I can finally show you the dresser I found several weeks ago. It comes with quite the story. I spotted this dresser and knew from a distance what I wanted to do with it. Here it is the day we brought it home.
Look at that smile on my granddaughter’s face, that’s the key to this whole transformation, but more on that in a moment. When I spotted it, the image that came to mind was the body of the dresser being painted in a sand color I had recently been given from Freecycle and the drawers stained a deep walnut. This is the closest picture I could find of what I had in mind.
You see I’ve done enough white pieces, enough in black, and enough feminine and youth pieces for the moment. I wanted to do something masculine and different. But that came to a screeching halt real fast. The moment the dresser was taken out of the vehicle where my granddaughter could get a good look at it she turned to me and informed me it would look good with rainbow drawers. I smiled and said sure, but had no intention to follow through with that.
She continued to talk about this dresser and how much she loved it and how beautiful it would be with rainbow drawers. I realized something at this point. All those questions she has asked me over the last couple of years as I restored furniture has been her way of learning. The questions have been all over the place from “Are you going to paint that?” What are you going to do with it?” “How will you fix what is broke?” She was learning. Yet it wasn’t until this actual piece that she decided to voice her “decorating” style, for lack of a better term.
After a discussion with her parents of how they could rearrange the current dressers in the house to work better for all, it was decided this dresser would go to my granddaughter. This meant my entire reason for wanting to bring this dresser home had just ended. I would let her direct me in how to refinish the dresser. I would embrace her style and let her see what was in her mind come to life. Who knows this could be the beginning of a life-long passion for her or even direct a future career, either way I wanted her to see it come to be.
Now, I have several colors of paint here to choose from. All of it passed on to me from others who no longer wanted them. But it wasn’t to the containers of latex paint she turned to for her colors, it was a drawer where I was storing a few tubes of acrylic paint given to me for crafts. I inwardly cringed to think of acrylics being used on this piece.
Since the body of the dresser was still going to be painted I wanted to preserve some of the wood grain and decided to play with the acrylics. First they were too vivid. I mixed a bit of white latex paint in with each color she chose and then watered it down to a soupy consistency for the drawers. This she was okay with. Then I got the bright idea to give her a surprise and painted a picture on the inside of each drawer in the color she selected for the front. When I shared this with her she was delighted. It even earned me another leaping hug and the complement that I was the best grandma in the world. Best present ever.
In preparing the top of the dresser, I had to remove the veneer. These two layers took quite a bit of time to do. I spent a total of 7 hours just working on the two small drawers and one large one. The top was just as bad time-wise. It is important to give yourself large blocks of time when removing veneer and here’s why.
To remove veneer you need a bowl of water, a towel or other absorbent material and a very hot clothes iron. You set a wet rag on the veneer then set the iron on this. You don’t have to apply pressure, but you do have to allow the iron to sit for as long as you still see steam. In the beginning this will need to be repeated several times before the veneer will start to lift off.
The reason you want large blocks of time is because as the glue begins to give way you will find the glue in nearby areas are melting and will make the job speed up the longer you work. I like to work with a cloth approximately the size of a dish cloth when doubled. These will become caked with glue as you work, along with your iron. I ended up tossing out 4 pieces of material that became so covered with glue they no longer were absorbent. It’s also a good idea to do this on a chilly day because the steam will heat up the room you are working in. In my case the entire apartment’s temperature increased by 4 degrees on a day it was snowing outside. :-)
Once the veneer has been removed, let it sit overnight and allow the glue to re-harden. You can try to wipe some of it up but you won’t get it all. Now comes the fun part, sanding off all that glue. This was the top of the dresser with the veneer removed and waiting for the sanding to begin.
It was in this exact stage that I received a visit from family. My granddaughter saw through the glue to the grain of the wood. She began to ask questions about the grain and the knots in the wood. It was then I realized her education was still incomplete. As I explained these are the markings from the tree, she stopped me and asked why I called a tree wood when we told her it was bark. Yes, when climbing trees we did tell her the outside of the tree is called bark, but didn’t realize she hadn’t made the connection to wood coming from cutting down trees. I have one more question to answer for her, and that is why we call trees wood. I told her we will look that up to find the history behind the word “wood”.
Looking at the top of the dresser she informed me I was not to paint the top as she wanted to see the tree that made her dresser. This would make the job a bit harder as I would need to make sure I not only removed all the glue but evened out any shading from the application of the glue decades ago. At this point you can see I had painted some of the front and legs to show her what it would look like. She now wanted the paint removed to see “her tree”. My grandson was excited to have a new piece of furniture he could sand and spent countless afternoons doing just that over the course of the last few weeks.
Never once did he complain that he had sanded the front and legs to prepare them for painting and now needed to sand the paint off and get it ready for a coat of sealer. Instead he was excited. As I removed more areas of the veneer it became apparent that this wasn’t going to work. The side panels were of a different wood all together. It was now time for my granddaughter to take a look and make a decision of what to do with it now.
She decided that the body of the dresser should be painted, remember we just removed all the paint, the top would be sealed and left natural, but the drawers had to be her rainbow colors. My son rolled his eyes and quietly informed me this dresser was going to be one ugly dresser. We never shared that opinion with her, but my son did have to eat his words when he spotted the finished dresser today.
I think I’ve dragged this out long enough. I wouldn’t blame you if you had scrolled down to see the after and skipped all the rest. :-) Here is the completed dresser, designed and directed by a 5-year old.
She is very proud of her design
Her father is impressed. He says it’s amazing and is happy it isn’t as heavy as it looks to carry to her bedroom. He also wants to know how she was so sure this was going to look so nice? All I could tell him was she must have seen it in her mind.
I wish I could have gotten a better picture of the top. But today was another dreary day with zero sunlight. Even with the curtains and door open there was no natural light to help, but here’s an idea of the grain she fell in love with and wanted exposed.
Lamps gave off too much glare, but you get the idea. It’s actually pine so picture it without the orange tint. :-)
There is a reason I told such a long drawn out story. I believe children need these opportunities to explore their natural talents. While it may have added more work than was necessary, I was happy to allow her to change the direction when the dresser presented challenges. No one will ever forget the process that went into this piece. Between her mother struggling to get it into the back of her vehicle for me, to my grandson knowing he helped to make this for his sister, for my granddaughter this will be the first piece she completely designed. And for myself and her parents this piece will be the one that taught us all that this little girl has a creative streak beyond just drawings.