Distressed Dresser DIY

I have always had a fondness for all things vintage (or antique, rustic, old, dated, etc). But I never really got into the whole “distressed” thing as I thought it always looked, well, crappy. I mean, who would pay good money for something that looks like it was dumped on the side of the road and left to rot (ok, maybe not that bad, but still)? Well, apparently there are a lot of people out there who would in fact pay a lot of money for these kinds of things.

By way of the internet and Pinterest, (yes, in my mind there is a difference in the internet and Pinterest- and anyone who is a hardcore “pinner” will know exactly what I mean), I had started to see a lot of distressing projects pop up, and with modern advances in crafting mediums, some of them were actually looking pretty cool. In fact, the idea was starting to grow on me…no, like really, really grow on me. I started to think about how cute my kitchen cabinets, dinning table, headboard, shelving and everything else in my house would look if it were distressed. But I knew I couldn’t have my kitchen be my first ever attempt at distressing, because that could be one giant, expensive mistake to repair. So, I needed something else to practice on.

Just so happened there was a dresser at my MIL’s house that would be perfect for this. Here it is, in all it’s 1990’s stenciled glory-
dresser before

I don’t know why stenciling was so popular back in the 90’s, but it was a bad idea. Go home crafts, you are drunk.  As you can see in the picture though, it is a pretty cool dresser. It looks like an Armour, but has drawers instead of a place to hang clothes. I don’t know how old it is, all I know is that it is solid wood, not particle board, so that gives it some weight as far as worth. I also know (well, rumored at least), that this belong to Wayne’s ex wife as a child, so all the more reason to make it look extra fabulous… did I really just go there?

There was one really, really big problem though. My MIL’s house has an unfinished basement, and this is where the dresser had been stored for many years. While there was no visible water damage, I would have rather had that than what I did have to deal with, and that was mildew.  I let the dresser sit in the garage just as pictured for almost a week to let it air out- didn’t help. I knew that I couldn’t put this in my daughter’s room smelling the way it did, because one, that’s just not nice, and two, that’s toxic. So, I had to put my patient pants on and figure out a plan.

Here in a nut shell is what I did before beginning the fun part of painting:

**Disclaimer I am not a professional, and will never claim to be. These are techniques and products that worked well for me, but individual results may vary. And I was not paid by any company to use their product**

  1. Removed hardware. This includes taking the doors off, and removing that hardware as well. I kept the hardware because I liked the look and decided to spray paint it. I just washed all pieces in soapy water, let dry, and sprayed with Rustoluem “oil rubbed bronze” spray paint.
  2. Completely sanded all pieces of wood. I should have taken a picture of this, but basically, it took me about a week of working on this on and off with a hand, mouse-type sander. I know there are paint strippers that can be used, but I wanted to sand so that way I could take the first layer of wood off along with the paint to hopefully help with the mildew. **ALWAYS WEAR A MASK AND EYE PROTECTION WHEN SANDING, ESPECIALLY WHEN DEALING WITH UNSAFE ELEMENTS LIKE MILDEW AND MOLD!
  3. With a damp rag, I “washed” all of the sand and debris off- I used a shop vac for the small corners and areas that I could not get with the towel. You want it to be free from sand before continuing.
  4. I then put hydrogen peroxide in a bottle and completely sprayed over all surfaces and began to wipe with a rag. There are many mildew removers on the market, but I found this method to be the best. When you spray it on, if you see any foaming or bubbling, that means there is mold, and it is doing  its magic to kill it!
  5. I then let the dresser sit again for a day or so to let it dry completely.

By this time it had been well over a week and my patient pants were slowly sagging down to my knees. I had planned on getting this done in one weekend, so I had already sold my daughter’s old dresser, thus leaving her bedroom completely bombed with clothes. It was time to paint! Well, no, actually it wasn’t…..

  1. The dresser still had a slight mildew smell :/ It wasn’t bad, but it was there. No bueno.
  2. I used Zinsser brand primer- it is owned by Rustoleum I just found out. Many people recommend using Kilz brand, but the Zinsser that I picked out had an odor blocker in it that I thought would be nice. So as to not steal pictures from the internet, here is the link: http://www.rustoleum.com/en/product-catalog/consumer-brands/zinsser/primer-sealers/b-i-n-shellac-base-primer
  3. I did two light coats of primer. Here is where you will find all kinds of varying information, so do what you will, but I just used a cheap paint brush because I was wanting the look of light brush strokes in my paint.
  4. It says you can paint over in as little as an hour, but I waited a day.

Woo hoo, NOW to the fun part- paint! Since this is for my daughter’s room, I thought it would be fun to do a bright pink. (Also, keep in mind that I primed in white which will matter later). We picked out a semi gloss by Behr called “Tutti Frutti”- to me it is the PERFECT pink, and here is why: it isn’t too dark, too bright, too pale- it doesn’t look like baby girl, but it doesn’t look like a whore house either. It is a color that my 5 year old loves, but a 16, 30, 50 or 70 year old will also love. The fine folks at Home Depot also mixed in a Rustoleum mildew and mold killer for us to help with anything that was still lingering. I decided to only get a pint of paint, as I thought a gallon would be too much. And that was the right call, as I still have some left in the pint.

  1. I did 2 light coats of paint- for this I used a “Purdy” brand brush. They are more expensive, but it is what all the pros use and gets really good results. By using this brush, the pink paint went on fairly smooth, but I could still see some of the indentations from using a cheap brush on the primer, which was what I needed for a later step.

Now I could have just left the dresser like this, but now it was time for the whole point of this- the distressing! Pinterest and Google have tons of info out there on distressing, again, this is just what worked best for me.

  1. I had leftover Behr “faux glaze” from another project- it is a milky looking glaze that you mix with other paints to achieve various effects. There are many glazes on the market and are found with the paints at the hardware store. You don’t need much, so if you are only using it for this, get the smallest container possible.  I mixed about a cup of the glaze with about a 1/4 cup of chocolate brown paint. You can use acrylic craft paint if you want, I just happened to have a small sample jar of the brown on hand. Most people use black for this, but I thought the brown would be better.
  2. I sanded various stress points on the dresser- the edges, around where the handles would go, etc. I only went through the pink layer of paint so you could see the white under.
  3. Take a cheap brush and lightly put your glaze on, and then quickly wipe off with an old rag. You will want to have a fresh section of rag every time you wipe.
  4. Work in sections because the glaze dries fairly quick.
  5. You will want more glaze in nooks and crannies to give it that aged look- this is especially nice if you have decorative elements on your piece.

So cool, now I have my distressed piece, but it was still missing something- so I decided to do a little decopauge on the inside drawers and do the same distressing technique with the sanding and the glaze.  On the decopauge I used an acrylic sealer, but on the dresser itself I did not seal it, only because I had lost my patience pants by now.

So, to now make a long story short, here are the after pics- I think it turned out pretty good! Not perfect by any means, but for a first project, I’ll take it! What do you guys think?

dresser 1

Oooh, decopauge!


Here is a close up of the distressing around the handles


Close up of more decopauge! That is scrap book paper my friends! Lightly sanded and glazed over to give it that old wall paper feel. dresser6


4 thoughts on “Distressed Dresser DIY

  1. It looks AWESOME. I love the surprise patterns on the drawers (I’d probably leave the doors open all the time- they look so cool. And you got the distressing in all the right places. It looks “natural”. (I’ve always loved distressing, myself.). Thanks for the blow-by-blow directions and warnings, too.

    • Thanks so much! I like to break it down and make it as easy as possible for people to follow what I am doing! And yes, the patterns on the drawers were totally a last minute thing only because I just didn’t feel like painting anymore! So glad I did it though, because you’re right, it did turn out pretty cool!

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