picking pieces.

Recently someone asked me how I pick the pieces I paint.  I didn’t come up with a very good answer on the spot because I really haven’t given much thought to my process.  I just pick what I like.  But I do realize that choosing the right piece to paint is nearly as important as the painting itself.  So I decided to try and pin down my process a little for all of you.

In winter, most of my pieces come from my local craigslist.  We have a thriving craigslist community here in the Twin Cities.  So a while back I headed out to craigslist and picked out a few examples of what was out there to share with you.

First let’s talk price.  I generally set a maximum of $100 for a dresser.  I use the craigslist search tool to limit my search, otherwise I will be distracted all day by gorgeous pieces of furniture that are listed at $400, which is a total waste of my time.  Although $100 is my max, I will only pay that much for a piece that has all of its hardware, is in great shape, doesn’t need repairs and has something unique or special about it.  Otherwise I like to stick to a price range from $40 to $75 for a dresser.

Let’s start with a dresser that I would not pick.

dresser, 100, pass

The first problem with this dresser is the hardware.  Gack!  It is just plain ugly and would have to be replaced, and there are 8 handles.  That is going to add up.  Not to mention, these handles have two holes each, so I’d either be filling holes, or trying to find replacements that fit these existing holes.  But the real problem with this dresser is that it just doesn’t have any personality at all.  If this dresser were dirt cheap, let’s say around $25, and I didn’t have to go far to pick it up, I might consider it.  It could be dressed up with some number stencils on the drawers.  But it was listed at $100.  No way.

Here is another “no” for me.

dresser, olive green

This dresser was listed for $50.  Great price.  It has something I always look for, key holes.  To me key holes usually indicate a well made, antique piece of furniture.  The ad claims this piece is solid wood, another plus.  So, why don’t I want it?  It’s painted a weird olive green.  I hate stripping paint.  It’s time consuming and messy.  So my choice on this piece would be to either paint it something that works with the green and allow the green to show as an undercoat, paint it a solid coat of chalk paint (or even Fusion!) and not distress it at all.  But the fact of the matter is, I’m a distressing sort of girl.  I reserve the non-distressed look for mid-century pieces.  But that’s just me.  Maybe you’d be OK with any of these options, in which case this dresser is a great deal!  I generally steer clear of previously painted pieces though.

Let’s move on to a distinct ‘maybe’.

dresser, apple valley, 75

These are often called a “chest on chest” dresser because they have a wider lower section of drawers with a slightly narrower section on top.  I find this look really appealing.  The Seven Seas dresser that I painted recently was a chest on chest. The trim around each drawer on this one adds a lot of detail.  The legs in front are pretty sweet.  They aren’t turned, but they still have some personality.  This dresser was listed for $75, which is a decent price but not great.  One glaring problem is the missing drawer pull.  As I’m fond of mentioning, one missing drawer pull is the equivalent of not having any hardware at all.  You’re never going to match that.  You’d have to replace all of the hardware on this piece.  But, it still might be worth it.  Honestly, if I didn’t already have a bunch of unfinished pieces lined up in my garage, I’d follow up on this one.

Here is another dresser that I would seriously consider:

dresser, otsego, 75

This dresser was also listed at $75.  Look at that charming detail on the top two drawers, and the lovely turned legs in front.  It has a mirror (it was shown in a separate photo), but I often leave these mirrors off.  Especially when they are mounted on two turned supports like this one is.  I just don’t like that look very much, and I find the turned supports annoying to paint.  This is a style of dresser that can work really well for a wide screen TV when there isn’t a mirror.

I do have one concern about this one though.  It could be a ‘bleeder’.  Are you familiar with that term?  Basically some of the orange to reddish colored stains will bleed through paint.  No matter how many coats of paint you use to cover them up, that orange/pink color will just keep coming through.  There are methods you can use to deal with the dreaded bleed thru, which usually involve sealing the piece somehow, but that adds another step to your process and can really be frustrating.  So, I usually avoid those pieces.  They can be hard to spot though.  This one looks like it has the potential to be a ‘bleeder’ although it may not be.  I would have to see this dresser up close and in person before making a decision on it.

This last example is right up my alley.

dresser, minnetonka, 75

It was listed at $75.  What do I love about it?  The turned legs, the beaded trim below the first pair of drawers, the fabulous hankie drawer at the top.  I can picture in my mind how this piece will look painted.  I know that I can play up those details with some distressing, or contrasting colors.  I can’t really see what the hardware looks like in this picture, but I can see that it is all there.  But even if I have to replace it, I think this piece is worth it because of that charming hankie drawer.

In fact, I liked this one so much that I did send Mr. Q out to pick it up.  Here is the ‘before’ photo I took when we got it home.

hotel dresser before

And here it is after its make-over.

Dresser painted in MMS milk paint in Trophy

I painted it in Miss Mustard Seed milk paint in Trophy.  I used MMS Ironstone on the trim details, and I finished with hemp oil.

I added a little stenciling on the hankie drawer just to give it a little extra personality.

hotel dresser stencil

I got some really fantastic chipping on this piece.

Chippy milk paint close up

hotel dresser details

I really wanted the details on the dresser to pop, so I painted them in Ironstone for contrast.

hotel dresser front

As you can see, I did end up changing out the hardware on this one.  The original hardware was pretty, and it was all there, but it was a very yellow brass and I didn’t like the way it looked with the grey of the Trophy.  I just left the original knob on the hankie drawer.  I’m not really sure why, but I tried that one both ways, and just liked the original better (the other drawer pulls are bigger and brassier than this little knob).

hotel dresser staging

I hope this post gives you some ideas of your own about re-fabbing a dresser or two.  Head to your local craigslist and see what you can spot for yourself!

hotel dresser collage

And meanwhile, yes, this lovely dresser is for sale.  Let me know if you are interested.

Linking up with:  Finding Silver Pennies.

20 thoughts on “picking pieces.

  1. As I was reading about the last piece I was thinking I was going to have to pick that piece up today, then I read that I already had. Whew. No problem, happy to do it, but I have quite a few errands to run today already, so throwing this into the mix would have made my day a little franticker.


  2. Love the advice and run down of how you pick things Linda-the dresser is gorgeous too! I have a small system, but I will take dressers that are damaged and have missing hardware as long as it has good bones.


  3. Such a beautiful transformation! Love the color. Hope Mr. Q. has the Woodbury Goodwill on his list of errands 😉


  4. What a helpful post! I am envious of your fruitful Craigslist searches – ours over here rarely offers much in the way of selection or quality. Love the makeover, especially fond of the Ironstone accent and the little hankie drawer! Fabulous job, as always. I had an inkling which dresser you would pick… you are so great at cultivating your style!


  5. I’ve been trying really hard all day not to hate you! Craigslist in my area does not seem to have so many great options in price or quality. I’m MMSMP Luckett’s Green with envy! I can’t stay mad for long though because you provided some eye candy at the end with that Trophy double chest!! Thanks for sharing!


    1. My Craigslist is terrible too. Tons of 1980’s and fake wood stuff. Anything this cute costs way too much. I have had great luck at Canton First Monday Trade Days in Canton, TX. I’m dyeing to try some milk paint. Just haven’t gotten around to it yet!


      1. My mom lives out in Las Vegas, and the craigslist there is full of 80’s stuff too. My theory is that the time frame that saw big population growth in any given area is the era that will permeate the craigslist (and garage sales). Very few people lived in Las Vegas prior to the 80’s. I suspect that Craigslist on the east coast (Miss Mustard Seed’s turf) is probably a gold mine, and that is why she finds all of those amazing empire style pieces.


  6. Oh my, if only I could find pieces that lovely for that price down here
    !! It’s getting tough to find anything with character under $125. Darn Texas


    1. Oh that would be frustrating! I hope you can also sell them for more once they are finished though. I seem to have more trouble finding the time to paint, than I do finding stuff to paint (knock on wood).


  7. Great article. I think you could just change out the top two knobs on that one and move one of the knobs,down. It really was a nice one! Love the blog, as always. 😆


  8. I found this how to very informative and interesting. Thanks for sharing your “in the trenches” knowledge with us. As I was reading this I wondered if you had any idea how many pieces you have brought back to life? Have you kept an album of all of them? I never knew that little drawer on top was called a hankie drawer. As always love the stencil and this color of course is one of my fav’s.


    1. Thanks Victoria! I have not kept an album of them all. I started painting furniture way, way back in the early days of the Shabby Chic movement. I did start out keeping photos of each piece, but that fell by the wayside for many years until I started posting them on Facebook, and then this blog. As for the hankie drawer, I’m not totally positive I’m using that term correctly. I know the two little drawers on the top of an Eastlake style dresser, like the 1890’s dresser I painted are called ‘hankie drawers’, so I made the leap and assumed the little drawer on top of this dresser is the same.


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