dueling bureaus.

A while back my number one craigslist spotter, nnK, forwarded an ad to me for two ‘bureaus’.  We’re pretty sure that these didn’t get snatched up more quickly because they were only called ‘bureaus’.  The ad said nothing about ‘dressers’, or ‘chest of drawers’, or ‘credenza’, or ‘midcentury modern’.  If any of those keywords had been used, I’m sure these would have been long gone.  But I don’t think there are too many people out there searching for ‘bureaus’ these days.

As happy as I was to get the opportunity to make these mine, some serious sweat equity went into acquiring them.  We had to call in the big guns.  Mr. Q’s friend Gene that is.  He is the guy we call when there is going to be some heavy lifting.  In this case, these two bureaus were in the attic of a typical 1940’s style bungalow.  In other words, up a very narrow staircase with a turn at the top.  Yikes!  The seller had been sure to tell me that I had to bring my own manpower to get them out of there, so I did.  Mr. Q and his friend were real troopers getting these babies into the truck!

MCM before 1

I only took a ‘before’ shot of one, but I have two and they are identical.  I’m fairly certain that the owner of these bought them new, tucked them up in the finished attic and has used them for storage for 50 years or so.  She mentioned that she had lived in the house since the 60’s.  They weren’t in terrible shape, but slightly beat up from years of use.  The finish was also very dried out.

MCM before close up 2

I had actually been hanging onto this pair until my sister got here.  Why?  I decided to play dueling bureaus with her (insert music here)!  Since she is living with me for two months until her new apartment is ready, I decided to put her to work as my apprentice.  Her first assignment was to work side by side with me, with each of us making over one of these.  I let her pick her own colors, and I picked mine.  I decided we should work in Fusion paint because it is the easiest to use, and no topcoat is required!

To begin with, we stripped the flat raised fronts of our drawers.  Once stripped, we sanded them lightly and then used Varathane’s Dark Walnut gel stain on them.  Once dry, we each added two coats of  Minwax Wipe on Poly in satin.  Then, after sanding the rest of the piece lightly, Debbie painted hers in Liberty and I painted mine in Ash.

Here is the Ash.

MCM ash title

 Doesn’t the wood just look so much richer in this darker stain?

And here is the Liberty.

MCM dresser painted in Fusion's "Liberty"

Now, I have to tell you, my sister has never done this before!  She’s never stripped or painted furniture.  Ever.  And she did this.  All by herself.  Granted, I showed her the ropes and gave her some tips along the way.  Still, if she can do it, so can you!  So if you are someone who has been reading my blog for a while and thinking about trying some furniture refinishing on your own, dive in!  As Nike says, just do it!

MCM collage

Debbie is very proud of her first furniture makeover ever!  She is well on her way to finishing her next project, her $10 table and benches, so stay tuned to see those soon.

debbie with MCM

33 thoughts on “dueling bureaus.

  1. I never cared much for the mid-century modern look, but am lately coming to appreciate the lines and balance of the style, especially when it is wood and paint combined. These are beautiful – can’t decide which color looks best. Both are wonderfully masculine. Great teamwork, and a great idea for passing on a skill!


    1. Thanks Kim! The mid-century look is really growing on me. I definitely appreciate the style, even though it’s not one I gravitate towards in my own home.


  2. Great job…yes almost everyone can paint furniture! I have a feeling this is only the beginning of her new career. Soon she will be blogging. Maybe called Live in the D ( like Detroit) or maybe What My Sister Made Me Paint.


    1. Well, I think you have us in the wrong city. We’re near Minneapolis, not Detroit. Too bad, ‘cuz I like the D idea. But I especially love the 2nd choice, that would be apropos.


  3. Bureaus…yep have not heard that term used in a couple of decades to describe a piece
    of furniture. These have great lines for midcentury very handsome. I can totally see a tv hanging over them. The decision to stain the drawers dark really works. I can so see these in a loft. Now this is an apprentise show I would actually watch. Your Sis did a great job.


    1. These would be fabulous in a loft! Preferably one with a lot of exposed brick and old wood factory floors. In my next life I’m going to live in the city in a loft like that and have all mid-century furniture! I might even hang my Curtis Jere pom pom sculpture 😉


  4. So how many readers immediately went on CL and typed in ‘bureaus’?!? What fun to paint with your sis! I have yet to use gel stain or wipe-on poly but you are making me feel brave! Great job ladies!!


    1. LOL. I wonder if anyone did? Just to experiment, I went to my craigslist to try it. Be sure to be in the ‘furniture’ category. There are other definitions for ‘bureau’ out there! I got ‘very few local results’, but I did get a couple. Both the gel stain and the wipe on poly are really easy to use and good products for beginners. You don’t need a perfectly prepped surface for the gel stain, and the wipe on poly is very forgiving (no worries about brush strokes). We applied both with an old t-shirt, so no special tools or brushes required.


    1. I’m such a poor saleswoman to leave out that little detail! Yes, they are both for sale! $345 each. Local only of course. You can check out my craigslist ads, here and here for more details, such as dimensions, etc.


    1. Thanks. I was surprised at how almost easy it was. It still was work but I had fun and will probably do some more. Especially if it sells.


  5. Those are fantastic and yes, they are calling out for the sculpture above them. Can’t wait for Debbie’s 10 dollar transformation! Nice work ladies.


    1. Thanks Melanie! These were fun to do, and they both sold quickly on craigslist. Of course my sister’s version sold much more quickly than mine, and she may never let me forget that 😉


    1. I use Citristrip. I like that it isn’t quite as toxic as some of the heavy duty strippers, and it doesn’t have a horrible smell. It’s strong enough to work well for the kinds of projects I do which usually involve stripping off old varnish. It’s really quite easy to use. Best of luck to you!


    1. I use an inexpensive chip brush to apply stripper. You can buy them for a couple of dollars. But maybe you mean for painting? In which case I use Purdy brushes. I have about 10 Purdy brushes in a couple of different sizes. For most things I like to use an angled brush, that’s just my preference. I like the nylon/polyester medium stiff brush. I never use a roller.


  6. I know this post is old, so I hope you don’t mind answering my questions because this bureau…hahaha… dresser is exactly what I’m looking to do. It’s gorgeous!! I have painted lots of furniture, redone all my cabinets, etc., so I get all that. These products that you are recommending are new, and so I have a few questions specifically regarding re-creating a MCM piece like your bureau. And, I will be working on a Beautility Cocktail Sideboard, in case you are wondering. So…
    1. For the wood parts, you strip, sand, Varathan gel stain, Minwax wipe on poly in satin.
    a. This process will keep the wood grain and allow me to deepen the color on my piece?
    b. the satin finish minwax will take the finish from matte to slightly glossy or satin? why not use fusion mineral paint furniture wax?
    c. fine grain sandpaper?

    2. For the painted part:
    a. Fusion mineral paint – you used Ash which looks stunning. I’m interested in the final piece looking black, does Ash do it or is Coal Black a better option?
    b., I don’t want a totally dull finish on the paint. How glossy is the Fusion built-in topcoat? Do I need a wax or topcoat if I want a more satin finish? Which product do you suggest?

    Thank you so much for the info! Your work is inspiring… I’m already scanning Craigslist for future items. Great, fantastic, beautiful work you do!


    1. I’ll do my best to answer your questions Donna. For the wood parts: a. yes, you can keep the wood grain but stain it a darker color using the same process I did, b. yes, you’ll get a satin finish with the Minwax poly that I used. Fusion furniture wax would provide a more matte finish, but you could use it if you wanted to. c. not totally sure what you are asking with “fine grain sandpaper?”, but I usually use 220 grit. For the painted part: a. Ash is a dark grey, and definitely does not look black. If you want black, go with Coal Black. b. the Fusion is not very glossy, but it isn’t as completely flat as a chalk paint. You need to be careful when adding a satin or glossy topcoat over the dark colors because they can end up looking streaky or cloudy. I’ve heard of people using hemp oil or a wax over the Coal Black to add more shine, but I haven’t tried that myself.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.