Have you ever inherited a piece of furniture that you liked but didn’t love? It may have been a piece that’s been in your family for a few generations or one that your sister passed to you because she decided she didn’t need it any longer. You think to yourself… it’s a nice piece of furniture and you have the perfect wall for that size piece. There’s nothing overly committal about the style, so it could blend well with your other furniture. If only you could stain over the brass accents.
If only it were not that color. If only it wasn’t scratched. If only it had modern hardware. If only it didn’t have brass as decorative accents. Well, my friends, you can fix all of these issues. And did you know you can even stain over the brass?
More than a year ago, a friend of mine was moving her mom to a new apartment. We all know when there’s a move, there’s a purge, right? Packing for a move is a good time to sort through clothing and household items. It’s also a time to decide which furniture will actually fit into your new space, especially if you’re downsizing.
Knowing that I refinish furniture, she asked if I wanted this long 12-drawer dresser. Isn’t it stunning! Don’t laugh. You have to look beyond the current finish. See what I see?
Consider the Style
Right away, I fell in love with the size and the shape. The style is traditional and made up of straight lines. Straight around the top (no rounded edges). Straight around the bottom edges (no colonial scrolls). And straight 90 degree draw fronts free of any adornments.
Yes, straight lines I can work with.
When she called me to pick the dresser up, my plan, as is with most furniture, was to refinish and re-sell it. But then when I saw it, I thought… this dresser may work in my Master Bedroom. It’s a little bit longer, a little bit taller, and a lot more stately than the long dresser we have in there now (which was my dresser from when I was 13 years old).
So I decided to refinish my old dresser and swap it out for this one. You can see my old dresser finished in royal blue HERE.
Some of you may look at the next photo of the top surface and hesitate at taking on a project like this. And honestly, it was it was not easy to smooth out the top surface. These were some deep scratches and the clear topcoat was one of the thickest, most difficult one I’ve worked on to date.
But I saw the potential and knew with a little patience, I could transform this dresser.
Remove the Old Topcoat
The project began with sanding. A LOT of sanding. A few WEEKS of sanding. The original factory clear finish was incredibly thick – a testament to the quality of this dresser.
Underneath all of the scratched topcoat was beautiful cherry wood.
Some refinishers would have chosen to use strip the finish with chemicals. There are pluses and minuses to that. The two times I chose to strip a piece of furniture, I found it to be extremely messy and in the end, I still ended up sanding.
I will say that hindsight is 20-20 and in this case, as much as I don’t like to use chemical strippers, it may have been a better option than the sanding.
Let an Inspiration Photo Guide You
Let’s take a step back and look at my inspiration photo. This page was torn from a magazine more than 15 years ago. [I think it was from a Cabot House Furniture catalog.]. The torn page has been hanging on my closet wall since. I love the winter white walls, the dark furniture, and the entire black & white (light & dark) contrast going on.
Tip: When you see a photo of a room you absolutely love, hang the picture somewhere in that room so you can keep referring to it. I have this one in my bedroom closet and another of a dining room in my hallway closet.
Did you notice the dresser in my inspiration photo above? It looks similar in style and shape to this dresser, doesn’t it? This helped me choose the finishes.
Choose the Right Stain
After sanding, I stained the dresser with Varathane stain in the color Kona. Kona is a very dark, almost black, brown that matches perfectly to our platform bed from West Elm and is pretty close to the inspiration photo.
Decide on Your Metals
The inspiration photo also came in really handy when choosing the hardware for this dresser. I could have kept the original brass hardware, which was weighty and beautiful, but instead chose a satin nickel drawer pull to stay in-line with my inspiration photo.
The satin nickel coordinates with our door hardware and master bathroom finishes. I’m not against mixing metals. We happen to have a mix of silver, gold, and oil-rubbed bronze metals all over our house. Just be sure it doesn’t clash with other metals in the room and choose what makes you feel good.
Most refinishing projects come with a stumbling block or mishap. In the case of this dresser, I had both.
Stain Over Brass
First, if I was going with the satin nickel drawer pulls, the brass on the corner columns had to change. I considered spray painting these brass corner accents a silver tone, but then discovered something different…
Tip: You can stain over brass!
Yup, I had no idea! I discovered this by accident. When I stained the dresser I accidentally got a little of the dark stain on the brass. And it stuck. It stuck really well. So I applied 2 or 3 layers of the stain with a rag and a Q-Tip.
Now the brass accents look like stained turned wood on the corners of the dresser.
Showing you this photo (above) leads me to the next issue I ran into. Do you see it? Do you see the thin trim around each drawer front? I kept hitting the rotary sander against this trim and it kept denting the wood, sanding it down unevenly.
I admit that at the time, it was so difficult to remove that topcoat that I lost my patience and just wanted to get it done. And, knowing I was planning to keep this dresser and not sell it, it was about what I could live with.
Honestly, it’s way more noticeable in this photo with the light shining directly on the dresser than really is. It don’t even notice it unless I stare closely.
What I do notice is a large piece of furniture with dark stain, a smooth to top, new satin nickel knobs, and dresser that very closely matches my inspiration photo.
Here’s a list of resources I used to complete this project:
- Craftsman Rotary Sander
- 60-grit sanding discs
- Varathane Stain – Kona (be sure to get the Premium One-Coat which covers so much better than the regular)
- Satin Nickel Knob from D. Lawless Hardware
- Benjamin Moore Stays Clear Satin topcoat
- Purdy Super Trim brush
The next time you inherit a piece of furniture you like but don’t love (yet) consider following an inspiration photo and refinishing it to fit perfectly into your home.
Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links to products I use myself.