Eleven years ago I had a new roof put on the house. The roofer did a good job on the roof (it’s held tight ever since), but he was slower than molasses getting the job done. And a little screw-loose to boot. He failed to throw a tarp over my south side dormer when he was in the middle of working on it … and that July evening a thunderstorm swept through. The dormer leaked like a sieve. I came home to find a new water feature dribbling down onto my guest bed, and an even more impressive waterfall streaming through the attic. The roofer was an hour away, but he returned with the tarp after the rain stopped, and … well, to make a long story short, eventually everything dried out and this painful incident became simply another flakey-contractor horror story.Besides the mattress, the biggest casualty of the fiasco was my mom’s 1890s Victorian Eastlake dresser, which, along with my dad’s similar dresser, were stored in the attic at the time. It made me sick at heart to see its finish ruined, but I put it out of my mind, figuring I would refinish it one day. Mom would have flipped to see what happened to her beloved furniture on my watch.
Does the light from the window make the damage look even worse, or did I somehow choose not to see how bad it was? Pictures don’t lie.
When Eric moved in and needed closet space, he took over the spare room’s closet and dresser, leaving me our bedroom’s closet. I pressed both antique dressers into service then, which made the room look like a crowded antique shop, but that’s what happens when you have too many clothes and a very small closet. The downside was that I had to look at the ruined finish every day.
I didn’t know when I’d have time to sand and refinish the dresser, but then my friend Jessica at Cape of Dreams wrote about her trusted three-step method of reviving tired wood furniture. Dare I hope for a quick fix? Meet the mighty trio: Murphy Oil Soap, Howard Restore-a-Finish, and Howard Feed-N-Wax.
OMG, Jessica, your system really works!! First, I gave the dresser a nice sponge bath with Murphy Oil Soap. Then I applied the Restore-a-Finish in neutral. (My only other option at Ace Hardware was dark walnut, and although the dresser is walnut, I didn’t want to add color.) It’s a stinky process, as you might expect from a refinishing product, but I had the windows open. The can warns, “This product contains chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer.” No worries—I’m in Washington!
This stuff is nothing short of a miracle. Can you tell what I’ve restored and what I haven’t?
Finally, I slathered on a coat of Howard Feed-N-Wax, which is made with orange oil and looks and smells so yummy I may try it on toast. What do you think of Mom’s dresser now? Here she is, topped with Eric’s Eastlake mantel clock.
Of course, she made Pop’s dresser look shabby. Before the roofing disaster, I thought it was his dresser that needed refinishing. It had always looked a little faded and uneven, and it also had some water damage toward the bottom. I was so excited about Mom’s dresser, I tackled Pop’s the next day instead of pulling dandelions. Pop’s dresser before:
What a handsome couple! Mom and Pop dressers. My parents would be so pleased.
These pieces are sometimes called bachelor’s or gentleman’s dressers. The small upper drawers are for handkerchiefs.(Considering how many Kleenex I go through in a day, if I’d lived in the 1890s, I’d have had to store my handkerchiefs in a bigger drawer.) Befittingly, Mom’s dresser has narrow, rounded molding and delicate turned accents. Pop’s is more masculine with chunky appliques. Both are walnut. I’m sure they sprang from the source of all my family’s treasures: the dark and mysterious depths of my grandparent’s basement, where furniture from my great-grandmother’s lake house was stored.
Mom’s has one more unique detail … when I was very young, probably around 4, I grabbed a pin from a dish on her dresser and carved a die into the top—complete with an attempt at perspective! I must have witnessed my parents playing a game with dice and thought it would be a good idea to commemorate it. I was always drawing on something—not necessarily paper. Look closely and you’ll see the three sides of the cube with one, two, and three spots. I got the perspective backwards, but I was impressed with myself. Mom was less impressed. I clearly remember her walking in on me before I could finish my artwork. The critique did not go well.
I’m so happy to have given these old friends the renovation they deserved. I know they’ll be with me for the rest of my life, even after I have a giant walk-in closet with room for all of our clothes … and 60 pairs of shoes.
[I received no compensation for mentioning Murphy or Howard products in this post.]