the back alley buy.

Mr. Q nearly bit the dust picking up today’s piece of furniture.  Well, OK, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration …

I found this piece on Facebook Marketplace and the seller was in south Minneapolis.  We were able to schedule a noon pickup, so at least we didn’t have to find her place in the dark.  But when we got there, the street in front of her house was closed because work was being done.  No worries, she directed us to the alley instead.

I know my local readers will understand what I’m talking about, but I’m not sure if ‘alleys’ are the same throughout the world.  So for those of you not familiar, what we call an alley here in Minnesota is a narrow street that runs behind the houses in older neighborhoods.  The garages are all in the back off the alley (and not attached to the house).

I get the original appeal.  All of the unsightly stuff like garages, cars, trash cans and so forth are all hidden out back.  They don’t put in alleys anymore though, at least not that I’m aware of.  These days people want their garages attached to the house, and alleys are just added extra square footage to maintain.

Normally I love a good alley (especially when it’s full of garage sales).  But in the winter, they can be treacherous.  They don’t get plowed out on a regular basis like they should, resulting in big ruts and ice build up.  Which was totally the case in this particular alley a few weeks ago when we picked this up.  Neither one of us was prepared for carrying a big piece of furniture over really uneven ice (we should have worn our Yaktrax).  I managed to save myself, but Mr. Q went down.  Luckily he just bruised his elbow a bit, it certainly could have been worse.

But we got it loaded and made it back home in one piece.  It was actually a fairly warm day, and by warm I mean it was around 30 degrees, so only just under the freezing mark.  I decided to take advantage of that and sand down the top of this piece before even bringing it inside.

Hey, when you don’t have a heated workshop, sometimes you have to improvise.  I prefer to keep as much dust outside as possible.

Next up I gave the piece a good cleaning, and it totally needed it.  It was fairly gross.  I emptied 4 buckets of dirty water cleaning this baby inside and out.

The finish on this piece was fairly alligatored.  Alligatoring or crazing are fine, irregular cracks in the finish usually caused by excessive heat or long exposure to sunlight.  Personally, I think an alligatored finish provides the perfect canvas for some milk paint (here’s one of my all time favorite alligatored pieces).  I had recently ordered some Fusion milk paint in Little Black Dress to give it a try, so I pulled it out for this dresser.

If you are unfamiliar with using milk paint, you can get the basics from my how-to post by clicking on the image below:

Aside from the cleaning, I did not do any other prep on the body of this piece.  I did not sand it at all.  I knew the alligatored finish was fairly dried out (usually that means milk paint won’t chip overly much), plus I was OK with some chipping.  I wanted a worn look to my final finish.

So, I mixed up my milk paint and painted the sides and drawer fronts in just one coat of Little Black Dress.

I often find that I can get away with just one coat of dark milk paint over a dark stain like the one on this dresser.  Especially if I’m going to be heavily distressing the piece anyway.

Once the paint was dry, I sanded over it with 220 grit sandpaper.  I vacuumed away the dust and then added a topcoat of Dixie Belle’s Big Mama’s Butta.

This stuff is so perfect over dark milk paint.  If hemp oil and wax had a baby, it would be this product.  I apply mine with a wax brush, but you can use a lint-free cloth as well.  I brush it on, wait a few minutes and then wipe off any excess with a cloth.  I also buff it up a bit after 24 hours or so.

One quick note, the Big Mama’s Butta comes unscented or in three scented versions; Orange Grove, Suzanne’s Garden and FlannelOrange Grove smells like that orange scented model glue from the 70’s, does anyone else remember that glue?  I loved the smell of that stuff, and I also really like the Orange Grove scented Butta.  Flannel smells like men’s cologne, and I probably should have chosen that scent for this masculine color.  But I went with Suzanne’s Garden on this one instead.  Mr. Q said it smelled like a funeral home in our house after I applied it.  It reminds me of the rose scented soap that my grandmother had in her bathroom.  Although the floral scent might be a bit overpowering at first, it does mellow out quite a bit after a day or two.  So if you love a floral scent, Suzanne’s Garden might be right up your alley.

There were a few stains on the top of the dresser that didn’t sand out, so I decided to go ahead and stain the top in Varathane’s Special Walnut.  This is your basic old-fashioned penetrating wood stain, not a gel stain.  So you have to be sure that all of your old finish is removed in order for it to go on evenly.  But if you have a good, clean, raw wood finish, penetrating wood stain is super easy to apply, just brush it on and wipe away any excess with a lint free cloth.  I wear gloves for this process to avoid staining my hands.  You can add additional coats to dark up the color, but I loved how this one looked after just one coat.

I let the stain dry for a day and then added several coats of Dixie Belle’s flat clear coat to protect the top.

One of the things that attracted me to this dresser was the hardware.  It’s really very pretty.  After cleaning the drawer pulls and keyhole escutcheons with some Dawn dish soap and hot water and letting them dry, I added just a little more shiny gold with with prima’s Vintage Gold Metallique Wax.

Now, you have have noticed that I did not put the mirror back on this dresser.  And if you’ve followed me for long, you know that I rarely do.  I find that dressers tend to be more marketable without a mirror.  They certainly are more versatile that way, you can use them as a TV stand, in a foyer, in a dining room, etc. without them looking out of place.

Sometimes a mirror is attached in such a way that you can take it off and you’re good to go, the top is flush with the back and the mirror sits on top of the dresser top.  But other times the top of the dresser doesn’t go all the way back and butts up against the mirror instead, leaving a gap at the back that the mirror sits down into.  Like this …

It’s so much easier when you don’t have to deal with this, but that wasn’t the case this time.

Initially I thought it might be possible to use the mirror harp to fill in that space by cutting off the arms (I’d done something similar recently with this dresser).  So I sent it over to Ken’s workshop and he cut off the arms with a curve to match the style of the remaining piece.

Ken did a great job making it look intentional.  But once I had it painted and in place, I felt like it overpowered the rest of the dresser.

So we went back to the drawing board, or in this case, a simple 2.5″ board.

Ken helped me attach it with some dowel pins.

It’s just enough to fill in that gap, but not take away from the rest of the dresser.

I think most people would be placing items of some kind on the top of the dresser, thus hiding that back piece for the most part anyway.

What do you think?  Would you have gone with the tall, curvy back piece … or do you prefer the simpler look of the straight board?  I haven’t glued either one in place yet, so I could change my mind.  Feel free to weigh in with a comment.

Either way, this dresser is for sale, see my available for local sale page for more details!

32 thoughts on “the back alley buy.

  1. First, the straight back piece is the correct choice. Second, this is one of my favorites ever from your Quandie workshop. I prefer “unadorned” (transfers and stencils and such) furniture like this dresser, and wow! Black milk paint could not be more perfect and it looks amazing. You have it styled so perfectly too. The hardware is gorgeous against the black. I predict that it will sell before the day is over. I would buy it in a heartbeat🖤


  2. Love this. I have a thing for black furniture anyway and this is just gorgeous. The pulls are beautiful. Agree with all, the straight trim was the way to go! Wish I lived close! I’d have a hard time getting rid of this one!


  3. Just a comment, first about alleys. In Dallas, alleys are still used, maybe not for the most recent construction, but through the 90’s and perhaps into the early 2000’s. The houses still have attached garages but you get to them through the alleys. Here in St Louis, where I currently live, it’s as you describe-only old neighborhoods have alleys. But to the dresser. I love milk paint. It’s not appropriate for every piece but when it is, it’s so charming. Your dresser came out beautifully. And yes, the hardware is beautiful! Great job and I like either back.


    1. It’s only the old neighborhoods that still have alleys here too, but interesting that Dallas has more recent alleys … maybe because they don’t have to contend with snow removal?


  4. I love an old alligator finish with black!
    And honestly most of the time I just leave the gap. I figure people will have something on top anyway. My hubs doesn’t always agree with that decision though. 😀


    1. Honestly, if this piece were for myself I’d totally be fine with leaving the gap. You’re so right, it really doesn’t even show for the most part. But I’m pretty sure Ken would be on your husband’s side 😉


  5. Love it-good alley score! I like the shorter back board and agree the other is over powering. I often make coat/hat hangers with hook out of old ones I don’t use.The hardware is stunning.


    1. I was thinking along the same lines … adding some hooks to that back piece, and maybe a stencil or a transfer of some kind. It definitely won’t go to waste!


  6. So, so pretty. I am so happy you kept the hardware, it is gorgeous! Even after spending the last several months reading through all of your blog from the very beginning, I guess I don’t “know you” as well as I thought. When I first saw the before picture, my first thought was that you would change out the hardware. So glad to be proven wrong🤣 Well, I suppose I am the odd woman out because I prefer the taller scalloped back piece. Either way though, beautiful work!


    1. Hmmmm, you thought I’d change out that hardware huh? Well … maybe in the past I might have. I find myself rarely replacing hardware these days unless I’m missing some, or I really hate the originals (like those awful Early American style pulls).


  7. I think the shorter, simpler back board looks best. Another amazing make over! Interesting info about the alley. One house where we lived had a back alley that the driveway came off of. It was a real treat when the family piled into the car and Dad drove us to the end of the alley where there was a Dairy Queen. Ice cream for all!


    1. That’s an awesome memory Cheryl, love it! Wish there had been ice cream for all at the end of this alley. I guess a fab vintage dresser is kind of like ice cream to me though 😉


  8. I would have bought the piece for the beautiful hardware. I like the straight back, but you surprised me by not transforming the scalloped back with a stencil or transfer. Not questioning your decision, surprised that you didn’t embellish the fancy back. Just when I think I’ve got you figured out…


    1. Well, I did consider that option and in fact even Ken suggested adding a transfer as a ‘fix’ for the tall back piece. But I’ve been doing a lot of pieces with stencils or transfers lately so I wanted to go back to the basics with this one. It remains to be seen if it sells more quickly than my more embellished pieces.


    1. I did debate cutting down the curvy board from the bottom so it would be as tall, but would still have those curves. But ultimately Ken and I decided that would be too much effort to be worthwhile, so we didn’t go that route.


  9. I found an almost identical dresser at a flea market years ago (1986). I used it for my son’s baby dresser. I just left the gap. (I like the straight piece on yours & would use the other piece for hooks.) I love the black on your dresser but I don’t think I’d ever paint mine…I still like the stain we used. I love seeing what you do with pieces that I have (or similar).


  10. Love the straight back…the curved one was too tall – it seemed out of synch with the rest of the dresser. Love the black and the hardware is killer. Another great job for the books!❤


    1. Yep, exactly, the curved one was too tall. I don’t even think the photos capture how top heavy it looked with that piece on. I’ll be gluing the straight board on this weekend I think 🙂


  11. Love the lines of this and I am as you know partial to pieces in black the alligatoring is just a bonus. I also would remove the attached mirrors and prefer the addition of straight piece at the back.
    Alleys are actually quite popular in the “new urbanism movement”. New Urbanism isn’t so new any more. Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk embarked on designing “Seaside” development in Florida in the early 1980’s. These subdivisions are created around a small town center. We have several in South Carolina. In Mt. Pleasant just over the Cooper River bridge from downtown Charleston is an community called “Ion” and has manmade lakes with regattas in the summer. They have somewhat replicated the Historical Battery ocean front area in Charleston. And another community is Habersham Plantation near Beaufort, South Carolina. These communities harken back to the front porch sitting days and many are in the cottage style. I’m completely smitten with both. If you are planning a vacation this way you might want to check them out. Pardon my wordiness today. 🤦‍♀️


  12. Well, I think the smaller back piece looks best…….with the big curvy back it kind of looks like a fat lady with short legs……..hahaha. The chest turned out beautifully, a real Quandie original look. And that hardware is gosh so pretty, like jewelry! I’d be tempted to hammer it into the shape of a bracelet…..


    1. That back really did make the dresser look rather stumpy! And I’ve always wondered if I could make jewelry out of old furniture hardware, well, in fact I did for a while. Mostly using key hole escutcheons rather than drawer pulls though 🙂


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