We had a beautiful weekend, if I didn’t know it was April I could have easily believed this was summer. I headed outside thinking I would finally get some work done on the exterior of the house when my phone rang.
The caller wanted to know if I could redo and paint a dresser for a foster child that has been placed with her family long term. I took that to mean, can you fix then paint a dresser. My answer was probably. A few minutes later this was delivered
The family shared many of the details surrounding this little eight-year old child’s placement with them. I was informed they were trying really hard with limited funds to give her a room personalized for her so she would feel welcome and comfortable.
How could I say no?
When asked how much I would charge, I ignored the question by changing the subject and asked if the foster parent was looking for a grown-up dresser (aka Pottery Barn painted look) for the child or something more whimsical an eight-year old would like now. I was informed I could do whatever I wanted and they were concerned with giving the child a dresser she would love today not a few years down the road.
With permission I asked a few questions of the child to see what her likes were. I was careful in how I phrased my questions and took it slow to see how open she was. I began with her favorite colors. She was outgoing and friendly, happy to answer. Her favorite colors were (in order) blue, red and black. Not good, I don’t have those colors in any significant quantity on hand. Then she added white. That I had.
My next question was the most sensitive. Foster care children often are taken from their homes with nothing but the clothes on their backs but I needed to know what she liked. Instead of asking what her favorite toys were, afraid to bring up feelings of loss, I asked What she liked to do for fun.
She stumbled and admitted she didn’t know.
I decided to turn my attention to the family member who brought the dresser to me to give the child a moment to think. I asked a bit about the rest of the child’s room. Was there a theme or color scheme when suddenly the child mentioned she liked swimming pools and flowers.
Now I had something to work with.
I didn’t give my house or the work I’d planned to do a second thought, my poor house was abandoned for this dresser.
The dresser is circa 1960. It’s a cheap laminate that the family picked up for $5 at a yard sale. I shouldn’t be too judgemental the dresser has lasted for more than 50 years. The knobs and pulls had to go. The pulls were so close to the drawer faces that I couldn’t get a finger in to pull the drawers open. My fingers are rather small, being that I comfortably wear size 5 rings and when I glanced at the child’s hands I thought her fingers could have been a bit bigger than mine, I knew the pulls wouldn’t work.
You can see here how the laminate was assembled on to a wooden frame.
I repaired a couple of the drawers by adding glue and screws to keep the sides attached. Then came the sanding. I didn’t get far when the neighbor boy stopped to ask if he could help. I explained how he would have to have a very gentle touch and then we were hard at work.
The moment I saw the dresser the first thought that crossed my mind was that I wanted to white wash it. I’ve worked on several of these types of laminate dressers from this period but never tried a white wash. When the child told me she liked swimming pools I knew a white-washed finish was perfect. It would give that beach-y, driftwood look that would become my background.
I mixed equal parts white satin latex paint and water, then wearing gloves soaked a rag in the paint and rubbed it on to the dresser.
You must apply the paint in the same direction, with the grain of the “wood” for the best results. It took 2-3 coats of paint to get the desired effect. When the dresser was dry I added two coats of polycrylic to seal the finish, but I’m getting ahead of myself a bit.
I was told flowers were important to this child. As I sanded the dresser down I contemplated the best way to add flowers to the piece. At first I thought maybe I’d sketch grass using green milk paint to the lower drawer then stems up the drawer fronts to use the knobs as the center of the flowers and sketch around them different colored flowers. This didn’t feel right to me but still I played with the idea.
Then I realized I didn’t have enough colors of paint to do this. I briefly considered heading to the store to purchase an assortment of different colored permanent markers, but again I dismissed this. I worked until I lost daylight on Saturday and woke with an idea.
For months now my granddaughters and I have enjoyed coloring Patricia Zapata’s Flower Nook. Patricia is a well-known blogger at A Little Hut. I’ve already removed some of the completed pages to frame for the girl’s room upstairs, now I would remove more and use them on the dresser.
I added three designs to the drawers and one to the top of the dresser.
These are the designs I used on the drawer fronts.
The most time consuming part of this was trimming the designs to remove the excess white paper. I laid them out and when I was happy with the placement decoupaged them on and sealed the entire drawer fronts with polycrylic.
In questioning the little girl I learned she liked gold over silver so I headed to my hardware stash and pulled out all the heavy substantial gold knobs. I toyed around with using two knobs on the left with one pull on the right, the way the drawers were to begin with. In the end I didn’t have enough gold pulls I liked and decided to use only knobs. I used wood filler to fill in the holes from the original pulls then drilled new holes. I kept the distance from the side of the drawer for the new knobs the same as the existing knobs on the other side and then centered them on the fronts.
The top drawer I simply used a permanent marker, I have a couple in the house, and a four inch stencil to add her first initial.
By Sunday at 3pm I called to let the family know the dresser was ready to pick up. They arrived with the little girl and a friend of hers. I wish I could show you their faces, but I can’t. The girls didn’t miss a thing. They spotted the little girl on the middle drawer, they loved the heavy gold knobs and the white washed paint effect.
I know a little about this foster parent, I know she adopted a previous foster child and raised him as her own even though she has very little disposable income. She herself is on disability. She loves these children and has given this little child so much love that when the question arose again as to how much they owed me, I informed her the child’s expression was well worth the work and I wanted to make this a gift from me to them. Thankfully, the family accepted my gift as long as I promised to call if there is ever anything they can do for me.
Tonight I am tired and even sore. I did get a bit of work done outside after all but while I thought getting more accomplished on the house would perk me up, in reality it was the dresser that made the weekend a success for me.