Reviving the 80’s

A friend asked me to refinish these two dressers from the 80’s, and little did I know when I agreed to the project, that jelly shoes and big hair weren’t the only things that should have been left in the 80’s. At first glance, the pair looked fairly reasonable. Upon further investigation, it turned out they were part wood, part laminate, and part thin wood-like paper in some places. Needless to say, I learned many valuable lessons from them. Throughout our nearly two months together, I nicknamed them “the Beasts,” and my family was ready for them to leave so we could reclaim our dining room (AKA “my art studio that I sometimes allow people to eat in.”)

I scuff sanded all the surfaces, and when I discovered it wasn’t enough, I tried to strip the varnish off the tops. The low dresser had 17 layers of varnish atop its lovely laminate, and the natural stripper I tried removed about 1/10 of the top layer. So Easy Off Oven Cleaner to the rescue! That removed about 15 layers. That beast was stubborn. I used Bondo to cover the deeply carved flowers–never again! Let’s just say Bondo can cause a slight high. I wouldn’t recommend using it recreationally!

Once the dressers were prepped, I applied Valspar’s high adhesion bonding primer–3-4 coats. Why? Because wood paper drawer fronts surprisingly don’t act like wood when you try to sand imperfections out. Lots of spackling and sanding, many coats of primer, and then the fun part . . . Valspar Cabinet and Furniture Paint in Nor’easter, a perfect shade of gray, applied in 3 coats.

Simon drilled holes for the new hardware. I had filled in the holes for most of the drawers, only keeping the same holes for the round knobs. Matte black 5 inch bar and 7 inch bar pulls for the lower drawers and matte black round knobs for the top drawers gave them a modern vibe.

These laminate tops were stubborn! I used General Finishes Gel Stain in Ash Gray (1-2 coats), and then I topped that with General Finishes oil based top coat (4 coats). Top coats and OCD don’t pair well. Every time I thought I was done with the top coat, one stripe would stand out as shinier or duller than the rest, and that would mean another whole coat.

The final step was to finish the drawers by applying peel and stick wallpaper. I chose this dark blue woodland print. I recommend having a helper; it goes on more smoothly with four hands!

Lessons learned:

  1. Never take on a project with laminate.
  2. Oil stain and top coat are not fun.
  3. Never use Bondo again.
  4. Gel stain is a decent alternative if you need it to sit on top of a surface.
  5. Two dressers in an art studio/dining room takes up too much space if they’re there for an extended period of time.

The Beasts are done!

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