How to Refinish an Antique Dresser (the right way)

Have you every refinished an antique of any kind?

I always hold my breath when I think about changing an antique in any way.  It’s easy if they’re damaged and a repair makes it necessary to paint, but not as easy when they’re in great shape.

I know that there are some people who have very strong feelings about this and I totally understand.  That’s why I don’t want to make any kind of changes that would make it hard to restore a piece to its original condition.

We built new side rails for an antique bed so that we could make it hold a standard mattress instead of having a mattress and bedding made.  But I’ve still got the  original side rails stored just in case.

Just in case in the future people become much shorter than they are now I guess.

I’m lucky that I’ve been blessed with several antique dressers and a few other pieces of furniture.  The craftsmanship that went into how they were made is impressive and they’ve obviously stood the test of time.

Refinish an antique dresser without having pink bleed through your hard work

The Antique Dresser Before

So the little gem you see pictured below has been moved from room to room in this house and I’ve decided that it’s going to get a makeover.

Our style is definitely a little more casual than it has been in the past and I want to update this antique dresser for our bedroom.

This dresser came out of my great aunt's house and I've used it for years. My plan is to update it to work with our home better.

My first thought is to use chalk paint since it’s so easy.  It doesn’t take a lot of prep work and it has a nice thick coverage.

I don’t want to strip the piece all the way down, and I do want to be sure that it can be restored someday if we wanted it to.  I know chalk paint can be removed and it won’t damage furniture.  Plus it doesn’t take a lot of prep work so it’s a clear winner in my book.

If you’ve ever refinished a mahogany piece of furniture you may already see where this is going.

If you haven’t, well, hopefully this will save you some time and headaches in the future.

I'm updating an antique dresser with white chalk paint so it will fit into our home decor better.
If you don't seal mahogany when you paint it you can get a pink bleed through your paint

My Mistake

See that big pink spot on the drawer?

Well that wasn’t the only one, that was just one that photographed really well.

Pink blotches showed up in various spots all over this piece while I was working on it.  I have to say that I’ve been lucky this hasn’t happened to me before this project.

Of course my first solution was to just add another coat of paint.

Sadly, that did not work.  The pink spots just showed right back up.

Zinsser shellac is a great finish for antiques

After much research I found that shellac is the best finish to use on an antique piece of furniture to seal it.  I read several articles and there are lots of opinions but I feel pretty comfortable using this method.

Of course I really should have done the research in advance… but now I know.

I read a lot about shellac but here’s a great article about the reasons to use it if you’re interested in more info.

The bonus is that shellac can be applied over the chalk paint without having to remove the paint.  Thank goodness for that little blessing.  At least I didn’t have to go back and remove the paint and start over.

Of course I decided to only touch up the spots that were pink and guess what?  It worked great!

I like to put baking soda in the drawers of antiques and let them sit in the sun to air out any odors they might have.

Once I Fixed the Mistake

I decided to move the project outside onto the deck since the weather was nice.  The bright sunshine made it easier to see and I filled the drawers with baking soda to soak up any odd smells that they might have had.

I think fresh air can cure a lot of things.  I really didn’t need the baking soda treatment for this project but I was afraid to skip any other steps after my first fail.

A coat of chalk paint, shellac, then more chalk paint.

Then wax.

I think in the future the order will be shellac first, then chalk paint.  I wouldn’t have wasted so much paint if I had done my research first so I hope you learned from my mistakes!

Shellac first, then paint.

When the project is finished, you can top coat with wax or shellac.  Be sure to observe the curing time!  Your time to cure will depend on the paint that you use so be sure to read the directions.  Chalk paint’s cure time is typically 30 days and that’s a long time in a busy calendar sometimes.

The Antique Dresser After

Here's the mahogany dresser updated with white paint and new pulls.

Once my paint was dry I updated the handles with these simple black iron ones.  I love the simple look and I think they changed the look of this piece even more than the paint did.

When my mom came to see it finished she didn’t believe it was the same piece until I showed her the before and after photo’s.

The little white dresser has found its home in the master bedroom now that it's been updated.

The Finishing Touches

Then it got tucked back into our master bedroom between the windows.  I was partially waiting for the wax to cure so I could add items on top of it, but I was also keeping an eye out for the perfect items to pair it with.

Then I found this!

I found this print for our master bedroom and love this scripture.

I love this verse and Love Never Fails is something that we’ve always said as a family so it seemed fitting to have this in our bedroom.

By adding a couple of plants and some pretty’s I’ve got a beautiful new piece of furniture that I love and a nice little vignette in our bedroom.  I loved the dresser before it was painted white but it fits into our home so much better now.

The new print hanging over my updated dresser.

It’s not that I didn’t love this little antique dresser before.  It’s been a hard worker in our homes.  In it’s previous life it’s held the junk drawers on a second floor landing.  It’s held tablecloths and other miscellaneous items in a dining room and it’s been a dresser in several bedrooms.

But now that this girl got a makeover it looks just perfect in it’s spot!

A lovely vignette over our newly refinished antique dresser.
Antique Dresser before and after

You can really see how much it changed when you look at the two of them side by side!

I’m not sure I’m ready to paint any more of our antique’s but I’m really thrilled with the way this one turned out!

What do you think of my antique dresser project?

Do you need more inspiration?

You can see a few more projects that we’ve done in our home HERE.
I’ve also got some great ways to update your kitchen without breaking the bank HERE

I hope you enjoyed this project!

Traci Signature | My Simpatico Life Blog
You can update an antique dresser easily if you follow the steps in the correct order so learn from my mistakes

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