Trusting the process: transformation of a family heirloom

Posted by Leslie Clarke on

Sometimes furniture makeovers don't go the way we we expect them to go. 

This antique highboy has been in my family since the 90s.  I don't remember where I bought it, but it was my son's first real dresser when he started school and he used it until he left home. I kept it and used it in our guest bedroom until I gave it to my mom to use.

When I gave my mom an upcycled Drexel nine-drawer dresser, my aunt decided she wanted the highboy.  "It's perfect!  Just take it home, clean it and fix the damaged veneer."  What I thought would be a quick and easy turnaround turned into a several month project.  

When I cleaned it with Dixie Belle's White Lightning, I discovered the dresser was pine, stained cherry, had lots of missing veneer, knife marks in the wood on the edges and drawers, and several worn knobs. 

Originally, my aunt liked the 'redness' and wanted me to try and keep it while 'hiding' the veneer damage and oh yea, the screw in the side someone added to fix a leg.

I began with the idea I would paint the sides and  re stain the rest with Georgian Cherry.  So I sanded the top, drawers and lower ledge in preparation to stain.  This took some time; did I say I 'took possession' months ago!

I began playing with colors I thought would pull the piece together.  The Georgian Cherry was too red for my aunt. So instead of staining, I used Hemp Oil to recondition one of the drawers to see what the original finish" would look like.  I also mixed Rusty Nail and Pine Cone 50/50 which made a beautiful Cinnamon. 

However, while it is a beautiful color which I will definitely use later, I wasn't feeling it and so the highboy was moved to the back of the line while I worked on other pieces.  Fast forward a month or so,  I decided to try again.  Still nothing!  I wasn't loving the redness at all and the piece wasn't speaking to me and try as I may, I couldn't find a color/stain combination which worked.

Finally, I had to have a conversation with my aunt.  I discussed the red tones and her space and we talked about what else she had, why she wanted to keep the red, etc.  In the end, she agreed the red tones wouldn't really go with her space and she decided she wanted something lighter.  She selected Buttercream, which matched her bed frame.  She decided on Redesign with Prima's Blossom Flight transfer and I was back in business with the highboy.

I finished my repairs with Dixie Belle's Dixie Mud, primed with BOSS White to seal any residual cherry stain, and added two clean coats of DBP Buttercream. Voila!  A fresh canvas which began speaking to me almost immediately after the first coat. 

Applying transfers is always challenging but after months of no inspiration, I was ready for this one.  I took the three sheets and positioned, repositioned, cut pieces, positioned again and finally a design started to emerge.

Once the first set of transfers were on and in place, I really started to see the new look. 

I added more until I found a natural balance inspired by the branches

Once I got all the transfers on and in place, how could cover it up with those big wood knobs? I couldn't and since I think of hardware as jewelry…I used some DIY knob bases and glass cabochons to make custom knobs for this sweet dresser.  I painted the knobs Buttercream, used pieces of the transfer behind the glass cabochon, and they almost disappeared on the transfer. I got them online from D. Lawless Hardware. 


I painted the sides of the drawers with DBP Kudzu, applied the Redesign Cornell Garden Stick & Style transfer to the sides using Buttercream, and conditioned both drawers and sliders with Big Mama's Butta.  Perfectly imperfect!


I'm still working on my staging area.  But here she is ready for delivery…finally!

I love it when a piece a furniture gets a new life in a new space.  My aunt loves her new dresser and can't wait to use transfers again on her hope chest. 

Sometimes furniture transformations don't go the way we think they will go.  We have to trust the process.  In the end, having another conversation with my aunt, allowed me to transform a family heirloom into a neutral nature-inspired dresser perfect for my aunt's space. 






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  • It’s a beautiful, unique piece. Well done!

    Jean on
  • Thank you Rosa!

    Leslie Clarke on
  • The knife marks give it character.

    Alex on
  • What a beautiful project, the new now to carry on for future generations!

    Helle Brand on
  • Great story Leslie. Very inspiring!

    Rosa on

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