Peacock Green Milkpainted Antique Dresser with Agate and Brass Pulls

Just for fun, while I dragged my heels finishing up some tedious touches on one project, I did a (supposedly) quick project. I had previously stumbled upon, and brought home, the perfect dresser for some milk paint, which I have been yearning to use for some time. This one was in great structural condition, so all it needed were cosmetic improvements. Here it is:

Dull, brown dresser with potential.
Dull, brown antique dresser with potential.

I always sand and prep every piece carefully. I didn’t want any chipping with this one, so I also added the bonding agent. I’m convinced that this material is just watered down polyurethane, but I’m not a chemist and they don’t list the ingredients on the bottle.

I used Peacock, from The Real Milk Paint Company. I enjoy the lights, darks, and striated colors of milk paint mixed from pigments and powders. When I have an actual antique (not just vintage) piece, it’s my paint of preference.

It took many coats because I mistakenly sanded through the finish down to raw wood around the original pulls, which had cut large circular patterns in the wood that I knew would show when I used different pulls. When you don’t sand evenly with milk paint, it soaks in differently and becomes very obvious. Drat. At one point, I had to cover the whole thing with flat polyurethane to get an acceptable even finish with several more coats.

When the piece looked done, I coated the whole thing with tung oil. This brings out more color in the paint, and enriches it. The drawers were sanded and sealed inside, and the great steel casters were rubbed with a little gold wax. Then I put on the jewelry: green and yellow agate pulls from Anthropologie. Those are what this piece is about, anyway.

Anthropologie Agate Pulls
Anthropologie Agate Pulls
Peacock Green Milkpainted Antique Dresser
Peacock Green Milkpainted Antique Dresser

See the striations? That’s what I like about Milk Paint.

Looking like a chameleon--changing in different lighting!
Looking like a chameleon–changing in different lighting!

A few spots did chip, so I ended up sanding those back a bit and reapplying the paint and the oil. It’s a very relaxed, very livable look with a pop of glam in the fascinating brass mounted agate pulls.

Available in my Etsy shop.


Empire Dresser: Meant to Be For Me (to paint)

The style is well-known. The chunky red mahogany curved massiveness of American Empire style. Always veneered, almost always chipped, sometimes irreparably. Many of them handmade, but so old and well used that they end up in the garage, thrift store or picker’s storage unit with broken or missing hardware, drawer runners or backs. Can’t even really sell the nicer ones because no one really wants that large-scale, mottled red book-matched veneer look anymore (I’ve tried). There are so many of them that they don’t really hold value unless they have an exceptional provenance or are in immaculate condition (as with most antiques).

The sad are the ones I find. I have three right now, so I know they are not rare. This dresser had so many issues that I watched the price go down, down, down over a number of weeks to the point where I picked it up. It was even sorrier in person. See?

photo 2

And this was after I had replaced missing and broken drawer runners so that the drawer boxes would even have something to sit on! After all the repairs were done, I used some dark grey milk paint mixed from black and light gray. I wanted some natural chippiness, so I didn’t use the bonding agent. The wood was so old and dry that paint would certainly bind nicely, but I also sanded most of the surfaces. And I got what I wanted from the milk paint. Perfect accompaniment to to the chipped and missing veneer: perfectly chippy paint.

Antique American Empire Dresser Seal Grey Milk Paint3

Some of the typical wood knobs were missing, so I replaced them all with some very old stamped steel bow tie shaped pulls that are about the same age as the dresser, late 1800’s. I had picked them up at a junker’s paradise called Shupp’s Grove in Pennsylvania during some travels last year. The pulls seemed to match the escutcheons the dresser already had, so they looked right at home. I cleaned them up and sprayed them with several different silver tones for interest.

Antique American Empire Dresser in Seal Grey Milk Paint

Antique American Empire Dresser in Seal Grey Milk Paint5

The drawer boxes were sanded and stained and made like new, really. They fit now, and glide well.

Antique American Empire Dresser Seal Grey Milk Paint4

Can’t you see this in a modern entry hall or bedroom? A little industrial, a lot antique? Massive and moody? Meant to be.

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Tur-key to Tur-quoise: Antique Oak Dining Table

My husband comes up with most of these titles. He’s quite punny.

This table was part of a package deal. A buffet I spotted on Craigslist that had me salivating came with this non-matching beat-up table. I always think it’s odd when sellers refuse to separate pieces (and risk losing a sale), even though the buyer might have no intention of keeping them together. I tend to wonder if the seller intends to visit his pieces someday to make sure they are still keeping each other company.

I agreed to this arrangement because the table had lots of curvy legs that I thought might look good in a wild color. First thing I had to do was remove the 1/8 inch thick layer of gloppy ambered polyurethane that had accumulated over the years on the tabletop. Here’s the before, under the shroud of shame (paint stripper cover):

photo 2 (1)

Since I didn’t have the leaves, the sliders were useless, so I removed them. This made the table a little lighter and easier to manipulate. When I put the two halves back together, they dowel into each other and lock with a lever.

Milk paint was the perfect treatment for this piece. The legs were not oak, and had a finish on them that might resist, so they were rubbed with deglosser. The newly stripped top was very dry, so I smeared tung oil on some of the edges and spots that I hoped would then resist and chip. For once, milk paint did what I told it to do. The legs chipped a little and the paint resisted soaking into the oiled spots! This is, to me, the perfect level of natural looking wear.

Turquoise Antique Dining Table2

Before Hemp Oil Finish
Before Tung Oil
After Hemp Oil Finish
After Tung Oil

Turquoise Antique Dining Table4

The finishing touch was tung oil, which actually gives the top some water resistance. More than that, though, it mellows the color and deepens it, darkening the wear spots as well. Makes it look like it’s always been this color, and certainly not a turkey anymore.

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Antique Acanthus Wreath: Ring Pulls to Bling Pulls

The antique dresser was really nice. Very well constructed, with roomy drawers, interesting legs, and no repairs to be made. It was scratched and dull brown, as they generally are at that age when they’ve been well-used, with dirty, dull hardware. It had been listed for a while, so I made the seller an offer, and she agreed. I picked it up at a very small run-down house that contained, very surprisingly, many antiques. Gorgeous ones I definitely could never afford to purchase. But I would not have been able to paint those, anyway; I was happy with this one.


I didn’t think much of it when the seller fussed about how nice the pulls were, but when I took them off and cleaned them they had a wash of silver over the original brass and were actually acanthus garland wreaths. Each one was slightly different, so they were obviously hand cast. Way better than I had expected!


So, since the hardware was now the star of the show, this piece needed an outfit to showcase the acanthus wreath jewelry. Milk paint was called upon–Miss Mustard Seed’s Flow Blue, Ironstone, and some black–to make a sweet steel blue. Just the right amount of chippiness made the chest look classical and elegant, just like its rings.

Medallion Dresser

Medallion Dresser 2

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Super Sale: Buy A Dresser, Get a Horse

When you buy a dresser from a Craigslist seller, you get a horse. No, really, I know it’s hard to believe, but you do. We all have our Craigslist stories, and this one is fairly hilarious. I laugh whenever I see my horse.

When I called the seller, she seemed to be a little slow on the uptake, but I tried to be understanding. Maybe she was tired. When I met her at her storage unit, she was actually quite inebriated. She looked normal, but she smelled like a distillery. Her eyes were glazed, and she talked a lot, only slowly. It was 1:00 in the afternoon. Okay, I’m just underexposed to this sort of thing, I guess.

But there was the dresser, and I had already painted it in my mind. Also in the storage unit were open boxes of her belongings, some of which were actually quite cool, including an old Barbie-sized leather-covered horse that my wandering eyes laid upon immediately, which is odd because I don’t like Barbies or horses. It was a little beat up, but it was looking at me with its half-closed eyes. Sort of like its owner. I checked out the dresser and paid quickly because the woman was telling my husband how “beautiful” I was. Huh?? My husband looked down and said “Oh, look at that horse!” She immediately said, “You can have it!” What?! I was afraid my husband would refuse it, so, quick as a flash, I picked it up and thanked her. Score! At this point it was really time to load the dresser and go. But I had my horse! And my dresser!

Here’s what I left with:

Garland Dresser Before

Worth enduring the odd seller, huh? At this point, the finished reveal seems almost anti-climactic. I layered it with two colors of milk paint and it turned out really well, I think. I named the piece Garland Dresser, after the gorgeous polished brass hardware that the seller had tried to charge extra for, and it does the horse proud. Not to mention the goose.

Garland Dresser

Garland Dresser 3

Garland Dresser 2

And the horse? I named it Susan, after the seller. I hope she’s not reading this. Neigh.


Update, 8/12/13:  Last weekend, at the very first Brocante Vintage Market opening, this dresser was purchased two minutes after the doors opened by a shopper who had seen it the night before at the preview party. Apparently, she came racing in with her baby in a stroller to get there before anyone else could purchase it first! How fun is that?!

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Milk Paint Charmer: Sunny Success!

This is the story of a very old, sad, dresser that has, I think, a very happy ending. This poor thing had endured abuse during its 170 or so years of life. Once upon a time, a very talented woodworker took some wide pine boards and constructed, with his own hands, a very useful dresser. He dovetailed the drawers by hand, hand-beveled the drawer bottoms, doweled in the knobs, affixed bun feet (probably), and put a wash of off-white milk paint on it.

Then, at some point during the very long life of this workhorse dresser with the three handkerchief drawers on top, someone subbed out its original feet (perhaps some had broken off at the dowel) with machine-turned ones from maple, replaced the apparently sawed-off knobs with large, out-of-proportion British-style knobs, and sanded all the milk paint off, except for what was visible in the cracked side boards. Then, the offender committed the ultimate sin: slapped on thick, drippy polyurethane, which aged and ambered and turned it into the orange eyesore I found:

Old Pine Dresser before
So sad. It endured even more abuse in the ensuing years, in the form of dents, dings, and many scratches in that horrible poly finish. At some point, inappropriate molding was nailed around the bottom and then broken off. The poor thing definitely needed cheering up. So, I chose a bright yellow milk paint for the body and juxtaposed a modern, not-too shiny charcoal chalk paint for the top. New, better proportioned knobs got the charcoal treatment for contrast, as well. So now it looks like this:

sunflower dresser
sunflower dresser 4
hanky drawers

My dear mother-in-law, who only really understands mid-century modern design, unwittingly gave me the ultimate compliment: “It looks like it came out of a barn.” Ah, yes. Success!

This great piece went to live in California. Like City Girl Arts on facebook!
Original painting by me, called “City Girl”.