The dresser in Bear’s room was sweetly given to us by my husband’s Grandmother when she moved to a smaller apartment. It’s a wonderful piece: solid wood, from a quality maker, I love the lines of it, and it reminds us of her. The only problem was that the finish didn’t go well with the rest of his furniture. I’d contemplated refinishing it, but we refinished some nightstands from the same set and it was a nightmare—the finish was incredibly hard to sand off (even with a borrowed power sander), and I didn’t have any place outside our new apartment that I could do the sanding and staining.
I’ve been hearing for a while about this revolutionary paint called “Annie Sloan Chalk Paint.” It’s not chalkBOARD paint designed for writing on; what makes it unique is that you don’t need to do any prep work before you use it. No sanding, no priming, just paint. Also, it’s very low VOC, so you can paint inside, which is a big plus when you have a toddler to keep an eye on. I’ve always been kind of a dark-wood purist so I was hesitant to paint it, and I also worried about “ruining” an original. (Clearly I have watched too much Antiques Road Show.) But, then the dresser got scratched up in our recent move, and I realized that the important thing is that we enjoy the atmosphere of our home and the things in it. And that it was a little ridiculous to worry about possibly depriving my descendants of a priceless antique in…three hundred years.
So, when I saw this ombre dresser done by a friend at Lily Field Furniture, I knew I had found my inspiration! (You must check out her site—she has such an amazing eye and her pieces are absolutely lovely!) I am obsessed with ombre—to me it is the perfect combination of beauty and order, which is why I color-coordinate everything I can. It just makes me feel peaceful and happy!
Annie Sloan gives tips for how to mix colors to create different shades, so I thought it would be perfect for making the ombre colors. I chose Old Violet for the base, and Old White to make the ombre colors. The first coat went so quickly—all I did was wipe the dresser down and start painting, and it stuck! Amazing! It was also very low fumes; I was able to open the windows in our enclosed patio off the living room and have Bear in his pack ‘n play right inside.
Next I had to mix up the colors for the ombre effect. I labeled five bowls with the color ratios I wanted, starting with 5 parts blue and 1 part white, then 4 parts blue and 2 parts white, etc. I was really glad I labeled them, because it would have been easy to mix the colors up as I went along! I just used a plastic spoon to measure it, adding one more spoonful of white and one less of blue to each bowl. Six spoonfuls of each color ended up being more than I needed, but I was afraid to run out because I knew I’d never get it exactly the same color if I needed more! Today I found a blogger who recommends using a baby dropper to measure it. What a brilliant idea, and much more precise than spoonfulls!
The most time-consuming part of this project was trying to paint perfectly straight lines between colors, which turned out to be pretty much impossible. The panels were made to look like there are five drawers, but there are really only three, so I had to free-hand the inside lines. If it weren’t for that, it would have gone super quickly.
I wasn’t really planning on this having an old, distressed look, so I did two coats to completely cover the old finish and let it dry overnight. To my surprise, when it dried the top drawer looked like this:
I was rather distressed, since I wasn’t planning on distressing it (see what I did there?? Haha), but I decided to go with the flow and let it have the character it apparently wanted to display. Especially since some people spend lots of effort trying to get furniture to look like this! I’m sure this had nothing to do with the paint, although the chalk paint is designed in the first place to give an older, kind of cloudy/chalky effect as though the piece has been well-loved for years. If you want a pristine “new” look it’s probably not the right finish, but I ended up loving the cosy, aged feel it gave, and the crackling from the old finish just added more interest!
The next step was what I was the most intimidated about: waxing. Annie Sloan sells a clear wax and a dark wax you use to seal the finish. You can use either one; the dark wax makes the piece look older and more antique, but you have to do a coat of clear wax first, so I figured I’d do a clear coat and see what I thought before I spent the money on both. While we’re speaking of money, I should mention that this paint is pri-cey. It’s $40 per quart, plus $25 for the wax. I coughed and sputtered the first time I saw that! But, thankfully, my birthday was coming up. 🙂 And the pay off for the price is not having to do any prep work or breathe toxic fumes.
Anyway, back to waxing. There’s a brush designed for it that looks awesome, but again I didn’t have the extra money, so they said you can also use an old paintbrush. Ideally you want one with firm bristles but a soft tip. It should be firm enough that you can really work the wax into the wood, but soft enough to spread it evenly.
It was easier to apply than I expected; it’s soft like Crisco, and all you do is dip the brush in the wax and brush it on in a circular motion, working it into the wood. Do a thin coat, and then wipe off the excess. One tutorial said it’s like hair conditioner: you put in a small amount, your hair soaks up what it needs, and then you rinse out the extra. I think I put the first coat on too thickly; next time I’ll spread it thinner and rub the excess off better. As I waxed, I noticed some little lumps and was worried I was doing something wrong, but they disappeared when I wiped it down.
They recommend that you put on one coat of wax and let it dry completely before distressing, so I let that coat dry for about six hours. It was still a little bit tacky, but I was impatient so I distressed it anyway and it worked fine. All you do to distress is take sandpaper (I used 150 grit) and rub the paint off in places where furniture would naturally wear, like edges and corners. Supposedly it is easier to distress AFTER you’ve waxed it once. When I liked how it looked I dusted it carefully and added a second coat of wax.
While this dried, I worked on the hardware. I liked the little knobs on the top drawer but not the others, so I bought new pulls. Unfortunately, since it was an older piece the width of the holes drilled for the pulls was smaller than is standard now, so I only had two choices. I didn’t find exactly what I wanted, but liked the end result more than I thought I would (more on that later!) I wanted an oil rubbed bronze finish, so to make the new pulls match the old brass knobs, I got a can of “oil rubbed bronze” spray paint. This is wonderful stuff! I seriously want to go spray all the ugly builder-grade brass door knobs and off white light switches in our apartment. If we owned the apartment I would! (A friend did a tutorial on this, so you can see how it turns out here.) I love the metallic texture; gives it a little more depth than just black.
Then, I let everything dry overnight again. Siiiigh! The worst part of the process was impatiently waiting for things to dry! To my surprise, it was still a tiny bit tacky in the morning. I wasn’t sure if that was because it wasn’t dry yet, or if I needed to buff it before it would feel smooth, so I went ahead and buffed it. This took some elbow grease; I used an old soft t-shirt and rubbed it firmly in a circular motion. The more you buff, the smoother and shinier the finish looks, just like on a car. I think it wasn’t quite dry yet, and I’m guessing it would have been easier to buff if I’d waited another day, but it worked.
And that was that! After attaching the knobs again, we moved it back into Bear’s room, and Voila!
I absolutely love it! The ombre reminds me of ocean waves and twilight, two of my favorite things, and I love it with his Classic Pooh Bear decorations. I think it has just the right amount of whimsy for a nursery, but is grown up enough that as he grows I can change the rest of the décor around it and he (hopefully) won’t hate it when he’s 12. Bear seemed to approve, too, especially since his favorite game right now is to move random objects to other rooms and “put them away” in drawers! I’m really happy with how it turned out, and it gives the room a much more cohesive look.
So, if you have an old piece of furniture that just doesn’t quite “go,” definitely check out the Annie Sloan Chalk Paint! I think I’m in love, and now I’m eyeing everything in our apartment, wondering what else I can paint. Look out!