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    A Tale of Two Dressers: How to Turn Thrift Furniture into Signature Pieces

    Refinished buffet table and dresser from Goodwill

    I have a lot of clothes — probably more than any human being needs to have. My closet is packed with all sorts of things,  including the recent addition of my wedding dress that was beautiful on the big day but now hangs like a waxy chrysalis gathering dust and hiding the butterfly within. I need an excuse to bring it back out…hmm, maybe an all-brides-flash-mob next year?

    Anyway, with my closets bursting at the seams, I knew that I really needed some more storage for clothing, and I was going to have to be creative about where I was going to put that storage. Part of the master bedroom in my home used to be the attic, so the walls are slanted and low. I figured I could put one dresser in an unused corner, but it had to be shorter than 30 inches and no longer than 50 inches. Another dresser could go in the master bathroom, but it had to be less than 29 inches wide and 4 feet tall.

    I headed to my local Goodwill thrift store, which is always my first stop when I am looking for cool, vintage furniture. I also appreciate knowing that the money I spend there goes to help train people in my community for new careers. When I found this old buffet and dresser, I fell in love. I measured them and they were perfect. The only problem was they were really beat up.

    Used buffet table in Goodwill store Used dresser sits in Goodwill store

    The buffet wasn’t too bad. It had a lot of scratches, the back panel was coming loose, and one of the drawers was lined with really sticky contact paper, but I figured it was nothing a few solvents and varnish couldn’t fix. I removed the hardware, cleaned out the dust, dirt and cobwebs, and spent a lot of time tearing that contact paper out—thankfully, it was only in one drawer.

    Buffet table with scratches

    Buffet table drawers

    With equal parts lacquer thinner and denatured alcohol in a glass jar, I took a rag and started to buff the scratches out. This mixture of solvents kind of reactivates the stain and lets you move it around, so you can fill in any damage. If you’re going to try this, make sure you do it outside or in a well ventilated area; this stuff is toxic. You may also want to invest in a pair of heavy duty, chemical-resistant gloves, so you don’t get stain and chemicals all over your hands.

    Keep in mind, this is not a proper restoration technique. If you have a really nice historical piece, this may end up devaluing your precious antique; if it needs refinishing, I would recommend taking it to a professional. Otherwise, this is a great way to revive an old piece of pretty furniture. It removes blemishes quickly and easily, and really brings the wood grain out. Add a coat of varnish and it looks better than new.

    Refinishing a buffet table

    Buffet table as dresser

    Now, what to do with that old dresser?

    Old scratched dresser

    I thought about painting it, but it already had a million layers of paint gooped on it from the previous owner, which meant I would need to sand it. However, I had no idea if any of the paint layers had lead in them, so I didn’t want the dust from sanding to get into my lungs. Plus, the dresser had so many little details, how was I going to get into all the little crevices?

    I could strip the paint, but I hate paint stripper. It creates such a mess with all that leftover sludge, and it can be difficult to use because you have to be careful not to overwork it or let it dry out. Plus, you have to wait an unspecified amount of time for it to start bubbling the paint. And, again, there were all those little crevices.

    Since I already had a jar of lacquer thinner and denatured alcohol mixed up from the buffet, and I had nothing to lose on the dresser, I decided to experiment and see what my solvent concoction would do to paint. I figured it might move the paint around some and thin it out and make it kind of like a stain. However, when I applied my solvent mixture to one of the drawers, it did something amazing: it completely stripped the paint from the dresser and dissolved it. Hooray! A stripper without all the sludge.

    Dresser drawer

    I quickly got to work on the rest of the dresser. I ended up going through a lot of solvents and rags on this project, so if you’re going to try this, I recommend keeping a lot of both on hand. A paintbrush helps to get into those crevices too. When the paint had been removed, I uncovered a variety of different surfaces: wood grain, wood veneer and some kind of wood burl. They were slightly different colors, so I used a stain to try to unify everything.

    Stripping stain from a wooden dresser Stained dresser drawers

    Once the stain was dry, I added a couple coats of glossy varnish. I love the way this wacky dresser turned out. I still need to fix that missing wood detail, but that’s a project for another day.

    Given a new look to a piece of furniture you’ve found in a Goodwill store or wondering what to do next with a piece you’ve snagged?  Share your project ideas and dilemmas in the comments section!

    Evette Rios
    is a Puerto Rican lifestyle expert, writer, television host and native New Yorker. She regularly appears on NBC's The Today Show and is the host of CBS' Recipe Rehab. Prior to her work at CBS, she was a field correspondent and roving reporter for ABC’s The Chew. She has also been a contributing design expert on Rachael Ray,where she's known for hands-on advice, innovative crafts and dramatic room revisions. Learn more about Evette at http://evetterios.com.
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    • Lynn M. Walden
      June 29th, 2012 at 2:27 pm

      WOW! The first dresser matches my grandma’s bedroom set- if you ever want to get rid of it- let me know! Both dressers turned out beautifully!

    • Leticia Garcia
      June 30th, 2012 at 10:00 pm

      Inspiring! I am a do it your selfer and I appreciate good tips when I come across them. Thanks for posting. I bet this furniture will outlast any thing you can buy in a new furniture store these days.

    • Debbie Lambert
      July 1st, 2012 at 4:27 pm

      Thank you for sharing! I have so many replication projects and now wish I did a before picture! You have inspired me!

    • Anne
      July 2nd, 2012 at 8:58 am

      Love it! This furniture has so much more character than something new. Thanks for the inspiration.

    • debby
      July 2nd, 2012 at 7:21 pm

      I love both these pieces! I think old wood furniture is warmer and has more personality than “off the rack” items. So glad you are doing this gig!

    • Julia
      July 3rd, 2012 at 12:09 pm

      Fantastic job, Evette! You brought those babies back to life!


    • Kim
      July 3rd, 2012 at 1:36 pm

      Amazing transformation! Those look awesome! Glad to hear you found these treasures at a Goodwill Store!

    • Meryl Ellsworth
      July 26th, 2012 at 3:49 pm

      My mom and I have used a combination of lacquer thinner and methalhydrate(sp?)for years to refinish old furniture that had been almost black and it takes the blackoff and leaves the original finish. You do have to do it outdoors and have plenty of old rags. I finish off with steel wool and the mixture.Old paint brushes and toothbrushs are great for scabbing around the mixture.

    • mimi
      April 4th, 2015 at 10:50 pm

      Hi, I tried this concoction on a painted chair and it did not work. Any reason why? Help, I really wanted to ditch paint remover.

    • Janaehill
      August 16th, 2016 at 1:55 am

      I loved what you did with these pieces beautifully designed

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