before and after

before and after: barb’s dresser

by Grace Bonney

d*s reader barb of may december home sent in this simple, but lovely, before & after. i know some people have a real issue with painting wood but i think barb’s facelift gives a really clean, fresh feeling to her rundown dresser. another great idea? barb bought a long handle from ikea and used it as a drawer handle, but it also doubles as a towel rack in the guest room or a newspaper/magazine holder in a living room. thanks, barb!


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  • I’m a big fan of painting wood if it means that the piece will be given a new life and will be loved by someone instead of stashed in an attic (or worse).

    Barb, your dresser looks absolutely beautiful. The white paint really shows off those amazing pulls!

  • Ditto- I’m often in two minds about repainting wood. This type of veneer requires an expert & quite a bit of cash to refinish back to its original state. when things are damaged and worn like this, paint can be a great option…and Barb’s dresser looks AMAZING!!

  • Great B&A! I actually have a suite very similar and while I love the lines I’m not crazy about the finish (crackled veener). It’s nice to know what it would look like in cream. Thanks!

  • this is gorgeous!

    (I’m generally against painting good looking wood. This really didn’t seem to be particularly good looking wood.)

  • Love the after!! I used to be against painting wood, but it’s projects like these, that bring new life to old pieces that have inspired me. I start my first piece this weekend!!

  • Perhaps it’s that I have actually stripped and refinished a beautiful Art Deco coffee table with zebra olive wood veneer that someone had painted mint green in the 1980s, but my heart broke when I saw this transformation.

    I’ve liked every other before and after I’ve seen here, but this one just made me ill. Please, please if you decide to paint something like this, shellac it first. That way the paint is easier to get off.

  • Thanks so much for posting this Grace!

    To answer the questions that have come up – the inside of it was in surprisingly good shape, so I just left it as is.

    And I always mix up my own paint colours with whatever I have handy. So, sorry, I can’t give a colour name or number.

  • This looks amazing! I have an almost identical dresser, and I would love to do this. Weekend project! I have a few questions for you Barb.

    1. Did you have any chips or cracks on the original drawer fronts, and if so what did you do about them? I’m not sure if I should just paint over all the flaws or use wood putty or something?

    2. Did you paint the original drawer handles to be darker or is it just the photo that makes them appear that way? They look fantastic!!

    3. What color paint is that? (I’m not kidding when I say I’m copying this look!)

  • What a difference the paint made. The art deco lines just pop out. I never appreciated before how much the veneer detracted from the overall design. Wow. That almost sounds sacriligious!

  • I think this looks absolutely great!! And as others have said, that top handle is inspired.

    (BTW, I just don’t understand why some people who read D*S get so emotional when they don’t like someone’s after. It’s one thing not to like it. It’s another entirely to wring one’s hands and weep as if a million kittens were just beheaded with a piano wire. Very odd.)

  • Like Alison, I too have stripped off paint from wood furniture.
    Natural wood finish can be restored more easily than most people think, and it can be amazing how wonderful items such as this piece of 1930’s/40’s furniture can look afterwards.
    When seeking items to paint, it’s nice to consider the age and availability of the object. An understanding of antiques and a working knowledge of 20th century furnishings can help to determine suitable candidates for paint or alterations.
    Just keep in mind that paint should be considered a permanent alteration, especially since most removal processes are generally far from ‘green’.

  • This is absolutely gorgeous rehab! I love the multipurpose use of the top handle. The long sleek line is a beautiful contrast to the more ornate handles on the two bottom drawers. This makes me want to head to goodwill or the nearest yard sale to find a new project!

  • Alison – I understand your desire to preserve the good specimens.

    But this piece, as I found it had already been spray painted on the top and sides. There were a few chips in the veneer and the top handles were missing.

    It’s also a style and vintage I see quite frequently at the auction.

    The really good/valuable pieces I leave to the experts!

    Amber – I just painted over the chips and flaws. I didn’t paint the handles, just cleaned them.

    And I’m really sorry about the paint colour! It’s a one of a kind.

  • Why should the overall worth of the item be made more important than the worth to its owner? Especially if she plans to keep it for a long time? I think that the white looks lovely — this is very inspiring!

  • I’m loving it. the paint job, handles, and silver bar all scream art deco. especially when placed under that mirror and accessorized with the vase and tray. I could easily imagine South Beach outside the window, regardless of your actual location!

  • This is a nice transformation, and, though painted, I think it actually restores the dignity of the original piece. White is a classic and flexible solution, and you have chosen a beautiful tone.

    I’m not sold on the compatibility of the top handle in terms of style and color, although it’s cool that it’s different… and certainly you could update it as styles change.

    Poor Alison. There are hundreds of these waterfall dressers where I live, just waiting for you to sand and restore them. This one, though, was maybe not the best candidate.

    Way to go, Barb!

  • Gorgeous B&A, Barb — what prep work did you have to do to the dresser before painting? Is that cream color a water-based paint?

  • Nice job Barb! I can’t believe those are the same handles from the before picture! Seeing this actually prompted me to go ahead and get started painting my dresser finally. I know you said you left the inside alone, but did you paint the sides of the drawers or anything? How about the back? My dresser doesn’t have a solid back, just a thinner piece of wood nailed to the back of it, so I’m not sure what to do with it. I kind of want to paint at least the sides of the drawers but I wasn’t sure if that would prevent the drawers from being free to slide in and out. Also, what kind of brushes or rollers did you use? Thanks for your help, and again, great job!

  • Like Alison and Jen O. I too have a big issue with the painting of this type of furniture. I have a great appreciation and love for antiques. If it had been any other type of furnishing (of no particular era or style) I would have agreed with most commentaries. I work in a historic building and the top story is still kept with it’s original furnishings from the 1930’s/40’s (which have all been refurbished) and it’s like walking into this time warp. It looks Amazing! I think a little research and TLC would of done but for all I know it was a issue of cost which seems to be the problem in most cases. Sorry Barb but my only reaction, when I saw the before an after, was completely jaw dropping…such a shame.

  • Just a random question for painting furniture. I have a friend that recently painted her end tables and the paint started to get a little sticky with the humidity. What did you use here your furniture?

  • It looks like the towel bar doesn’t fit into the same holes that the missing drawer pulls would have. Barb, how did you cover the holes or did you just paint over them?

    Also, in relation to the paint/no paint debate: I’ve seen a few of these dressers that actually have fake wood grain painted on to look like exotic veneer. I bet a lot of people would have fewer qualms about painting over that.

  • I generally am against painting wood, but this piece looks amazing. I am now painting an ugly antique wooden mantle because of this posting. I have come to terms that not all wood is better off as … wood. I am still against painting anything that doesnt need painting to retain its beauty, but the waterfall dressers just look terrible after a little wear and tear. I have one in my house that keeps peeling and peeling and I am at a loss!

  • I love antiques and vintage items in their original state….but think it is better to paint and use an item than have it go to the landfill sooner rather than later. I’m thinking of painting a display cabinet from this era…since it has already been compromised as an antique…. and collectible. The paint detail in the windows has been removed and the hardware is long gone… lately my husband spilled over proof booze on the top… ruining the finish…I feel a paint job coming on….

  • I have a dresser and wardrobe (?) almost exactly like this sitting in my garage that I got free from an Aunt. She said it was Art-Deco. The condition of both pieces is slightly worse than this before – some sort of overspray paint splatters and fog marks.

    After stripping and polyurethaning a coffee table last summer ( my first refinishing project), I am not up to the task of stripping more wood. Therefore, I’d like to just paint these pieces so I can use them in my daughter’s room.

    She’s a toddler now, but I’d love something that will last into her older years as well. I keep thinking that white will be too babyish. Her room is in shades of green – Can someone recommend some paint colors for me? I was thinking a neutral buttery, golden yellow, but would that be too girly too?

    Also, can anyone recommend some inspirational or technical websites for painting this style of furniture?

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