I was shopping for used furniture with my Mom in New Hampshire about five years ago when I found this little set of drawers. For only $25 I had to take it home. That in-and-of-itself is pretty extraordinary. Furniture shopping with me is both highly desirable and insufferable. On the one hand, you obviously get to spend time with me. But on the other hand, I pretty much never buy anything. It’s pretty annoying.
But this was an easy buy; it is the sort of piece I’ll always have a place for. It has a small footprint, a simple style, and offers useful storage. In my old apartment it held jewelry and hair products. Now it lives in my office/dressing room holding scarves, notebooks, and contact lenses. Thanks, little set of drawers!
I’ve gotten great use out of it for the last five years, but then one day I looked over and realized it was totally grossty. Yes, grossty is a word. And, yes, it was plenty clean, but the finish was not in good shape. Something had splattered across it, leaving the surface pitted and crusty.
If the front was in bad shape, the top was worse. It was all scratched up, and the finish was coming off in places. Most of the corners around the base were nicked or worn off. The drawers were just raw wood, and they were coming apart in a few places.
Um, how did I not notice this? I’m very suspicious that this little cabinet sneaked out and went to a party without me or something, and came back home all hungover and cranky.
Since I couldn’t stop glaring over at it whenever I was in the room, it was time to fix it up. My first thought was paint. I have been LOVING those mid-century modern furniture pieces or furniture makeovers that feature gorgeous medium-tone wood contrasting with crisp white paint – you know the type, like this, this, or this. But as much as I love high-contrast everything, I had to restrain myself on this one. This is a small, handy piece of furniture that will probably live in every room imaginable at one time or another. And that will be so much easier if I don’t try to make it a “statement.”
I decided to just paint the drawers. They were in rough shape, so I tightened up the seams with some small nails, sanded them down, and caulked for a seamless look.
After a quick coat of primer, I tried a new kind of paint, Benjamin Moore ADVANCE Interior Waterborne Alkyd Paint in Satin. The promise is that it goes on as evenly as, and finishes as hard as, an oil-based paint. This is what we are currently considering for re-painting our kitchen cabinets and I wanted to get some experience with the product before I committed to that sort of project. All the friction that will come with opening and closing these drawers should be a good stress test!
The paint went on really well, and got great coverage after two coats. The only frustrating thing is that it takes so long to dry. You are supposed to wait 16 hours between coats. Madness!
I also used a small craft-brush to carefully paint the inside edge of each drawer, leaving that beautiful crisp edge between white and wood like in my inspiration images, but hidden where only I will see it when I use the drawers. Maybe that will satisfy me. And don’t they seem so much nicer with all the gaps and cracks patched, and painted bright white!
I let them hang out for about a week until the paint had fully cured. Meanwhile, the skeleton gaped at me from its corner, looking exposed and forlorn. This picture reminds me of the sort of image that would accompany a really juicy piece of gotcha-journalism. I’ve caught you now, cabinet.
Yes, this is what I think about when left to my own devices in my office through too many snow days.
…So it was time to turn my attention to the wood finish. Here is a reminder of what terrible condition the wood was in.
I was pretty worried that it wouldn’t be reparable, even remembering the success I had with Howard Restor-A-Finish (affiliate link – read our policies) and Feed-N-Wax (affiliate link – read our policies) in fixing up the flea-market cabinet that is now the star of my living room. I had learned about the Howard products via this post on YHL, and had been itching to try it. I was not disappointed!
I wasn’t sure the products would be up to this much damage over the entire piece, but I gave them a shot. First, in a ventilated room using a clean rag, I wiped the Restor-A-Finish over all the wood surfaces. This is the fun part, because you get to see scratches and dings just disappear before your eyes. I had to really rub and scratch the product into some places, particularly the damaged drawer-fronts and dings along the feet and legs.
After letting that soak in for about 30 minutes, I rubbed on a layer of the Feed-N-Wax. After letting that sit for another 30 minutes, I came back around with a fresh rag to buff the wax on all the surfaces.
In the name of science and blogging, I left one drawer alone so we could all see the effect, with no photo or editing trickery.
It made such a difference. The finish is nowhere near perfect, but it is loads better than it was before.
The drawer fronts still show some imperfections but where it made the biggest difference was on the body and legs. Maybe because the worst of the damage was on corners, where it is easiest to saturate in the product, and where remaining imperfections are less noticeable.
After letting it sit around for a week to absorb all this
oil and wax love I was throwing at it, I did one more treatment of both products. This didn’t make as much of a difference as the first coat, but it did help maintain the new look.
With the finish in good shape, I got to turn my attention to the hardware. This was another exercise in restraint, as my Pinterest boards would show me to be a huge fan of colorful – cabinet – hardware. But remembering that this is not a piece that is supposed to hit you over the head with its awesomeness, I decided on a more delicate approach and looked at a bunch of simple brass knobs. (And consulted with Sage, because this is a really important decision.) These were my favorites:
So which did I actually chose? Um, #1 obviously. While a bigger piece of furniture, or a piece painted all white, would have thrived with one of the bolder or more detailed options, Sage and I decided a very simple shape would look good with the dark wood. The decision was only made easier by the fact that these cost $1.78 each and had a free shipping deal going.
Less than a week later, here it is!
The wood looks so clear and luxurious now. I don’t even have to cover the top with a scarf to hide the dings and scratches. It still isn’t perfect, but that’s probably not in the cards unless I want to sand it down and start over. Which I don’t.
I love how the small, shiny knobs are special without being attention-hogs. To actually use, they feel weighty and satisfying, which is more than I expected at the price. They’re the perfect size for this small piece, but would also look cool and modern on something bigger, like kitchen cabinets.
The painted drawers are a huge improvement. The pop of white is clean and cheery, and it feels like a good quality piece of furniture rather than a dinky old thing that is falling apart.
The paint is holding up really well. After plenty of time curing in our very dry winter air, I loaded up the drawers and have been using them frequently. There are no marks or scratches in the finish. Like at all. So far so good on testing this paint for the eventual kitchen re-do!
This was a pretty subtle makeover without the truly shocking before-and-after that we all know and love. But it makes a huge difference in my enjoyment of having this little piece of furniture hanging around the house!