How To NOT Ruin An Antique- A Furniture Makeover

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Do you ever buy something used and not really give it a good look?

Like, you are SO excited to have this beautiful 100-year-old dresser that you forget to check if the sides are water damaged and the drawer hardware is all there?
Asking for a friend.
The Dresser - Before

Not really

As you can assume, I got a 100-year-old dresser. I was so excited when the owner of the consignment shop here in town told me I could have it, as a trade for a few things, that I gave it a very quick once over and said “OK!” with the excitement of a 6-year-old getting M&M’s.  

As it was, it looked very old, but everything was there and it would be an easy paint job.

Not so much.
I got it home (or more accurately, to my husband’s grandmas garage) and REALLY looked at it.
The Damage Assesment

The sides were completely damaged, all of it had been soaked, and for a long time. After having a look at how to restore them, I knew they would have to come off.
And I know I put up a good front here, but I’ve only done a few furniture rehabs. One, to be honest. It didn’t go well. Check it out here.

100 years old

So, when you have irreparable water damage to something like this dresser, you WANT to save it. It was beautiful and so sturdy.  Furniture is just not made like this anymore.

My plan of attack was :


  1. Rip off the sides
  2. Sand and clean
  3. Replace sides
  4. Paint and varnish
  5. $$$$

It went just like that. Except it took about 6 weeks since I only worked on it on Sundays and someone kept dinging up my paint job. So it was a little more like

  1. Paint and varnish
  2. Ding
  3. Paint and varnish
  4. Some Kind of black mark that won’t come off
  5. Paint and varnish

Aside from how long it took and being terrified of ruining the thing, it went well.
There wasn’t really any room for trial and error, which is pretty much how my entire life goes, so I only had one chance to get this thing done right.

I also forgot to mention how long it took me to decide on the paint color. I didn’t want to stain all of it and white was just too boring.
I ended up with this BEAUTIFUL sorta of mint green which can be found here.

The Paint! Following my plan, I tore the sides off, which took quite a bit of force. RE: Things are not built like this anymore. There was a little glue and wood chips still let so chiseling that off we the next step. I decided to sand the newly exposed bones instead of breaking my hands off trying to tear each little leftover piece of wood off.

The Sides Have Been Removed!

Removing The Sides

Check. Sides are off.
Now what.
Sanding and cleaning, right.
Not too hard, just a little elbow grease and then rummaging in an unfamiliar garage for a few hours trying to find the right paper for the right sander, after figuring out it would take FOREVER to get the laminate off by hand.

It was also incredibly dirty. I’m going to have to assume that one of the owners of this thing had a dog and mice. There was dog food stored everywhere.

Make sure you wash your hands a lot.

Finding the sides was quite a trip. I had no idea what I was looking for other than it had to be about a quarter of an inch thick. The guy at The Do-It Center tried is best and then asked me a few times if the pine (maybe?) was what I was sure I wanted.
Yes. This works. Please cut it so I can leave!
Turns out, they will only cut it to size, not the tiny inch notch at the bottom.

What I’m working with

Before we go any further, I’m going to let you know what tools I was working with.


  • Sander
  • Paint and brushes
  • Screwdriver and chisel
  • Hammer
  • Dremel tool

Dremel tool. Somehow, I manage to cut these two pieces of wood to fit on the side of my dresser with a Dremel.
They are amazing. I recommend them to anyone who crafts.

The next beast to tackle was figuring out where to put all the clamps as I was gluing the new sides on. This was interesting. I only had about 8 clamps and they were all of varying sizes. Only two would fit across the whole thing. And the majority of the rest of them were tiny baby clamps.
I did it though.
No clamps were harmed in the re-making of this dresser!

Gluing and Clamping

At this point, I was SO EXCITED because look at this thing I did! LOOK AT IT! I did that!
I was so close to being done!

One thing that was not on my list was getting the new hardware for the drawers. And since I couldn’t find anything that would fit the existing holes, I needed to make new ones. 4 of them, on each drawer.
The Drawers Before The Handles

Drawers After The HandlesNow, I am not a pro at making straight lines, or even measuring. But, by some miracle, I got all 8 of these handles on straight. I did make the mistake of taking my not-so-crafty husbands advice and drilling the holes to the exact size of the screw.
Don’t do that. Go one size up, just a little bigger, or you are going to be trying to get those screws in the holes all night. I didn’t figure that out until all of the handles were screwed in and I need to take them off again to repaint.

After painting for the third of fourth time, it was finished.
And it looks INCREDIBLE! It’s still sitting in the garage, waiting to be sold, but I think I did a great job! 

Finished Top

The Dresser Is Finished

The Finished Piece

Tips for the newbie

If you are new to the whole refurbishing thing but really want to do it, make sure you have some tools and a roof.
Since I’m new, I’m not going to suggest the tools to you, but whatever the experts in this field recommend, go with it. I can’t imagine how much easier this would have been if I had had the right tools for the job.

If you are going to use chalked paint, the one that you don’t need to do any prep work, don’t have small people with grimy hands or bikes running around, smudges won’t come off and you can’t just repaint the one area. You have to do the whole thing or you will see where you painted.

How did your first furniture makeover go? What do you think?
If you are in the Wisconsin area, this is still for sale 😉

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