Quite a Distressing Situation

We’ve been storing all of Gianna’s clothes in two drawers of Anthony’s dresser and two fabric boxes in the kids closet and, the older she grows, the bigger her clothes are getting, and the more that that’s just not working.  We had room leftover galore when we were talking newborn clothes but lately I’ve been just digging and storing excess stuff in a large tupperware bin…in the kids room.  Not efficient and definitely not pretty.

So, for the past couple of months I’ve been keeping an eye out online for a tall dresser that could fit in the kids room to house her things and then some.  Mid-century dressers are some of my favorite things and so I’ve been looking with that aesthetic in mind and coming up short.  The few that I’ve found had either been sold right before I messaged the owner or the owner just never messaged me back.  Well last weekend, my luck changed and I found one.  It didn’t really fit into the mid-century category but I loved the thick molding detail on the doors and the drawers themselves were simple enough that I flew in with a $50 offer (down from the $75 asking price) and they were sold. 

Here’s the picture from the listing:IMG_8283
The listing noted that the piece was solid wood and that all of the drawers “worked properly”.  I could tell it had been painted from the listing and the paint job didn’t look that bad via pictures so, if anything, I figured it might need a touch-up or I could totally go a different color with it.  Either way, it was painted white and with the addition of some new hardware, I hoped we could as least live with it as-is until I get around to making over the kids’ room.

Well, when I showed up to pick up the dresser, the owner had all of the drawers extracted and set by the door (which I thought was great since I figured we’d have to do that anyway to make it easier to carry).  At first glance of it, I could tell the owner used a semi-gloss or gloss paint and so I knew at that moment that I’d be repainting.  I also noticed that the paint job was really poorly done – there were brush strokes everywhere and it looked like maybe some spray painting mishaps.  But, like I said, I had already prepped myself for a possible repainting so that didn’t scare me away.  When we went to lift the dresser, the owner said he’d carry the lower side (we carried it horizontally) since it was heavier.  At the time I was like “Dude, the top is clearly the heaviest part with these doors that weigh a ton…” but I didn’t say anything because I wasn’t really worried about not being able to carry it.  (Four babies over the years has given me quite the biceps.  Ha!)  We got it outside and slid it into the back of my van and I remember seeing that the underside of the dresser, the side he was closest to carrying the dresser, was pretty beat up.  Immediately after he saw me looking at the bottom, he distracted me by stepping in front of it and telling me it would be helpful if I got into the back seat and pulled.  And ok, this is me adding a little bit of assumption in saying he distracted me because maybe he was really in a hurry to get this thing gone (even though after he talked my ear off) but it all happened in the matter of a few seconds and dawned on me afterwards.  I thought about it the entire drive home (ten minutes) and really, I wasn’t too deterred by the state of the bottom of the dresser – I mean, it still stands perfectly and is sturdy and the bottom isn’t seen whatsoever.  But then I got home.  And we pulled the dresser out of the van and into the car port.  And I noticed a few things I hadn’t before because I didn’t take the time to really look it over.  First of all, it wasn’t “solid wood”.  Argh.  The sides of the dresser and drawers are all particle board…not the cheap kind but still, not wood.  There were a couple of screws – one in the top of the dresser and one on the bottom trim on the same side – that were definitely not meant to be there.  Also, one of the “properly working” drawers was missing an entire track so that it literally just falls out of the dresser if you pull it out more than six inches.  I was annoyed.  Annoyed with shady sellers and annoyed with myself for not taking the time to look over the dresser better before I pulled the trigger.

Either way, it was now ours, I was happy I didn’t pay the $75 asking price (I wished I would’ve offered more like $30), and something fun and unexpected happened after I cleaned it out (there was so much dirt and dust in the drawer slots!) and sanded it down.  It was somewhat of a redemption for the whole situation.

No, I didn’t find money stashed in a crevice or rubies buried in a corner, but I found hidden potential when I wasn’t expecting to. 

Before we get to the fun part though, let me fill in the rest of the story.  Once we got it home, we left it outside in the car port for a day until I got around to sanding it down quick.  I didn’t want to haul it in just to haul it back out and I definitely know better than to do a sanding job like this inside.  Yipe!  There’d be major dust to contend with.  Before I started sanding, I pried those six, round, wood plugs out from the side trim.  You can barely see them in the listing picture.
Usually plugs like this serve to hide screw heads but there were no screws behind these and so they were just for decoration…and not my kind of decoration.  All it took was a flat head screwdriver and a hot second and they were out for good.  Oh and I couldn’t get those chunky handles off fast enough either.  They reminded me of something you’d see in a Medieval dungeon.

I didn’t document any of the sanding process because I didn’t intend on writing a tutorial on this one (if you want to know how I paint wood furniture, check out these posts) but really, it was a simple one.  All I did was go over the entire thing with our hand sander and my favorite sand paper (I buy this large pack at Lowe’s for under $10 and can’t find it online…here’s a smaller pack though.) (Both of those links are affiliate links.)


I was really just aiming to get rid of the glossy sheen and all of the rogue brush marks, drips, and crackles in the paint.  I did the entire frame of the dresser first, gave it a good cleaning, and we brought that in.  Then I did the drawers one-by-one and brought each one in as I finished.  The more I got done and the more put together the dresser became, the better it was looking.  Here’s what it looks like right now, sanded down as much as it needs to be for a new paint job:


Maybe you’re not seeing what I’m seeing but, if you like the whole distressed look, it looks really good!  Personally, I’m not a huge fan of the distressed look so chances are it won’t stay like this if we keep it in our possession but it was fun to accidentally get a piece looking like this.  What do you think?  Am I off my rocker?

I’ve always thought people used chalk paint and wax to get this look but here’s how *I think* you could get it without those things – slap on a coat of paint paying zero attention to what you’re doing – brush strokes and a few drips welcome!  Just make sure you cover every inch of whatever it is you’re painting.  Let it dry and then take a hand sander + coarse sand paper to it.  My only tip in which you’d have to pay attention to what you’re doing is to sand with the grain of the wood.  I read long ago that you should sand with the grain and it’s just become habit.  I’m not sure if an orbital sander would get the same effect, however.  I sanded down the sides and any long pieces in long, sweeping motions so you can sort of see lines the sander made.  After I went over each piece with a heavy hand, I went back over it quickly with a light one to smooth things out.  Wala!  A distressed piece of furniture with very little effort.  And maybe this is a one-time thing and I got really lucky.  I know a lot maybe depends on the type of paint she used and I can’t speak for chalk paint but I’ve sanded both latex and oil-based before without much of a difference.  I prefer them because you don’t need to apply a sealer afterwards unless it’s to a tabletop.  Some latex paints are so cheap they’ll peel when you sand them so I’d stick with a mid-high price range in that arena.  Of course I don’t have anything to test this whole distressing theory on right now so if anyone else does, be my guest and let me know how it goes!  Haha!  

Check out the distressing detail:



Even the drawers behind the doors turned out pretty great even though I think they might’ve been gray at one point in time.IMG_8339
I still need to fill in those holes left behind by the decorative wood plugs so that might mess up the distressed vibe going on but maybe with a little paint I could completly hide them?  We’ll see. 

The cross road we’re at now is – Do we sell this dresser after fixing the drawer tracks and adding hardware and then hope to find something a little more on the mid century spectrum?  (But then we’re not solving Gianna’s clothing storage dilemma…) or do we keep it and give it that new paint job?  I feel like it’d be a travesty to cover up the distressing since it turned out so great.  Hmmmm…

Anyway, that’s where we’re at with this dresser.  More importantly, I thought I’d pass on a few tips about secondhand, online buying to you and maybe you can share yours in the comments!  Many of these I learned just this past weekend with this dresser…sheesh.  You’d think I’d know by now…

1.  Take the time to check the piece over, even if it’s awkward.  Maybe you’ll seem overly critical to the seller but who cares?  You’ll probably never see them again.  Also, it’s hard to make a drive to pick something up, see what you’re buying in person, have doubts, and then feel like you’ve just wasted your time.  You might feel guilty for saying you’ll buy and then backing out or you might just hate the fact that you just drove all the way here and walk out with it anyway.  Prep yourself for a possible let-down before you go so you can stand your ground and not make a bad purchase!

2.  Meet if possible vs. picking up.  It’s always the safer option.

3.  If you have to pick up (say for like, a big piece of furniture), look up the address on Google Earth before you go so you can physically see the home and neighborhood to determine if it looks safe.

4.  Ask questions before you post “sold”.  What is it made of?  What condition is it in?  Is anything broken?  Does it come from a pet and smoke-free home?  <---- Hope for honest answers with this one.  I purchased something from someone once who had “pet-free home” written on other listings of theirs and watched as they held their big dog back from the front door when I arrived.  We have really bad pet allergies in this house and thankfully, I was purchasing something that a pet-free home didn’t matter but good grief…I’d have been pretty mad if it had.  What are the measurements?  How old is it?  A good seller will post all of this in the description but lots of people don’t.

Anything else?  I know I’m missing things.  Share in the comments and I’ll do my best to update the post with good advice as it comes!  Help spare us all of buyers’ remorse and frustration!

Meanwhile, I messaged the seller of our dresser and informed her that one of the tracks of a drawer is missing and they’re looking for it…that was three days ago.  Hopefully it surfaces… 


  1. I would add to bring someone with you if you are buying off Craigslist. And be alert! I got called up for jury duty a few months ago. The case was a Craigslist shooting. I was completely shocked by the number of potential jurors who said they always brought a gun along if they were going to buy something off Craigslist. Be careful! People are nuts! If at all possible, meet people at the police station to buy/sell. Most stations have designated parking spots for this now.

    1. Ugh, that's awful. :( Craigslist scares me a little. I like Facebook and other apps where I can see entire profiles and reviews. Thanks for the tips!