Restoring a Vintage Dresser

Renewed vintage dresser

This dresser only looks like a simple project!  It is really a testament to just how much work it can take to renew a great piece of vintage furniture. And this is truly vintage furniture, a label on the inside of the fram said it was made in the 1940’s. Getting this piece back to respectability was quite an undertaking, and once again I forgot to take a “before” picture!!  But, you’ll get the idea if you read on!I used my chalk paint recipe to make a so-light-gray-its-almost-white paint to use on this dresser. There is so much horizontal detailing that I wanted to keep the colors simple. So a glazed light gray seemed the perfect color to show off the detail without being completely obnoxious about it.Although I started off painting the hardware silver, I decided to go with the dark oiled bronze because it looked better with the glazing.  But before I could even think about painting, I had lots of sanding to remove the old shellac finish, and a ton of repairs!


The first step was to remove the back; it was attached with only two screws at the top, which made the entire dresser a wobbly, creaky thing. Well, this back is about 1.25 inches of paneled hardwood, and had a cool locking pole attached to one side. It’s now almost a mirror for my living room but that’s another post (wait until you see it!) Suffice it to say that it was too pretty to put on the BACK of something where it would never get seen, so I replaced it with quarter inch luan instead. Two nice projects for the price of one is always a good deal!!  Once the luan was secured to the frame with wood screws, the dresser was much more stable.

Repairing the rail on a vintage dresserThe next big issue with this piece was that the nifty railing on the top was missing some pieces, and had broken off in a few places. Initially I thought I would just try to find some wooden balls and bits to replace it, but couldn’t find anything that matched closely enough. So I had to shorten the rail on the sides of the dresser, then use the part I cut off to repair the rail pieces I could use. First, I had to deconstruct all the rails without causing any further damage (yay, I did it!). Then I replaced the missing balls, cut a few of the lintels, drilled them, fit them, and glued them in place. Then I reattached the bottom piece to the dresser top, and reassembled the railing again. Quite a process, and lots of time spent waiting on glue to dry, but this dresser would have lost all it’s pizzazz without that railing!  And restoring a vintage dreseer means keeping the details that make it so awesome. Once the rail was reassembled, I reattached it to the dresser with dowels, glue, and a clamping overnight to ensure it adhered.
The last bit of attention to the drawers was sanding off the drips after painting. Paint on the edges of the drawers will make them stick, so the sides shouldn’t be painted, and if you drip when painting, then it needs to be sanded off. Honestly, with the chalk paint, its faster to just let it dry and sand it off, rather than taping off edges, etc. Besides, I absolutely detest taping things off. I like pulling the tape off even less! Sanders are your friends when restoring a vintage dresser!

When the repairs were finally done, I applied two coats of paint (cuz there is no such thing as one coat coverage, ever!) using a sponge roller.I wanted a really smooth finish, which is a bit different for me, I usually like to have brush strokes to grab the glaze. But because of the level of detail, I wanted a smooth finish. Once it was dry, I glazed all of the carved and routed Glazed details on a repaired vintage dresserdetailing on the dresser. There is a LOT of horizontal detail on this piece, which made for really strong lines, and I didn’t let the glaze out of the detail, so there is a distinct contrast between the light gray and the almost-black glaze.  Then the entire dresser was clear-coated and waxed to seal the finish. When I put on the hardware, which I originally painted silver, it straight up didn’t work with the black, so I repainted the hardware in a dark oil-rubbed bronze finish.  The glaze also helped the detail on the railing to pop a bit, and overall I think it came out pretty well. I like the contrasting colors, and how the detail pops.  And here she is, functional and pretty, and good for another 70 years!