I was determined, when we moved into this apartment, that we wouldn’t fill it with all things IKEA. Obviously there is a lot of IKEA in this apartment, (we didn’t make four trips to that store in two months for nothing) but I knew how disposable IKEA furniture can be, and how sterile it feels. There are people out there that can do amazing things with IKEA, furnishing an entire house to look chic and minimal and clean. Not me. It just looks like I had very little money and no imagination. So! I did everything but make Sam take a blood oath swearing to me he would do whatever it took to help me make this apartment not look all IKEA-y before I would move in with him. And it turned out that included driving two hours each way to South Jersey the day after Thanksgiving to pick up the only dresser under $100 in a 100 mile radius that I liked.
I told you. I told you it was bad. I told you it should have been free, but I bet you thought I was exaggerating. I wasn’t. It’s just because of those freaking legs that make it so it’s all “mid-century” or whatever that it wasn’t left out on a curb for whoever passed by that day.
But lucky for me, the woman selling this saw the potential for an easy 80 bucks, and I saw the reality that in the tri-state area, there is no finding a true deal when it comes to mid-century lines. Plus, I had been itching to refinish a piece of furniture for a while now. I’m not sure when I got that idea into my head, but at some point in the last couple years I decided that what I really wanted to do ten days after moving into a new apartment, more than anything, was start a project that would not only stink up the entire house with chemicals and gaseous fumes, but also make our living area essentially unlivable and covered in dust and paint for about eight days right in the middle of the holiday season and Sam’s finals.
So! Before I got to work I researched how to refinish a dresser inside an apartment. This is an important step for anyone considering taking this on while living in a dwelling without any outdoor space, because there is absolutely no point in dropping 88% of your life savings on a New York City broker and moving into a new apartment if all you’re going to do is asphyxiate yourself and your partner two weeks later because you used normal, suburban-people stripper and then went to sleep. To avoid that end, use CitriStrip or a similar product that specifically states it is safe for indoor use. It’s not going to make your project as easy as the harsh strippers would, but this is the price we pay for attempting to be DIY masters in an apartment and live to tell the tale. You’re also going to want a plastic drop cloth, sandpaper (I got 100 and 220 grit), a $3 hand sander thingy to help you sand (Google just informed me that this is in fact called a rubber sanding block, and it will be right next to the sand paper in HomeDepot or Lowes or wherever you go), plastic scrapers to scrape off the stripper goo and old finish, wood stain, new finish (polyurethane), wood filler, a ton of rags, rubber gloves, steel wool, and a couple of brushes. I was also glad that I grabbed those medical looking face masks and cheapo plastic goggles. Obviously, if you’re never planning to do another project again I would look at your choices and think about whether it might be worth it just to drop more money on a dresser that doesn’t need to be entirely refinished. But if you’re planning on doing a lot of projects, remember that many of these supplies will be reused in other things.
Ok so once I had my supplies, I applied the stripper and left it on for 24 hours. That’s the maximum amount of time that the bottle says to leave it on, plus I wanted to do this during the week to get it done ASAP so I pretty much had to apply it the night before, then do the next step after work the next day. I would advise leaving it on 6-12 hours instead, as the stripper pretty well solidified by the time I got back to it and made it much more difficult to scrape off. After scraping (and scraping, and scraping, and swearing), I used steel wool and sandpaper to sand off the little bits of finish that were left behind with the 100-grit sandpaper and my fancy hand sander thingy. Then I went through and filled in allllll the little parts where the veneer had chipped with wood putty. This got me through the first 2 1/2 seasons of Battlestar Galactica in the course of about a week. At this point it looked like so:
The lighter bit along the edge of each of the drawers is the wood putty. I also filled in all of the chipped edges on the dresser. After letting it harden for 24 hours, I was ready to sand it down to match the drawers and stain! Here’s how the drawers looked after staining:
The top of the dresser is laminate, so I couldn’t stain the whole dresser, unfortunately. Instead, using Glidden Gripper primer (this is the stuff of the DIY gods, my friends) and off-the-rack white paint, I painted the feet and bottom wood pieces while the dresser was upside down, then flipped it over after it dried to pain the top and top edge. Then I stained the body of the dresser. After waiting another 24 hours, I finished the drawers and body of the dresser with polyurethane, sanding in between coats with the 220-grit sandpaper (and my magic hand sander thingy). After letting it all cure for 72-hours, we put it all together, moved it into the bedroom, annnnnnnnnnd:
Ok you know what the best part about this is? I have discovered that the cheerleader effect also applies to mediocre-ly refinished dresser drawers. This was my first time using furniture stripper, my first time sanding something down, my first time staining and my first time using sealant. All of that is to say that there were definite and obvious imperfections in my work. But all together, these drawers look so much better than they ever could on their own. I feel like Disney-Pixar should do a movie all about anthropomorphic dresser drawers working together to save the world or something.
I forced Sam to keep the top free from ALL CLUTTER for the first two weeks so as not to nick it (which I always, without fail, do to my nails whenever I give myself a manicure. Always. And I was not about to let it happen here, damn it). Now, of course, it’s covered in all of the clutter we have no other spot for, since this is our only form of non-closet storage in the whole house for the moment. Ah, well, progress.
P.P.S. Full disclosure: Sam drove the two hours each way to get this dresser, not me. Though I was in the passenger seat.