Vintage Dresser Makeover

Part of living the creative lifestyle of an artist involves adding creative touches to the home. I had a cheap old ugly pine dresser in one of our guest bedrooms and decided it was time to replace it with something a little more inspiring. I thought about doing a makeover on the dresser I had but it really didn't speak to me and I didn't feel it went all that well with the ornate wrought iron bed I already had in the room.

For months I scanned Facebook Marketplace looking for something possibly with good bones that I might not mind making over providing it didn't take too much work. Finally I spotted a bargain listing for a vintage oak dresser. It was only $50 which sounded like a steal and the photos made it look like there was no work to be done.

Unfortunately, when we arrived to pick up the dresser I realized it smelled strongly of cigarettes. Not only that, the top of the oak dresser had what looked like a water stain haloed by a red ring. I thought it was marker or ink but the lady said it was from a candle. "No problem," I thought, "I can probably get rid of that," thinking the red was probably just candle wax and that maybe I could touch it up with stain. Even though I was disappointed about the top of the dresser and the smell, (none of which I could tell by looking at the photos of the online listing) it seemed like I could find a way to air it out and perhaps easily fix the top. I went ahead and paid the lady the $50.

We drove home with the smell of stale cigs wafting through our smoke-free SUV. After unloading it into our garage, I promptly pulled all the drawers out and washed them out with bleach. I could scarcely tell a difference. The smell still permeated the wood. "Maybe putting it in the fresh air for a while"... I thought.

Upon closer examination of the dresser top, I really couldn't see any candle wax but I tried setting a towel over the spot and ironing over it. No difference. Then I tried using alcohol on the spot with a soft cotton cloth. Past experience had taught me that alcohol will often remove ink from fabric. It did not work on the wood. At this point I sensed I was in for more work that I had first thought.

I posted photos of the dresser on Re-purpose, Re-cycle, and Re-do, one of my Facebook do-it-yourself groups, to see what members suggested. People were full of ideas regarding both the smell and what to do about the top. I decided to use several possible solutions for eliminating the odor. This included setting it outside for several days, lining it with newspaper and using charcoal in the drawers to absorb the odor.

I lined the drawers with newsprint. Not having any charcoal handy, I went out to our fire ring and shoveled out a bucket of charred wood (which is essentially charcoal.) I poured a small amount of these charred chunks into the drawers. It was a sunny day so I set all the drawers outside on my deck for a couple of days.

While I waited for these remedies to do their work, I tried a few more things on the dresser top which the group had suggested. This included using lemon juice, and even laundry spray with stain remover. Neither worked. One group member had suggested painting the top and sides and shared a photo from Pinterest of a refurbished dresser with gray painted sides and top. I really liked the look and decided to go that route.

Funny story, when I went to the home improvement store and ordered a quart of gray paint my husband, Jeff, was standing right beside me. We shopped around a little while we waited for the woman at the paint department to prepare the paint. When we returned, we got to the counter to find a gallon of gray paint waiting for us. My brow furrowed as I looked at Jeff. "Didn't I order a pint?"

"Yes," he said nodding. "She got it wrong." The clerk who helped us originally was busy. We summoned another helper over and told her about the mistake. She corrected the price sticker on the paint can to ring up the price for a quart. So now we have a ton of extra gray paint. Cool.

Pictured are the finished results of my paint job. I used a small roller to do the painting. (I will mention that the cigarette smell in the dresser after two days of sitting outdoors greatly diminished.)

The dresser came without a mirror so I used the old mirror we had with our previous dresser and painted the frame gray. I felt the mirror still needed something to tie it into the dresser so I ordered a decorative wood piece on Etsy. Though the dresser is an oak finish, it had aged and darkened over time. The golden oak stain I tried on the decorative mirror flourish was way too light so I used some Ipswich Pine stain we had on hand and it came very close to matching.

I am really happy with how this project turned out. Even though I hadn't really planned to do a makeover, it wasn't too labor intensive.

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