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Artist Eyes...

The love of the hunt

I spend at least an hour a day on Facebook Marketplace looking for my next great furniture find. The hunt is half the fun when it comes to refinishing furniture (bargaining is the next best part – for me!) When I saw this piece, I immediately saw the potential and was eager to see my vision come to life – I had to have it! It’s just “one more” dresser, right? Never mind the two I have back home in storage waiting for inspiration to strike!

Solid wood dresser for sale ad

At $100 the price was not right, and I knew it, but the seller wouldn’t budge. I was so excited to see the end product I threw caution to the wind and agreed. When I got to their house and saw it in person it wasn't in good condition so had to re-negotiate!

We agreed on $80 and I chalked it up (no pun intended) to the cost of education: how will I restore this beautiful piece to where I can paint and refinish it?

After a long battle sanding, scraping, fixing and repairing the piece, I was finally ready to bring new life to this old dresser. When I first laid eyes on this piece, I fell in love with the waterfall wood grain down the center. I envisioned painting everything but that section in Annie Sloan Napoleonic blue and restoring the hardware to its original shiny brass. However, as with most works of art - which furniture painting certainly is - creativity took over and guided the process each step of the way.

Napoleonic blue is OK as far as blue’s go, but as someone with a passion for deep, rich, navy’s, Napoleonic falls just a bit short. It’s more like a cobalt blue, which can appear deeper with a dark wax topcoat. Even then, it wouldn’t deliver the level of sophistication I was going for.

A while back I bought a quart of Magnolia chalk paint in “Weekend”, which is a beautiful rich teal-peacock color. I am very loyal to Annie Sloan chalk paint, and buy all my paint from the fabulous Purple Painted Lady, but I loved this color (and Joanna Gaines so of course!) so I was willing to give her chalk paint a try. I opened the can and got to work on the sides of the dresser.

The first thing I noticed about this paint is that it’s pretty thick. I used my mister throughout the entire application. Unlike Annie Sloan, the water seemed to lighten the paint making it very streaky. Since I was constantly spritzing the piece as I painted, the streaks became part of the overall design and I didn’t mind the effect. The color was, PERFECT!

As I was ready to move on the drawers I hesitated because the finish was not in great shape. I really wanted the waterfall wood grain to pop against the Weekend blue. So I wondered what would happen if I sanded it down. I was weary about ruining it, so I started on the outside of the drawer where I knew I was going to paint anyway. I was pleasantly surprised about how beautiful the original wood was and immediately sanded down the entire waterfall center that I wanted to showcase with this design.

On the sanded down drawer sides, I tested a few different wood stains. All of them made the wood SO dark, the wood grain virtually disappeared. I ended up using Minwax Natural to just richen the texture of the grain.

Then, I put the drawers back in and taped off the center in a deep V using blue painters tape. Symmetry is important with a project like this, so I was careful to measure the distance from the edge of the tape to the edge of the drawer at both the top and bottom of each draw. Once the tape was perfectly aligned down the center of the piece with equal distance on the left and right hand sides of the drawers, I stained each one. It made sense to me to stain first, paint second because I didn’t want to risk getting any stain on the paint.

Since I was so impressed with the how the drawers came out, I took the chance and sanded down the entire top of the dresser. It was absolutely gorgeous and had me beaming!

But then… disaster struck! There was so much of the old poly topcoat building up under my sanding pad of the orbital sander that it chipped the veneer and ruined the entire top. It was irreversible damage – at least to the best of my knowledge, it couldn’t be fixed!

When I was a child growing up in the 80’s I LOVED watching Bob Ross’s painting show. His words, “there’s only happy mistakes” has stuck with me my entire life. In fact, It’s a value that I am instilling in my children.

My, now 6 year old, is a budding artist herself. She used to get so frustrated with herself when she made a mistake on her drawing or something didn’t go as planned. She would throw her markers on the floor, crumble up her picture, and practically burst into tears. Bob Ross’s words of wisdom came to the rescue – not only in helping my daughter salvage her art, on numerous occasions, but also broadened her mind and enriched her creativity.

When she sees a caterpillar in her Pirates Bootie, or a horse in her half eaten Peanut Butter and Jelly I said, “you have wonderful “artist eyes”, Havana!” She sees this as a valuable trait and I can see her self esteem building over this concept. So, before a full blown tantrum set in, I said to her, “let’s use your wonderful artist eyes and turn this mistake into something beautiful.” I took her marker and showed her how that out- of-place line on the girls skirt can turn the plain white skirt into one with beautiful pink stripes. I added more lines and she was in love with her art again. After a few of these episodes, she was teaching her baby sister to use her artist eyes too.

So, as I felt myself on the verge of a temper tantrum over this chipped veneer, I coached myself into thinking differently about how I saw this piece to find a solution! Unfortunately, the entire top couldn’t remain in its natural state. So, I decided to take the entire piece in a new direction. Although not as I intended, certainly appealing in its own right. I grabbed the painter’s tape and continued the design work from the front of the dresser up to the top. I filled in the gap with Bondo and painted the sides of the top. To compliment this new design style, I replaced the knobs with these beautiful brass hexagon pulls I found on Etsy.

I was so happy with the final product, but I am even more happy about the journey. I recently saw this on Instagram: “When buying from an artist/maker, you’re buying more than an object. You are buying hundreds of hours of failures and experimentation. You are buying days, weeks, and months of frustration and moments of pure joy. You aren’t just buying a thing, you are buying a piece of heart, part of a soul, a moment of someone’s life.” This quote couldn’t better describe my journey with this 1920’s waterfall dresser, as I call it.

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