Vintage French Painted Dresser and Upstairs Hallway Reveal
In this post: Want to update an antique dresser for a modern French look? See how I transformed a vintage 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.
Have you received my FREE eBook, “A Year of Seasonal Decor”? Sign up below for the free download!
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…
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.
(This post contains some affiliate links for your convenience. Click here to read my full disclosure policy.)
Have you visited the Designthusiasm shop? Click below to shop my favorites, my Instagram and my Amazon shop. Enjoy!!
subscribe to our newsletter and RECEIVE OUR FREE GUIDE “20 WAYS TO UPDATE YOUR HOME”
Are you following Designthusiasm on social media? Please join us at the links below:
Pinterest | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter
You did a wonderful job. As I’ve told you before, you have been such a good daughter. I know the heartbreak that comes from parting with some of your mom’s things when there is just no more room to hang on to the past. Your dresser makes a wonderful memory you will see every day.
Thank you for your kind words and you so understand exactly what these pieces mean… 🙂
Most of my antiques have their original finish, which I love, but that dresser was too dark for your space. I wonder if a little of that burnt umber glaze on the gold mirror would damp down it’s newish look a bit?
So funny to hear that because that mirror is from the 1800’s! LOL… so not so new.
Has it been re-gilded? Perhaps it is just the lighting for the photo that makes it look so bright?
Probably the lighting. I doubt it was ever re-gilded. It came from Europe and you can see all the red base paint and cracks.
love it! great job! laura
Thank you, Laura!!
You are a genius in my mind and did an amazing job on the dresser. I think the piece could even be used in a large dining room. What a traggic loss it would of been to part with such a good piece with wonderful features. Vision and courage are a wonderful thing!
Thank you so much!! I actually would have loved to use it in our dining room, because that’s where I could really use the storage, but I think it’s too large.
It is stunning. I’m so glad you could see the beauty.
Thank you so very much!!
Lovely transformation Lory. We have a very similar bedroom suite with dressing table, tallboy ,bedside cabinets and a bedhead all the mahogany. I would love to have it painted French antique but my husband is not in agreement. The handles are the same as your too. Oneday!
I did consider taking all the other pieces from my parents, but I had nowhere else to put them. I did take the nightstands but recently (as in 2 days ago) gave them to my sister-in-law. Meanwhile, the bedroom furniture in our master is still dark wood. I would love to paint it, but I’m not sure I will.
Wow, this was a labor of love for sure! Your talents always amaze me. I love the colors of the dresser and how you shaded them to add depth. Over the moon on this one!
Hi Lori, What a perfect and timely post. I am toying with the idea of using different greys and a white wax on a beautiful, buffet and hutch , but have been too intimidated and nervous to do it . Thank you, I am inspired to go with my instinct !
Go for it! The beauty of paint is you can keep going over it until you get it right… 🙂
Lovely job. I am completing a paint project of my own. It is the base to our 40 year old Ethan Allen hutch. Two years ago I eliminated the colonial looking hutch top with an idea of painting the base. Well, I finally grabbed the bull by the horns and have painted it a beautiful grey-blue. I am applying the final coat of paint today, and I have selected new hardware. I have a large kitchen, and it holds our wedding china and glassware. The drawers hold our charging cords, I-pods, etc. It has been a project that took much less time and supplies than I thought. It brightens up the whole room. Why did I wait so long??
I know that exact feeling!! Once I get going, I wonder why I didn’t start sooner. Your project sounds lovely!
Your dresser looks fantastic!! You certainly have an eye that looks well beyond what others might see in something. I envy your upstairs hallway! Or should I just refer to it as another room?! There’s enough room there to host a party! You’ve given me inspiration to redo my old dresser. Have a lovely day!
Thank you for the kind words! And yes, this is the first time I’ve ever had a hallway like that. You should see the hallway in our old house. It was claustrophobic!
This is absolutely gorgeous. Definitely pinning this for future reference. Thank you!
Aww thanks so much!
Thank you so much!!
i love where you put it and how you are using it….my mom’s furniture was all country french provincial as well: master bedroom parlor and dining room. so i’ll have a lot to work when some day. as far as the finish, i’m sure it is nice but it photographs like it just has primer on it. probably the camera lens. just looks unfinished. did you notice this as well, from the photos? maybe it’s just me! haha
Hmmm… that’s interesting. You should be able to see the multi layers of dark and light paint. I don’t use primer btw. Do you not see a difference between the 5th, 6th and 7th photos? Photo number 5 is just the flat bottom layer, then in number 6 I start adding in the highlights and shadows and number 7 shows it finished with the buffed wax.
In any case, I’m glad you like the way it’s used, and how wonderful that you have French furniture in the family! 🙂
I like the finished dresser, but I think that piece was to nice to cover it with paint
Thank you and I understand you feel that way, but since I would have thrown it out the way it was, it made more sense to paint it.
If I had needed to be convinced, you would have just convinced me! 🙂 Your piece is gorgeous now and so perfect for your space. It IS amazing how hard it is to give away lovely but out of style furniture. You’ve inspired me to paint some of my beautiful old pieces! Thanks and Happy Monday!
Thanks Barbara! It took me so long to get started but now I’m hooked… 🙂
I love how well your parents dresser came out. I love traditional furniture, with European styling my favorite. I always love a beautifully painted piece which you definitely achieved.
I think some pieces in a room need to be “brown” to add warmth and visual interest to the decor. I’m not against painting furniture but a balance of painted and wood toned furniture is ideal in my book!
Great job Lory!
Oh my goodness….it is gorgeous! Fits in your home perfectly but still has all the memories from your parents.
I’m in the “it’s ok to paint it” camp, especially if it has a cherry or the really bad yellowish-greenish beigey finish.
My parents had the same, or very close to it, set. I donated all of it, but wish I had kept some of the pieces. It was super heavy and well made and would have made for a great project like you did.
Love it! I have one like that also painted a very pale gray green, and a tall chest as well. Then I kept painting and painted a desk, chair, and bedside table a neutral creamy color. I have painted a lot of my furniture to update it but still have wood finish pieces mixed in.
The dresser is beautiful. You did an amazing job and I’m so glad you kept it. French provincial furniture has such beautiful lines and details.
Thank you so much!
Sorry, but since you asked, I think you ruined the dresser! It had a lovely finish before, but now it looks flat and lifeless. I am anxious for this fad of amateur paint jobs on gorgeous furniture to die a natural death. Hopefully, the next generation will appreciate and seek out the few remaining pieces of beautiful wood furniture that haven’t been ruined with paint.
How rude. It turned out beautiful.
Thank you for the kind words, Lorrie… 🙂
(As for the previous commenter, not only did I not “ask”, but I also tried to head off such comments by addressing why I painted it. Why anyone would think it’s better to throw out a piece than to alter it to your taste is beyond me.)
Painting that piece of furniture the way you did kept it’s beauty & matched perfectly with the mirror. Looks absolutely beautiful!
Thank you so much, Sally!
I love it! You did a marvelous job. I purchased an ornate Victorian hutch years ago from an antique shop for a pretty sum and keep thinking I want to use a similar technique on it, but I keep getting pushback, lol. I don’t know how it would look, but we no longer live in a 100-year-old house with the original oak floors and woodwork, where it looked like it fit. Now we are in a 20-year-old open-floor plan with tile and hand-rubbed wood floors and ceiling to floor windows. You’re giving me courage to just do it!
Thank you! Have you painted any other furniture? Why not try your technique on something smaller first and if that works out, then go for it. Your furniture is there to serve you… 🙂
Thanks for your suggestion. I will!
My mother had that (almost) exact same dresser in a light brown. It looks LOVELY in the new color/paint scheme you did. I wish I had the dresser but my daughter has it now. I’ve sent her a picture of the after shot, but she’s not into French Country like I am. Thank you for all the fun ideas!
Well, at least she’s enjoying it… 🙂
Lory, you have truly inspired me!
I too have been paralyzed by the thought of painting several pieces for fear of gettng it wrong. I’ve actually parted with some pieces thinking I had too many unused pieces and projects.
I’ve done a few pieces decades ago, but for some unknow reason I just have not taken the leap to try it again. I have bought latex paint after reading some “experts” say they no longer use chalk paint. But the paint sits. I will invest in this paint after reading and seeing your results.
After reading your step by step tutorial about your little side table and now the dresser I am truly confident I can do this again.
I just have to wait for the snow storm to allow me to reclaim the garage for the the projects. I have a french dining table with leaf, six chairs to do, a dresser, two night stands, several chairs, and miscellaneous side tables. Oh and a dining server piece with those flip open top pieces.
I just want to say thank you for your testimonial and pictures, they look beautiful. And I am one who believes your dad knows you are enjoying the redone piece. Sorry for your loss, Lory. I lost my mom to covid last January.
She had antique stained several pieces I own now. And I’m so glad I do. Oh yeah, that secretary she did I want to redo. Something caused the paint to peel up during the holiday entertaining. I think the amount of pieces I have has overwhelmed me as well. One step and piece at a time and it will get done.
Thank you so much for your comment, Diane, and for your kind words! I’m so glad you feel inspired!! I definitely agree, just take it one piece at a time. I, too, am now going to attack my bedroom set. I’ve never liked that the pieces all match so I will be doing the various pieces in different colors and techniques, but I will approach them one project at a time – first the night stands… 🙂
I’m sorry for your loss too, but how nice that you have your mom’s pieces and can enjoy them. ❤️
So much work put into the piece. Very happy it turned out to be a lovely asset to your home with sentimental value as well. Best of luck with your next endeavor!
I don’t understand why some are so against painting things like real wood furniture or brick. The piece is still a solid quality piece of furniture. You embellished a wonderful piece of furniture! Wood is great in itself but especially the mahogany reddish wood can be very dark in a room. You did a wonderful job at making it better. It’s just paint!
We painted our ‘pink’ brick white and I’d never go back!!
I’m saving those lamps in hopes I can get them later..so pretty!!
Thanks so much, and I agree about not understanding the aversion to paint… 🙂
I love your Blog! I read it daily. I have a dark wood dresser identical to the one you painted that I’m contemplating painting white also.
I have a suggestion, I hope you don’t mind. I feel that you should paint your banister white as well. Not antiqued but a semi-gloss to match your crown molding. You have a beautiful home.
Thank you for the kind words and no, I don’t mind a suggestion at all. The bannister is definitely not staying the way it is, but I’ve got a couple of options that I’m choosing between. I got a high gloss lacquer type paint that I was considering in a very dark color which would then have white spindles, or I could do all white, but lately I’m thinking of replacing it altogether with an iron railing. Not sure yet… 😉
Very pretty transformation, especially with your decor style. I cannot part with good wood pieces, either. They are irreplaceable.
Wow, what a stunning makeover! You’ve inspired me to finally tackle refinishing our dining room sideboard. I know you said it’s not necessary to sand and prime when using chalk paint, but what about furniture polish, specifically Pledge. Do I need to do anything about that first? Thanks for the inspiration and help!!
I love makeovers and that dresser surely works. Light and airy is the theme for hot summer days and it would work year round too. Thanks for all the tips.