the primitive.

I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I’m rather drawn to primitive pieces.  It’s hard to find a definitive description of ‘primitive’ when it comes to furniture, but I’m referring to pieces of furniture that look like someone made it by hand, most likely out in their barn.  I’m also referring to pieces that have a very worn paint finish, and really just look like they have been around for 100 years.  That brings me to the inspiration photo for today’s piece.

I found this photo on pinterest when searching for ‘black painted dressers’.  I’m not sure where it originates from, so I don’t have any info on this piece.  But it was definitely the jumping off point for the dresser I painted last weekend.  I knew I could approximate this look with some black milk paint, and in case you are wondering I am going to forgo adding the dripping paint spill on that third drawer down.

I’m starting with this dresser that I purchased at my local ReStore a few weeks ago.

You’re probably not quite seeing any comparison to that inspiration photo just yet, but trust me on this one.

To start with, I really didn’t care for the knobs that were on this dresser when I bought it.

I don’t think that these knobs were original to the piece.  Usually this style of furniture has a pull that looks somewhat like this …

Or this …

Or this …

But this dresser only has one hole for a knob, so obviously it didn’t originally have drawer pulls that required two holes.  So I guess I’m really not sure if those knobs were replacements or not.  Either way, they had to go.

I wanted to get pulls similar to those on my inspiration piece, but have you guys tried to order things like this lately?  It felt like every affordable version I found online was out of stock, or only available in a shiny brass or chrome.  I ended up using some cup pulls that I found at my local Menards.

The other change I made to this dresser was to remove the wooden brackets on either side of that back piece.

I just didn’t like the look of them.  They were screwed in place from the back, so it was easy to remove them.  I took them off and then gave that back piece a wiggle to make sure it didn’t absolutely require them for support (which it didn’t).  I filled the holes where the screws went through the remaining back piece with Dixie Belle’s Mud.

Next up I cleaned the dresser using TSP Substitute.  This piece was pretty gross, so it required a good clean.  However, I did not sand it before painting.  I knew I was going to use milk paint, and I was willing to risk some (or even a lot) of chipping.

Today’s q tip:  Milk paint is intended to soak into the surface of bare wood.  When using it on a surface that isn’t bare wood, it will chip when it meets resistance to absorbing into the wood in the form of oils (such as grease, oily finger prints, furniture polish, etc) or previous finishes such as varnish, poly, paint, etc.  If you want to mitigate that chipping, you can be sure to clean off any oily residues using TSP or TSP substitute, and/or you can scuff sand your piece to break down previous finishes.

I chose to just clean my piece and not scuff sand because I’d be OK with some chipping.  If you’re worried about excess chipping with milk paint, do both.  Or use a bonding agent.

While cleaning the inside of the dresser, I found that it had been signed …

I think that’s definitely a clue that this piece was made by hand rather than by machines in a factory.

When I went to pull out my Miss Mustard Seed milk paint in Typewriter, I found that I only had about 1/4 cup of the powder left in the bag.  Yikes!  I was really nervous that this wouldn’t be enough paint for this project, but it turned out to be plenty.  Mainly because I ended up needing only one coat of paint.  I was going for a worn look anyway, so it was perfectly fine if I didn’t end up with fully opaque coverage.

Milk paint dries really fast, especially when you’re painting inside a heated house with pretty much zero humidity.  So once the paint was dry, I sanded my piece with vigor to get the worn look that I wanted.  I focused on areas that would have received more wear over time, like around the key holes and the edges of the drawers.

Next, I pulled out some of my European grain sack style stencils (from Maison de Stencils).  I knew I’d have some that could give me a look similar to the inspiration piece.

I used Dixie Belle paint in Putty to do the stenciling.

Finally, after vacuuming away all of the dust, I used Dixie Belle’s Big Mama’s Butta to seal the dresser.  I usually describe this product as halfway between hemp oil and wax.  It provides a little more protection than plain hemp oil, but not quite as much as wax.  I love using it over dark colors in particular though.  I think it really brings out the richness of the color.

I chose to line the drawers of this dresser with some map themed wrapping paper.  They had some ink stains that were a little unsightly, so I opted to add this last detail.

This was a fun one to work on and the perfect project for milk paint.

I think I did a pretty good job of creating the same ‘look’ as my inspiration piece, what do you think?

This dresser is the perfect size to use as a nightstand, it’s not terribly large.  It is for sale locally, so please check my ‘available for local sale‘ page for the dimensions and other info if interested.


55 thoughts on “the primitive.

  1. My favorite finish, worn and warm. I love this piece! Great transformation – I’m sure that, weather willing, it will sell fast!


  2. So love this black worn finish! I’ve just recently started using milk paint and it’s my new fave. The pulls are so much better and the stenciling tops it off perfectly. It’s gonna go fast I bet!


  3. Absolutely amazing!!! Where did you get the stencil on the back panel? I looked on Madison de stencils website and couldn’t find it


    1. Well shoot, I can’t find it either. I’m fairly sure I purchased it from them. But, here’s the thing, I took two lines of text from a 12″ x 12″ stencil and put them side by side creating that long line of text on the back of the dresser. You could use something like this one to do the same.


  4. Agree better than the inspiration photo! Absolutely love the results. Perfect selection of hardware. I think the sanding makes it truly look like an authentically worn piece.


  5. Honestly, when i saw the before picture, I thought it looked fine the way it was. But after you painted it black and aged it, you gave it the personaliy and ‘pop’ it needed. I love it and wish i lived closer to purchase it! Beautiful job!


  6. Beautiful work, Linda! I had to smile when I read that you were looking online for dressers painted in black. I do the same, but I have often used your dressers as my inspiration! 😉 I have painted 3 Eastlake dressers and have two as our beside tables! They’re perfect!


    1. How fun that my works come up for you online! I have to confess, I’m always a little bit tickled when I do a search and my own stuff comes up too 😉


  7. I love how it turned out–definitely approximates your model piece. I wonder though, not having used milk paint, how long does the Big Mama’s Butta last as a finish? Does it need periodic reapplication? Thanks.


    1. Well, all of the hemp oil/wax type finishes say that they require periodic reapplication. I’d say that depends on the end user, how they use the piece and what their aesthetic is. I have tons of waxed/oiled pieces at my house and the only one I have ever re-waxed is the piano … and that’s because it gets a lot of use and gets dinged up (and sometimes I’m kind of a dork and I try to iron on it with a steam iron, which is a bad idea, FYI). What I love about this kind of finish though, is that you can repair damage of this nature with just a little sanding and a fresh coat of wax or butta’.


    1. I’ve always said that the black milk paint is the easiest to use! No color mixing issues, great coverage, etc. I have had issues in the past with white flecks in the dark colors, but I recently read that the MMS milk paint has been reformulated to eliminate that problem. Although I did not have that problem with this piece. I’ll be looking forward to trying their newly reformulated milk paint, but first I ordered some Fusion milk paint online and I’ll be giving that one a go next 🙂


    1. Wonky because the numbers are kind of tilt-y? I hadn’t even noticed that. I had to go back and look and try to figure out what was wonky about them. And of course now that I see it …


  8. Love it, even though it is painted.😉On this it looks so much richer afterwards. Glad you ditched the drips.

    Are those rolling wheels on the bottom that I see?


  9. I think you did a very good job at capturing your inspiration Miss Quandie! And I love the German stencil!


  10. Wow! You continue to amaze with your make-overs! Your piece is MUCH better than the inspiration piece. You sure have an eye for envisioning how a piece could look post-makeover! Question- Do you know what the stencils say when they are in a different language?


    1. Sometimes I look up the foreign languages I put on furniture (and sometimes my neighbor translates the French for me), but in this case I’m fairly sure those are just names of people and/or places.


  11. You actually bested the inspiration piece. I know it may be a bit oxymoronic, but I find it a very refined primitive piece! Great job!


  12. There is something about black and natural wood that I just love! This is gorgeous and you’ve inspired me to do the same with a dresser I have. Love the transformation! And I have that same style goose neck lamp that was my grandfather’s!


  13. NICE!! I use a really similar piece to the original as a night stand. It’s a bit taller than most current night stands & my bed is high so the chest works great. My mom had the piece refinished in a natural & I like it. But your black…WOW! I have several pieces refinished in natural & although I really like the painted finish, I can’t quite get the courage to paint after all the work to get the finish to natural.


    1. I’ll agree that stripping and refinishing to the original wood is a lot of work. But then again, not impossible … and since you’ve already done it once, you know you can do it again. So, as Mr. Q likes to say, it’s only paint, you can always strip it off again if you grow tired of it. But why not have a finish that you love now?


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