Empire Dresser Makeover

Hello lovely Friends and welcome to Themed Furniture Thursday!  This month’s theme is storage, so what better project for this theme than a dresser, right?

Can I please just tell you first how relieved I am that this dresser makeover is done?? This piece gave me SO MUCH trouble. You don’t hear me say that very often, but let’s face it, sometimes it’s just good to hear that others struggle too, right?  I feel like I need to vent about my struggle with this troublemaker. This story does have a happy ending, but let’s start at the beginning, shall we?

I came upon this antique empire dresser one night last week when I was supposed to be running to the grocery store really quickly just before dinner for a can of diced tomatoes. There is a DAV thrift store one turn before the grocery store and a Goodwill right next door to the grocery store, so of course I never mind having to run out last minute to pick something up!

Here is what I thought was a huge score from the DAV in all her musty glory:


All furniture was 20% off so I got this for $60. I must not have taken a photo of the top, but the veneer had what almost looked like a burn hole the size of an orange in it, with several areas chipped away and flapping up. So I figured no problem I’ll just take that right off. I see people do it all the time.

Two hours and one blister later…

How not to remove veneer

Yeah this is not the easiest way to remove veneer, so you probably want to seek out another method like the one in this post from my talented friend Larissa…a much more patient method. I ended up gouging the wood in several areas and the burned area left a dark circle, so I decided paint would have to be the answer. No problem. I got this.

I used Elmer’s wood filler to putty the gouges and sanded smooth…


Then I painted. Two coats. It looked awful. There were so many bumps and divots and it was just not working for me.

So this happened…


I thought stain might be a bit more forgiving, so plan B was to sand it back down and stain since the wood filler claimed it was stainable.

Only it looked like this…


I never could get the paint out of all those tiny grooves in the grain no matter how much I sanded.

I had to walk away for a couple of days and think of a new plan.

Plan C. Stencil. I ordered a French love letter stencil and paid extra for two-day shipping. That was Friday morning. On Tuesday I was still waiting.

I figured I would repaint the top and add the stencil to camouflage the imperfections, but time was running out.

With no stencil and no idea how I was going to salvage this dresser, I repainted the top anyway. Three coats, and guess what? It was SMOOTH! What the? All that sanding I did to remove the paint must have smoothed out most of the imperfections! There are still some here and there, but now they’re called character. 🙂

OH and did I mention the sides?


I figured I’d learned my lesson and decided to patch them…


But after painting it showed every flaw, and I just wasn’t happy. Not to mention this thang stank…talk about musty! And the paint bled through like CRAZY. Lot’s of shellac solved most of that trouble. There was also peeling veneer on the drawers which had to be mended.


But I did get through it. (And lived to tell the tale!)

Ok are you ready to see how this disaster turned out??

Thrift Store Empire Dresser Makeover from Confessions of a Serial Do-it-Yourselfer


Empire dresser makeover from H-E double hockey sticks!

Not too bad, right?

Empire Dresser Makeover from Confessions of a Serial Do-it-Yourselfer

Can you spy how I fixed the sides?

Empire Dresser Makeover from Confessions of a Serial Do-it-Yourselfer

With a little tissue paper!

I found the tissue paper idea here when I was desperately seeking a solution for the top. I ended up using it on the sides instead to camouflage the imperfections. (There are some lovely makeovers on that site by the way!)

Add tissue paper to the side of a dresser for added interest!

It worked like a charm. I applied it with matte Mod Podge using a foam brush. When it was dry, I clear waxed right over it. Surprisingly, it took the wax very well. (Tissue paper is from Michaels.)

I decided to keep the top two drawers stained. It looked like the veneer had already been removed from those two and I loved the wood.

Thrift Store Empire Dresser Makeover from Confessions of a Serial Do-it-Yourselfer

I used Antique Furniture Refinisher (affiliate link) and very fine steel wool (0000) to remove the original stain, and stained them in Minwax Dark Walnut. I added a couple of coats of Minwax Wipe-On Poly (affiliate link) to seal.

The glass knobs are original and so beautiful that I definitely wanted to use them again. Two were missing though so I replaced them with something that coordinated.

Thrift Store Empire Dresser Makeover from Confessions of a Serial Do-it-Yourselfer


Thrift Store Empire Dresser Makeover from Confessions of a Serial Do-it-Yourselfer

Do you see the “kitty” in that picture? ha ha Looks like a kitty being caught getting up to no good!

Thrift Store Empire Dresser Makeover from Confessions of a Serial Do-it-Yourselfer

The drawers got a little pretty scrapbook paper treatment…

Thrift Store Empire Dresser Makeover from Confessions of a Serial Do-it-Yourselfer

I used DIY Chalk Paint in a 50/50 mix of Cottage White (Behr) and Pure White, then sealed all the painted areas with clear soft wax. See more on painting with chalk paint here.

Thrift Store Empire Dresser Makeover from Confessions of a Serial Do-it-Yourselfer

This was such a trouble maker, but I am really pleased with the results.Thrift Store Empire Dresser Makeover from Confessions of a Serial Do-it-Yourselfer

It’s not even about the work though. I gave something that was in such disrepair, a fresh start. A chance to be loved again for years to come, and that feels pretty good.

But maybe next time, I shouldn’t take any detours on my way to the grocery store. 🙂

Don’t forget to see what my friends made over for this fun theme too!


Thanks so much for letting me vent, guys! Ya’ll are the best!

Here are  a few of my favorite past Themed Furniture Thursday pieces you might like too:

Themed Furniture Thursday Makeovers from Confessions of a Serial Do-it-Yourselfer

Thrift Store Side Table Goes Glam

Mini Drop Cloth Rosette Stool Makeover

Duck Egg Blue and White China Cabinet

Sewing Stool with a Secret Drawer

French Secretary Desk

Mason Jar Blue Headboard Bench





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  1. Oh my goodness. I was outside at 6:45 this morning while reading this post and I was laughing so hard I was crying. My poor neighbours and the early dog walkers must have thought I was loosing my mind. I could not stop laughing and wiping my tears. This was a GREAT start to my morning. WOW. it looks beautiful by the way!!

  2. A lot of work, but well worth it. The dresser looks great!!!!

  3. Wow Christy that Empire Dresser is a beauty! Great job and thanks for sharing. Veneer on top of great wood is such a disappointment. I also loved the ’tissue’ experiment, what a great surprise on the final look. Enjoy your day!! Liz 🙂

    • Thank you so much, Liz! I usually steer clear of damaged veneer, but I thought this would be a simple fix. At least I know a little better what to expect. Live and learn. 🙂

  4. Christy, I felt your pain reading this. I seem to always get myself into these types of situations. I typically have to learn the hard way because I want to save them all (oh and who doesn’t love a deal?). It turned out beautifully. Great work!

  5. I love it!!!!!!!!!!!! I may have to try the technique on the sides. AWESOME!!!

  6. This is absolutely fabulous. I totally love your blog and all your projects. A dream would be to visit your booth. I love every project you do! Thanks for sharing even the travails so we who are novices at this can take heart!

  7. The piece came out amazing! I have been there with so many pieces before. I love that you left the top two drawers unpainted. It is stunning.

  8. Oh my gosh… I was cringing as I read your story! I’m so glad you didn’t let this dresser get the best of you! It’s absolutely gorgeous and I love the different finishes.

  9. What a triumph over adversity! I totally understand why this one had to come home with you…kind of like a gorgeous new date that doesn’t begin to reveal his character flaws until it’s TOO LATE. But you overcame, worked your *ss off, and the results are amazing. I have several pieces with troubled veneer, and you’ve given me the courage to finally dive in! Thanks…

    • Thank you, Heather! I just could not leave it there, but I might think twice next time. If you have damaged veneer to remove, check out Larissa’s link in my post. She swears by her method. I should have listened! Good luck with your pieces! XOXO

  10. Wow Christy…You did an amazing job of this dresser! There were so many challenges with it and you made it look flawless! Just gorgeous 🙂

  11. oh my…I so feel your pain on this on Christy! You deserve an award for not lighting up a match. I am also working on a veneer nightmare. Boy is that stuff a PAIN! Thanks for hgihlighting my towel method. It’s saving me again.

  12. Man, do you have patience! I would have taken it back to the goodwill. You did a wonderful job, It turned out beautiful.

  13. Amy @ Highstyle Restyle says

    Your dedication is admirable because I know how much work went into refinishing it. But, girl your sweat (and maybe a few tears) paid off in spades. The result is beyond, beyond stunning! Your creativity and ingenuity in solving all the problems that arose are fantastic! Atta girl!

  14. Sometimes those pieces that give us the most trouble give us the most satisfaction when completed! It’s really lovely , too bad about your stencil not coming. I love your stenciled pieces, but you found another route and that’s what being creative is all about!!

    • Thank you, Gina! You are so right…sometimes you have to get creative to find solutions to these stubborn pieces, but it just makes for a more unique result. And I did finally get my stencil yesterday afternoon…just a little too late! 😉 XO

  15. Sharon Davidson says

    First and most important, I LOVE YOU BLOGS and stop what I am doing as soon as I see them pop in my email! Second, you might want to go to the grocery store instead next time. The piece turned out lovely with all the sweat, tears and I’m sure a few words too. I love the two tone on the dresser as well. I have a couple of old small dressers sitting and a dog bed in my shed ready for me to attack now that the Florida weather is cooling off, was way too hot this summer to attack them. I look at your blog for inspiration and I “Thank you” for that 🙂

    • Oh my goodness, Sharon, you totally made my day!! Thank you for such a sweet comment, and I’m so thrilled to have you following along with me!
      Now go tackle those dressers! 🙂 XO

  16. Wow Christy, all your hard work and determination paid off! Gorgeous makeover! Love the dark walnut drawer fronts and the tissue paper detail on the sides.

  17. I felt so anxious reading your story I always walk away when I go through something like this first time it happen I broke down in tears feeling I couldn’t do what others do but I’ve learned a lot since then.

    • I’m sorry you’ve had bad experiences too. Although it was such a stubborn piece to work on, I learned a few things and ended up with a more unique piece because of it. I might pass next time though. 🙂

  18. Rita Spittler says

    You win, AGAIN! What a challenge but you won.
    Have you ever tried bondo? Great if you’re going to paint. It’s for auto body but it solve all kinds of big bad ding problems and cures fast. I’m sure you have but thought I’d throw it out there. Success, yet again. Yay YOU!

    • Ha ha Rita! That’s exactly how I felt in the end…I won! I have heard of bondo, but never tried it. If I am delusional enough to pick up another piece with damaged veneer, I need to give that a try! Thank you! 🙂

  19. Some of the best results are created by mishaps. This is sure one of them.!!!!!! Gorgeous. I love it and I am picky, picky, picky! Great job.

  20. Hi Christy, against all the elements but you did RESIST ¡¡¡ ..ha ha ha ha… it turned out great, this combo colours are my fav, and the tissue detail …super nice…

  21. Oh Christy, it’s SO pretty! I love the combo of dark stain and white. And the patterned tissue paper is the perfect accent! You sure know how to turn imperfections in to assets girl!

  22. This old girl needed a lot of work but it was so worth it, Christy! it’s stunning. I especially love the tissue paper sides and that you left the top two drawers stained. So beautiful!

  23. Wow! This was a lot of work!!!! But so worth it….it is just beautiful!

  24. I got tired just reading about how much work was required to get this old girl looking good again! I love the color contrast of the drawers in the front and how you used tissue paper on the sides. It looks great!

  25. Oh man, what a mess that top was! But it was worth all the work, this piece is gorgeous!

  26. Your dresser is now a stunner! Love the tissue paper on the sides.


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