Warning: The following post may be unsettling to MCM purists.

What do you do when you can’t save the original wood? When the time and effort to refinish your find just isn’t worth it? Perhaps if these 2 pieces of Mid-Century Modern furniture had been in better condition we could have salvaged all the bare wood. Instead, David and I decided on a painted, smooth finish.
Dixie MCM Dresser and Nightstand

Made by Dixie, the dresser and nightstand had more problems than just a few dings. While they had excellent bones, both pieces were really showing their age. Take a closer look at the dresser drawers.
Close up of Dixie Dresser Drawer Damage
The factory’s stain and topcoat had broken down with age and use. Beyond that, David faced scratches, scrapes, nicks, and even a bit of water damage.

David usually restores our Mid-Century Modern pieces to their natural glory.

White Furniture of Mebane, NC
White Furniture: Sideboard
White Furniture of Mebane NC
White Furniture: China Cabinet
Mid-Century Modern China Cabinet
MCM China Cabinet – SOLD

But these Dixie pieces had taken too much abuse. Luckily, David thought he could save the drawers. A bold choice. I undertook painting the exterior frame in Annie Sloan Chalk Paint Old White. I chose Old White instead of Pure White because I had a can of the former and none of the latter.

Testing a New Technique: Mid-Century Modern Smoothness with ASCP

I wanted the paint to resemble the smooth lacquer finish. I’ve read about people loading up their paint sprayer with watered down ASCP, but I don’t have a sprayer. Annie Sloan herself demonstrated a feathering technique for painting modern furniture.

I tried my own technique using a brush and watered down Annie Sloan paint. In retrospect, there are easier ways to achieve a lacquered look. More on lessons learned later.

Here’s the dresser with its first coat of paint, on its way to a smooth finish:

Dixie MCM Dresser

I put two coats of paint on (no water involved), pausing to sand the 220-grit between every layer. After those coats, I swished my brush in water and then dipped it into a plastic container of paint. Very watery paint went down on the next 2 to 3 layers, again with sanding between each layer. The water thinned out the paint so there would be fewer paint lines. I wanted smooth — no lines.

This photo shows the nightstand after a few coats of watered-down paint and still needing sanding. Since we were experimenting, the top probably got 5 layers of watery Old White, and the sides about 4 each. We used 220-grit sandpaper between each layer. For the very last sanding David worked his way up from 220 to 400 to 600-grit.

Smooth Finish on MCM Furniture

Meanwhile, David focused on the nightstand drawers. You can see differences emerge in the photo below:
Dixie MCM Nightstand 3 Drawers
1. Left Drawer – Nothing has been done to it; years of grime contribute to its dullness
2. Middle Drawer – David sanded with 150 grit sandpaper and acetone to strip off the original  finish and sanded the drawer removing scratches and shallow dings
3. Right Drawer – Multiple coats of Watco Danish Oil Medium Walnut. Sanded between coats with 220-grit. No sanding after the final coat. David just wiped it down and let it cure.

We researched the sealer. I saw an article by The Purple Painted Lady with this caution:

Something to be aware of – is if you burnish your Chalk Paint™ (we call this the Modern Look) that you may not be using Clear Wax on top. In fact- you may have a problem having the Clear Wax being absorbed into the Chalk Paint™ since by sanding the surface excessively to get that super smooth feel, you create a hard- compacted surface and the wax will have a hard time penetrating it or the Chalk Paint™ will have a difficult time absorbing the wax now. Slight sanding is fine!…I do this all the time and then apply Clear Wax. But if you are “polishing” the surface, please be aware of this caveat.

Our pieces had a super smooth feel, so ASCP’s Clear Wax was out. We next researched polyurethane and learned that it has a high possibility of cracking and yellowing. Nope — didn’t want that. I couldn’t reach my stockist so I telephoned The Purple Painted Lady’s shop up in New York State. They recommended General Finishes High Performance Water Based Top Coat – Gloss, which I bought locally. We went with Gloss because we wanted shiny brilliance rather than a muted, Satin surface.

Here’s the nightstand with 2 coats of the GF Top Coat on, sanded with 400-grit between coats. The third coat was sanded 600-grit. The fourth and final coat, with 400- and 600-grit.

Smooth Finish on MCM Furniture

Painted Smooth Finish

As for our timing, we chose to finish this piece before starting our Christmas holidays. Before cleaning the house, buying and trimming the tree, and before shopping. Theoretically that should have worked but David found himself locked in combat with the larger chest and his work days stretched perilously close to Christmas.

Perhaps David will write a post detailing his trials with this nemesis. How many of us have encountered a piece that fights back every step of the way? But he was determined to place both chests in our booth before we began Christmas — and we could practically hear Santa up on the roof.

We made it!

Mid-Century Modern Dixie chest and nightstand

But the drawers on the big chest didn’t glide smoothly — and that bothered David over the holidays. Especially when a customer bought those 2 pieces and our gorgeous MCM 9-drawer dresser with mirror right after New Year’s.
Mid-Century Modern dresser

We promised the client that the drawers would glide like ice skaters when her fiancé picked up the pieces. And they did.

Lessons Learned
  • General Finishes Top Coat gave power to these two pieces. I love working with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint and I did a good job painting, but David’s multiple layers of top coat with increasingly higher grit sandpaper provided depth, gloss and glamour.
  • Avoid delaying your holiday. That’s no fun. For us, the issue came down to space. We had to move furniture into our booth before rearranging for Christmas and buying the tree. I don’t want to be in that situation again.
  • We knew the drawers were sticking and we put a not-ready-for-prime-time piece into our booth. We won’t do that again.

I’m happy to assure you that we had a lovely Christmas season once it began, the 3 furniture pieces went to a new home, and our new client is thrilled because of our excellent service.

Ann Marie and David

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15 Comments on Painted Smooth Finish on MCM Furniture

  1. Cynthia Chilson Finger
    January 12, 2016 at 10:50 pm (6 years ago)

    Your furniture is just beautiful!
    I’m curious as to why you didn’t paint the pieces with General Finishes paint? I think you could have achieved that smooth finish you were after, without all the extra steps. I use to live in the UK, and was taught using AS paint, and I love it. But there are so many options here in America, it’s fun to try different products. Take care and thanks for sharing!

    • irisabbey
      January 13, 2016 at 7:00 pm (6 years ago)

      Cynthia, thanks for your comment. The only thing I can say is that I had a quart of the ASCP Old White. You are absolutely correct in saying I could have completed this job with fewer steps had I used another product. But, here we are — and the pieces sold right away. Yea.

      • Cynthia Chilson Finger
        January 19, 2016 at 3:18 pm (6 years ago)

        Yeah! I’m sure the new owner is thrilled. They’re stunning!

        • irisabbey
          January 19, 2016 at 9:25 pm (6 years ago)

          Thanks, Cynthia. The new owner is about to get married, so I hope these pieces help her create a comfy home.

        • Karla
          May 8, 2016 at 12:00 am (6 years ago)

          We are still enjoying our furniture! Thank you again, Iris Abby!!

          • irisabbey
            May 8, 2016 at 2:08 am (6 years ago)

            That’s wonderful to hear. Thanks so much for the vote of confidence, Karla.

  2. TwoPlusCute
    January 13, 2016 at 6:27 pm (6 years ago)

    Great job and looks stunning. I admire your sanding skills!
    I pinned this. 🙂

    • irisabbey
      January 13, 2016 at 7:06 pm (6 years ago)

      Thanks, TwoPlusCute. Oh, the sanding. . . Sigh. But the pieces sold! I just read your About Me page and am very impressed by your interest in physics (and the Nobel Prize). I lived in academia for a long time in humanities and education. I’ve found my interest in math and biology has grown over the years but I would love to read some basic physics posts. Keep up the good work!

  3. Terry
    January 14, 2016 at 11:25 pm (6 years ago)

    Your hard work really paid off! I like that you researched the products before applying anything to the furniture. In the end you delivered a quality job to the lucky new owners. It’s easy to just slap a coat of paint on something and call it good, but to do a quality job like you did really shows in the end. Well done! Thank you for sharing it at Making Broken Beautiful! You are always welcome to share! I hope you enjoy a lovely weekend!

    • irisabbey
      January 14, 2016 at 11:50 pm (6 years ago)

      Terry, your generous comments make me smile. Thanks. I’m so glad I found you and your party.

  4. Mary-the boondocks blog
    January 15, 2016 at 7:40 pm (6 years ago)

    Everytime I come here I learn something new. I did not know that if you sand the chalk paint to a high sheen you cannot add the wax. Of course I sanded and made my dresser smooth and then the wax just sort of sat on top instead of melting into the paint. No wonder it was accumulating dust like honey. Thanks for all the helpful information. and hope you had a restful holiday. Looking forward to lots more tips this year from the masters (that would be you)!!

    • irisabbey
      January 16, 2016 at 11:24 pm (6 years ago)

      Mary, I’m glad I could pass on some information. Sometimes things you don’t believe will cause problems, rear up on their hind legs and fight you. But they sold!

  5. Terri
    January 18, 2016 at 1:27 am (6 years ago)

    Beautiful way to repurpose these pieces! Love the paint color

    • irisabbey
      January 19, 2016 at 9:22 pm (6 years ago)

      Terri, thanks for your kind comment.

  6. Diana
    January 20, 2016 at 5:22 pm (6 years ago)

    Love what you chose to do with these MCM pieces, and your smooth finish tutorial was just great. Thanks so much for sharing your expertise with us at Vintage Charm 🙂


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