Asked on Oct 10, 2014

What should I do with this great old vintage 50's bedroom furniture?

Susan Mortimer
by Susan Mortimer
I inherited this great vintage dresser and marching chest that my parents got when they were 1st married. I plan to use it- it is extremely well built. Buy. the blond veneer is not my style and it is very yellowed. I kind of feel guilty about painting it but not sure how to fix the yellowed finish if I didn't repaint. You guys are all so clever. What ideas do you have?
The dresser.
The top part of the matching chest of drawers.
  21 answers
  • Karenamiller Karenamiller on Oct 10, 2014
    This furniture looks great painted.Just clean it with TSP and use bonding primer.
  • Chicona Chicona on Oct 11, 2014
    I think that piece of furniture would look great painted. You could place it in either a front hallway or living room and hang a large piece of artwork or mirror over it. It would also add extra storage at the same time.
    • Susan Mortimer Susan Mortimer on Oct 11, 2014
      Hey Donna thanks for your comments. Any idea what the safest way would be to try to take off that yellow varnish? Would you use something like grain alcohol? I'm afraid a regular stripper would mess up the veneer.
  • Luann Luann on Oct 11, 2014
    Clean it up with a little alcohol and leave it alone, or gently refinish it to its original state and decorate around it.
  • Gloria Duy Gloria Duy on Oct 11, 2014
    I think it would look nice painted black. But 50's furniture is very collectible now so you might want to check out the worth before you decide. 50's collectors like the original paint and hardware. Especially if it is a name brand it could be worth a lot of money. The top coat of varnish is what has yellowed so you might be able to remove that, leaving the paint intact and re varnish it.
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    • Gloria Duy Gloria Duy on Oct 11, 2014
      @Susan Mortimer I don't know but you could start by just using a deglosser like Paso (liquid sandpaper) and lightly take off some of the shellac. Maybe that would be enough to improve the look. The 50's furniture was all blonde, not white so you want to keep that look. I would google refinishing 50's blonde furniture because there are blogs and people who specialize in it. I know that many of them who refinish pieces go to extra effort to yellow the varnish when done to make it look natural!
  • Irish53 Irish53 on Oct 11, 2014
    I used a 6 ft dresser to hold the livingroom tv. Loads of extra storage in drawers. The finish on the mid-century furniture is so easily cleaned I would leave it but maybe update the drawer pulls. Store the originals if you decide later to sell it.
  • Lisa Lisa on Oct 11, 2014
    I agree with @Gloria Duy . 50"s furniture style is very collectible right now. Get a valuation on it before you decide to paint it, you may as well try to get some $$ out of it first.
  • Shari Shari on Oct 11, 2014
    Okay. Right up front I'm going to say I am not a "wood purist." I'll paint practically anything without a second of hesitation. I don't see the point of living with something that is not your style or to your liking, especially if it can be improved with something as simple as paint. Life is too short to worry about whether something "might" end up being valuable "some day." Even though mid-century furniture is "very collectible now," it's still not worth a fortune now and it will likely never be priceless. All you have to do is look on eBay and you will see that the majority of mid-century dressers are listed for only a few hundred dollars. You are not going to retire early by selling this furniture so you might as well keep it for the sentimental value and make it into something you love. You've basically got 4 choices: 1.) you can leave it as is, 2.) you can strip and sand (or just sand) it down to bare wood, and re-stain it with any shade of stain you desire, 3.) paint it, or 4.) go for a 2-tone look of paint and stain. If you decide to paint it now and then someday you (or the next owner) decides to go back to a wood look, it's not that big of a deal. That's what they make paint stripper and sandpaper for. I've painted a lot of furniture so here's what I would do with it if I were going to paint it. First, I would wipe it down well with soap and water, or some type of product that would clean and degrease it. If the finish is smooth and in relatively good condition, I would not bother to sand it. Instead of sanding, I would wipe it down with "liquid sandpaper" also known as "deglosser." (It can be found in any paint or hardware store.) Liquid sandpaper cleans and leaves some "tooth" for primer and paint to stick to. Next I would give it one or two light coats of a good bonding primer. I personally prefer the Zinsser brand of primers. Finally, after the primer has dried well, I would apply several thin coats of the best quality interior latex paint you can afford. Be sure to give latex paint adequate time to cure. It is dry to the touch within an hour (or sooner, depending on weather conditions), but until it cures completely, anything you lay on the tops of the dressers can stick. I recommend separate primer and paint products instead of the all-in-one primer and paint combo paints that are so popular now. They might be fine for walls but I have not had good success with them on furniture. You can apply the primer and paint with a roller, brush or airless sprayer. I do not recommend using paint from an aerosol can. First, it takes too many cans to adequately cover large projects like furniture (which gets expensive quickly) but more importantly, I find it impossible to get a nice smooth, even finish with paint from an aerosol can. If you are going to put the time and effort into painting, you might as well end up with the nicest finish possible. If you decide to re-stain, here is one the best refinishing jobs I have EVER seen. This HomeTalk poster completely removed the original finish (by sanding only) and then refinished in a darker stain. Her results were truly gorgeous (almost 500 comments swooning over the beautiful job she did) and I'm sure if you have questions about the refinishing process, she would be glad to answer them.
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    • Dee Dee on Sep 17, 2019

      Please don't paint. Never cover with super dark paint or stain, unless room is gigantic. And you can't live without dark wood coloring.

  • Leona G Leona G on Oct 11, 2014
    I grew up with this kind of furniture and we used to use a solution of Ivory soap and water with a sponge to clean the surface. I don't know if Murphy's oil soap would work or not but here is a site you can check out. I hate to see all of the older furniture being painted especially when the wood is in good shape. Sometimes Old English Dark furniture oil will help to darken a light surface. Good luck
  • Eve Eve on Oct 11, 2014
    Just a side comment-- I also still have that jewelry box that's in front of the set of drawers
  • Lisa Lisa on Oct 11, 2014
    I also have that same jewelry box. It was handed down to me from my Mama :)
  • Margaret Adamski Margaret Adamski on Oct 11, 2014
    I do agree with Gloria that your dresser should be black. it will be beautiful and change handles
  • Kathy T. Kathy T. on Oct 11, 2014
    If you really want to keep as is try TSP found in paint departments. This is deep cleaner and will degloss some. If satisfied maybe another coat of poly and new hardware. If it doesn't clean up to your liking Shari gave some really good suggestions. You need to decide if you want to keep this indefinitely or temporary. If only temporary, would you donate or appraise and sell. Answer these and hopefully make your decision easier.
  • Susan Mortimer Susan Mortimer on Oct 11, 2014
    Thanks so much for the suggestions. I'm definitely keeping it for the sentimental value not so much the collectible value. I think I will give it a tsp cleaning and see if it looks like I can save the paint but get rid of the excessive yellowing on the varnish. Then if it doesn't work, I guess I can always paint. I'll post an update at some point ....
  • Kathy O'Connor Goss Kathy O'Connor Goss on Oct 12, 2014
    I'd clean it up really good and try to darken it up with a stain. I have a set from my mom that has the same light wood and don't care for it but the set is so well built and heavy! I too am deciding what to do with it so please post pics of the finished furniture!
  • Sherry B Sherry B on Oct 12, 2014
    What is on the top of the furniture? I have a few pcs that have, what my mom calls, a WESTINGHOUSE TOP??? I want to change the color of the wood but do not want to ruin the top. Nor leave it the it will not match or look very nice. Thought about a contact paper just to change it somehow?? Thanks
  • Beth Larck Beth Larck on Oct 12, 2014
    I just got a desk similar to this in style and color at an auction for $2. I sanded the drawer fronts completely down, stained them, painted the rest of it a light blue and changed the hardware. Since the top was Formica and still in great shape, I left it alone. It came out great and looks awesome in my grandsons room.
    comment photo
  • Kim Kim on Oct 12, 2014
    This is what I did with mine. It was the same color as yours. I ruffed up the surface a little with fine sandpaper and rolled the paint on, then stenciled the design. Last I put a clear coat on. If you decide to stencil buy more then one , otherwise it takes a few days to get done.
    comment photo
    • See 3 previous
    • Dee Dee on Sep 17, 2019


  • Susan Mortimer Susan Mortimer on Oct 12, 2014
    Wow. I think that is the same dresser as mine. I can't see the stencil in the photo but it looks like you have a great price. Maybe you should post this redo!
  • Lisa Lisa on Oct 12, 2014
    Your dresser looks fantastic, @ Kim! What color paint did you use? I absolutely love it!!!
  • Bj Bj on Jul 20, 2020

    Did you ever post what you did to your dresser??

  • Deb K Deb K on Apr 03, 2024

    Hi Susan, I love it! Hope this helps. I would keep the original hardware and give it a nice chalk paint update, you can even spray paint the hardware a different color to match or contrast the chalk paint!