Friday, October 12, 2012

Tutorial: refinishing the dresser for the nursery

Thank you so much for your sweet comments on Tuesday's nursery post! I really cannot wait to have our baby girl at home and in the nursery! It was so fun putting it all together, but I think I'll enjoy it even more once we have a baby in it!

So now, onto my dresser finishing project!
Here's what took me and J many weeks of sweat (and maybe some tears from me) to finish:

If we're friends on instagram (@erchla), you definitely saw a lot of this in progress through out the summer. I shared a lot of pictures over there, and it was honestly a two month project. My in-laws were here at the beginning of July, and that's when they graciously brought us this dresser to use in our nursery. I worked on it when I could, but between the heat and rainy days this summer, I would go two weeks with no progress. We don't have a garage, so I could only work on it outside when it was nice enough to be out there. 

Before I go into all my step by step details, here are the three posts I used the most to help with this project. I had never refinished any furniture before this, so I heavily relied on the internet for help! I learned a lot in the process!

Here is the dresser before any work had been done.  You can tell that it was old, beat up, and in definite need of some TLC. I had removed two of the drawer pulls before the photos were taken, but that's it. If I remember correctly, I think my in-laws said they purchased this dresser, unfinished, in the late 70's/early 80's and stained it themselves. 

My first step was to sand the whole dresser. A lot of tutorials said this wasn't a necessary step, but my hope is that this dresser will be with our little girl for years to come. And knowing how children are, I wanted the paint to have the very best possible chance to adhere and stick to that dresser. Sanding the dresser helped rough it up some, allowing the primer to better stick.

After sanding....looking back I now realize I could have sanded less, but that's okay. 
Too much sanding didn't hurt.

The next step was to prime the dresser. I knew I wanted my dresser white, and from what I had read, without priming you risk the wood "bleeding" through the paint over time. Additionally, primer helps the paint better adhere to the furniture. We used this Zinnser Primer and Sealer with the gold label. And as a warning, it is an oil based primer. Being a newbie at this whole thing, I didn't realize what that meant as far as clean up goes and learned the hard way. Here's my advice for other newbies: If you're doing a project with oil based paint, be sure to have the appropriate tools to help you clean your brushes at the end or use cheap brushes you can just throw away at the end. If not, you'll end up in tears like me. Lesson learned.

Here's the dresser and the drawers after 2 coats of primer. J applied these 24 hours apart and then left them out to dry for about 24 more hours.

After a week or two of lots of rain, I was finally able to paint the dresser. I picked out a white paint from Lowe's (Valspar brand) and we got a quart of it in semi-gloss, per Young House Love's recommendation. I did two coats of paint, waiting about 24 hours in between each coat. I should also add that I had an angled brush that we picked up from Lowe's, again a recommendation from YHL, similar to this one. Using an angled brush helped tremendously.

You can't see much of a change in the pictures from the step of priming to painting since I painted the dresser a neutral white, but you could really see the difference in person. The paint made it much shinier and better covered the surface.

Now this next step was one that was much more work than I expected it to be, but I love how it turned out. I had seen on my friend Megen's blog her stenciled dining room walls and I loved how it turned out. I figured it wouldn't be too hard to stencil the top of our dresser. I ordered my stencil from Royal Design Studio. Here's the image from their website of the stencil I picked out.

I picked out a bright pink from Sherwin Williams and bought a sample of it for just a few dollars which was plenty of paint to stencil with. I also purchased these stencil brushes by Martha Stewart from Michael's. For those of you thinking of taking on a project like are some tips and things I learned along the way:
  • Use VERY little paint. Too much and it bleeds under the stencil and your pattern starts to look gunky. You can always go back and add more paint. Lots of small coats are better than a thick coat of paint.
  • Move your brush away from the template, not toward it. If you paint toward it, you risk paint going under it, again making the design look gunky. 
  • If you get paint on the bottom side of the template, clean it off before moving on to a new section of the furniture.
  • I taped off the edges of the top of the dresser. This helped me define how far I wanted the pattern to "go" since the top edges of the dresser are rounded.
  • This will take you a LONG time. Stenciling the top of the dresser probably took me about three and half hours. My back was KILLING me by the end.

This picture is a more accurate idea of the color. It's definitely pink, not coral.

The very last step for the dresser itself was to seal the top. I didn't feel the need to put a sealant on the whole thing, but I knew the top would need it to protect the pattern we had stenciled on top. We used this water based polycrilic protective finish in a clear semi-gloss from Sherwin Williams. J applied three coats of it, waiting about 4 hours between each coat. 

Can you tell that our deck was where we did all the work? Our backyard is slightly sloped, so it was much easier to work here on a flat surface.

The last step for the dresser was to redo the drawer pulls. I thought about purchasing new pulls, but I knew that would get pricey since we needed ten of them. I soaked my pulls in a mixture of white vinegar and water for about 20 minutes, and then I scrubbed them with an old toothbrush and baking soda. This helped get years of "grime" and who knows what else off of the pulls. They still looked rough after this process, but you could definitely see a difference.

Now this next step is where I will tell you DON'T DO WHAT I DID!
We primed all of my pulls with this spray primer I picked up.
This stuff made all my pulls really gritty and gave them a sandy finish.
I was so frustrated and ending up having to sand each pull.
This added about an hour of extra work.

Once they were sanded, J sprayed them with grey spray paint by Krylon
This took a good three coats to get them fully covered. 

Once these were dry, we were done! It was time to put the dresser up in the room! This was on August 26, almost two months after we got the dresser. I'm telling y'all, this project was a labor of love!

But seriously...I won't lie. I'm so in love with the final product!

And just as a reminder, here's what we started with and what we finished with. Such a difference!

So there she is! We've joked about how if this baby were to come out a boy, I'd be happy to get rid of all the pink in the nursery and all the girly clothes and dresses, but NOT the top of this dresser. There's just no way I'm redoing it again. But hopefully, that won't be an issue!
 Now that I've successfully finished it, I'm sort of itching to redo another piece of furniture. However, the next piece will be done when I'm not pregnant. Having a belly in the way and avoiding toxic paint fumes (mainly the primer and spray paint, the regular paint was non-VOC) made it the whole project a little more difficult and tricky. 

Have you ever taken on a big furniture project like this?
Were you happy with the the final product?


  1. I love the final product! Great job!!!!

  2. It looks GREAT! I didn't realize you stenciled that. I figured it was some sort of wallpaper. Looks GREAT!
    Question - is there some sort of sentimental meaning with the dresser?
    Wasn't sure if it was one of yours when you were a kid or something?
    Also, I noticed one pull was missing in the first photo. HOw did you find one to match?
    We took the easy way out and bought a dresser on CL and painted it white.
    You'll see. Nursery pics from me in about 2 or 3 weeks :)

  3. It looks great! Wow! Kudos to you for all of that hard work outside AND pregnant!

  4. Very pretty - I love it!

  5. I am SO IMPRESSED! I love it!

  6. Looks fantastic. This will be a great piece of family furniture that can grow with her, and I think you'll be happy you did all the sanding. I haven't painted the end table I am planning to do yet, but when I do, I will sand. Something tells me the sandless primer just won't hold up.

  7. It looks fantastic! All your hard work clearly paid off. I've never taken on a project like this but eventually I would love to build a headboard for our room. I know I'll need some extra help and tools for that project, though!

  8. Wow. That looks AMAZING! I'm so impressed! :)

  9. I can def. relate to doing such a huge project while your pregnant! I refinished a dresser and nightstand for our nursery and it was hard not being able to do all the steps and having your belly in the way. Your dresser looks great though!

  10. This is beyond impressive!! I love it SO much!!

  11. Beautiful! I love the stencil idea!

  12. this looks amazing!!! what a special addition to baby girl's nursery! great job!!

  13. I love how this turned out! Looks so great!