A Mid-Century Wood Dresser Makeover / Restoration

We bought this dresser right after we moved into this house - we really needed something to set the tv on in the living room so when I saw it on Facebook Marketplace (being sold by a neighbor...yay!), I pounced.  I can't say no to a dresser with legs.  It's just the best combo.  Proof right here.

It served us really well for a few years functionally and, once we got the paneling painted, it served us aesthetically too; adding a little warmth into a now very light and bright space.

You can't get the full effect thanks to the child blur but you get the idea.  I really, really like the idea of using a dresser as a "tv cabinet".  I first saw YHL dance the dresser + tv combo and so I applauded and danced right along with 'em.  I wanted the fireplace in this house to be a fun focal point in the room without an ugly tv hanging above it, so the dresser carries the tv off to the side but still keeps things looking pretty.

Anyway, I digress.  The dresser.  It was great.  Super heavy and well-made...but showing its 60+ years of age in scratches and dings.  They're not easy to spot from a distance...  

but up close, WHOOP, there they are.

The scratches didn't bother me at all in the time that we had this dresser in our living room but about a month ago, I found something a little more fitting for the space along the wall under the tv (thrifted and I'll tell you about it soon!) and with no place for this guy to go in the house, my only choice was to get it out the door...but not looking like this.

A little makeover was on the docket.  I'm excited to share this one with you because I used something new that worked really great.  I'm also excited because a big thing down here in the south (and maybe everywhere) is to take old wood furniture that's seen better days, and add a coat of paint.  I'm not opposed (obviously you know if you've seen the multiple wood finishes that have been covered in paint around here over the years) but the wood on this dresser and the pretty inlaid details are just way too good to cover up.  I had to save the wood and bring this thing back to it's original glory.

So first, I removed all of the drawers and hardware.  To make sure I put the drawers back in their exact slots, I numbered them on the bottom. 

In the "old" days when dressers like this were made, manufacturers took great care in fitting drawers exactly right so if you accidentally swap them, you might get some unwanted grating or rubbing.

Next, I cleaned the dresser.  I cleaned it really well when we first got it and have kept up with dusting it every once in awhile but I needed it really clean for this process so I grabbed some soapy water, a washcloth, and a toothbrush to help me get to the sparkling level.  I used the toothbrush to get in grooves, the washcloth to wipe flat surfaces down, and then dried everything really well. 

The hardware got a good scrub with Bar Keepers' Friend* (with a toothbrush and scouring sponge) and that helped to really bring out the pretty brass that was underneath years of use.

Now, the fun part - using Restor-A-Finish* to bring this thing back to its 20th century good looks. 

A college aquaintance, Lindsey (a definite Insta follow), recommended this product to me and I'm so happy she did.  Since the dresser wasn't bad enough to need to be stripped and restained (thank goodness), rubbing on Restore-A-Finish with steel wool was all it took to rewind the years.    

With everything clean and dry, I dumped a little bit of Restor-A-Finish into a plastic container, dipped the edge of a piece of fine steel wool* into it, and rubbed, with the grain of the wood, along each surface of the dresser.  Using a little bit of pressure as I rubbed, I watched as scratches seemed to literally disappear right before my eyes.  There were a couple of deep scratches where I rubbed against the grain to get as much finish into them as possible.  This video by The Rummage Workshop was particularly helpful in getting a visual of the process.   

I worked on the drawers outside in fresh air but wore a mask inside just because the Restor-A-Finish does have a strong smell to it.  Look at the difference in the drawer on the right, just restored, verses the drawer on the left, untouched!  

I worked on one drawer at a time and one side of the dresser frame at a time.  Once I had rubbed the Restor-A-Finish on the part I was focused on, I let it sit and soak into the existing finish for about a minute or two before I took a clean cloth and wiped all of the excess off.  Here's an up-close shot of the same area of one of the drawers - the top is after it was finished and the bottom is before:

When the Restor-A-Finish had done it's job, I used it's companion product, Feed-N-Wax - squirting it onto a clean, soft cloth and wiping it over the entire piece.  This I let sit for a half hour, and then went back and wiped off the excess.

This should help the dresser stay looking fantastic and protect it from whatever life throw at it next.

Here's a picture of the right side of the dresser.  If you scroll back up to the "before" picture near the top of this post, you'll see that this was the most worn out side.  Now it looks almost brand new.  

The top of the dresser, the part that gets the most wear and tear, took leaps and bounds but it still has some deeper scratches that are visible.  I thought about sanding it down completely and restaining but I was too afraid I wouldn't be able to match the stain with the sides perfectly so, as they say about lots of old things, it has "character"; evidence that it was much loved.

And that would seem the happy ending to a makeover story...except it wasn't quite the end.  A dresser this pretty on the outside needs a little somethin' somethin' on the inside to match.

I grabbed a roll of this removable wallpaper* and lined each and every drawer.  I had planned to line the drawers all along and, in the beginning, was leaning towards finding a dark plaid wallpaper but then when the hardware came out all bright and pretty, this gold and cream paper seemed a better option.  

I'll be honest, when it was actually all done, I tried to find a place for it in the house.  It's hard to let go of such a quality piece of furniture.  I couldn't find a place but it does feel good to give something more life so that it can go out into the world to be used for years and years...and if anybody even thinks about painting it, I'll, I'll...  ;) 

Fly little (big) dresser, fly. 

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*These links are affiliate links which means that, if you click over and/or make a purchase through the link, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.  I am an Amazon affiliate and also use other sources to link to products.  All of these links will lead you to things we actually paid for or that are similar to the item we paid for in case ours is thrifted/sold out/secondhand.  This extra money helps us with the costs of running the blog and buying milk.  ;)  Thank you for your support and for fueling our love to share all things DIY!


  1. Gorgeous! I would have a hard time getting rid of it now!

    1. It was hard Lisa! Haha! But the person who bought it was SO excited and that helped...a little. ;)

  2. I love that you are helping extend its life