Roadside Rescue Waterfall Dresser

2 Materials
3 Hours

If you follow Birdz of a Feather, you’ll know that my husband and I are big on saving things from landfill and have a penchant for curbside finds. Last summer hubs was out on errands and drove by a series of garage sale signs scattered across a few blocks. As he passed them one-by-one, he noticed that the signs were all taped onto various drawers.
Always the thoughtful person, hubs noticed that the scale of the dresser could be perfect for my born-again craft studio ( post water leak) so he called me then quickly came home to pick me up and take me to see it. I took along a tape measure and hubs was right! It was a much better fit for my studio than the shabby chic dresser I was currently using which was missing all its drawers and a bit too wide.

Since the waterfall dresser appeared to have drawers (albeit scattered to the four winds), once the garage sale was over, we asked the owners if we could have it. They were only too happy to have us gather up all the pieces for them and cart it away. They had been trying to dispose of it for a few weeks and even tried to put it out for garbage collection. It was like a scavenger hunt gathering up all the pieces.
Unfortunately for us, the drawers of the waterfall dresser weren’t scattered to the four winds – they were scattered to the three winds. One drawer was missing.
Another knock at the door back at the garage sale house revealed that the garbage man had taken one of the drawers and left the rest behind. It’s funny that every time we find a piece for my studio, drawers are missing but at least this dresser had most of them! A minor setback: even with a missing drawer, hubs knew he could build a replacement and make it into something useful again. A missing drawer however didn’t give us the option to strip the dresser back to its original wood finish. We would have to paint the piece.

Once we got our pieces home, hubs pulled them out of the car. He put them onto a piece of cardboard on the driveway and blew them out with an air gun.
Hubs assembled the drawers to figure out which one was missing. We could see right away that the second drawer was sagging and would have to be adjusted (luckily it was just a simple matter of repositioning the drawer guide).
I wanted to emphasize the waterfall feature, so my plan was to strip the top of the dresser and first drawer, sand down the painted finish and then paint the rest of the body.
It wasn’t until hubs filled all the holes that I realized they stuck out like a sore thumb on the stripped drawer face.
The filler looked obvious, but it was hubs to the rescue once again! He was able to camouflage the patches by following along the grain with stain pens in various shades to blend it in.

For the paint selection, we ultimately settled on PPG Break-Through. The satin finish dries extremely matte, which I wanted to try, and it’s tough as nails. The big advantage is that we were done in under half a day – no need to topcoat. 

To help decide the colour, here is one of hubs’ best tips: he cuts up pieces of MDF into 5.5″ squares. Every time we get a new paint, he paints it onto a piece of MDF to keep as a sample (aka, a large paint chip!). That way, we can see the true accurate colour and get a better idea of how it will look on the piece.

Picking a paint colour was harder than I thought it would be. We cracked a drawer to prop up our paint samples, then stepped back to look at them – waiting for inspiration to strike. We finally settle on charcoal grey.
The deciding factor in choosing the final colour was wetting down the wood portion with mineral spirits to see what would coordinate best. I thought the tone of the wood would look striking against a dark contrast.

You can see that when the wood was stripped we didn’t get every spec of white paint out of the grain. Sometimes that’s impossible to do. I actually like the white accents though – I find it gives the wood more character and reminds me of the deliberate white washed finish on the hardwood floor in my studio.
We sprayed two coats of charcoal paint on top of a primer and the recoat time was only 2 hours so the paint moved along quickly.

After the body of the dresser was painted, hubs varnished the wood, then built a drawer to fit the missing gap.
By the way, as far as primer is concerned, hubs loves using Benjamin Moore’s Fresh Start primer (K046). When he paints with colours that are hard to cover, like red, he’s able to tint it and cut down on the number of topcoats he needs. Once the new drawer was primed and painted to match the rest of the dresser, it was time to select hardware pulls.
I was SO excited to finally have drawers but I had the hardest time settling on what pulls to use. I  bought dozens of different styles to try. In the end, I took them all back: I couldn’t bear to drill holes in the drawers for hardware I wasn’t crazy about, so I looked in my stash and found 7 old Ikea pulls. I needed 8, but put only one on the top drawer which worked. I like that these pulls didn’t require drilling on the front.
When I eventually find pulls that I like better, I’ll replace them but for now these are perfect and help lend a modern touch to the dresser.

I had to sell my shabby chic dresser to make room for this one. I wish I could have kept them both but when you have a small space you have to be brutal about purging when you bring home stray furniture. I’m so happy that I can finally hide my craft stash; I’d much rather look at the clean lines of a dresser than a heap of clutter!
I haven’t decided how to dress the top of the dresser. Should I keep it plain and simple like above or embellish? Head to our blog (link at the end of this post) to see my styling ideas and weigh in on the rustic chicken, retro phone or just the globe. You'll also find more photos of the transformation!

Coming up next in furniture upcycles will be this vintage sewing machine base I stumbled on in Value Village and purchased for only $15!
We’re planning on painting it with milk paint, like this little shelf, but it will be much more elaborate:
Stay tuned because we have big plans for the sewing table!! We also recently went antique hunting at our favourite outdoor market in Aberfoyle and found a few really interesting items, which you can read all about right here :)

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Suggested materials:

  • Paint  (Paint store)
  • Plywood  (Big box store)

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Want more details about this and other DIY projects? Check out my blog post!


Have a question about this project?

3 of 5 questions
  • Libby Chandler
    Libby Chandler
    on Jul 8, 2018

    Wherebare the pictures?

  • BongoLady
    on May 17, 2019

    Why is it called a Waterfall Cabinet? I have never heard of that term before.

    • Linda Freimuth
      Linda Freimuth
      on Sep 21, 2019

      When you look at a waterfall dresser, you actually notice the 'water' (grain of the curved wood) falls downward, which gave them the name, typical of furniture during the '30s and '40s.

  • Nancy vlcek
    Nancy vlcek
    on Feb 3, 2020

    Food hubs have a Christian single/divorced brother/relative 60+ yrs old or older preferably? I need one that cares like yours does! Lol!

    p.s. I’m divorced’

Join the conversation

4 of 55 comments
  • GBK
    on Apr 19, 2019

    Try to match the original pulls, those were what they used during that period. (The ones on it now make it look like a file cabinet.) Cup pulls would match the period, also.

  • "D"
    on Apr 20, 2020

    I like your "repurposed" Waterfall for the pulls, use 'em till they tire of being there LOL...thanks for sharing.

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