We're Maryal and Chris Carter, the crazy-in-love couple behind the blog and the specs. Our love of chambray and mutual blurred vision unites us, and this is where we share our adventures in love, style, food, DIY and so much more, seen through our bespectacled eyes. Thanks for joining our journey!

A Cottage-Perfect Natural, Pickled Wood Dresser Makeover

A Cottage-Perfect Natural, Pickled Wood Dresser Makeover

Pickled Wood Dresser Makeover featured by top US home decor blog, Love and Specs

Another day, another dresser makeover here on Love + Specs! As you guys know a good wood dresser makeover is kind of our favorite thing and luckily, you guys seem to love a good dresser transformation as much as we do, so let the good times roll, friends! As many of you probably remember this particular dresser actually got the most beautiful, Cinderella-style pretty in pink makeover in July, and I just loved that makeover with my whole heart. A pink dresser? Dreams do come true! That said, after a few months I realized that though the pink was so beautiful and tons of feminine fun, it just didn’t feel like it fit in any of the rooms we had intended it for. On its own? Absolutely amazing. But when trying to fit it in with the rest of our decor, it just wasn’t quite right. This antique dresser is so unique and the craftsmanship and detail are unlike anything I’ve come across before, though so there was no way I was letting it go! I knew that with a little elbow grease we could give it another transformation and make it the perfect piece that would live on forever in our home. It’s definitely one of those pieces - the kind of piece you use and love for a lifetime and that makes its way around your home, serving different purposes in different seasons of your life. And that’s the best!

Left: The original dresser

Right: The dresser painted pink

DIY Pickled Wood Dresser Makeover Tutorial

Of course a new makeover means a new plan, and man oh man did I have a fun plan in store for this gem! A few years ago I started to fall in love with he “pickled” look, and have been absolutely dying to try properly pickling something since. What’s pickling, you ask? No not that kind of pickling. The other kind! If you know me, you know that I have a serious aversion to pickles, so you won’t be seeing me offer my insight on pickling vegetables and the like anytime soon here on this blog. But basically the pickling technique means you’re using a white stain to brighten wood without hiding the grain. You’re kind of whitewashing the wood to make it lighter and give it a slightly weathered look. It’s so beautiful, and you’ve probably noticed that a lot of home decor purveyors are selling wood furniture pieces that have a pickled oak look for a pretty penny. I’ve long loved the entire Sausalito collection from Pottery Barn and it has a really pretty pickled look. I don’t really have any experience pickling wood furniture, but what I did know was that I needed the right piece to achieve the look I was hoping for, i.e. it had to be the right wood and the right style. I think the technique is great for lighter species of wood, but might not necessarily look awesome on the darker species. Enter: this beauty! When I originally sanded the dresser before painting it pink, I got to see the natural tone of the wood underneath the original varnish and it was absolutely gorgeous, and in addition to that the style and detail work on this dresser felt like they were made for pickling, so I finally decided to take the leap and see what this pickling business was all about! There are a few ways to properly pickle something, but I wanted the path of least resistance so to achieve the look pretty easily, I used Minwax’s Pickled Oak stain, which felt like a fool-proof way to do it. 

And to say that I’m in love with the end result wouldn’t even get close to how happy it makes me! My heart is absolutely bursting! This pickled wood dresser makeover is even more beautiful than I imagined, and is exactly what I was hoping for. After this project was complete I just stood there staring at it with so much happiness and told Chris that I think this may be my favorite piece of furniture we’ve ever owned. I don’t love pickles, but pickling is now totally my jam and I think I might just have to pickle every wood piece we acquire from here on out! I just love how beautifully it highlighted all of the detail on the drawers and how naturally weathered and cottage-perfect the entire piece feels without looking overly rustic. Success! You’ll notice that our pickled wood dresser has slightly pinkish undertones, and that’s just the natural tone of the wood of the dresser coming through with the addition of the white stain over it. When you’re pickling something, the more of the natural wood color you want to hide, the heavier you’ll need to go with your pickling stain or method. That will hide the wood color and make your piece more white. If you love the tone of your wood and just want a subtle whitewash like we did, apply your pickling stain like you would any other stain! More on that in the tutorial below.

Now even though this pickled wood dresser project will go down as a win in our book, I should be honest with you guys and tell you that it wasn’t necessarily effortless, which is mostly due to the fact that we had to strip the entire dresser, down to the bare wood, which can be an arduous process and one that I’m not necessarily fond of. So read all about how we tackled that below, and how I made the stripping process slightly less painful this time around. Happy pickling, friends!

Supplies for your DIY Pickled Wood Dresser Makeover

Finishing Sander

60-Grit Sandpaper

Minwax Pickle Oak Stain


Any large, old paintbrush to use to brush on the CitriStrip

Paint Scraper

How To: DIY Pickled Wood Dresser Makeover

  1. First we decided to remove the old plywood backing from the dresser and replace it because it was really warped and bowed, and we reinforce a couple of the drawers that we hadn’t reinforced when we gave it a makeover in July, but that badly needed some love. After being slightly exhausted by the process below (I have 110 degree temps to thank for that). I decided to call in reinforcements and have carpentry guru Brandon from Bare Bones Decor help me with that. Seriously if you’re in Phoenix and need help with custom carpentry projects in your home, big or small, he’s absolutely incredible and just so easy and fun to work with. His creativity knows no bounds and he’s the ultimate problem solver. I was almost hesitant to introduce him to you guys because I feel like I want to keep his genius all to myself!

  2. I absolutely hate stripping furniture because it’s usually such a toxic, messy affair no matter how you slice it. And I’d expressed that to Chris before we started, so he suggested we try this harsh fume-free, non-caustic paint stripper and see if it worked just as well as the traditional stripper. And much to our surprise and delight, it totally worked and it didn’t smell even close to as gross or toxic! If you’re stripping furniture, we highly recommend it. So out in the backyard, in the blazing heat, we stripped the pink paint and primer off of the dresser, which truthfully took a few days. All we did was pour the CitriStrip on, spread it around evenly with the paintbrush and let it sit and soak in for about 15 minutes before starting to scrape. All of the crevices on this dresser meant that there was a lot of scraping happening and a lot of sort of digging paint out from the seams and nooks and crannies. It was messy, but I think in the end we did pretty well considering all we were up against!

  3. After we scraped all of the paint that we could, we wiped the dresser clean and let it dry, we gave it a good sanding with coarse 60-grit sandpaper on the finishing sander. I should note that using sandpaper that coarse can compromise the integrity of the wood if you’re not careful, but we tried 100-grit first and it just wasn’t getting the job done, ad by switching to 60-grit we really got all of the remaining paint off and had a pretty clean slate to work with. And since we were staining, getting down to the bare wood was so important. Otherwise it won’t take the stain well and it will look like a blotchy mess.

  4. Once we got the entire dresser completely sanded, we brushed off the dust, and gave it another good wipe down with a damp soft cloth.

  5. Once it was completely dry again, it was time to stain! I used the Minwax Pickled Oak stain and couldn’t love it more. On this wood, it definitely has a little bit warmer undertones in addition to the sort of whitewashed “pickled” look, but if you wanted it to look a bit grayer you could add a bit of Minwax’s Classic Grey or Weathered Oak stain to it the Pickled Oak stain, though I haven’t tried that myself. This stain is really, really subtle so though I usually wipe a stain on and wipe it off right away, I wiped this particular stain on evenly, following the grain, with a soft cotton cloth and let it sit for about 30 seconds before wiping it off with another clean cloth. That still gave me a nice, even finish but just allowed the stain to go a little bit deeper.

  6. Whenever we do a dresser makeover I always recommend using some sort of protectant or sealer on the top of your dresser where it sees the most use, just to keep it from getting damaged. Lately I’ve been loving Sherwin Williams’ SHER-WOOD® CAB-Acrylic Lacquer because it doesn’t change the color of the wood or the stain, which is always my concern when putting a “topcoat” on wood furniture that I’ve painted or stained.

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