Renovating an Antique Chifferobe in 5 Easy Steps

What’s a chifferobe?  It’s 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 detail around the top was barely hanging on.  I loved the shape of it, though, and the simple design.

Step 1:  Cleaning and Dismantling

Cobwebs.  I think this piece was in the basement of this family’s home because 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.

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I started by removing the two doors and all of the hardware.  The knobs and hinges benefitted 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 in 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.

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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 for it to not wobble 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 restaining 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 knicks 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 rough 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 your wood grain.

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 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.

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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?

I’m going to be upfront with you.  My absolute favorite furniture paint is Repurpose Recolor.  It comes in a multitude of colors. The finish is like butter.  You can apply without a primer if you choose 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 are originally stained and have poly on top.  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 Recolor 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. 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.  Now go out and hunt down your next one!

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