BEFORE & AFTER: Mid-Century Modern Dresser Makeover

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This is the tale of what I consider an epic mid-century modern dresser.

Pull up a chair and a hot tea… This may take a while.

The Mid-Century Modern Dresser Makeover That Almost Didn’t Happen

It’s quite funny now, thinking about how I had found these two mid-century modern dressers by total chance at the thrift store on a day when I was supposed to “be good” and just donate things to the thrift store and not buy stuff from the thrift store. (You can read all about how I found them here).


mid-century modern dressers from the thrift store


Yeah, so much for that plan, right? 😉

But at $14.99 for the tall skinny guy and $24.99 for his short, fat friend, it was too good of a deal to pass up.

Hard to believe such quality furniture was less than the cost of a 3-D movie and popcorn.



Mid-Century Modern dresser makeover - BEFORE - $15 dresser from the thrift store | Thrift Diving


But DIY is awesome, isn’t it?

Especially when it’s a project that almost got the boot, but ended up so nice!

And then you create this wonderful something….


Mid-Century Modern dresser makeover - Dresser makeover for $35 from the thrift store - Thrift Diving


Mid-Century Modern dresser makeover - AFTER - Rich wood grain of natural wood using tung oil | Thrift Diving


….and your love of DIY amplifies.

So, enough dawdling.

Here’s what happened.

There Are Always Problems, Aren’t There?

When working on furniture makeovers, wouldn’t it be great if they all turned out perfect and you could just marvel in your total DIY genius?

But that’s not always the case, now, is it?

I could deal with the badly marred top.


I knew I could just sand that down and–problem solved.


Mid-Century Modern dresser makeover - Do you have to sand before using chalk paint | Thrift Diving


But what I couldn’t deal with was finding what appeared to be Roly Poly bug shells in the dresser.

That was Strike 1.

Then I detected a nasty “old wood” moldy smell inside.

Despite ripping off the back (with the goal of replacing it) and cleaning the inside with vinegar and water, I just couldn’t get rid of the smell.

Strike 2.


Mid-Century Modern dresser makeover - Remove the back of furniture and replace


Well, sometimes you don’t wait for a Strike 3.

You just decide you’re done.

And that’s when I decided I would just re-donate this mid-century modern dresser back to the thrift store.


Even The Salvation Army Wouldn’t Take It!

The dresser was all packed up in the “Please Take My Junk” pile.

But with a gaping hole in the back of the dresser, they passed right on over it.

I came home after the pick-up and saw the dresser just sitting in front of my garage, left behind like a neglected stepchild.

Instead of moving it inside, I let it sit. For well over a month.


Mid-century modern dresser makeover - Headed to the thrift store



Rain fell on it…. snow sat on it for days….

I willed it to “die” and wither away so I wouldn’t have to think about hauling it back.

But it stood there, sturdy and hearty as ever, begging for a makeover.

Finally, I moved it inside of the garage.

It was about that time that my cousin mentioned in passing on Facebook that she needed a dresser.

Hmmm….could this dresser actually be saved?? Couldn’t old Roly Poly shells be cleaned out, and could you paint or replace the old musty parts?

It was worth finding out!


Solid, But I Had to Strip It

Most furniture paint….scratch that….all furniture paint brands will tell you that you don’t need to sand before priming.

It’s a lie.

It actually depends on the piece.

And this clearly needed sanding first.


Mid-century modern makeover - Scratched bumpy top


Mid-Century Modern dresser makeover - How to sand a dresser top | Thrift Diving


To even think of painting over this would have been a nightmare and it would have looked horrible.

But you know me. I see potential in everything. And I knew once I made the commitment to transform it, it would be fabulous.

Stripping It Down With a Sander

As much as I love using chemical stripper (in an oddly satisfying way of scraping gunk), another part of me hates dealing with the mess.

WATCH: How to Strip and Restain Furniture

It’s easier for me to grab my orbit sander, throw on some 80-grit rough sand paper, and strip down the first layer, working my way from 80-grit to 150-grit (medium) to a fine 220-grit sandpaper. Doing this makes the wood soooo smooth and beautiful, keeping the “swirly marks” from an orbit sander much less visible.


Mid-Century Modern dresser makeover - Use several grits of sandpaper when sanding
TIP: Always start with a rough sandpaper and work your way down to a very fine grit to finish it off.


Mid-Century Modern dresser makeover - How to sand a dresser top before painting


I only planned to sand the top since it was in bad condition.

I didn’t really need to sand the sides.

Once I was done, it looked great and ready for paint!


Mid-Century Modern dresser makeover - Sanded dresser top before chalk paint | Thrift Diving


It was chipped in the front, but nothing that I little wood filler couldn’t fix.


Mid-century modern dresser makeover - Use wood filer for nicks


Have You Ever Sanded……the INSIDE of a Drawer?!

I bet you haven’t.

I never had, either, until now.

Well, the outside of the drawers were in decent shape, but very worn and “blah.”


Mid-Century Modern dresser makeover - vintage dresser drawers


Mid-Century Modern dresser makeover - Sand dressers before applying fresh tung oil | Thrift Diving


I sanded those down the same way: started with 80-grit…….then used 150-grit……followed by a finer grit. I finished off with a very fine grit by hand to remove any sanding marks. Afterward, it felt like buttah, baby!


Mid-Century Modern dresser makeover - Sanding dresser drawers | Thrift Diving


But the insides were dingy yellow.

Would you want to put your clothes into some dingy yellow vintage mid-century modern dresser?

As cute as it is on the outside……um… thanks.

But check out how dramatic the difference was! It was total revitalizing, inside and out.


Mid-Century Modern dresser makeover - Sand inside drawers to remove yellow and stains


It didn’t take any time at all, really.

I’d highly recommend trying it for your next project with drawers. Really breathes new life into those ugly interiors of vintage furniture (if you’re not painting the drawers, that is).

I used the RYOBI JobPlus multi-tool with the corner attachment to get into the corners where the orbit sander couldn’t reach.


Mid-Century Modern dresser makeover - Sand in corners to remove yellowing on wood


I Wanted It Smoooooooth

Chalk paint tends to leave brush strokes unless you water it down to get it super smooth (also, depends on the type of brush you use).

I decided I would just use my HomeRight Finish Max Pro paint sprayer, which also leaves a smooth finish without brush strokes.

Watch: How to Use Chalk Paint in a Paint Sprayer


Mid-Century Modern dresser makeover - Use a paint sprayer for a smooth modern finish on a makeover


When using a paint sprayer, you have to make sure the paint is thin enough to go through the sprayer without getting clogged. So you have to add water and test it the viscosity with the cup that comes with the sprayer. Just watch my video for instructions on how to do it.

I used Annie Sloan Pure White for a crisp look.


Mid-Century Modern dresser makeover - Add water to chalk paint before using in a paint sprayer | Thrift Diving


In order to get nice coverage without drips, don’t over-spray. Keep the paint sprayer moving. And definitely add two coats.

This was with just 1 coat.

The second coat is where the coverage really starts to occur.


Mid-Century Modern dresser makeover - Use two coats of paint with a paint sprayer - Thrift Diving


Oh No….The Dreaded “Bleeding Stain”

Even though I had sanded the top nicely, it must not have been totally clean. I should have cleaned it with mineral spirits or something, I guess. Because I started getting some staining from the raw wood underneath.

I ended up using 2 coats of Annie Sloan…..a coat of Kilz water-based primer (FYI….doesn’t work for crap)……and another coat of Annie Sloan.

Lesson learned: Do a test area first to see if you have bleeding. If you do, I would recommend either a coat of clear poly first, a coat of clear wax first, or an oil-based Kilz primer to stop the bleeding before adding the chalk paint on top.

It was worth the effort because the white paint looked fabulous!


Mid-Century Modern dresser makeover - White mid-century modern dresser makeover | Thrift Diving


Adding a New Back

Another thing I needed to do was to add a new back to the dresser.

I got some 1/4″ plywood from The Home Depot (total was about $20 for the wood. Crazy that the plywood cost more than the dresser!!!!).

Then I used my jigsaw to cut pieces for the back.


Cutting a new back


I never have help with my DIY projects, so a fat ‘ole hip comes in handy when holding things up so you can nail it in there! LOL

I ended up having to cut two pieces to fit the back.


Adding a new back to a dresser


The back got a coat of paint, too.


The Most Dramatic Difference

When I started this mid-century modern dresser makeover, I intended to stain the drawers.

But after using tung oil on my mid-century modern chair makeover some time ago, I was convinced of its powers to restore wood.

I decided to try it this time, too.

And OMG, you guys…….

Look how amazing the results are, side-by-side!


Mid-Century Modern dresser makeover - The dramatic difference between raw wood and wood with tung oil


The directions on the tung oil said the first coat should be a 50/50 mix of tung oil and mineral spirits.

It said to wipe on and leave for 10-15 minutes, then wipe off.

24 hours later it recommends adding a second coat of tung oil only.


Mid-Century Modern dresser makeover - Mineral spirits should be mixed with tung oil 50-50 then wiped off - Thrift Diving


Keep in mind that I did NOT stain this wood….I only used the tung oil mixed with mineral spirits.

It’s gorgeous, isn’t it?!?!


Mid-Century Modern dresser makeover - Use tung oil on raw wood | Thrift Diving


A Coat of Satin Tough Coat

Since this piece is a mid-century modern piece, I didn’t want to use wax. I wanted something with a bit of shine, but not too much gloss.

The Country Chic paint people had sent me a sample of this Tough Coat some time ago and I had just gotten around to using it for this project.

And I loved it!


Mid-Century Modern dresser makeover - Country Chic Paint Top Coat | Thrift Diving


It left just the right amount of shine, without being too glossy.

It was hard to apply with a brush, though. Not because the brand, but because top coats are hard to apply perfectly without skill!

I don’t use them often enough to consider myself a DIY ninja with it.

I kept going over the same spots, messing up the finish, worried about leaving stroke marks.

I would recommend practicing on a scrap piece of wood first before using it on your final project. (Or, if you have a lot, use the paint sprayer, which can apply it evenly).


Mid-Century Modern dresser makeover - AFTER - Rich wood grain of natural wood using tung oil | Thrift Diving


The results are pretty dramatic, don’t you think?

I mean… what should have been a mid-century modern reject ended up becoming a beauty that even took me a long time to appreciate!



Mid-Century Modern dresser makeover - BEFORE - This dresser needs a makeover | Thrift Diving




Mid-Century Modern dresser makeover - AFTER - Painted white with natural wood drawers


Watch This Makeover in Action



A Gift For My Cousin

Lately I’ve gotten into this “furniture makeover giveaway” mode because I’ve been enjoying working on projects to give to my family than to keep for myself, like my previous furniture makeover of that vintage chair makeover from the nursing home I did for my mom.

And now this dresser.

It’s going to its new home to my cousin, Danielle, who needs a dresser for her son.


Serena and Danielle Cousins
Danielle and me: cousins!


I’m so thankful that The Salvation Army left behind this awesome dresser!

And I’m sorry that I didn’t have the insight into what this dresser could be sooner. But I’m at least thankful that my cousin will be able to enjoy it!

So What About You?

Have you ever worked on a project that you later had negative feelings about, but it ended up turning into something you were proud of?

Leave a comment below and share your story!

Share This Post

If you’ve enjoyed the hard work that went into creating this project and post, do me a favor and share it with your friends and family! I would forever be grateful!


Thrifted worn mid-century modern dresser was only $15! The body was stripped and painted white with Annie Sloan Pure White and the drawers sanded to natural wood and shined with tung oil Thrift Diving




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  1. Wow!! Incredible work! I picked up this same line of furniture off Craigslist — the low, wide dresser and two nightstands. Mine don’t have any manufacturer marks… did yours? I’m trying to figure out who made them and what vintage they’re from.

    Mine are in better shape than yours were but I paid A LOT more than you did (and am now wondering if I was foolish – or maybe it’s just Bay Area inflation). Despite being in better shape, they can really use a refurb. I love how those drawer fronts turned out. Seeing that makes me want to do mine!!

    1. Hi Heather! I’m not sure who made my dressers. I looked inside the drawers and saw no name brands. As for paying a lot more, you’re not foolish at all! Most furniture, especially MCM furniture, sells for a LOT. Some spots here in Maryland you can find good deals, but not everywhere. Most places will charge a lot, especially if it’s in good condition. Enjoy the refurbishing! I’m sure yours will look even better after you’re done with it! šŸ™‚

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