I bought a dresser…

…for the boys’ room…but I’m not going to use it in there. The search continues…

I recall briefly mentioning that I was watching an auction. Remember? Well anyway, I was the highest bidder. Woohoo! Hooray! Yippee!

auction dresser

It’s mid-century, which is my all-time favorite style. If I had to choose one style of furniture, architecture, masonry, jewelry for the rest of forever it would undoubtedly be mid twentieth century. But thankfully I don’t have to make that choice. And I love the internet. And my cell phone. And DVRs. And of course jeans. Hooray for the new millennium!

Anyway, it was from a place that handles estate sales and transition sales (when people down size for assisted living or just a condo in Florida). You have to bid on the items sight unseen (just online images). Then you have to pay for them via paypal before you get to go pick them up. (This is because they don’t run an auction house or do traditional estate sales where the seller opens up their house.)

This dresser was pretty banged up (and dusty), but they did a decent job of showing and describing that in the listing. The sales price reflected the state of the piece.


Mid-century furniture doesn’t happen to come cheap. I wish I liked something a bit more affordable, but the heart wants what the heart wants. If this were in great shape I could easily sell it for five times what I paid. Which comes into play in a bit…

scratches nicked chipped

I could tell from the images online and the description that it was pretty scratched, but I was hoping and banking on those scratches just being in the paint. I was right. Whew.

The legs were sturdy; the drawers were solid and pulled out really smoothly for a piece this age. I was thrilled to have made such a score.

And then I stopped at the store on my way home with it in the back of the van. It was a warm day. When I got back in the van I could smell a bit of a musty smell. Hmmm. That could be fine. Or not.

Usually a good wipe down with vinegar and a day in the sun to air/dry out gets the job done for musty wood. But I’ve had a couple of items over the years that I just never could get the smell out of and they have made me leery.

This is where my obsessive freakdom comes into play. I’m pretty sure that usually the musty smells are phantom. As in, in my head. Mental. (I’m just talking mildewy smells, not smoke. I don’t even buy anything that smells like smoke. I’m extremely mental about that. This dresser was listed from a smoke-free home.)

If I wipe the item down with vinegar and it smells fine as soon as the vinegar smell has dissipated, I can generally convince myself that it is gone. If it requires more work than that, I might use the item for basic storage (office supplies, play dough, tools) but never clothing. Ever.


So we had an amazingly warm weekend that made me yearn for summer so badly that I almost cried. Or maybe it was the vinegar.

vacuum dresser

I had already wiped it down with vinegar, put baking soda in the drawers overnight, and vacuumed up all of the baking soda and dust and spider sacks, but it wasn’t sufficient. I drug it out into the warm sun to air out while I began refinishing.

sander sanded

I sanded the paint down in the scratched-up areas until the scratches were gone (which pretty much meant I sanded all the way to the wood). I glued one spot back together where the veneer was pulling away slightly. I removed the hardware (that someone had sprayed black. Why black hardware on a black dresser?).

pulling away clamps_1

I did everything I needed to do in preparation for a new paint job. (I would never personally choose to paint mid-century furniture, but since this had already been painted, I was just going to make it fun for the boys’ room.) Then I moved on to something else and let this sit in the sun for a couple more hours.

The hubs and the four-year old were doing what they’ve done every time we’ve had a warm day since we’ve lived here: yard work. Someday we’ll have this lot cleaned up.

cale saw more yardwork yardwork

When I came back to prime, I gave the interior drawers a good sniff and knew right then that I couldn’t put this in my boys’ room. I couldn’t store clothing in it. Those big night-time hugs right after the bath with clean pajamas would forever stink in my head. No one wants their freshly cleaned babies to smell like mildew, right? I’m not crazy, right?

I decided not to prime, because in that moment I decided just to go with black paint. Black would be faster and easier than a color change and then I could list it on Craigslist (disclosing the slight musty smell, because I’m honest like that). I figured with a new paint job, and being mid-century, I’d get at least what I paid for it and just move on to a new search.

I enlisted the help of the entire family to give it one more scrubbing. Don’t worry about child labor; I paid them in popsicles and kisses. I also threw a couple bucks in the Lego fund.

cale cleaning big boys cleaning nathan cleaning

I painted all of the inside (which I never do), thinking that would seal in any remaining odor.

I sprayed the hardware with metallic spray paint and was surprised that it looked as good as it did. Even the hubs said, “wow, those look really good,” and he never notices that kind of thing.

drawer pull

I brought the dresser inside to paint the rest of it because the sun was setting soon.

I began my internet search for how to remove musty smells. I figured I could try one more time to get it out before I listed the dresser on Craigslist. Maybe make a few extra dollars.

Pretty much everything said a vinegar wipe down and baking soda to absorb the smell. Thanks internet. So helpful.

But I did find a couple of things about kitty litter or activated charcoal, which were new ideas. I planned to go get some of that the next day.

I let the paint dry over night and put all of the hardware back on the drawers in the morning. I put the drawers back into the dresser and started my day.


I walked past it a few times through the day and thought “that thing is gorgeous.” Not to brag, but the paint finish was so good. It was that perfect satiny-smooth Pottery Barn finish everyone is always trying to replicate (maybe too much Pinterest?).

smooth top

All of the gouges and scratches were totally gone.

chipped woodfiller fixed corner

I hadn’t planned to use black paint, so when I decided to go with black and then sell it, I wanted to use paint I already had rather than put anymore money into this stinky thing. I had flat and semi-gloss, but no satin. Semi-gloss is great for furniture, but I kinda hate how shiny and cheap semi-gloss often looks in black. (Probably why this one quart has lasted forever.) So, I mixed flat and semi-gloss about half and half.

semigloss flat black

The dresser was wet when I went to bed, so I didn’t know how much I would love this finish. The paint looks great, the hardware looks great. Other than those stunning mid-century legs, this baby looks brand new. Dang it. Now I’m tempted to keep it.

And guess what. I think painting the entire inside of the dresser and the drawers may have worked to seal in any remaining odor. I’m not completely sure, because I’m a head case, but I think I didn’t smell anything when I opened those drawers up hours later for a smell test. Crap.

So now I have an odor-free (I think?) dresser with a brand new stunning black paint job that I love. It’s several inches shallower (not shorter in length or height, but you know…depth…make sense?) than the chest I had in the entryway, so I removed that one and stuck this over there. Never hurts to have a few extra inches in the walkway. Plus, it’s longer and fills this wall better.


I’m leaving it there for a bit while I wait to decide if I’m going to keep it or list it. I could definitely make a profit, but is it worth more to me to just keep it? It works really well to balance the black chalkboard wall opposite it. I kinda “need” it there.

finished dresser

I for sure won’t be using it for clothing even if I do keep it, which means I’m still looking for the boys a dresser.

In the mean time, can someone come tell me if this thing stinks?




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  2. I read this forever ago (or when it was new anyway) and loved this dresser. I should have commented then but my brain was not in dresser mode. Well, now it is! What site were you using for this bid? I am playing with the idea of turning an old dresser into a vanity for my bathroom. Have you cut sink holes (or one huge hole for a huge trough sink that I love and that is way too expensive) in a dresser before. I probably should just call you because I could use your diy brain.

    • I don’t know why I’m just now seeing this comment. Argh. I am not at all happy with the commenting system on this blog. Definitely something I need to work on. But anyway…
      The site is called Caring Transitions (http://www.ctonlineauctions.com/). It’s national, but you can filter by zipcode and then search by category.
      I should just message you, because who knows if you’ll get a notification for this?

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