Most of the time, you find me painting old furniture or even painting antique furniture. Well, today I'm saving antique furniture. I bought an antique dresser at a local online auction for $38.50. Pretty good price even though, at first glance, the dresser looks a mess.
My original plan for the dresser was to give it a two layered distressed paint finish. I was thinking maybe off-white with a hint of green for the bottom layer of paint.
I'm glad I didn't follow through with the paint plan. It would have been sad to cover up this beautiful original stained finish. I didn't return the dresser to its original glory, but it looks pretty darn good.
The piece is called a wig dresser, and I found photos of similar pieces online and more information about the type and style of the dresser.
The piece above is an Antique American Empire Gothic Burled Walnut Wig Dresser with Marble Insert. It is very similar to the piece I bought, except the details on the dresser and body are a bit different.
The piece I bought at auction was just the lower dresser part without the ornate mirror. It did have a few broken pieces from the mirror surround but not enough to work with. The cabinets on the sides contain shelves, and that's where the wigs were stored.
The top of the dresser had a marble insert on the front area, with a piece of the beautiful burled walnut covering the back area.
While I was cleaning and prepping the dresser for paint, I admired the pretty walnut wood and the carved details. I also noticed that the original finish had very little chipping, veneer peeling, or stains. That's what got me thinking about just refreshing the original stained finish.
But first, it needed a good cleaning. The photo above is a look at the bottom with split wood, dust, lint, and spider eggs....ugh!
The solid wood backside of the dresser was in great shape too. It just needed cleaning up too.
This is a look at the inside body where I removed the drawers, all solid wood. The dresser is very heavy.
After vacuuming and a good cleaning with Simple Green, I used regular old spray furniture polish to shine up the inside wood casing.
The cabinets still had the original shelves and the wood inside the cabinets just needed cleaning and shining up.
There was some missing veneer and you notice on the top of the rectangular detailed foot area that part of the scrollwork is missing. I found that piece later and nailed it back in place.
A Minwax stain marker took care of the missing piece of veneer.
While using the stain marker, another piece of veneer popped off. I just stuck it back on with a bit of Gorilla Glue.
Once the vacuuming and clean-up were finished, I used Howard's Feed n Wax to renew the stained finish. For all of those detailed areas, I used a small stencil brush to get the wax into the scrollwork or wood trim.
A regular paint brush would work too. The stencil brush was the first thing I grabbed.
The photo above is a revelation. The drawer on the right has been polished with the Howard's Feed n Wax, and the one on the left is still sad looking after a simple cleaning. An amazing difference, right??
When I opened the small boxes on the top of the antique dresser, I found the other knobs. What a great thing to have. The two drawers have the original knobs all shined up and back in place.
Both of the drawer fronts were in fantastic shape. Even the wood trim was intact.
The knobs are very distinctive. I have a lot of wood knobs in my reclaimed knob and drawer pull stash but none like these.
On both cabinet doors, the wood was split vertically right in the middle of the inside wood trim detail. Yes, it's noticeable but I don't think it takes away from the beauty of the piece.
I'm on the hunt for a marble top to replace the original.
I didn't even realize the original wig dresser had a marble top until I found the photo of a similar dresser online. I just thought the veneer on the top had been pulled off.
I found part of the missing trim around the detailed wood piece in one of the drawers but not all. I cleaned that piece up and nailed it back in place.
I mentioned having several pieces from the original mirror and side wig cabinets that have identical trim. I could cut a replacement piece, but not wanting to get into that right now.
The wood is too beautiful. So glad I didn't paint over it. It's hard to believe this piece could be 150 years old, give or take a few years. They sure knew how to make furniture back then.
What do you guys think? Glad I didn't paint the dresser. Have you ever seen a similar piece? I have another antique piece I cleaned, refreshed, and saved from the paint brush.
I cleaned and refreshed the chest of drawers a client inherited from the grandmother. You can see how great it turned out here.
If you have time, leave a note before you run off. Thanks for being here, Kathy
Author: Kathy Owen (Petticoat Junktion)
Kathy is the founder of PetticoatJunktion.com, a home décor blog focused on repurposing and upcycling furniture, old hardware, rusty stuff, and thrifty finds into unique home décor. Kathy’s projects have been featured on the Home Depot Blog, Plaid Crafts, Behr Designer Series, and in numerous magazines. Read more about Kathy here.
You can have a marble piece made from a scrap at a place that has stone counter tops. It turned out beautiful.
2 gorgeous wood pieces!
Lovely piece! A job well done!
How beautiful is this dresser. Love, love this. Thankyou for restoring it, you did an amazing job.
So enjoy your sight, very informative and full of such great stuff. Loved the info about the flee market in Tennessee. I live in Windsor on Canada and hope to take a trip to the glee market in the summer.
Thank you Mickie!
The detail and wood grain are beautiful on your wig dresser. Glad you didn’t paint it.where the marble goes on top looks to be smaller than a sink cutout.l wonder if a place that does countertops could find a small piece reasonably for you.Also many years ago my dad had marble tops cut for a couple of dressers from a place that cut headstones and grave markers. Still beautiful even without. Your work is great!
Thanks Janina. I'm on the lookout for a piece of marble for the top!
Where did you find the feed and wax? After seeing this piece, I may go this route instead of painting a dresser I have.
I get it on Amazon. Click here...Howard's Feed n Wax
Best decision not to paint this dresser; it is truly beautiful to see the wood grain
Jane C Hayward
So glad to see that you decided to restore it - it is really beautiful!
That was the smartest choice not to paint. You did such a beautiful job! I think it’s a real keeper!
Thank you! I love it.
To paint or not to paint is always the question. You let that piece of furniture tell you what it wanted and what a fabulous job! Chipped veneer always throws me into thinking I need to fill and then of course paint becomes the option, but this showed me another way! Thank you Do!!
Great! Glad you could use one of my tips.
You did a wonderful job and I'm so glad you didn't paint it. I really love this unique piece.
I have a serpintine dresser I got off the curb... The more white paint I strip off... The more I want to keep from putting paint on it!!
It is a beautiful piece... You did a great job!
Oh kathy thank you for leaving this piece alone. So many jump on the paint band wagon and dont realize the rarity of certain woods! The cut/precision has to be just right. I have a 100yr old buffet I was going to paint-so many beautiful ideas! But the wood....I just cant do it.love what you did- er, didnt do!
Yes, probably better not to paint that buffet but in the end it's your decision!
Great job on the wig dresser! I'm wondering if it is older than you think...perhaps dating to when men also wore wigs? Why else would a piece of furniture be made and dedicated to such a specific purpose?
Frequently antique wood gets dried out if it hasn't been nourished over the course of time. FYI, coconut oil is a thin natural oil that can bring old wood back to life. Also help oil and of course linseed oil.
I was a maid to put myself through college. The woman I worked for only used lemon oil. The furniture was just lovely! But took all week to get the smell out of my hands
ah, I'll have to try coconut oil. It could be older. That was my first thought too.
Rebecca - Knoxville, TN
"Imperfection is Beauty" - Marilyn Monroe. Glad it wasn't painted, the wood grain is divine. The cracks and chips add character.
Great job on both refinishing and repairing all at the same time. Looks really great. I use to refinish all my pieces but now I paint quite a few. Depends where & how I want to use them.
What a lovely piece, now restored to its past beauty. You made the right choice, as usual!
Beautiful job saving this wig dresser. I am SO glad you chose to go the restoration route instead of painting it!!!! It makes my heart happy to see this. Thank you!!!
Yes. Too many old pieces are being RUINED by paint. I have a side board that is similar in wood and marble. I hope to get it cleaned and polished. NOT PAINTED.
Good for you!
Thank you for not painting this beautiful piece!
Beautifully done. I'm so glad you didn't paint it and obscure the burled wood.
STEPHANIE MUDD CARRICO
The wig dresser is amazing and the other is equally lovely. Sometimes painting is the best solution but these beauties just needed a little TLC.
Yes, so right!
LOVE this. Thank you!!!!