any stain, or the veneer. I wanted to take off the nasty, so that I could see what was underneath, without disturbing what was underneath. But how?!
So I shared a picture in my Facebook group ( Furniture Rehab Bootcamp), and asked about taking a finish off, without getting into what was underneath. Chasity Jones DeGroat of the Junkin’ Jones Gang suggested that I try a 50/50 mix of Denatured Alcohol and Lacquer Thinner. So off to my local Ace I went! In addition to the 50/50 ingredients I also picked up some heavy duty chemical resistant gloves, 0000 steel wool, and a respirator. You can find these products much cheaper on Amazon if you’re willing to have them shipped! I’ve compiled a list of the items here!
The idea behind this mix is that it takes off that alligator skin finish, while leaving everything underneath untouched. The grossness all over this dresser was most likely caused by years of smoking and cleaning with silicone based products like Pledge.
The whole process is actually pretty simple. I mixed the Denatured Alcohol and Lacquer Thinner in a metal bowl, used my gloved hands to dip in the steel wool and began to scrub. Have something handy to wipe the mess away pretty quickly. I use blue shop towels – they’re really absorbent and don’t leave lint. The mixture evaporates fast, so scrub a little, and then wipe off, or you’ll just have to keep scrubbing the same spot over and over.
Once I began scrubbing, something amazing was peaking through! An awesome burl walnut veneer was being hidden by all the grime, and it was gorgeous! It took some elbow grease but I scrubbed every square inch and revealed a true beauty, worthy of restoration! I re-sealed the piece with multiple coats of Minwax Wipe On Poly, to insure that the piece would last another 100 years.
The original drawer pulls were actual brass, so of course I had to save those too! I soaked them in a mix of hot water, vinegar and a few drops of Dawn dish soap. Once the water had cooled, I used a children’s soft bristled toothbrush, and gently scrubbed the black off. They were amazingly beautiful!
Lastly, I dug through my ‘Box O’ Goodies’ and found a matching antique caster to replace the broken one.
While I may decide to paint the plain trim in the future, there is NO WAY I’ll cover up that beautiful grain! If I do, infact, paint the case, I’ll use Dixie Belle Paints, which you can find here.
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