Finished Gradient Dresser for Penelope’s Nursery

Back in my previous life as a Sociology graduate student at Vanderbilt I was a big fan of a blog called Young House Love. My friend Ashley and I were completely awed by all of the projects this young couple completed, and their blogging style was pure fun to read. When I finished my coursework and delved into thesis and comprehensive exam world, I completely restricted my online presence and deleted all of my favorite blogs from my bookmarks so that I wouldn’t be tempted to read anything besides academic writing (this, by the way, is exactly how you burn out on grad school). So I lost touch with YHL…until now. Recently I started following a ton of home design instagram accounts, and I looked up Young House Love to see if they were still kicking it. Their business is absolutely booming – they released two books since I last checked on them. One of their recent posts was about a rug in their room (it’s gorgeous), and they casually mentioned a gradient dresser that they had finished as part of another project a long time ago.

photo from – gorgeous gradient dresser and rug! Cute dog! Ah!

I took one look at their gradient dresser and realized that was what I wanted to do with the dresser I was refinishing for Penelope’s room. They don’t have the tutorial available on their blog because it’s one of the projects featured in their first book, but it wasn’t hard to figure out. The hard part for me was stripping down the dozens of coats of paint, primer, and stain that I knew were already caked to the dresser. You see, I had already sanded down and repainted this dresser years ago when I took it from my brother’s childhood room and brought it with me to college. It had a gross fake-wood brown paint on it that I sanded down and figured I could paint over fairly easily. Well, beneath that paint was a bright red wood stain that I’m pretty sure the devil himself put on that dresser. I remember it took me about 5 coats of primer to keep the red from seeping through, and then another 3 or 4 coats of the teal paint I picked out for my college dorm. I hated the whole process, and I knew it’d be a repeat with this project.

9-1 5 dresser
My dresser as it was in college – 2006! The hutch was a separate piece and I have since gotten rid of it.
My dresser in the mud room in our Nashville house – ca. 2011 (WOW we needed the minimalist documentary around this time!)

Instead of simply sanding down and repainting, I figured I’d just strip the whole damn dresser and start over. I went out and bought the stripping gel, scraper, blue junk bucket,   and gloves, and got to work. I started off with the drawers and put a super thick layer of the stripping gel, let it sit, and then started scraping. I deposited the strips of gunk that came off in the junk bucket and eventually double bagged and tossed it.

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not pictured but ESSENTIAL: GLOVES


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After waiting for about 20 minutes

​After one round of stripping, which removed the layers of teal paint, primer, brown paint, and primer beneath that, I reached the dreaded deep red stain. So I added another thick layer of the gel for good measure and decided to try to strip off as much of the stain as I could.

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After two rounds of stripping the nonsense on the drawers, I took my sander to them and sanded the heck out of them. The difference was amazing – but I could still see the red stain. I figured that was the best I could do and crossed my fingers that the paint would seal it.

(I have since upgraded to a respirator mask!)

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I worked on the dresser inside so that I wouldn’t have to move it in and out of the house and up and down stairs…but I don’t recommend this for anyone with floors that they actually care about. It was a MESS. I was lucky that we were planning to remove the carpet in the guest room upstairs, so I had a workspace. Anyway, the dresser was slow going because it was so large and there were a bunch of weird angles and crevices. But, two rounds of stripping and a TON of sanding later, I was ready to try painting.

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After one round of stripping
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After one round of stripping
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Two rounds of stripping down
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Two rounds of stripping down
Etsy 5
Stripped and sanded! and still SO red! (you can see the room is taped up for painting in the background! This is the guest room – stay tuned for another post on that soon)

I already had a color scheme picked out for the nursery – we wanted to make it as neutral as possible because this will be the nursery for all Rodriguez babies. I don’t want to decorate a nursery twice. Also, I’m inheriting almost 100% of the items going in this nursery, and it won’t all match. So, neutral is the way to go here. Anyway, I thought a gradient yellow would be perfect for the dresser.

Gradient yellow! The fourth color (top drawer) was basically a white. All satin finish. Originally they were all valspar but we had to go back and get a second quart and we went to Home Depot instead of Lowes – so we got Behr the second time around.

I picked out my favorite swatch of yellows and got a sample size of the two darkest and a sample of the very lightest color. I got a quart of the second yellow in the color gradient because I figured that would also be perfect for the body of the dresser. I chose a satin finish for the whole project. I started with the dresser to get it out of the way…and IMMEDIATELY the red stain started to come through. It didn’t matter that I had stripped and sanded the damn thing…it was after me.

Can you see the red coming through? This was after one coat. Meanwhile Javier is painting wall edges in the background. Multitasking!

I went back to Home Depot and they gave me a quart of a primer / stain blocker, which I should have bought in the first place. I took it back with high hopes, but sure enough the stain continued to come through. So the dresser got FOUR coats of the stain blocker. I put a 5th coat just on the very top since it’s the most noticeable…and you could still see the stain peeking through…but only the very lightest pink. Time for paint.

Etsy 3
This was only after 2 coats of the primer (plus the early coat of paint). Still lots of red creeping through. 

The stain continued seeping through the paint…so I went through about six coats. It was absurd. I’m sure a professional reading this could tell me all the various things I could have done differently – but spare me the would’ve-should’ves because IT IS OVER AND I EVENTUALLY WON. I wound up having to buy another quart of that color so that I’d have enough for the second drawer when I finally got around to painting the drawers. In the end, I can STILL SEE the tiniest slivers of light pink stain coming through the yellow, but I’m pretty sure (and Javi agrees) that I can only see it because I KNOW that it’s there. Most people won’t notice…and really it looks great.

By the way – here’s that respirator I’ve been using. Perfect for being around the stripping gel, sanding, and paint fumes. I haven’t smelled / breathed in anything but nice filtered air.

Moving on to the drawers! Luckily those went quickly. I put 3 coats of stain blocker and 4 coats of paint on each one and they turned out great. Then it was time to add the hardware and put it all together! THIS WAS SO SATISFYING!!

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After adding the stain blocker
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Gradient paint!

I’m SO thrilled with the result. It’s perfect for Penny’s nursery, it’s colorful and playful, and I love the gradient effect. A huge thanks to Young House Love for the inspiration. I can’t wait to see her room with the rest of the furniture!

Yellow Gradient Dresser - Mid Century Glam
L O V E ! !

Etsy 1

4 responses to “Finished Gradient Dresser for Penelope’s Nursery”

  1. This has got to be universal nesting behavior. Have you felt compelled to detail the interior of your car yet because your baby will be riding in it?

    We spent nearly every weekend (because working full time) the winter I was pregnant with Ariel refinishing every bit of our hand-me-down furniture in the kitchen of our first house. Joel would strip and sand one weekend, and the next I’d stain and poly what he’d prepped. We had the timing down to a science.

    Stripping my mom’s childhood dresser was like an archeological dig–layer after layer of paste wax applied in interesting patterns. She laughed when I asked her about the squiggles, stars, zigzags and the like. Waxing her dresser in the time before Pledge was boring to a nine year old, and that’s what she did to amuse herself.

    She also explained the twenty-something layers of paint on the dining room chairs. My grandfather would hit them with a fresh coat of paint every spring–right over dust, cobwebs, and whatever. It seems that it was more important that it got done than that it be done well, and he used whatever paint he had at hand.

    Thanks for resurrecting the memories!

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