Antique Hope Chest Makeover

4 Materials
4 Hours

When my mom passed away, we found a handwritten note in her dresser drawer stating that she wanted me to have this antique hope chest that had been my great-grandmother’s.

It’s so special to me because my mom wanted me to have it, and also because it has a long history in our family.Because this chest is so treasured, I was very cautious about deciding how to update it, but I’m so happy with the results!

The Before... sort of

But first, I need to tell you that I committed the cardinal sin of DIY furniture makeovers…. I somehow neglected to take a complete “before” picture.

I honestly have no idea how that happened. I was just so excited to get started with my vision, that I already had the chest disassembled and out in the garage before I remembered.

Thankfully, I at least have these pics of the drawers as I was working on them, so you can see what we were beginning with.

As you can see in the photo below, the chest had a shiny, yellowish blonde lacquered paint on it. This type of paint was popular several generations ago, but not so much now. And, it really wasn’t doing this piece any favors. All the special details of the chest just got lost in this color with no contrast.

Removing old paint from the antique lock hardware

The ornate brass handles were not painted, because they were removable, but the locks don’t come off, so someone just painted them. 

It wasn’t super noticeable with the blonde lacquer, but I knew it would be with the gray milk paint. Plus, the locks are beautiful with such pretty little details, so I knew I wanted them exposed.

Fortunately, a heat gun and a tiny steel brush allowed me to scrape the old paint right off.

General Finishes Milk Paint in Empire Gray

From these drawer pictures, you can also see what rough shape the blonde lacquer was in. This is exactly why I chose General Finishes Milk Paint for this project!

It's the same paint I've used for so many of my projects, including my upcyles of thrift store and hand-me-down items using nothing but paint.

General Finishes Milk Paint does not require any sanding or priming for most applications. This was perfect for this project, because this piece is so old, I have no way of knowing what kind of paint was used.

It possibly could have been lead-based, which would make stripping and sanding it a more challenging process.Even for removing the paint on those two tiny locks, we were very careful, and wore masks and goggles to make sure were were not inhaling any dangerous lead dust, just in case.

No Stripping or Sanding

General Finishes Milk Paint came to the rescue! It was so easy and quick to update this little chest, because other than removing the paint on the locks, the only other prep I did was just giving the whole chest a good wipe down with Clorox wipes to remove any dust or grime that would prevent the paint from going on smoothly or adhering well. That’s it! No sanding or stripping, which is the worst part!

And, even better, this paint has a nice thick texture that applies like a dream and is self-leveling! That means it covered the rough patches on the old paint so nicely, and all the brush strokes just magically disappeared!

It’s not a perfectly smooth finish, but for not having to sand, it’s pretty darn amazing. Plus, for the farmhouse style look I like, I don’t want it brand-new looking anyway!

The Hardware

Look at these original antique brass drawer pulls! I love all the intricate details, and the patina from years of aging. Oh, my heart.

And the newly exposed locks are now noticeable against the Empire Gray paint. They are a much shinier brass color compared to the pulls, because of hiding under layers of paint for so many years, but they will eventually catch up to the drawer pulls and develop some tarnish and patina.

After I had all that old paint removed from the locks, I just carefully painted around them with a small brush and a steady hand. So worth the little bit of extra time and effort it took to expose them.

I Lined the Drawers with Wrapping Paper

I lined the inside of the drawers with a gray patterned wrapping paper from The Dollar Tree. Easy and cheap, but gives it a polished look.

The Original Oak Top Finish

I left the original oak top as exactly as it was.I’m so thankful that it was spared the blonde lacquer paint, so I didn’t do a thing to the top.

It was already this perfectly stained, beautiful, rich oak with all the grain showing. And it was in excellent condition.

Before, with the blonde lacquered paint, it just blended in. But in contrast to the new Empire Gray, it pops! Your eye is drawn to all the wood grains with that incredible flowing pattern. Love. 

The Finished Piece

This antique hope chest is one of my most treasured possessions, and I love having it here in my office where I spend so much time working on my blog.

When I look at it, my heart just flip-flops a tiny bit.

I remember it in the den at my mom’s house, where she had it for years, the top covered in framed family photos.

I wonder how/where my great-grandmother used it when it was hers.And now, here it lives in my home, being loved by yet another generation. 

-Niky @ The House on Silverado

I'd love it if you'd come visit my blog for more makeovers, crafts and DIYs.

Plus, if you loved that vintage art made from home blueprints that is hanging above my antique hope chest, you can find the complete tutorial on my blog.

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Niky | The House on Silverado
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Frequently asked questions

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  1 question
  • Diane Diane on Nov 01, 2020

    Question: Why milk paint? I asked at the hardware store and they said lots more work. So I use just regular paint. Flat or slight sheen. Maybe someone can explain this to me.


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