From Beat Up to Beautiful: Empire Dresser Makeover



Hello!!  I hope everyone is enjoying their summer!  It's been extremely hot here in Chicagoland with intense humidity.  I didn't let extreme heat warnings stop me from working on this little beauty.  It probably wasn't one of the smartest things I've ever done, but I was determined to get this dresser finished!!

Three years ago, a friend of mine sent me a text with a picture of an in-need-of-love empire dresser at a local thrift store.  It was a decent price and I absolutely LOVE empire dressers!  I jumped in my SUV and drove to the thrift store to make sure someone else got it first.  In my excitement, I didn't see all the many imperfections.  I have a way of seeing what something can be instead of what it is in it's current state.  Sometimes that works and other times, not so much.




I knew I was going to keep this dresser.  First because I loved the style.  Second, it was going to be a lot of work to fix.  There are times I have to pass on furniture because it's so far gone that if I'm not doing it for myself and not to sell, I'd never make a dime.

Well before I got around to making over the dresser, we moved 2 times so it sat for 3 long years waiting for a makeover.  

Here's the 'kind of' before picture!  I thought I had a before picture on my phone of the dresser all put together, but I didn't have one.  I can tell you that on the left side under the drawer opening, a huge chunk had been broken off the front support.  Also, the veneer was peeling and it was an overall mess.  


This picture shows you some of the other imperfections.  This one was on the side.  


The first thing I did to fix the imperfections, was fill any holes, missing veneer, etc with Bondo wood filler.  Bondo wood filler is smelly, but my go-to when I know I need to layer on a few coats of filler.  
Here's one of the drawers, filled, sanded and sealed, prior to paint. 


My next step was to seal the entire dresser, except the top, with two coats of Zinsser Shellac.  In case you're new here and don't know about the wonderful benefits of shellac, let me tell you all about this stuff!  Shellac is perfect for any piece of furniture that has an odor or the stain is bleeding through your paint.  It's a problem solver!  It's easy to apply and dries quickly.  I've learned from years of working with vintage furniture,  how to tell just by looking at the wood,  if the stain will bleed through. the paint.  I knew this empire dresser was going to be one of 'those' pieces, but the shellac sealed it and prevented any bleed through.


After I had everything sealed, I sanded the top.  I started with 50 grit sandpaper, then switched to 100, 150, 220 and finally 500 grit.  This helped give a smooth finish and at the same time gets rid of the scratches and gouges often found on vintage furniture.

I stained the top in my favorite dark walnut stain, then moved on to the next steps. 


Since I was keeping this one, the color choice was easy.  I went with a mix of Chalk Paint™  decorative paint by Annie Sloan in a combination of Pure and Old White.  I didn't want the paint to be too stark, or too creamy.  The mix of the two colors gave me the perfect white.

After painting the base of the dresser, I was unsure of what drawer hardware I should use.  I decided to go with the wood knobs that were original to the dresser.  I sanded each one and then stained them  to match the dark walnut top.  

Last steps were, lightly sanding, distressing, waxing and re-attaching the updated knobs on the drawers.

When I was finished, I stood back and almost cried!!  This beat up, sitting around for years, dresser was now beautiful and almost unrecognizable.  I couldn't love it more if I tried.

Here she is in her new home....my kitchen.


 The knobs on the drawers are exactly what this dresser needed to finish it off.  I can thank my sweet 10 year old neighbor for helping me pick between two options.  We both agreed the wood knobs were just right!




I really love the dark walnut stain against the white paint.  






One other thing I love about this dresser....the keyholes.  


Oh and I love the side profile too!


I always fall in love with the pieces I work on.  Each one is a reflection of me, it's my form of art. This one though, holds a special place in my heart.  It was in such bad shape when I found it and I wasn't sure I'd be able to turn it into anything really special, but I was wrong.  I know I'm biased, but I'm definitely in love and I'm thrilled this one is staying here with me!

Thank you for reading!

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