My 13-year-old had been asking to redecorate her room for a while. It was still little-girl pink with little-girl ruffles and maybe a fairy or two.
Seemed it was time to accept she was growing up…and that the brand-new expensive furniture we bought when she was a toddler (why did we do that??) wasn’t going to see her through college.
Well, I’ve wised up. I am now a thrifty do-it-yourselfer when it comes to some home decor — case goods are one of them. I believe there’s absolutely no reason to buy new when you can get a better, more solid piece used for a lot less.
So while she finalized her design plans, wish list and tweaked her budget spreadsheet (she’s type A), I started to search Craigslist for a wide lowboy dresser.
I quickly zeroed in on a Pottery Barn Valencia dresser from 2001 for $100. I was pretty pumped knowing that similar dressers at Pottery Barn retail for at least $1800 today.
It was in that glossy dark cherry finish that was popular at the time and was in great shape with only minor dings and scratches.
I was feeling that DIY stir of excitement. Some of you know what I’m talkin’ about.
I arranged for my moving crew (i.e. husband) to head downtown to the 4th floor of a walk-up apartment building…which was when it started to become clear why this thing’s been on Craigslist for at least a month. It is heavy and those four flights of stairs are narrow!
My husband was not pleased. He and his aching back had been down this road before. But I know that the words “solid wood” and “dovetail” always soothe him and he can’t resist an opportunity to test the limits of our Suburban’s cargo space.
So we manage to get my latest Craigslist steal home and I waited for my daughter’s design plan.
I was hoping to just slap on some chalk paint, add some cute knobs and call it a day, but she had seen an inspiration piece on Fixer Upper — thanks a lot, Joanna!
Her plans called for a gray stain over bare wood which meant I now had a gigantic project on my hands; one that involved stripping, scraping, bleaching, conditioning, staining, and sealing (with several iterations of the final two steps of course).
Yes, I know I’m crazy.
So in case you find yourself in the same situation and can’t talk your kiddo into an alternative plan, I am sharing how I completely refinished this $100 dresser (plus supplies — many of which do-it-yourselfers have on hand anyway).
Here we go!
Ready your well-ventilated project space (I worked in the garage) with drop cloths, a small garbage bucket, a giant bag of lint-free rags, heavy-duty gloves, throwaway paintbrushes, fine grit sandpapers (220–320), staining pads, mask, goggles, and steel wool (if needed).
Step 1: Strip
Get some Citristrip at your local home improvement store and follow the suggested instructions and safety measures.
This stuff is the bomb — and it smells like orangesicles. I slathered it on in sections —first the entire dresser top, followed by the sides, then a few drawers at a time.
I also covered each section with plastic wrap so that the Citristrip didn’t dry out before it was able to work its magic through what was a really thick layer of finish (I haven’t had to do this on every project).
I let the Citristrip do its thing for 30 minutes after a test at 15 minutes revealed there was still more layers of finish to get through.
Step 2: Scrape
This step is both extremely satisfying and very messy. Definitely use plastic putty knives/scrapers. I never fail to gouge the wood when I attempt to use metal ones.
Remove the plastic wrap from the first section and gently scrape in the direction of the wood, pushing the stripped stuff right into your small bucket.
Step 3: Wash
Use rags and Klean Strip After Wash to wipe off the Citristrip residue.
For areas that still have some finish remaining try rubbing steel wool to remove it. You may need to reapply Citristrip for stubborn areas.
Step 4: Bleach
The wood was still pretty dark after stripping so rather than do some major sanding, I bleached all surfaces by generously wetting rags with bleach and wiping the surfaces of the dresser.
I did this a few times over a day until I felt the wood was light enough to properly showcase the gray stain.
Step 5: Condition
Though it is tempting to skip this step, I speak from experience when I say don’t.
Conditioning the wood allows the stain to absorb evenly without any splotchiness…unlike the stair railing in my basement.
Before conditioning with Minwax’s Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner I did a light sanding with 220-grit sandpaper. I’m not sure it was totally necessary, but, again, I have learned it’s best to follow directions for this step.
Then I applied the conditioner to the top, sides, and front of dresser. I let the conditioner absorb into the wood for at least 5 minutes before I applied the gray stain.
I followed the same process for the drawer fronts.
Step 6: Stain
Once the wood is conditioned it is ready to accept the stain. I applied Varathane in weathered gray with staining pads (again, in sections).
After testing a small area I found I only needed to let the stain sit for about a minute to achieve the desired look. Wipe off the residual stain with rags.
No second coat was needed for this project, praise the Lord.
Step 7+: Sand and Seal, Sand and Seal…Sand and Seal
Finally, for sealing I use oil-based Minwax Wipe-On Poly in satin finish.
Apparently Minwax has come out with a wipe-on water-based version, but I haven’t tried it yet. I would definitely use it for any white or light-colored painted surfaces as oil-based poly leaves behind a yellowish hue.
I do prefer wipe-on because at this point during a project I am all about easy. Just wipe on with your lint-free rags — no brush required.
I did four coats with a gentle 320-grit sanding between each coat. That gave the “baby’s bottom” finish I was looking for.
The Finished Project
I am thrilled with the result—more importantly, my kiddo is too. And it is something she’ll hopefully cart from place to place forever (with her own moving crew).
And yes, I realize I could have bought a brand-new dresser given the time invested, but I was able to create a unique piece and, more importantly, it kept me out of trouble for a while.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go check Craigslist.