Refinishing A Mid-Century Modern Dresser: Mistakes & Lessons

Hello friends. Before I dive into this Mid-Century love fest I want to chat briefly about my posting schedule. I decided to tackle some new projects this year and they’re taking longer than I expected (you’ll see one example in this post). As a result the blogging side of things has slowed down. A lot. Hopefully it will pick up again as I learn more and can work faster. Until then, I’m still sharing, just less often.

Now that that’s out of the way, get a load of this.

Refinishing A Mid-Century Modern Dresser: Mistakes & Lessons | laughingabi.com

Refinishing A Mid-Century Modern Dresser: Mistakes & Lessons | laughingabi.com

I. Can’t. Even.

The Mid-Century Modern lover in me wants to whisper inappropriate things to it over cocktails in a dark, smoky bar.

Sure, it’s got a broken leg – a new one has been ordered and will be here soon – but it’s still so damn sexy I just couldn’t wait any longer to share.

Refinishing A Mid-Century Modern Dresser: Mistakes & Lessons | laughingabi.com

So for now we’ll do some cropping to hide the “stump” and show off the gorgeous legs it does have.

Refinishing A Mid-Century Modern Dresser: Mistakes & Lessons | laughingabi.com

You might also notice there’s no fancy staging or styling – the paint job on the wall isn’t even done. That’s because this room is (eternally) under construction. This dresser and another one I plan to share soon are the only finished things in the space. Gotta start somewhere.

THE STORY

You can probably guess from the title of this post that the refinishing process did not go smoothly. I’ll start at the beginning with this not-so-exciting “before” shot.

Refinishing A Mid-Century Modern Dresser: Mistakes & Lessons | laughingabi.com

Not in bad shape but there were some scratches and dings that needed attention. Worst of all, this ugly laminate top.

Refinishing A Mid-Century Modern Dresser: Mistakes & Lessons | laughingabi.com

So I started by stripping the drawers with Citristrip. Then I hit them with a few coats of General Finishes Java Gel Stain. Everything looked beautiful so I finished them off with General Finishes Gel Topcoat, patted myself on the back, and went to bed.

The next morning I found this on all nine drawers.

Refinishing A Mid-Century Modern Dresser: Mistakes & Lessons | laughingabi.com

What the what? What happened? And more importantly, how do I fix it?

THE INVESTIGATION

I asked everyone I knew. Instagram friends. Facebook family. General Finishes customer support. Everyone. In the end no one was exactly sure why it happened but most seemed to agree on the solution: re-strip, re-sand, and re-stain.

But I wasn’t convinced. Repeating the same steps and expecting different results seemed ridiculous. I wanted to find out what actually caused the spots so I decided to do more investigating.

My plan was simple: Follow the same exact steps but on a different dresser. If the spots appear again then I know it’s something I’m doing. If not, then it must be something on the wood. Maybe a spill or splatter from the previous owner?

Here are the discouraging results.

Refinishing A Mid-Century Modern Dresser: Mistakes & Lessons | laughingabi.com

It’s a different kind of wood so it doesn’t look the same but there are definitely spots.

So what the bleepity-bleep was I doing wrong? I had just finished another dresser last week using the same products and it turned out beautifully – no spots, no problems, no drama. Why was I having so much trouble now?

Then I remembered something! I had done one tiny thing differently on that spot-free dresser from last week: I used a liquid deglosser to remove the paint stripper residue. On the spotty dressers I used a 50/50 mix of denatured alcohol and water that I had on hand. If that mix wasn’t strong enough to completely clean off the thick, waxy stripping goo it could prevent the stain from soaking into the wood evenly, which would result in spots. Mystery solved!

THE LESSON

The Citristrip label clearly states, “use a paint stripper wash or odorless mineral spirits to loosen remaining residue”.

I used something else and it was an epic fail.

So today’s furniture refinishing lesson is: FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS ON THE PRODUCTS YOU’RE USING.

It’s so simple that it’s embarrassing. Let’s move on.

THE HOME STRETCH

Now that I knew what to do – and what not to do – it was time to finish this thing up. I scrubbed everything down with a Scotch-Brite scour pad and deglosser, then sanded and stained. The top coat went on beautifully with no spots to be seen. Success!

With the drawers finally done it was time to tackle the dresser frame. I started with a light sanding, followed by a coat of Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Primer (my go-to product for laminate surfaces). Lastly, a few coats of Benjamin Moore Cloud White and it was done!

Refinishing A Mid-Century Modern Dresser: Mistakes & Lessons | laughingabi.com

Refinishing A Mid-Century Modern Dresser: Mistakes & Lessons | laughingabi.com

Refinishing A Mid-Century Modern Dresser: Mistakes & Lessons | laughingabi.com

I’m not gonna lie. This one was slow and painful and aggravating. But I definitely learned from it and I absolutely LOVE the results. Now I’m just waiting on that leg to show up in the mail so I can officially call it finished.

Have you conquered any painful projects lately? Was the challenge due to a simple mistake like mine? Or something more complicated?

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