Not Your Father’s Dresser, Well Actually It Is

As we PS-ed in last week’s rug post, our hunt for a new master bedroom dresser recently came to a surprise end. We’d been trying to find something to replace this old Malm dresser that we’ve had for 5+ years (we literally bought it on an Ikea stop the day we moved from NYC to Richmond in a big red minivan) which will soon go live in the guest room.

It’s clearly too small for the wall. It’s not 100% functional anymore (the middle drawer got little wonky during the move) and it has a few visible battle scars from bouncing around our last house (at various points it lived in our bedroom, our guest bedroom, and finally the sunroom).

So we wanted something bigger. And something a little curvy and ornate (for some contrast to the modern elements in the room, like Ed the Bed and our big snowball-ish light fixture). Because we don’t want our bedroom to feel like a modern furniture showroom, we want it to have that layered, collected over time look. We both liked the idea of a dresser that was up on turned legs, especially since our bed also has a leggy design, so that similarity might tie the old dresser and the modern bed together in a not too obvious way. You know for a nice marriage of old meets new. And of course we wanted something that we could rescue (who doesn’t love “saving” sad old furniture) but we’d been unsuccessfully perusing thrift stores and stalking craigslist for weeks with nada. And then it happened. A dresser miracle. The perfect piece materialized seemingly out of nowhere. And by nowhere I mean my parents’ bedroom.

My mom and dad are actually prepping to downsize to a smaller house (now that their nest is empty) so they’ve been trying to find new homes for lots of their old stuff (I’ve already inherited stacks of old photos, school papers, childhood art projects, etc). So when we spotted my dad’s dresser on a recent visit we asked if they were planning to keep it (since it was old, leggy, and pretty much the perfect width). The answer: “Nope, we’re planning to put it on craigslist. Unless you want to take the old clunker off of our hands?”

“Uh, yes please.” Cue the cartwheels by Sherry in the background.

Turns out they’d be in our neighborhood to babysit our nephew two days later so they brought it down (we assumed it might take a few weeks to mosey over). Best dresser surprise ever. And that’s how we ended up with this beauty pretty much out of nowhere:

It’s bigger than our old Ikea dresser, so it fills up that wall properly. It’s also more traditional looking, so it balances out the modern pieces like Ed the Bed and the light fixture (just as we hoped). It also makes us really excited to get some old night tables in a similar tone and shape to further tie our whole old meets new thing together. Possibly with the same cool ring-pulls (we could also order those online and add them later) and a few drawers for concealed bedside storage, which we’ve always wanted.

And just as we hoped, it could use a little love (one of the drawers was busted when we got it, so I whipped out my screwdriver and whistled while I worked to get it secure again). Took about ten minutes. But (spoiler alert) that’s pretty much the extent of our “work” on the dresser for now. We’re not planning to paint or stain it. Even though we were excited at the idea of re-staining or painting an old seen-better-days piece, we just can’t justify that whole dog and pony show this time around. And this isn’t the polite way of saying that my parents wouldn’t let us touch it (in fact, they were dying to see what we’d do). We actually think the warm wood color works really well with the cool tones on the walls and in the bedding (while bringing out the honey tones in the curtains, the jute rug, and the gold leaves in the duvet). Plus as you can see from this shot…

… the rustic wide plank floors in the bedroom need more than just a little work (they’re discolored, stained, and splintering in a number of places). So we plan to refinish them in a darker mocha tone, along with the rest of the hardwoods in the house for a nice cohesive effect. So that should make the warm wood dresser feel even more special once it doesn’t blend into the floor quite as much. Especially if we have two antique-looking nightstand friends going on the other side of the room in the same warm wood tone (maybe we’ll get to refinish some old dark craigslist/thrift store finds with some lighter stain to get a not-perfect-but-good-enough “match”).

We’re totally charmed by our hand-me-down dresser’s imperfections, and love how they preserve the history of the piece. Maybe we’re being overly nostalgic since this is our first item of inherited “antique” furniture, but there’s something special about knowing the back story. My dad bought it from his cousin back in the ’60s for $100 and has used it ever since. It still boasts a scratch on the front of one of the drawers from when he transported it in his car’s trunk over forty years ago.

We don’t know exactly how old the piece is, but it has a stamp in the back of one of the drawers that says it was made by the “Abernathy Furniture Co” and they appear to have started operations in the 1850’s in Kansas (thanks Google).

After a couple days of using it I realized it possesses some weird auditory memories for me. When I heard Sherry opening and closing the drawers from the other room, the sound of the metal pulls clanging against the wood gave me distinct flashbacks to hearing the same noise coming from down the hall growing up. Weird how sounds can do that to you, right?

The only other “work” it really needed (besides a few screws to secure that broken drawer rail) was some help getting the drawers to slide more easily (each one of them stuck and dragged a little bit). Sherry had heard the old “rub soap on them” tip a few times, so she broke out a bar of Dove that we had leftover from her mom and stepdad’s visit (we use Dr. Bronner’s soap, but she worried “eco soap” might not be the same).

Off she went rubbing the dry bar of soap on each of the rails. Both on the bottom of the drawers…

…and even on the tracks inside the dresser itself, in an attempt to “wax” them so they’d slide more easily without catching.

The verdict on this little trick? It made a noticeable difference, but it didn’t solve things 100%.

For being a totally free solution, we’re happy we gave it a try. But if you guys have any other suggestions for helping this baby slide a bit better, please share ’em. We’re thinking we might try wax or something.

As for what’s on the dresser, the big white lacquered box is a charging station that we got at Pottery Barn Outlet a while back (as seen in this road trip video), the ceramic egg crate is full of Sherry’s jewelry, the table fan is for the summer, the two white bowls are full of Sherry’s bracelets/necklaces/glasses, and the three frames are pics that Sherry and I snapped on each of our wedding anniversaries. And yes, there’s a ceramic animal friend worked in there too thanks to my weird wife (a bronze ceramic pig that she found at HomeGoods for $6 a few weeks ago). I actually think the dark bronze twist is kind of cool, but don’t tell her I said that or it’ll feed her strange addiction.

Now for the bigger picture. Here are some more bedroom photos, just so you can see how the new dresser plays with the other things in the room (which is most definitely still “in progress” and in need of some art, a nice long bench, a big white built-in or cabinet to the left of the bed to balance the door, those aforementioned leggy honey-colored night stands, and maybe even some new table lamps among other things).

Should be a good time (or not, depending on what we find and how many places we have to go- haha, there’s the husband perspective on shopping). In the end, as exciting as resolving our dresser dilemma is – one of the best parts is that we’re finally able to move some of our clothes out of piles in the closet and into proper storage (four full drawers of it). Which means after 3+ months of living here with mountains of shirts and pajamas on the floor of the closet thanks to a smaller dresser with one inoperable drawer, we officially have no more excuses for not organizing things. Uh oh.

So that’s our first antique hand-me-down adventure. Or “furniture inheritance experience” if you’re fancy. And I’m not gonna lie. It does feel kind of fancy. The idea that we own something older than my dad is, in the words of Miley Cyrus, “pretty cool” (anyone else watching SNL lately?). Even if it’s a little beat up and didn’t come from an auction house. Have you guys ever gotten something especially awesome or particularly sentimental handed down from a family member? Anyone run into the moral dilemma of whether or not to make changes to it? We got lucky in this instance (since my mom and dad were more eager to refinish it than we were) but we know that might not always be the case. Sticky.

Pssst- Wanna see how we completely refinished an old craigslist dresser with stain and paint for Clara’s nursery? Click here.


  1. Lorie Smith says

    I’ve used candlewax before and it works like a charm! You should give it a whirl. :)


  2. Michelle says

    If you’re serious about a bench, and there’s any chance you’re headed down to Charlotte in the next few weeks, I’ve got a World Market Lugano bench I’m willing to sacrifice on the cheap.

    For realz.

    It’s a lovely piece but doesn’t have a function for us — and we’re moving and downsizing.

    • says

      Woah that’s an awesome bench. Bummer that we won’t be headed down to Charlotte anytime soon (nor do we have a car that’s big enough). Sadness. But maybe we’ll be forced to DIY something fun!


    • says

      Aw you’re too sweet! We hate to accept special treatment like that (we pride ourselves in being true DIYers and actually enjoy doing things ourselves whenever we can) but thanks for the generous offer! We’re 99% sure we actually want to build something custom. Who knows where we’ll end up though…


  3. Kristina says

    I also recently inherited not one but two old dressers. One of them was originally a nice 60’s olive. My uncle refinished it prior to my owning it, so I won’t feel bad if I liven it up a bit down the road. Maybe my dressers are antique. What’s the criteria? I am going to have to research their ages!

    • Kathryn G. says

      The rule of thumb we used when I worked at an antique store was antique was 100+ years old. Vintage only has to be 25+ years old.

    • says

      Love that! Vintage is probably the better term for our dresser then. Unless it was made right at the beginning of when the company opened. Interesting!


    • Tanya says

      A true antique is at least 100 years old but younger pieces can still be valuable collectibles.

      Love the dresser! xx

    • Jennie says

      At least in the museum profession, we define “antique” as something that is at least 50 years or older. Anything younger than 50 years can be defined as “vintage.” However, I’ve also come across the idea of 75-100 years as the benchmark for something being an “antique,” so really, the definition varies widely!

  4. Kristin F says

    That piece is in really good shape for its age, lucky you! Almost every room of our house has hand-me-downs; 2-24″ square Moroccan, circa 1970 end tables in the FR; everything but 2 chairs we picked up in the LR; EVERYTHING in the DR;a futon; and my daughter has the furniture I grew up with, while our son has my father in law’s old dresser. We haven’t touched a thing with stain or paint in the 15+ years of having the pieces, though really we probably should. Most are really showing wear and tear, especially since some of them are close to 75 years old now. I’m dying to paint the huge end tables, but my mom gasped when I mentioned it :(. But having so much given brings memories every time I see them, my DR was my great grandmothers originally, and I was fortunate enough to fill it with my grandmother’s crystal. I’ll never change it because it reminds me of both of them, plus my mom, every time I go in the room. It does make it hard to “modernize” our decorating though, which I’ve mentioned before!

  5. Cara says

    That side of the room is really coming together. That dresser is perfect.
    I have an old hard rock maple drysink that my parents bought in the 60s. It’s had many uses (bar, sewing machine storage, etc.) but the most meaningful to me is that it was my bassinet for my first few weeks of life. My mother had broken some ribs giving birth to me (man, is karma going to get me back!) and couldn’t bend over to put me down in my crib but the dry sink was the perfect height for her. So yes, I was stashed along with the whiskey. Whatever works!

  6. Emily says

    My husband inherited a great dresser when his grandmother passed away – it has beautiful lines and I’m staining it this week (I read your Clara dresser tutorial this past weekend a couple of times before I started as this was my first time staining anything – so thanks!). We also were given a Duncan Phyfe style dining room table that belonged to my husband’s great grandmother. The coolest thing we have, though, is my grandfather’s violin – it was cracked and unusable, so several years ago my aunt mounted it in a shadow box. I’ve loved it for years, and my mom just gave it to me to hang above our piano.

  7. Linde says

    I love the “new” dresser!!!

    I am the proud owner of my grandparents 1954 bedroom furniture. Full size bed, tall dresser and long dresser with mirror. It has a blond wood finish with modern lines and chrome handles. It’s in my 3 year old daughters room.
    I love it. I have fond memories of taking naps with my Grandma in the bed, and looking at all of her jewelry in her top dresser drawer.

    It’s weird how it felt so bid when I was little, now I think, what couple would be comfortable in a double bed!?

  8. Jamie says

    Antiques and hand me down are my favorite. It’s fun to see what you can do with them. Most of the things in our apartment are hand me downs, and we do have quite a few antiques. We got a shelf made by my uncle who died in the 40s, a radio stand bottom (another uncle cut the top off in the 50s when the radio broke), my mother in law gave us an 1890s Irish pub table. Yesterday my mother in law gave me a small table to use in the guest room.

    I haunt been reading your blog long, but I am addicted! And I love your house!

  9. Meagan says

    I have also been searching craigslist and thrift stores for a dresser just like this (I’m jealous). My grandmother has actually offered me one of hers. I’m going in a few weeks to check it out and make sure its the right size. I think its going to need some refinishing though. I’m planning to use the instructions y’all posted from Clara’s dresser. I’m thinking a dark stain. I can’t wait and will definitely post pictures to y’alls facebook when I finally get to do it. Old furniture is so much nicer than the new stuff out there.

  10. says

    What a beautiful piece of furniture!!!! Don’t let the sticky drawers bother you…sometimes it is good to have things in life to slow us down a bit…

  11. Mary says

    I love your new dresser. Really love it. My house is filled with antiques from my family and my husband’s family (parents and grandparents!). We even have an amazing piece *hand made* by his grandfather. I so love the family history aspect of our things. Like John said about hearing the pulls from down the hall – good memories.

    • says

      There are a ton of built-in cubbies (sort of like drawers when you slip a basket into them) in the walk-in closet. So that’s where most of John’s stuff goes. Once we get a little more organized we’ll share our big closet clean-up and how we’ve delegated those drawers!


    • Carrie says

      I was wondering the same thing. :) I have a huge dresser and it is packed full! But then again I have a tiny closet and a massive pajama addiction.

  12. diana says

    Lovely, lovely, lovely!

    Wax gives way better results than soap (almost way too good, it may make the drawer slide out completely). No matter what rest of a candle does the job.

    Can’t wait for the finials to be painted, maybe if you didn’t mention it before I wouldn’t have noticed it (arrrrrgh!)

    All the love in the world for you!