rescued from a bad 80’s makeover.

For a little while there I was having a serious furniture dry spell.  I had one piece in the Carriage House that was waiting for warmer weather and for Ken to perform some handy-man miracles (Ken is very susceptible to the cold).  Other than that, the Carriage House was empty.  Yep, you heard that right.  I am not one of those furniture re-vampers who has a storage facility full of pieces waiting for their moment in the sun.  I actually get a little twitchy when I have too much stuff being stored.  I prefer to turn pieces over quickly.

But the downside is that sometimes I run out of furniture to work on and there is nothing available on Craigslist.  And when I say nothing, what I mean is nothing that meets my criteria of not too far away, not too expensive, and with lots of potential.

As usual though, when it rains, it pours.  I went from finding nothing to spending three evenings in a row picking up pieces.  I came home with a three dressers, a bed, a desk and this washstand.

I paid a little more than I normally would for this piece.  Why?  Because it was crying out for a rescue from its 80’s style makeover.  Just check out those grape cluster decals.  Gack!  And those horrible knobs.  Ugh!  I have to tell you guys, one of my pet peeves is when people put two knobs in the holes that were originally meant for a drawer pull with two screws.  I get why they do it, but every time I see it I cringe a little inside.  It’s just not right.

But if you look past the bad knobs, those awful grapes, and that really splotchy orange-y stain, this is a gorgeous little washstand.  Such pretty details, right?

The prep on this piece started with stripping the top.  The wood was so lovely that I wanted to show off some of it.  While the stripper was doing its job, I scraped off those decals.  They came right off with a sharp razor blade.

Next I dealt with those pesky knobs.  I was really hoping that I had 4 matching vintage pulls that I could use, but no such luck.  I did have a pair of absolutely gorgeous pulls that I have been saving for special piece though.  And it just so happened the holes on the upper drawer were spaced exactly right for them.

So I decided to use those on the upper drawer and just simple single knobs on the two lower drawers and the door.  To accomplish that on the drawers, I had to fill in the existing holes and later drill a new single hole in the middle.  Filling holes like this is really very easy.  Put some tape across the hole inside the drawer so that as you add wood filler from the front it doesn’t just escape out the back.  Then, fill the hole with wood filler.  I used Elmer’s Pro Bond Wood Filler in Walnut on these drawers, mainly because that’s all I had on hand.  The walnut was a bit dark, but I was painting over it anyway.  All of the wood fillers claim to ‘resist shrinking’, but I find that they all shrink.  In other words, when your fill dries it will recede back a little.  So go back with another application of fill.  Sometimes you’ll even have to do this a third time (I did with this piece).  But you want that filler to be nice and flush with the surface of the drawer, not sunken in at all, or they will show later.

I let my stripper and my drying wood filler sit overnight.  The next day I scraped the stripper off the top and gave it a good cleaning.  Then I sanded the body of the whole piece lightly and gave it a good cleaning too.  I decided to use my method for perfect chipping again on this piece (more details on that method here), so I added a little beeswax to all of the edges.

Then I painted three coats of Miss Mustard Seed milk paint in Marzipan.

Once again, perfect chipping, just where I wanted it!

See my little photo bomber?  My cat Lucy is hiding underneath the washstand.  I couldn’t get her to stay out of my photos.

I was initially considering staining the top of this piece, but the wood was so pretty in its bare and natural state so I waxed it with Homestead House furniture wax.  But that brought out a little too much of the golden hue of the wood, so I toned it down by adding some Homestead House white wax over that.

Not so golden, and definitely no longer orange!

What do you think?  Did I successfully rescue this washstand from the 80’s?

This little charmer is for sale while it lasts.  Pieces this size make a perfect bedside nightstand!  Check out my ‘available for local sale’ tab for more details.

25 thoughts on “rescued from a bad 80’s makeover.

  1. Wow what a change! And now I know how to tone down oak. It has such gorgeous grain but sometimes it’s a little orangey as you said. Such a huge improvement for this little Cinderella piece!


  2. I love it. Especially the turned wood front. It is definitely a winner! On another note. I have been looking for stencils and love the “Jardin de Fleurs” one that you have used many times. I have been looking for it on line. Can you please tell me where you bought it from? Thank you. I also read your comment about getting the smell out of furniture on a different blog, which by the way has been very helpful. Did the coffee grounds work? I do enjoy reading your blog and seeing your beautiful furniture pieces. Thanks for sharing your talents with all of us.


    1. Well, bad news on the stencil. I ordered it from an Etsy shop called Drexart and I just checked to see if I could locate them again and they are closed as of March 15. Bummer! They had some beautiful stencils. As for the smells, I am still working on that problem. I might try the coffee grounds, but I have to say that logically I feel like the coffee will just mask the smell. Much like how perfume shops will give you a small bowl of coffee beans to smell in between each different perfume. I could be wrong, maybe it does somehow absorb the smell permanently. But I also don’t really want to end up with a dresser that smells like coffee. I’m not sure I would want my clothes to smell like coffee … then again, I’m a coffee lover so maybe that would be OK 😉


  3. I remember buying a house that had the grapes in a wallpaper border all around the kitchen. Gah, this piece would’ve fit right in there. This makeover is really fantastic, and I think it’s the top that’s the clincher for me. I love the white wax!!! Nice work.


    1. Um, well … I have to confess I had a fruit (including grapes) wallpaper border in my kitchen, plus a grape vine stencil in my dining room. I loved them at the time, but that was a long time ago 😉


  4. Beautiful makeover! I wish I lived close enough to buy it. Is there a flaw in the top left corner of the first smaller drawer ( unpainted photo) that was unfixable or is it just the photo angle?


    1. There are actually several ‘flaws’ on this piece. Maybe I should challenge people to see if they can find them all. I think they are a bit more obvious on the ‘before’ version than the ‘after’, but maybe I’m biased … just a tad …


  5. Oh my God. Can you believe that I have almost the exact washstand (with the original pulls)but you would have a fit as it is exactly as it was made ,with a few stains on it , also a towel rack at the back. I should leave this to you in my will and then you could paint it and etch it all up and sell it. Thought you would appreciate this comment and yes it is from Betty in Ontario,Canada LOL and have a great day.


    1. Actually I might not have a fit if it doesn’t have those grapes on it, and if the original finish was not that horrible orange-y stain that this one had. Plus you have the original pulls, so much the better! In fact, I bet your piece is lovely Betty!


  6. Love this piece…looks great with the top left bare, and new pulls. The grapes phase was just after the powder pink and blue kitchen stage I think…lol.


  7. Absolutely beautiful!!! I just discovered your website and love it! I actually live just down the road from you – in Pine Springs! Reclaiming Beautiful is one of my favorite stores. 🙂
    Question – what do you use to clean your wood surfaces?

    Thanks so much for all your inspiration and information!


    1. Hi Kristin! I’m glad you found me, since we’re practically neighbors and all. I use either TSP substitute (which I buy at Menards) or just plain vinegar and water to clean my wood surfaces. I assume you mean prior to painting right?


  8. Washstands…aka. Commodes are one of my favorite pieces of vintage furniture. Right up there with music cabinets. A commode with towel bar, was the first vintage piece I ever bought and refinished. Your gorgeous painted version is a bit fancier with the spiral edging detail. Love it. They do perform as wonderful nitestands. Great makeover as usual. Thanks for sharing.


    1. I can remember when I was a kid and my grandma called a similar piece of furniture that she had in her bedroom a ‘commode’. I was so confused because my dad always called the toilet ‘the commode’. I couldn’t understand why grandma kept referring to her nightstand as a toilet. I just googled ‘commode’ and the wikipedia entry does reference both of these meanings, with commode being a french term for a low chest of drawers. But in my mind I will always picture a toilet when someone says commode 😉


  9. I always think of a toilet too when someone says cammode. It must have stuck from dad. I love how this one turned out too. I love the top two pulls and the wood top. Maybe I will have to think about one for my bedstand instead of the hope chest.


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