Renovating an Antique Chifferobe in 5 Easy Steps

What’s a chifferobe?  

A small wardrobe to hang clothing in that also contains drawers.  We here in the states are more familiar with an armoire, which is usually a very large and ornate piece with massive drawers, doors, and sometimes a place to fit a decent-sized TV.

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The size of a chifferobe was just perfect for the little primitive french country guest bedroom I wanted to use it in.  I picked up this chifferobe from a family that was moving. It needed a lot of help. The doors were crooked, the bottom was falling out, and the detailed trim around the top was barely hanging on.  When I saw it, I had instant regret; what have I gotten myself into???  I loved the shape of it, though, and the simple design.  I knew I had acquired many skills from my work on the farm to attempt to restore it to its original glory, so I began to think about how to do just that. 

Step 1:  Cleaning and Dismantling

Cobwebs.  I think this piece was in the basement of this family’s home.  There were cobwebs and spider egg sacs everywhere.  Before you can tell what work needs to be done to your piece, you have to be able to see what you’re starting with.  I was starting with spiders.

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I began by removing the two doors and all of the hardware.  The knobs and hinges benefited from a deep cleaning of vinegar and baking soda.  One of the glass knobs was broken, so I super glued it and made sure that it would be the knob on the bottom drawer and wouldn’t see a whole lot of action.  In the future, I may replace all of the knobs, but it works for now, and no one can tell it’s broken.

Step 2:  Repair

Someday, I hope to be a grandmother.  My goal for this piece is to have it around long after my grandkids arrive.  To that end, I decided to replace the thin piece of pressboard that was on the bottom with a ¾-inch, furniture-grade solid plank of wood.  Now, my future grandkids can play hide-and-seek inside without me worrying about them falling through the bottom and disappearing forever into the adventurous world of C.S. Lewis.

At some point in its previous life the trim pieces around the top became loose.  This wasn’t just a matter of tightening a screw or hammering in a nail or two. All of the trim had to be removed.  Larger side trim pieces were added for better stability and the front decorative piece needed new, longer screws drilled through the top in order to keep it from wobbling back and forth.  These adjustments made a huge difference in the stability of the trim.

Step 3:  Sand & Prime

Whether you plan on painting an old wood piece or re-staining it, you should start with sanding it.  I knew going into this project that I was going to paint it. Before you start sanding, you’ll want to fill any nicks or holes with wood fill or epoxy, unless you are looking for that shabby, worn look.  Once that dries, give the whole piece a good light sanding to roughen up the wood grain so that the paint will adhere to it. I use 100 grit paper; anything smaller than 100 will potentially leave deep ruts in the grain of your wood.

Prime your piece.  In my opinion, it doesn’t matter what brand of primer you use, but I like to use one that has low or no fumes.  I don’t want to have to wear a Hazmat suit each time I choose to finish a piece that I love. They make low-fume primers — use them!  You can also get primers in a similar color to your final color to reduce the chances of having to paint a second coat.  If you are painting a piece with dark, visible knotholes be sure to use a good primer that will cover these.  There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing those knotholes appear weeks after you’re already enjoying your finished piece.

If you choose not to prime your piece, prepare to apply extra layers of your chosen paint color.  Primer goes a long way, so in the end you’ll save money by using a layer of primer rather than additional coats of color.  If you have applied any repair product, such as wood fill or epoxy, you need to at least prime that portion of your project.  If you don’t, it will be visible that a patch was made to your piece.

After the primer has dried, inspect your piece for bubbles, brush hairs, dried primer “crumbs,” and brush marks.  If you have any of these, use a fine-grade sanding block to remove them. It’s a relatively quick process that will make a huge difference in the final product.  Be sure to wipe down with a damp cloth or tack cloth to remove sanding dust.

Note: I use a good brush throughout the priming and painting process.  Cheap brushes can leave bigger brush marks and brush hairs in your primer and paint.  So annoying.

Step 4:  Paint

Now the fun begins!  All your hard work is about to pay off!  Grab that high quality brush; I use Wooster brushes.  I love them.  A good brush is worth every penny if it’s taken care of.  (My brother taught me that. Thanks, Travis.) I should stop here and tell you that no one else uses my brushes.  Not my kids. Not my husband. I wash them out with soapy water immediately, and I dry them upside down and store them where no one else can find them.  Obsessive? Maybe, but I always know where they are and they’re always in pristine condition, ready for the next job.

 

What kind of paint should you use?

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I’m going to be upfront with you about paint.  It’s not all created equal.  You’ll see gorgeous furniture in antique booths that someone has painted with a can of paint that promises professional results.  That may be true, but many of these products require additional supplies, multiple coats, and special techniques. My absolute favorite furniture paint is RePurpose Chroma-Color.  It comes in a multitude of colors. I fell in love with it in 2015 at the Country Living Fair  in Stone Mountain, GA, where Cari Cucksey (former HGTV host of “Cash & Cari”) and her team were demonstrating the ease and beauty of the product.  I watched in amazement as they tested it on furniture in every condition imaginable.  I have used it a few dozen times on all kinds of pieces and it has never let me down.  The finish is like butter.  Here’s the part I really love — you can actually apply it without a primer because it has a primer built in.  I would totally go this route if I was painting over a piece that was already painted.  I still opt for sanding and priming pieces that were originally stained and had poly on top because the end result is more professional.  I’ve seen a lot of repurposed and repainted furniture, and I haven’t found anything with the durability and ease of use as the Chroma-Color product.  However, if you need to match your piece to existing painted surfaces or wall color, you can use the paint color and product of your choice in a semi-gloss sheen. To reduce brush strokes for a more professional product, get a bottle of Floetrol at Home Depot .  Floetrol will give your paint a little more fluidity and increase drying time so that the paint settles, which reduces large brush marks. A little Floetrol goes a long way, so a bottle will last you a long time.

Grab that high-quality brush or mini foam-roller and begin.  I like to start with the brush even if I plan to use a roller as well.  My brush of choice is an angled 1 in. brush by Wooster, but other high-quality brushes are great options. I also will opt for an angled 2 in. brush if the piece is larger or if I’m painting walls around trim.  If you’re using a roller, plan on two coats: one coat to cover, one coat to finish. Apply that second coat by rolling all strokes in the same direction. You may or may not need a second coat on parts that have been brushed, depending on the color you’ve chosen, because brushes can hold a lot more paint than rollers.

Step 5:  Reassemble

Put the doors and hardware back on.  That’s it! Stand back and admire your piece.  Where will you put it?  If you’re anything like me, you’ll move it all around the house before finding its forever home.

Now go out and hunt down your next adventure!

 

LIke this?  Check out the restoration on these antique French provincial bed frames.

6 thoughts on “Renovating an Antique Chifferobe in 5 Easy Steps

  1. Hi, refinishing an old chifferobe and need two hinges. One side of the hinge Is 5/8” and the other side is 1” and is 1 1/2” long.
    Would you know of a place where I could purchase that type of hinge?

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    1. Hi! I would try eBay first. I was able to find some replacement hinges for an antique chest of drawers that fit my needs perfectly. Another option is an online antique hinge store. If you can’t find one that matches what’s already there you might want to try replacing all the hinges. Good luck!

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  2. I have a piece identical to this. I’m having trouble removing the original hinges. Any idea would be appreciated. I wish I could describe them better.

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    1. Brenda, is it because the screws on the hinges are stripped or the hinge seems to be adhered to the paint? Either way, if the screwdriver isn’t working due to stripped screws, I gently use pliers to pull off any stubborn metal hinges. Hope that helps!

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  3. I have one very similar that I would like to redo. However the mirror on the right is missing. Is it possible to replace and fix? I love the way you did yours!

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    1. Hi Monica! Thank you for your comment! Yes, it’s completely possible to fix! If it were me, I would contact a glass shop and give them the dimensions of the area for which you need the mirror. If they can’t do it, a retailer like Lowe’s or Home Depot should be able to special order a mirror in the size you need. I wish you the best and would love to see your finished product!

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