A Labor of Love

April 12, 2018

Y'all might want grab a cup of coffee and sit down, Momma's got a story to tell. If you don't want to hear my story, by all means just scroll down and check out the pictures. You won't hurt my feelings none. But this piece was a labor of love for a reason. To appreciate that love, you need to hear the story.

It's a bit uncanny how this piece came into my life. Before that, let me tell you where it all started. I have a cherrywood highboy dresser from my childhood with a matching nightstand. (I still have the nightstand, just not pictured here.)
(Rush job on snapping the picture so I apologize for it's not-so-professional appearance. Good Lord, it's going to drive me crazy that the dresser is off-center to the picture hanging above it. I'm out of town, but I'll fix that sucker as soon as I get home.)

I've had that piece for as long as I can remember. My grandfather used to work at a furniture store in Ripley, Tennessee when I was little. Whether he purchased it or my mother, I don't recall. But what I do remember, it was painted that avocado green of the seventies. It sure was ugly. My mother, talented as she was, gave it a new life with an aged cream color. Not off-white but cream. It was beautiful. Then somewhere along the way (Maybe when I was in high school?) she stripped it down to the bare wood. That cherrywood was gorgeous.

Funny childhood story tooI know, I'm getting off track with my story, but I'm from the south and we never tell a story in a straight line. For some reason, when I was a child I was worried that someone would steal my furniture. So underneath this piece, in my childhood handwriting, is my name. Childhood me was going to foil the plans of any wannabe robber I tell you. (I'll post pictures of it when I get home.)

Anyway, back to my story. Quite a few years ago two of the handles broke; I've been looking for replacements ever since. They are a difficult size too (2" centers.) I've looked everywhere online and found nothing. I was even happy to settle with something that was in the same style. Nope. I'd given up and decided I needed to replace all the handles. About a month ago, for no reason at all, I got a bug to look for the handles again. So I jumped on Esty and within less than five minutes I found two, TWO matching handles! I couldn't believe it! All these years and snap, just like that I found matching handles. They weren't cheap, but I didn't care. I would have sold my youngest child to get these handles.

Here's the uncanny part. (If you've stuck around to read this far I hope like heck you're not disappointed with my "uncanny" part.) For the last year I've been looking for a dresser for the guest room, the same room my childhood highboy dresser sleeps. Occasionally perusing on Craigslist I had not been able to find anything I liked. (I wasn't going to buy a new dresser when I figured I'd refinish something anyway.) Two days after I found the handles to the old dresser, I found this...
(Please excuse the crude photo, it's the ONLY before photo I have. The photo from the Craigslist ad.)

The lady wanted $75 for this dresser, firm on the price too. I didn't care, I would have sold my oldest child to get this dresser. (Already sold the youngest for the dresser handles.) It is the exact match to my childhood dresser. THE EXACT! Same handles, same curve fronts, same grooved out track between the drawers. I called her immediately, and said I'm on my way. An hour drive later, this puppy was mine. It was worn out and haggard, reeked of cigarette smoke. None of that mattered because I was going to be stripping it down. (It's also heavy as all get out. Obviously I have a thing for heavy furniture.)

It took me ten hours to strip it down to the bare wood. Here are the stages of that process.

This curved and grooved edge here was the hardest to strip.
 I had to lay her on her back to keep the stripper from sliding off.
Look at this beauty! 10 hours of back breaking work (and my hands cramping like the devil) but this final product was worth all the work. A labor of love. I almost cried at how pretty she was.
(You know, it wasn't until after I took this picture below that I noticed my laundry was hanging in the background. All I can say is thank God I didn't have my drawers drying that day. (For all you non-southern folk, "drawers" is your panties.))
I oiled the piece, just like my mother had done to my original dresser, and called it a day. But once I oiled it, it made the gorgeous cherry wood a bold orange color. Too bold for my liking.
So then I tried to wax it with white wax to tone it down. (In an inconspicuous spot.) It looked like the haze of a smoke filled room, not pretty. Then I decided to used some leftover oatmeal colored wall paint and do a wash over it, trying to give it a softer tone of the wood without it looking hazy. This was difficult to achieve but through some trial and error, I finally got the desired look I was going for. I lightly sanded it with 320 grit sandpaper to get the perfect "pickled" look.

For comparison, here's the finished and unfinished drawers.
Then there was the matter of the handles. I was going to strip then down to the shiny brass, cover them with the oatmeal paint I mentioned above, then sand back the high points for a lighter layered look. (Here's a picture of the shiny brass versus the original antiqued brass.) In the end, I settled on something in between.
This is a picture of me spending another couple of hours trying to age back the handles I had stripped with a vinegar and salt solution. I tried several methods until one actually worked.
By the time I was through, approximately 18 hours of work, I got exactly what I wanted. Isn't she a beauty? Per usual I name all my pieces. (When it's this much work it feels more like art, naming it feels like the right thing to do.) The coloring in this dresser reminds me of pink depression glass with it's peachy-pink hue. So I named this piece: Pink Cherry Blossoms, one of the popular colors of that glass.
Now I get to redo the highboy dresser and nightstand, but I'll save that for another day.

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