Décor & Home

How to Refurbish a Mid-Century Dresser

Dresser-Header-Image.jpg

I've gone through pretty much every conceivable furniture era when it comes to refurbishing, with some pretty "meh" results, some of which are in my living room right now begging to be put out of their misery. But let's not dwell. Through that trial and error, I've found that the most rewarding (and easiest! Yay!) refurb projects have been mid-century style furniture. They tend to be very simple and boxy, which makes them an ideal blank canvas!

1-Before

So here's our beautiful little fount of potential, twenty bucks straight from the local Goodwill. When you find that perfect piece, give it a little test before totally committing - it's like dating before saying "I do." Test their sturdiness and open their drawers (this metaphor may be working a little TOO well). This one was in pretty decent condition save some cosmetic damage and evidence of a mouse family (turds, people. Turds everywhere...) I definitely don't promise furniture refurb won't disgusting sometimes!

Here's what you'll need for a happy refurb relationship:

  • Belt sander  Link is to what I used
  • 80 grit and around 240 grit sandpaper
  • Wood filler (if needed)
  • Screwdriver for removing drawer hardware
  • New drawer hardware (if you want to change it. I did for this project)
  • Mild cleaner and rags/paper towels
  • Small paint roller and tray
  • High quality synthetic brush
  • Paint of choice (I use high-quality latex paint)
  • Painter's tape
  • Polycrylic

Those are the basics! But the hardest part honestly is DECIDING what to to paint it. In the past I spent more time anguishing over color and stencils than actually doing anything, so I tried to think outside the box on this one. I don't wear dresses often, but I appreciate a good one, so why not take some inspiration from it? It makes a good excuse to online shop anyway.

Dress

I narrowed it down to this one because the geometric and crisp design still holds true to 50s style with a modern, worldly flair. I also dig white and gold. :)

The very first step is to remove all the drawers and hardware. I HIGHLY recommend doing the first few steps outside since you'll be sanding and spreading out everywhere.

2-Drawers

Most 50s furniture you'll find will have a coat of veneer, which is basically a very thin strip of finished wood that's adhered to the lower-quality wood that makes up the base. Usually there are problem areas where the veneer is too damaged to salvage, so you'll have to take it off. Some of it peeled off nicely for me while other strips were a bit more stubborn, so I (carefully) beat the crap out of them with a flathead screwdriver.

3-Damage

You can buy new veneer, but I chose to be impatient and just leave the areas where I had to take it all off bare. It was going to be painted anyway so it wouldn't be obvious.

Next, just sand the whole thing with the 80 grit paper. Just sand it. This will make you sore and cranky but it'll be SO WORTH IT. One, you will be able to smooth out smaller imperfections and two, veneer has a smooth, sometimes slightly textured finish that doesn't accept paint well. Just be sure to only sand the finish on the veneer and not the whole veneer itself. Below is a picture illustrating this. The lighter area is the veneer finish that I still had to sand. The darker part is the bare veneer itself.

Sanding

Once that's over with, collapse on the couch for a while, then get up and wipe it all down with some mild cleaner and rags/paper towels. This is also a great time to clean out the insides if they need it.

I brought it all inside for painting so it wouldn't dry too quickly in the sun. Before painting, though, I filled in a big scuff at the bottom with wood filler, which was the only place I needed it. Use a small paint roller for the large surfaces like the top and sides and the small brush for the little spots.

4-Brush

Once you have a couple coats of paint applied (or more, if needed), let it dry, then lightly sand it with the 240 grit sandpaper. I used a hand sander instead of a powered one since I didn't want to over-sand the paint. This process will give it a slightly smoother texture. Now you can apply the painter's tape. This is one of my favorite parts! You have a preview of how the finished product will look.

5-Tape

When you're happy with your tape placement, use a soft brush with just a LITTLE paint (gold acrylic in this case) and smear it on. You don't want to overload your brush or paint will seep under the tape and that is no bueno. You can pretty much instantly lift the tape off after painting; just go slowly and savor it. Then you can replace the drawer hardware.

6-Peel

Scramble to assemble the whole thing because you SERIOUSLY HAVE WAITED SO LONG FOR THIS MOMENT. Then sit and gaze upon it for as long as you need. Don't focus on little imperfections, just bask in the thing as a whole.

7-After

The last step is easy but takes some patient waiting: brush three coats of polycrylic on the top so it's protected from scuffs. Polycrylic is a water-based version of polyurethane that smells much less awful and cleans up with water.

I didn't do anything with the legs. I could, but I honestly don't hate the wood look of them. If that changes down the road and I feel ambitious, I'll give her some nice new shoes.

And that's it! The whole project took pretty much all weekend but didn't cost much more than the $20 for the dresser. It depends on what you already have and what you can bum off people. :)

I hope this gives you some inspiration to bring an old, forgotten, poop-laced furnishing back to its glory!