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How to Upcycle a Dressing Table: An Art Deco Style Makeover

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In this tutorial, guest author Imogen Aitchison of Coco & Clementine shows us how to turn a rather blah bedroom dressing table into a gorgeous piece of art deco decor for your home.

Before I start, I should preface this blog post by saying that I have been upcycling for less than a year.  Everything I’ve learnt has been through reading, researching, doing, asking questions, joining Facebook groups and making mistakes!

But the last few months have also seen my creative dream turn into my actual job(!!). 

With a few tools and materials (and hard work!), a project like this is absolutely possible for you too!  

dressing table painted furniture makeover
Dressing Table Before

Your finished piece will only be as good as the product you start with.

Whilst it’s perfectly possible to upcycle modern products and materials, solid wood is easier to work with and generally produces better results (in my opinion!). 

Older furniture is often beautifully constructed and built to last. More modern pieces constructed with materials such as MDF can come with additional health and safety challenges  – for example the adhesives used in MDF mean it is unsuitable for sanding. 

Materials Needed – Upcycle a Dressing Table

Step 1: Preparation (Stripping & Sanding)

removing varnish from a dressing table

I was drawn to this dressing table because it was solid, structurally sound and included some lovely detailing.  I felt like it had a lot of unrealised potential but it was also dated and showing signs of wear and tear.

The first step was to take it apart and strip off the old varnish. 

I used a varnish stripper for the really stubborn stuff (and wow, it was stubborn!) and then I sanded it down using an electric mouse sander – starting with a coarse 80 grit and working through to a finer 180 grit. 

I then sanded the dresser’s top by hand (240 grit through to 400 grit) because I wanted a really smooth even surface. I also did the rounded legs and detailing by hand.  

I’m not going to lie…this dresser took a LOT of sanding! 

HEALTH AND SAFETY TIPS: It is essential to use goggles and an appropriate face mask when sanding – ideally gloves too.  Varnish, sealers and paints can contain all sorts of chemicals and the dust generated by some species of wood can be especially dangerous to inhale. 

I also always test older paints and varnishes for lead.  Anything containing lead should absolutely not be sanded.

Sanding can be time-consuming, but prep work is essential (whether it’s sanding, using chemical strippers or heat stripping.) If you don’t adequately prepare the surface, any new paint applied will flake and chip away (you’ve been warned!).

Step 2: Repairs

wood filler repairs on dressing table

The next step was to address the minor repairs needed. 

I used a wood filler to fill in any scratches and dents.

Once it was dry, I sanded off the excess using a medium grade sandpaper. 

Paint can be pretty unforgiving – if you paint over lumps, bumps and cracks, they will still be there afterwards- just in a different colour!

Step 3: Reviving the Hardware (this is where the Ketchup comes in!)

ketchup and vinegar furniture hardware trick

Next, I unscrewed all the hardware and dumped it into a potent marinade of tomato ketchup and vinegar.   

After a few hours, the grime of many decades rubbed off with a light scrub using wire wool. 

It sounds weird, I know, but it works! And surely less chemicals can only be a good thing!

Step 4: Painting

fusion mineral paint blend for dressing table makeover

And now for the fun part – painting! 

Paint is a personal choice.  Like many furniture painters however, I LOVE Fusion Mineral Paint. 

They have a fantastic range of colours, are extremely hard-wearing and durable, and they provide a lovely smooth finish. 

When painting furniture, the best results are achieved by applying several thin coats. 

With Fusion Mineral Paint, two coats are often adequate.  I applied 3 here however to get a really nice smooth consistent finish. 

This was a custom blend of Fusion Mineral Paint’s Renfrew Blue and Liberty Blue.

Step 5: Decoupage

Once painting was complete and the paint had dried, I decoupaged the drawer fronts. 

holden decor gatsby wallpaper in teal

Again, adhesive and paper are down to personal preference. I usually use wallpaper when decoupaging furniture. For this project I used Holden Décor’s Gatsby in Teal with regular wallpaper paste.

Wallpaper is fairly thick and durable but you can use wrapping paper or other types of paper too. 

I cut the paper out using a craft knife, large metal ruler and craft mat. 

wallpaper decoupage on dressing table drawers

TOP TIP: Make sure your paper fits the drawer fronts before sticking and check that all the designs (especially geometric!) line up.  You don’t want a wonky line to ruin your hard work! 

I used a small plastic roller to squeeze out any bubbles and left the paper to dry.  Any excess paste can be wiped off with wet wipes. 

Step 6: Sealing the Wallpaper

mod podge to seal dressing table decoupage drawers

The wallpaper needs to be sealed to protect it against ripping and peeling.  I used 5 layers of Mod Podge in Satin.  This gives it a light sheen and makes it much more durable.

Once the Mod Podge was dry, I re-attached the hardware (now shiny and gleaming!)

Step 7: Protecting the Wood

wood dye for dressing table top

Although I love painting furniture, I also love – where possible – accentuating the natural wood and grain. 

Often it provides a striking contrast against the paint. 

For the top of this dresser I used a couple of layers of Colron’s Light Oak Wood Dye. 

Again, protecting the top is a matter of personal choice – there are many different varieties of oil, wax and varnish available. 

I used Fusion Mineral Paint’s Stain and Finishing Oil (Natural) to protect the top against water, stains and abrasions.  It gave a lovely deep, rich finish.

You’ll need a lint-free cloth to wipe off any excess.

Step 8: Gold Wax

gold accents dressing table makeover

The final step was to add a little gold wax to accentuate the detailing and create a little depth.  I used Rub n’ Buff in Antique Gold.

art deco dressing table makeover
art deco dressing table makeover after

Finally, project complete! I’m really happy with how it turned out. A lovely art deco piece to add a bit of glamour to one of my customer’s homes!

art deco dressing table makeover

How to Upcycle a Dressing Table: An Art Deco Style Makeover

Prep Time: 2 hours
Active Time: 3 hours
Additional Time: 12 hours
Total Time: 17 hours
Difficulty: Easy
Estimated Cost: 60

Update an old dressing table into an art deco statement piece. A fabulous step by step furniture makeover.

Materials

  • Vintage dressing table
  • Wood filler
  • Wire wool
  • Furniture Paint 
  • Wallpaper
  • Craft mat
  • Wood stain
  • Oil/wax/varnish for finish

Tools

  • Mouse sander
  • Sanding sheets 80 grit through to 400 grit
  • Varnish stripper
  • Mask & goggles
  • Gloves
  • Basic tools eg screwdriver, spanner
  • Brushes
  • Wallpaper paste
  • Small plastic roller
  • Ruler/measuring tape
  • Craft knife
  • Mod podge
  • Ketchup and vinegar
  • Lint free cloths

Instructions

  1. Start by stripping off old paint or varnish using varnish stripper, sand paper and your mouse sander.
  2. Repair any nicks or holes with wood filler.
  3. Use ketchup and vinegar solution to revive and restore old hardware.
  4. Apply 2-3 coats of your choosen colour of paint leaving each coat to dry in between
  5. Cut wallpaper to fit the front of the dressing table drawers and use mod podge to decoupage the paper in place.
  6. Sealing the wallpaper with another layer of mod podge
  7. Protecting any unpainted sections of wood with stain and finishing oil
  8. Apply gold wax sparingly to add accents.

If you want to come back to this post for future reference don’t forget to Pin it!

art deco dressing table makeover
painted furniture coco and clementine

Imogen Aitchison runs Coco & Clementine, a furniture painting and upcycling business based in Northwich, England.

You can see more from Coco & Clementine in our Business Directory here or visit them at:

Coco & Clementine on Etsy

Instagram: @cocoandclementine

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