Cottage White Dresser Makeover

Giving a dated and damaged antique dresser a fresh and charming cottage update with white paint and vintage inspired cup pulls plus an exclusive coupon code to update your cabinet or dresser with new hardware

Updated 7/2022

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This post is long overdue! I finished this painted dresser back in late fall, and have actually shared this dresser several times on my Instagram feed. (I share a lot of sneak peeks on Instagram, and little areas of my home that haven't made it to the stories are more 'real life' snippets! I'd love to have you follow me!)

Thrifted dresser in need of TLC

This dresser started life as a very dark and damaged piece that I discovered at a thrift store in Florida. I held off on doing anything to it for about 10 years...simply because I didn't know quite how to tackle it. I really loved the vintage floral decals on it and wanted to try to preserve them (see circled areas below).

I had already removed the drawers below and had to pause and remind myself to photograph the journey this dark and dated dresser was about to take to become a cottage beauty!

So the dresser sat...untouched. The poly on it appeared melted in places, and the whole dresser was losing peeling chunks of veneer. The trim detail around the drawers was missing large pieces as well. I really wonder if it went through a fire at some point in its life.

After we finished our sunroom makeover, I realized that the dresser would look amazing in that space, painted white. I decided I would need to paint over those decals to really give the piece the love it needed and while I was sad to do that, I haven't missed them at all because this dresser has so much cottage charm now!

I had a brand new HomeRight paint sprayer sitting in my garage, just waiting to make its first appearance!

So with a plan in place, I set out to tackle this dark beast and turn it into a cottage beauty.

This was no easy task! It took several days of prep before the piece was even ready for paint. And, I made a crucial error due to my own laziness and impatience...but read on because I share it all below.


It's a daunting list, I know. And there was a lot of elbow grease involved...but, the reason I'm sharing this project is to show you just what an astounding difference a fresh coat of paint can make, even to a damaged piece. As long as the bones of a piece are good, the rest is really cosmetic. And while it might look daunting, the repairs to this dresser weren't difficult.

Repairing and Painting a Damaged Dresser

I started this dresser makeover where you should always start...a good cleaning! I wiped it down with the degreaser and allowed it to dry before moving on.

Rather than try to replace the missing trim pieces, I decided to embrace the imperfections (ie: just ignore it and paint over it all), but I did need to address the chunks of peeling veneer. After removing all the drawers, I sanded the edges of the peeling veneer to minimize the rough edges and then filled them with the wood filler. 

Once the wood filler dried, I sanded it smooth, wiped it down and the dresser was ready for paint....or so I thought...Mr DIY helped me set up the large spray shelter on our back patio.

I followed the directions on the HomeRight Super Finish Max, watering my paint down, and then sprayed the dresser. I love how fast it is to paint with a sprayer!

And here is where I goofed.

I was so eager and impatient to try the paint sprayer that I forgot one very important fact when you are painting old, dark wood furniture...

...the tannins in dark furniture have a nasty tendency to bleed through!

What are tannins? 

Tannins are the stains that bleed through many species of dark wood.  
Have you ever painted a piece of furniture, let it dry, and was shocked to see it had turned red or orange or even pink in spots? Those are the tannins bleeding through...and they can be very resistant to paint! You can paint several coats and they'll come right through all of them!

In fact, I've read that the paint actually draws tannins to the surface.

So what's the solution?

The solution to nixing tannins and the dreaded bleed-through is to seal them. It's actually pretty simple. I recommend an oil-based primer like the one in the supplies list above because water-based ones just don't work as well for stubborn stains! If you don't want to deal with a messy brush, oil-based primers are available in spray cans!

So clearly I skipped this step and wasted not only time but my precious chalk paint! Don't do what I did...seal your dark wood piece before you attempt to paint it! Or try painting just one drawer and see what happens before painting the entire thing.

Let's take a little look at what happened on the drawers here. See the top two drawers? How ineffective my white paint was? And this is after two coats!

I ended up having to run out and buy a can of Zinsser oil-based primer and hand brushed it on the entire dresser...two coats! It actually went pretty fast because the chalk paint that I had sprayed on the dresser acted as a primer as far as covering the dark wood.

The oil-based primer did an amazing job of covering up the reddish stains and I have seen absolutely no bleed through since! And the dresser looked so good that I  didn't even need to paint another coat of chalk paint on top, I just left it as is!

Helpful Recap: when you're painting a dark piece of furniture, always apply a spray or brush on oil based primer first, to block any tannin stains from bleeding through. Then, go ahead and paint your piece. The bonus is that the actual painting will go very quickly and you may even need to use fewer coats of paint in the long run!

You've already seen the results and know that this damaged dresser was restore to a thing of beauty but let's take a closer look at the finished dresser in all its white cottage glory!

She's a knockout, isn't she?

The white really highlights all the pretty curves of this piece. And even though you can see the bits of trim that are missing if you look hard, I think it adds to the cottage charm of this very old piece, don't you think?

The vintage-looking hardware in the oil-rubbed bronze is the perfect finish don't you think?!

Coupon Code

You've probably got a dresser or cabinets that could benefit with the upgrade that new hardware gives! Please using my coupon code DIYB10 to save on any hardware or accessories at Hickory Hardware!

Hopefully I've helped you to overlook the damage to some of these vintage treasures and see how beautiful they can be with a little TLC and paint!

Pin it to remember and support my site!

bringing beauty to the ordinary,

Disclosure: I received a Home Right Super Finish Max paint sprayer and shelter in exchange for this post. As always, all opinions are my own.


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  1. Beautiful! Thank you so much for sharing your advice and the experience you had redoing this gorgeous piece of furniture!!

    1. Thank youso much! I'm always happy to share my blunders because I'm learning along the way too!

  2. This looks wonderful. Thanks for the info on the paint process.

  3. What a gorgeous piece of furniture it is now! AND I love the display of items on top as well as the wreath on the front.

  4. Makeover looks amazing, you really made it look like a brand new dresser!

  5. This one came out GORGEOUS!!!! :} Love the tips too!

  6. Which white chalk paint (color) did you use?

  7. Hey friend! What a great find. Beautiful job painting it and thanks for the tip on tannins and bleed through. That has happened to me more times than I'd like to recall. pinned

    1. Thanks Cindy, yes it's one of my favorite pieces now! Ugh, I always seem to forget that dark woods will bleed, painted so many coats on so many things lol!

  8. You took a beast and turned it into a beauty! Great job


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