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.

Comments

  1. says

    Just lovely!! I love the warm contrast of the piece with your more modern, clean elements.

    Please post if you find a better solutions than soap. My husband did this on our wonky old kitchen drawers, and I still have soap bits covering all our utensils. Have to re-wash them everytime – grrr! I would see if you can find a pad of the surfboard wax and give that a shot.(hmm, would they have that in VA?)

    I will shortly be inheriting my Great Aunt’s dining room table! It really needs to be refinished, but it’s a large round table with a pedestal (similar to yours, but more honey colored), but it pulls apart in the middle to add in a leaf for a oval table. It will be my labor of love as soon as it’s nice outside!

  2. says

    Love the new piece. My grandmother had the same pulls and I completely remember that sound John. I love when a sound brings you back to your childhood….it’s awesome!!!

    Definitely try the candle wax. Something you don’t want to use anymore after you are done with it. I used to use candle wax on my jeans or pants zippers that didn’t zipper easy….worked every time. ;)

    When you said something about a white built-in to the left of the door, which door? The bathroom door or the bedroom door? If the bathroom door, then where will the chair go? Maybe you are talking about the bump out next to the bed? Thanks!

  3. Vivi says

    Ever since I was a child I always thought it would be cool to have a grandfather clock (now that I thought about it, it’s weird that I didn’t dream of owning a designer bag/shoes, but a grandfather clock. hm. )

    I had never mentioned it to anyone, but after I got married and moved to our new house, I was surprised to find a grandfather clock right there in the corner of our living room.

    It’s a gift from my parents in law. But what makes it very special is that they had received it as a wedding gift from my mom in law’s dad more than forty years ago.

  4. Tonya says

    The bedroom is looking great! I’m a sucker for sentimental keepsakes. My favorites are some mismatched teacups from my paternal grandma who always had a rack holding her collection in her kitchen, an old crock that my maternal grandma used to make saurkraut that now holds my kitchen utensils (she raised 13 kiddos and put up alot of their food), and a beautiful hand-tinted photo of Watkins Glen in New York that my husband’s grandparents bought on their honeymoon. Every time a see these precious items I think of people I dearly love.

  5. Muriel says

    WD-40 is what we used at the furniture showroom I interned in during college. Works like a charm! Good luck.

    • Kristin says

      WD-40 should be a good suggestion. I love this saying: “WD-40 and gaffa tape fixes everything! If it moves and shouldn’t, use gaffa tape. If it doesn’t move and should use WD-40.”
      Haha.
      We haven’t inherited any large furniture, but some smaller items – For example, 6 beautiful 70’s shotglasses I always admired in my grandma’s glass cabinet when I was little (“Grandma, what are these tiny glasses for?”), but I never saw her drinking from them, hehe.

    • Andrea says

      I looked it up and you guys are right… I learn something new everyday! ;) WD-40=Awesome

  6. Jessica Z says

    Love the use of the family dresser! My dad refinished one for my baby girl’s nursery, and it is one of my favorite things in there. I think he used beeswax to smooth the drawers. They open and close like buttah! Hope that helps.

  7. Laura says

    Sherry-

    I see you recently inherited some “memories” from your parents (i.e., boxes of school papers, pictures, etc.)… I’ve gotten a few of those boxes recently as my husband and I are about to move into a new place and my parents are anxious to get them out of their basement! Anyway, thoughts on how to make use of some of these things? I refuse to be a pack-rat when it comes to this stuff, but I like the idea of creatively saving/displaying some fun memories from my childhood…. I’d love to hear what you end up doing with them!

    And btw, LOVE this blog! I’ve gotten a ton of ideas from you all for our new townhouse and can’t wait to get to work next month!

    Laura

    • says

      This post was actually by John, so he’s the one who inherited those items! Luckily he’s as minimalistic as I am so he went through things and said “if my parents don’t want these things I’m not going to keep them all either” and just selected a few favorite items to put in a keepsake box that he has in one of our closets (we each have one so we force ourselves to keep only the items that mean the most instead of shoving thirty boxes of stuff in the closet that we’ll never look at or “honor” in that way). We also plan to frame a few favorite drawings from his childhood in our hallway frame gallery. Should be fun!

      xo,
      s

    • Noel says

      Hi Laura (& John & Sherry!),

      I spent this past weekend going through old childhood stuff. My parents are doing the same thing, and my mother is very willing to pass along the “memories” (in other words, she shows up at my door with boxes and totes). I stored stuff downstairs for a while, but we’re moving soon, so I figured it was time to go through it. I had quite a few “fail” moments, so I’m hoping that something from my adventure might help you!

      I started off trying to consolidate everything into one cardboard box. Bad idea. So I got a $2 plastic filer from Target thinking I could use it to at least organize the old pictures. Worse idea! I decided to use the filer for old schoolwork and stuff (which would have worked well if I had less of it), and went back to Target and bought a $5 photo box. In the same aisle, they had file boxes with hanging folders at a decent price (I think it was $13-14), so I decided to try that too. Sure enough, the photo box fit all the pictures (with plenty of room for more), and the filer was perfect for the schoolwork. As an added bonus, when I pushed the folders to one side, I was able to use the other half as a keepsake box, and everything is loads more organized. And I decided to use that cheap plastic filer to organize and store recipes, instead.

      As for deciding what to get rid of, what worked for me was to take a day to go through it all and make piles of what to keep, recycle, and toss (I also had a garage sale pile). Keep what is special or meaningful, but get rid of what you don’t really care about. For me, I saved all of my writing (it’s the teacher in me) but recycled all the worksheets and busywork. I also went through my college stuff and dumped anything that didn’t pertain to my career. Oh, and anything that I didn’t want but couldn’t find the guts to throw away I put in a nice small box to send back to Mom to figure out!

      I love Sherry’s idea of framing favorite drawings, that’s a great way to display the “special” pieces. You could also make a scrapbook to place on a coffee table, entryway, ect. That’s something I’d like to do at some point in the future.

      I hope that helps in some way, and I apologize for the wordy post! Good luck with everything!

    • Laura says

      Sherry- I realized after I posted that it was written by John… sorry about that! I think I need to post your reply on my closet door to force myself to get rid of some of these “memories”… I mean, do I really need the program from my middle school band concert? Probably not.

      Noel- thanks for your input. This is REALLY helpful! I’ve been thinking about the scrapbook idea for a while. I think the goal at this point is to widdle down what will go into the scrapbook :-)

  8. Christie says

    I love the dresser! It looks perfect in your room. I’m also a fan of familydowns (hand me downs from family). My parents gave my husband and I two amazingly beautiful and curvy cane back chairs that we are going to put in our guest room. At first I felt weird about painting them but after I did it my mom was super impressed with how they looked. Now I have to reupholster them and then they will live in my home just like they did in my childhood home. :)

  9. Colleen P. says

    My sons school desk is inherited-my husband used it when he was a kid, and I’m not sure where it came from before that. I’m fairly sure it’s at least 50 years old, the hardware definitely has a midcentury modern feel.

    This thing is SO sturdy! Since my husband got it, it has lived in various cities in Ohio, Oklahoma, and Texas, and has also traveled with us to England and back, including one house move there (my husband was in the military for 20 years, and this desk has always been in our home). It needed refinishing before we had our son, and because it became his desk it spent a few embarassed elementary school years covered with stickers, but I think this summer we may give it some love and stain and varnish.

    The rest of our furniture has definitely not fared as well, we’ve replaced absolutely everything else except this desk. I really wish I could figure out who made it because I would buy from this company again, without a doubt!

  10. says

    I’ve been scouring craigslist looking for an antique dresser I can turn into a buffet/bar type deal for my dining room. I love the look of this! How awesome that it has fallen into your laps!

  11. says

    The dresser looks great and I love those ring pulls. I’m with you…I wouldn’t do a thing to it.

    We inherited our entire master bedroom set from my parents. Believe it or not, the bed is an exact replica of George Washington’s bed (weird I know but it was some colonial furniture company that made it.) Anyway, the bed is really high off the ground (I guess that was the thing to do back then or maybe because George was so tall?)…but being 5’3 I literally have to get a running start to jump into it each night. I am dying to saw off about 3 inches from the bottom posts, but can’t bring myself to do it. My parents (and probably George) would be so heartbroken. I figure I probably a few extra calories with my jumps each night, so for now I will live with it!

  12. says

    My parents have had these bedside tables that my mom let me take when I moved into my house two years ago. It was her idea to change their appearance (Read: paint them black) to match my design scheme. Well when I was sanding them and prepping them for spray paint, I discovered a “brand label” of sorts. Written in pencil on the underside of the table top was a note “To: Lloyd and Darlene for their first house. From: Papa” I had no idea that my grandfather had built these tables, and suddenly they were so special to me, and they will be something that I will have forever.

    I preserved the little message with a piece of clear acrylic hot glued around the edges, so the sentiment is still there. It is so cool thinking that my grandfather and I both worked on the same tables, each in turn getting them ready for their owners’ first home.

  13. Sara says

    Love the dresser, and I have sensory deja vu from the pulls on my mom’s antique secretary.

    I inherited an Eames replica made by plycraft from my grandfather. Since it wasn’t an original Eames and the leather was an awful faded brown, I decided to have it recovered for my daughter’s nursery…..in white leather. It was risky and the only money I spent on the nursery, but it’s awesome. I mixed it with a jenny lind spindle crib to balance modern and traditional. And now it’s my special place for nursing (and sleeping) that I will use with all my kiddos.

  14. Katy B says

    I love that dresser! This is a turn I am taking in my home. I could go buy something cheap from a big box store and like it for awhile, then either it will fall apart or be too stylized, and I will get sick of it. I have been spending my hard earned cash on vintage pieces….seems pretty “green” as well.
    I remember Martha Stewart using candlesticks to help old stuck drawers. It was a “good thing”.
    Please, please don’t stain those floors dark. They are stunning I think in an older home not all the floors have to match. Also, dark wood floors have been in for awhile now. The trend will surely swing back soon. Those floors are amazing and a real standout. It would be sad to make them look like everyone elses. Seriously, is my plea pathetic enough to stop the staining…I sure hope so!

    • says

      The floors are actually stained and discolored. See this pic? How there’s just a rectangle of lighter color and then a darker area in front of that? They’re just all sorts of crazy looking in person from certain angles (and very splintered in some areas), so we’re definitely going to refinish them (although we’re not 100% sure we’ll go super dark) just to get them back to their original glory!

      xo,
      s

  15. says

    I will soon be picking up my inherited china cabjnet from my Mimi (Dad’s mom). I have so many memories of the glass doors clanging when my cousins and I would jump around on the floors in the living room next to where the cabinet sat in their old house. I can’t break my family’s heart and paint it, but I am considering some wallpaper inside the back panel of a large tone on tone print so that my dishes will really be featured against a fun background!