When I see a beautiful piece of unpainted furniture, I am often torn between wanting to keep the original wood, and wanting to paint it. Sometimes I make my decision based on the style of furniture. For example, something that screams 1970s is the worst of ways might look fresh and modern with a clean, glossy coat of paint. Other times, I find pieces that are so hopelessly beat up that only people who enjoy cruel and unusual punishment would attempt to refinish the wood.
That’s what happened when I stumbled upon this waterfall dresser on craigslist. It needed some serious help. Veneer was missing all over the place, the top had something crusted onto it, and a piece of the frame was missing between the top drawer and top of the dresser.
It was actually that missing piece that sold me. Seeing that 2 inch gap between the uppermost drawer and the dresser top made me realize just how much wasted space was in there. “I could do something with that space,” I thought to myself. So I went and picked her up in my trusty little Fiona Fit.
At first I planned to chip off all the veneer from the drawers and the top. That proved to be nearly impossible, even when I used vinegar mixes that were supposed to loosen the adhesive. I ended up sanding the veneer off the drawers. Underneath the veneer was some kind of porous wood that had holes all over it (not just grain, but real holes). I filled the holes with wood filler, sanded them, and repeated the process. I also used some wood glue and clamps to tighten the drawer joints a bit.
After tackling the drawers, I got to work on the frame. The first thing I did was remove the top by unscrewing all the places it was connected to the frame and using a rubber mallet to gently loosen any areas that were glued down. Because so much of the veneer was left on the top that I couldn’t chip off, I sanded it down with my power sander as much as possible and then used wood filler to level out the places where the veneer was missing. This took a lot of layers of wood filler and sanding to get a good smooth finish. I used a sanding wedge to try and get a level surface.
Once I had tackled the top, I got to work on constructing the replacement piece for the frame. I couldn’t find 2 inch molding in the style I needed, so I glued two pieces of small dental molding and a couple pieces of wood from Home Depot together to make the top piece. Then I drilled a pocket hole with my mini kreg jig on either side so that I could attach the new piece to the frame. I also filled any cracks in my puzzle of molding to make it look like one piece. I used Kregg screws to attach the piece to the frame.
Then came the fancy part. I decided to build a shelf in the top of the dresser to utilize all that dead space at the top. To do this, I had pieces of wood cut the size of the inside of the frame, drilled pocket holes in the them, and screwed them into the frame. Then I had a piece of higher-quality plywood cut to slightly smaller than the inside of the frame. When I got home, I used my Dremel Multimax saw attachment to cut out corners in the shelf to accommodate the four corners of the frame. To hide the gaps between the frame and the shelf, I cut small pieces of molding and glued them along the frame. It was a process, but it was oh-so-satisfying once I finished. Unfortunately I was so focused on building that I did not take a single picture of the process. Fail.
Once I built the frame, it was finally time to start painting. At first I primed everything with Zinsser Cover Stain, which I had read from various sources was the best primer to use. But the wood grain on the drawers was SO pronounced, and you could see where it was interrupted by the wood filler spots, so I did some research and found that if you really want to seal wood grain, you should use Zinsser BIN, which is shellac-based. So I used two coats of Zinsser BIN primer over the drawers and the whole frame to seal the wood. Shortly after, I purchased my Benjamin Moore Advance paint and read that it should only be painted over oil-based primers, not shellac-based primers or “undercoaters”. Whoops. So I sanded the surfaces with 220-grit sandpaper and applied a final coat of primer, this time using Zinsser Cover Stain. I sanded the surface again when I was done, and then got to the real paint.
Prior to applying the actual paint color, I made sure that the top actually fit on the frame. It’s a good thing I did, because the top wasn’t having it. When I attached the new portion of the frame, I inadvertently narrowed the space at the top of the dresser. No worries! I just sanded the sides of the top quite a bit, recoated with primer, and was ready to paint again.
I used Benjamin Moore Advance Satin paint in “Once Upon a Time”. It took three coats and some touch ups to get this baby covered.
After letting the paint cure for a loooonnnng time, I attached the hardware that would allow the top of the dresser to open up and allow access to the new shelf. I used regular brass hinges on the back of the dresser and a lid support on the inside. As I experienced with my TV cabinetdresser retro-fit, this took a few tries.
To give the dresser a finishing touch, I used Brasso and the rough side of a kitchen sponge to remove some of the tarnish that had built up on the original hardware. The hardware was REALLY tarnished, and I didn’t have the patience to remove all the tarnish, so I got it to a point where it looked a little tarnished but not dirty. I actually think that look works well with this dresser.
So there you have it, the story of rebuilding/enhancing this art deco relic. This girl came to the Lucketts Market with me, got a million compliments, but didn’t leave with a new owner. I think she is pretty taste specific, but I can picture her in a bedroom with her top shelf full of pretty little china saucers and teacups full of earrings and necklaces and bracelets and other pretty things. I also think she’d look really pretty with a mirror on that underside.
Update: I realized that I didn't bother to record that this dresser has a paper label on the back with a that shows that it was manufactured by Johnson Carper Furniture Company in Roanoke, Virginia, and that it was shipped to John Bujewicz in South River, New Jersey. It looks like the company started around 1927 and manufactured furniture through the 1930s, which confirms that this is an authentic art deco piece. Maybe someone will be looking up their family and read this blog and recognize the dresser or know how it ended up in this neck of the woods. Wouldn't that be cool? If you are a Bujewicz and you are around my age, this might have belonged to your great grandfather or uncle, or maybe it belonged to your grandmother. I got it from a family in Alexandria (maybe they are Bujewiczes too?). Anyway, let the powers of the interweb bring us together.
Linked to: Miss Mustard Seed, Primitive and Proper, Simple Home Life, Southern Lovely, Rolled Up Pretty, Embracing Change, Trendy Treehouse, Shabby Creek Cottage, The 36th Avenue, 504 Main, Chic on a Shoestring Decorating, The Shabby Nest, Common Ground, Redoux, Somewhat Simple, My Repurposed Life, Domestically Speaking, Primp, 52 Mantels, Tatertots and Jello