From Trash to Posh – Shabby Chic Custom Restoration (Drawer Chest no. 07)

How we did it: Custom Shabby Chic Makeover with Print

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In this post I would like to present you the way we gone through to restore to life the old and neglected chest of drawers. Bear in mind: it is not a DIY (Do-It-Yourself) tutorial, it is rather DIM (Done-It-Myself) story.

Below you can see the subject of this topic – almost dead body before against the results of our shabby chic restoration works after.

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1. The Chest

So we’ve been commissioned once.

The girl wanted to restore her granny’s old chest of drawers, abandoned somewhere in depth of her parents’ house. With possibly a print transferred on the front, one of our corset prints maybe?

Without any thinking we said: Yes!
And then the girl sent us the photo.

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Well – it seemed like this piece had have better days. It was a long time ago though. Very long time.

The question she asked was if we wanted her dad to do some work on the body. Apparently the father was keen on some DIY. We couldn’t say no.

2. Initial mock-up

Before the chest has arrived, we created couple of mock-ups, just to find the directions. We used couple of graphics from our previous projects, and with help of Photoshop mounted them into the image we have had.

This way (mock-up of graphics against unpainted piece) is never very helpful as such an image (no matter how realistic) is completely different from a final look. The proper mock-up was done at the end of the road, just for customer to choose from two options.

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3. The arrival.

Finally the Chest has arrived.

It has arrived safe and sound, however any additional damage wouldn’t do any harm.

The piece’s top surface with mouldings around it was replaced, as well as moulding at the level of bottom drawer. And only these parts we were not scared to touch.

The chest apparently spent ages abandoned in a dump cellar where a high humidity seriously damaged a veneer. However, back in the past it had to be a very handsome piece. To restore an old beauty seemed to be a challenge – and we liked it.

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The owner asked us not to replace handles, she wanted to leave them original. Which made sense as they were cute indeed.

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4. The colours.

As a colour suggestion we were given a photograph of a piece the customer found on Internet. She liked the colour scheme and the print.
Unfortunately for her, as it turned up it was a doll house furniture.

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We had something to inspire with, though.

Our proposition was: ‘Old Ochre’ for drawers, and for the body one of three following: either shades of green (‘Olive’ or ‘Chateau Grey’) or deep crimson (‘Burgundy’); all of them from Annie Sloan’s Chalk Paint palette.
Finally we agreed for ‘Old Ochre’ and lightened a bit ‘Olive’.

And then we have gone for a summer holiday.

5. Preparation I – the veneer.

After we come back – the real works has started.

The first thing when restoring any furniture is to remove hardware. Luckily there were not many things to dismount, just the handles.

After that, the time has came for stripping down the veneer.
You can choose either a dry way – using i.e. belt sander, or wet – trying to dissolve glue holding the veneer. As there were a lot of places where I could not reach with a sander, I decided to go wet.

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Some say, that it is enough to pour boiling water at the surface you working on, and this will do the trick. I decided to go slower way though, to let the veneer soak the water in non-invasive way.

To do this, I just poured cold water at some old cloths covering a side of the chest, and protected them against drying with plastic sheet. And waited couple of hours.
After that, as you can see on the pictures, I could peel the veneer like a banana skin. I used sharp spatula and a knife to work in the corners. The operation took just couple of minutes.

And it would be brilliant if it didn’t make a damage to the plywood board underneath.

Plywood, as Wikipedia says, is ‘a sheet material manufactured from thin layers of wood veneer that are glued together’.
The water I was using has penetrated the layer underneath the external one. The result was miserable: wavy mountains and valleys with deep cracks in between on the freshly revealed plywood.

This promissed a long, long day of extra work.
Or a week better.

6. Preparation II – the plywood.

This was a time to take a heavy machinery out of the shed.

With a help of belt sander I managed to flatten the surface. It has looked better right away.

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The cracks however stayed; I did not dare to go with sanding through entire layer – that perhaps would be easier, but it would weaken the body of the old chest. So I used a wood filler instead.

It was a time consuming operation, and I did not take any images of it, unfortunately.
Just for your information, the best wood filler we came across so far is Ronseal’s High Performance Wood Filler. It comes with hardener, and the time of drying depends on the amount of it you use (and can be as short as 15 – 20 mins), it is tough and elastic in the same time, and is very easy to sand.

Just before I used the filler, I fixed the deepest cracks and holes with polyurethane glue. In this case it is Soudal’s adhesive, marked as D4 (EN 204) which means highest viscosity. The advantage of this glue is ‘Foaming penetration action to fill bond cavities’. It works.

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7. Preparation III – the drawers.

As we always paint the sides of drawers (either on full length, or just the front’s edges) it is important to make room for a paint; otherwise the layers of paint and varnish will block the drawer inside its chamber.

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I always use the belt sander to do the job, and try to remove 0.5 – 1mm of the surface.
I start with the roughest grit (40) and end up with something smooth like 240. It not only makes a room for the paint, but it also refreshes overall look.

8. Half way through

In the middle of whole job, right after preparation works and before painting our chest has looked as bellow:

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The whole body has been stripped down and sanded to be smooth.
All holes and cracks have been sealed.
The sides have been almost entirely covered with wood filler, as well as front cracks and holes.
The key holes in three bottom drawers have been sealed and filled (the keyhole covers, or escutcheons if you prefer, were long time missing).
On top of that – pull handles and remaining escutcheons have been cleaned and polished.

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And then – the time has came for painting.

9. The painting.

First phase of painting was to take care of the body and drawers. The body was covered with Annie Sloan’s ‘Olive’ mixed with ‘Old White’ to achieve lighten tone, and drawers with ‘Old Ochre’.

We left the mouldings and the legs untouched for the time beeing, because we were not sure about the colours yet. We were initially thinking about leaving mouldings uncovered,just a bare wood, but there were too many nail heads and wood fillings visible to give a proper effect.

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The legs were done afterwards.
We pay a lot attention to the details, that’s the reason of a duck tape underneath the piece.
We do like sharp cut off lines.

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We could not make any restoration works around the legs, unfortunately. They needed to be removed and fixed back in, and this job it would have extended the time of completing enormously.
So we left their original charm.

You can see them painted here with ‘Olive’, however later on we decided to go ‘Old Ochre’ with them, together with all mouldings.

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10. The printing.

The last thing on the list was a print transfer.

Our customer has chosen one of our corset graphics (you can find original images here: Free Printable Image, French Corset.

If you like design of the print you have opportunity to buy it in a form of water decal, check on our French Corset (Susan) Water Decal.
However – we always want to be sure this is our customer’s conscious decision.

To do it, we have used an almighty Photoshop to create mock-up with two versions of our graphics. What you can see below is a computer generated collage of real photographs of the chest and the vector image of corsets design. It helps a lot to make right choice.

The chosen one is framed in the middle of image.

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To create the print itself we have used a screen printing method – so far most precise technique allowing us to achieve maximum of details.

The subject of screen printing is too wide to cover it in this article. Just for the information – we created two frames of A3 format to get overall format of A2. Still looks quite small, isn’t it?

The paint used for transfer was Annie Sloan’s ‘Olive’.

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That is actually it.
The final work looks very good, we were very proud of ourselves. But – all this could have been done better. And faster. We did skip some parts of the chest also – the rear board, the legs.

Anyway – I hope you can find useful information in this article.
As usually – forgive me all abuses I have done to English; it is not my first language .

4 COMMENTS

  1. Stephanie Plumb

    I’m so happy with the result, it’s astoundingly beautiful. It was forgotten and unloved in my grandmother’s garage for 65+ years, so when I found it I hardly thought it would be possible to restore. Touch the Wood have done a fantastic job. Thanks guys!

    Reply
  2. Carolyn

    Stunning.

    I have just found your website and I am enjoying reading your posts and admiring your projects.

    Reply
  3. Nora Goodin

    The chest is SO beautiful and I learned so much from your presentation. Thank you for sharing all this information. Worry not about your English “abuses”. You get your message across very well.

    Reply

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