Back in November, I went to an antique mall about 45 minutes away from me. I was on the lookout for pieces that were pretty just the way they were and only required a quick spruce. Some cleaning and oiling here and there would be fine, but I wasn’t on the hunt for a major project.
I stumbled across an unusual piece during my trip.
To this day, I still can’t quite figure out what this piece is. It has the shape of a safe but it sits up on pretty squat turned little feet with casters. It has a paneled door with a lock, and the inside is outfitted with three gorgeous drawers that also lock.
When I got it, the body of the piece was painted in a faux technique called “grain painting”.
I did some research on grain painting and it dates back to around the 1700’s. While I didn’t care for the look, it was an old technique that I felt should not be painted over right away.
So, I placed it on the sales floor at Homestead Studios and let it speak for itself. Aside from the unusual finish and shape, the piece also has square nail heads, hand-cut dovetailed joints and beveled drawer bottoms. I think it’s safe to date it around mid to late 1800’s, but exactly how far back it goes is a mystery to me.
Unfortunately, the piece didn’t sell the way it was, so I brought it home recently with the intention to paint the outside white. I planned on leaving the beautiful interior alone.
The problem with this piece was obvious – the wild grain painting. It would take multiple coats of white paint to cover up all of that crazy faux tiger oak pattern, so I bought myself a gallon of a new primer I’ve been eager to try.
I’ve heard nothing but great things about this shellac based primer from fellowGeneral Finishes retailers. It covers well, prevents bleed-through and is the go-to product for many professional cabinet painters!
What makes it different from other primers is the fact that it’s shellac based, not water based. The shellac formula allows it to stick to just about any surface but it does emit a bit of an odor. Shellac is not a low VOC product, so if you’re going to try this product for yourself, make sure you have good ventilation. You may even want to wear a respirator if you’re sensitive to fumes.
This is the one that I use. It’s for mold and lead paint removal, so I know my lungs are safe when I’m sanding!
I painted on two coats of the BIN primer. It dries pretty quickly – 45 minutes to recoat to be exact. Again, that’s another nice feature compared to a water based primer, which can take between 1-2 hours. When it came time to clean up, I used Denatured Alcohol. I have this product on hand to clean my pieces off prior to painting them with General Finishes Milk Paint, so it wasn’t an issue for me.
Denatured Alcohol is a product that is used to clean glass. It’s also used for alcohol burning stoves. I use it to clean off furniture but it’s not the same formula as isopropyl alcohol or rubbing alcohol.
After applying 2 coats of the primer, I grabbed another new product called Brushable White Enamel by General Finishes. This was my bright white paint product.
Brushable White Enamel is pretty much amazing. It’s a pigmented water-based wood enamel that’s great for painting furniture, cabinets, and millwork. What makes it different than a regular bright white paint is that BWE is a 2-in-1 paint AND topcoat! It allows you to apply bright white paint and a topcoat by using one product. Plus, because the topcoat is not a separate product, Brushable White Enamel dramatically reduces the chances of yellowing!
I applied three coats of BWE using one of my ClingOn! brushes. I found the product to brush on very easily. It laid down nicely and tightened up quickly, just like General Finishes Milk Paint does. I didn’t have any issues with brush strokes, and after my three coats were dry, I had a lovely (and durable) satin finish.
Now the cabinet/safe/chest of drawers on wheels was looking very pretty at this point, but it was too fresh and too perfect. It looked like it had just been painted. I needed to add some rustic touches, and I’m not going to lie – I was really nervous to do so.
What I wanted to do was distress the piece lightly, sanding the edges to reveal some of the wood underneath. The danger with that is that I’d break through the primer I applied underneath my Brushable White Enamel, exposing the piece to potential bleed-through.
I tested an inconspicuous spot underneath by one of the legs, and as I rubbed away, the piece distressed well and I didn’t get any staining!
So, I took a deep breath and distressed the rest of the piece.
So how did it turn out? Well, you tell me!
I actually staged this piece two different ways because I couldn’t decide which look I liked more. The first option was with a black lantern and a sign. Here’s my second look:
Simple and soft with a basket of dried lavender.
Regardless of which staging motif you like better, I think this piece looks much better in bright white paint.
This piece has so many cool features! Let me just nerd out here for a few minutes…
First, the entire box is dovetailed. Like every.single.joint! Here are a few you can see along the top edge.
Even the drawers are dovetailed too. These aren’t factory made joints. Oh no, sir! These are the really old hand-cut dovetails that a master craftsman made however many years ago.
You can see the line that was drawn to mark where the dovetails would stop. (Oh, and can we just drool over the burls on the edge of this drawer!)
The drawers on the inside kept their gorgeous original patina and age. Each one is specifically made to fit in its respective cubby and there are lovely brass drop pulls on each one.
At one point, there was a lock on the top drawer, which makes me wonder if this piece was once a document safe.
The entire piece sits up on the most adorable set of feet, and I replaced the old casters with another that actually spin. A little WD-40 and some Hemp Oil put these babies back in working order.
The knob isn’t original to the piece. I had no idea what kind of hardware would have been on it originally, so I tried to pick something from my stash that looked like it belonged. It can easily be swapped out if the new owner doesn’t like it.
All in all, this is still quite the curious piece. It’s super cool and I have never seen anything like it. I can’t wait to see who winds up buying it and how they use it in their home.
This piece will be making its way over to Homestead Studios as soon as the snow lets up and I can clean out The Marshmallow! You can purchase Brushable White Enamel from my room at Homestead Studios or at Morgantown Market if you’d like to try it on your next bright white project!