In this post: Have you got a dark piece of furniture that could use an update? Try using DIY paint to convert a men’s chest into a pretty white dresser. ⇒
The first brushstroke is always the hardest…
…because that’s the one that commits you to the project.
Once you get started, there’s only one direction to go, and that’s forward. For this reason, for so many endeavors, once you’re into it, it gets easier. You find your voice, your flow, your whatever-you-want-to-call-it, but the most difficult aspect is overcoming the inertia and indecision that prevents you from getting going in the first place.
Such is the case with painting a piece of furniture, especially one that’s made of quality wood.
Why Paint a Piece of Furniture?
I’ve never been a person that’s against the idea of covering real stained wood, and yet most of my painting projects have included pieces that were already painted or were not solid wood.
Those were items that were easy to take a brush to, because I never had to worry that I was destroying their value. They were either new pieces with poor ‘manufactured’ faux-painting techniques, or they were pieces my parents had owned and my dad had already had a go at. (Painting furniture apparently runs in our family… ;-)).
But our bedroom set was a completely different issue. It is a quality set that we’ve had for years. It provides the perfect storage for the items we own and I’d hate to get rid of it for functional reasons. It’s in perfect condition, even after all these years.
That said, I truly dislike the look of a matched set, and I’m no great fan of dark wood in my home, especially when used for so many large pieces in one room.
Decide on Your Strategy
I made the decision to update the set a while ago, when I first tackled the nightstands. My plan was to use paint to differentiate the pieces, which while part of a set, already had decorative details unique to each item.
These storage pieces all had a similar shape and identical hardware, but by far the most unifying aspect was the wood quality and tone.
So that was the element I would target.
My plan was to paint each set of pieces a different color, with possibly a different technique, then replace the hardware with something exclusive to that item. So the nightstands were done in a flat natural color with ring pulls and the next component to address is the one I’m sharing with you today…
The tall chest.
The features that are unique to this item are the flat fluted side columns, the bun feet and the decorative appliqué details at the top corners that are not present on the other pieces in the set. These features made this item feel a bit more feminine and so I decided to play that up.
Supplies for the Project
With the plan in place, the next step was to gather my materials. If you embark on a project like this, here is what you will need. Painting with chalk paint is incredibly simple and it’s the quality of paint that matters most. My paint of choice comes from Pure & Original. I love the velvety finish that their Classico Chalk Based Paint yields. It’s easy to work with and comes in a lovely array of colors.
Of course you need a plain wooden paint mixer and a brush. I use a round brush from Pure & Original, as well. And I have a nifty paint can opener that I use to easily pry off the lids. I find this little tool to be utterly amazing!
If you’re doing one flat color, then that’s all the paint you need. No primer necessary with this paint. But if you’ll be doing some antiquing, select a range of colors and include a sponge and some rags for blending.
Whether flat or antiqued, I finish all projects with Pure & Original’s clear Classico Italian Wax.
Finally, if your piece has hardware, you’ll need a screwdriver to remove it. I use simple trash bags as my drop cloth (I re-use them over and over) and that’s about it.
The painting process itself is very straightforward. I pull the piece away from the wall and slip the drop cloth underneath. After removing the hardware, I wipe down the surface to clear away any dirt and debris. No scrubbing, no sanding, no primer needed. Just a quick wipe down is enough.
Then I pull the drawers out and start with the first coat. If you’re doing several colors for an antiqued look, start with the darkest color first, and then build lighter from there, but in this case I went with a flat single color, Bone Classico, so I brushed on the first coat, let it dry, and then went back with a second coat. Given the dark tone of the wood and the light color I was painting, I opted to add a third flat coat. This isn’t always necessary, particularly when you’re building layers of antiquing on top, but for a smooth flat look in a very light color, a third coat offers more dense coverage.
Finally, I painted on a coat of clear wax and let it dry overnight, then buffed it lightly in the morning. This protective coat is essential and should not be skipped.
How Do You Know When You’re Done?
I’ve often heard variations of the quote that ‘pieces of art are never finished, they are simply abandoned’, and that certainly applies here. The spirit of the quote meaning that the creative process is never-ending and a work can be altered endlessly.
Even with the final coat of wax applied and dried, I often continue adding more layers on top, if I see any show through, or decide to add texture or distressing.
In the case of my tall dresser, I’m still not sure if I’ll leave it in a single flat color or if perhaps I might add some highlights on top. I like the clean crisp look of the flat color, but since the nearby nightstands are also painted flat, and the colors, while different, are not as divergent as I’d hoped, adding lighter brushwork on the raised surfaces would help add definition, along with a unique identity. You can see how I used the technique of layered whites on this small chest of drawers.
Whatever I decide, when I add paint on top, another layer of wax is required.
Embellishments and Hardware
What I especially love about this lightened dresser is the addition of decorative hardware that is altogether distinct from any other in the room. The character of the knobs is more feminine and flourished than what I used on the nightstands and this goes a long way to set them apart and diversify the look.
The last two pieces in this bedroom suite are two very tall slim chests, and those will be adorned with yet another type of pull (as well as a darker paint color).
You can also embellish furniture with overlays and appliqués, along with decoupage and gilded trim. I chose to stay simple with this project, but those are always options.
The finished piece adds a breath of freshness to the room, as the bulky dresser feels so much lighter and hence smaller. It also aligns better with the design sensibility of the space, more modern French than heavy British colonial.
As always, each update that I make spurs on other ideas, and next my sights are set on replacing the pale green carpet. A jute rug will be just the thing.
But first… I must tackle those two remaining dark chests!
Additional Painting Tips
- Test a Small Area:
- Always do a test patch on an inconspicuous area to check the color and texture before painting the entire piece.
- Apply Thin Coats:
- Apply thin, even coats of chalk paint. Multiple thin coats are better than one thick coat.
- Use a Quality Brush or Roller:
- Invest in a good-quality brush or roller designed for chalk paint to achieve a smooth finish.
- Paint in the Right Conditions:
- Paint in a well-ventilated area.
- Avoid painting in extreme heat or cold, as it can affect the paint’s drying and curing.
- Allow Proper Drying Time:
- Let each coat dry thoroughly before applying the next one.
- Follow the manufacturer’s recommended drying times.
- Reattach Hardware:
- After the paint and sealant have dried completely, reattach (or replace) any hardware or knobs.
- Clean Up Properly:
- Clean your brushes and tools immediately after use with soap and water (if using water-based paint) or according to the paint manufacturer’s instructions.
- Dispose of Waste Responsibly:
- Dispose of paint cans and other waste materials in accordance with local regulations.
To get the look, click on the items below for direct links to the products. Where actual items were no longer available, I’ve provided similar options. If an item is out of stock but may be restocked, I left it on the list.
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