In this post: Want to update an antique dresser for a modern French look? Check out this DIY makeover of a vintage french painted dresser for our upstairs hallway.⇒
They all thought I was crazy.
When I told everyone I wanted to keep my mother’s large dark wood dresser from the bedroom set she and my dad bought when they got married, that’s the reaction I got.
“Where are you going to put that??”
I think they all envisioned a doily filled room with afghan blankets and cut velvet upholstery. Of course, to be fair, perhaps they envisioned that because that’s what it was surrounded by in my parents’ house.
But I had other plans.
From the beginning, I had a vision and I was very aware that no one in my orbit could see it. Even my sister-in-law, who has very good taste and a sense for these things, just couldn’t see past how the dresser looked in my parents’ home.
Now, I know there are those of you who will be horrified at the thought of taking a paint brush to a vintage cherry mahogany dresser. To be sure, the wood is gorgeous and the sheen quite lush.
But there was zero chance of me keeping it that way. It would have gone the route of much of the furniture, either donated or even tossed when no one would take it. (I promise you, it’s heartbreakingly difficult to get rid of some things you would be amazed no one would take for free.)
So I spared the dresser and had it moved to my home. We have a large upstairs hallway and that’s where it sat for 6 months, waiting to be tended to. It looked rather obtrusive, even though there was plenty of room for it, further convincing me of why I wanted it painted.
And finally, I found the time.
The first thing I did was wipe down the piece to make sure it was free of dirt and debris. Then I took off those lovely ornate pulls, revealing the shiny brass that was still visible on the under side. I intended to keep these and re-use them again, so I shined up the fronts, taking care to leave lots of dark patina in the recesses.
Next came the paint.
I’ve only attempted one other furniture painting project, but I was encouraged by the results since I loved the paint quality so much. That was a tiny painted table and I was delighted by the outcome. So as I approached this much more encompassing project, I knew exactly who to turn to.
As with my little table, the paint was supplied by Pure & Original paint. I chose 3 colors from their Classico Chalk Based Paint line, to layer for depth. The texture of the paint is just wonderful, providing a velvet powdery, matte finish when all is dry. It’s easy to work with because of its rich consistency and the vibrant color selection is exceptionally broad.
For the base layer I used Soft Taupe Classico. I painted on 2 flat coats for complete coverage and the color looked so pretty in our hallway space that I actually considered leaving it that way. This would be a perfectly good option for a more modern look, but I wanted the depth of a color mix that a vintage piece deserved.
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For my second layer I chose Calm Classico and this is the point where it gets a little tricky. You kind of have to find ‘your voice’ when painting in layers and it took me a little bit to get into the groove. I’d say it took me exactly one full drawer front to get it right, but the beauty of layering paint is you can simply paint over your mistakes.
Once I found my technique I just followed it all the way through and ultimately went back and painted the first drawer over, adding another layer of the flat base color first.
I used mostly a wash of the second color, thinning the paint with water and then rubbing some off after application with a soft cloth. I then went back in with a little dry brush after the wash.
It’s truly like a dance and I was using both hands, taking care to apply enough paint to make a difference, but not so much to appear blotchy. My goal was to achieve a soft effect, with enough layering for interest but to evoke a natural aged-over-time look.
The overall impression I was after was a timeworn white. The third color I added is Milk White Classico and I used this top layer very sparingly. Instead of brushing it on all over the piece, I used it to tease out the highlights, so abundant in a piece rife with sinewy curves. Again I used a combination of wash and dry brush and mostly followed the lines of the furniture.
To further bring out the French flourishes of this particular dresser, I borrowed a glazing technique from my friend Cindy from Edith and Evelyn Vintage, since I’ve never worked with a dark wax. She recommends creating a homemade glaze using thinned acrylic paint in Burnt Umber and that’s exactly what I did, working it into the recesses to enhance the shadows.
The final step was applying clear wax and for that I used Pure & Original Classico Italian Wax. I brushed it on quite liberally and let it dry overnight, then came back and buffed it in the morning to achieve a light sheen.
I put back the newly polished hardware and all was complete.
The piece is a wonderful addition to our upstairs hallway adding tons of storage to supplement our closets. It is far less prominent in the lighter color and provides a lovely place for styling pretty vignettes.
Of course, now I’m looking at the other dark piece in the space and thinking something has to change there, as well… 😉
It’s actually hard to believe this is the same piece that sat in my parents’ bedroom, but I know my mom would’ve loved it as she loved painted furniture. In fact my dad had painted their matching headboard years ago.
Not so crazy after all…
Painted Dresser Resource List
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Or if you prefer already painted furniture, you might like some of these options:
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