Our living room is kind of a tricky shape. It is a long room, with a window seat and large window at one end, a large window with a radiator under it at the other end, and a fireplace between two doors on one of the long walls, with two more doors on the other long wall. And since it’s the only living room (no family room or den), the television has to be in there. Some people would put it over the fireplace, but I’m not a fan of that look for my own home. The only other open wall is opposite the fireplace, which would make furniture placement tricky. So, I decided I wanted to put it away in a piece of furniture, which would solve multiple problems. I would still be able to have a space that felt a little more formal for when we had parties and didn’t want the TV to be the center of the room, and it would also make it seem more purposeful to put it in one of the corners by the front window (it would have looked really strange on the wall in the corner, but it was the most logical place considering our furniture placement options).
I found this armoire on our local Facebook Marketplace (is anyone else obsessed with that? It is kind of surpassing Craigslist for me).
A lot of the armoires I looked at were really dated – shiny wood finishes, 90’s honey oak or cherry stains, country-style shapes. I was drawn to this one because it was obviously made of real wood with a natural-looking matte finish, and the lines were very simple, but it still felt fairly grand.
When I picked it up, I realized it definitely needed some work. The molding was lifting off in places, there were some cracks in the wood, and there were a lot of dings all over it. And, strangest of all, the wood facing on the drawers, under the decorative molding, was covered in tiny holes. It looked like someone had tried to distress the wood by hand, but only on the drawers. That, or it was eaten by termites or something! It was very strange.
The picture below is of the side of the drawer, and you can see the facing between the drawer body and trim piece.
I started by taking the decorative molding off the top and bottom and removing the drawers. Then, I sanded the finish off the entire piece with an orbital sander, which also lessened the appearance of some of the dings and scratches. I sanded the nooks and crannies of the doors and body and the molding for the top and the bottom by hand. As for the drawers, I removed the 1 inch decorative molding around the edges and chiseled off the swiss cheese facing. There was a ton of glue leftover on the front of the drawers after the chiseling, so I just decided to turn the drawers around, and add the new facing to the back instead. The new facing was made from simple pine boards that we cut down to size.
After the piece was entirely sanded down, I had to decided how to refinish it. I quickly realized that the many knots, nail holes, cracks and dents were still very noticeable. I felt that if I painted it, it would just make it look like I was trying to hide those imperfections, and they would stick out like sore thumbs. A more modern/rustic or primitive modern look would make the imperfections feel more purposeful.
The first technique I tried was bleaching the wood. I love the look of bleached wood (check out White Flower Farmhouse on Instagram for lots of inspiration and the technique I used). The dark knots were much less noticeable after bleaching the whole piece, and I really liked the way it looked, but I thought it would need a few more bleaches before it had that Restoration Hardware-esque ultra-refined primitive modern look I was going for. And, to be honest, the intensity of working with straight bleach was way too much for me! I had a headache after using it (even with a mask), and I was not eager to do it once or twice more on this giant armoire.
So, I decided to try a white-wash or gray-wash technique. I used a gray so pale it is almost white, with brown undertones (Agreeable Gray by Sherwin WilliamsAgreeable Gray by Sherwin Williams). I diluted it with 1 part paint to 3 parts water, brushed it on with a paint brush, and wiped it off with paper towels. It was a really easy process, you just have to let go of any tendency toward perfectionism! Some parts of the wood soak up more paint than others, and streaks do happen (you can make them less noticeable by rubbing them more vigorously with the paper towels when you take the paint off). I did go back over a few spots with more whitewash – especially the dark knots, and then blended them in with the paper towels.
I really love how it came out. With the super simple black hardware it looks primitive and rustic, yet refined – I think it has that Restoration Hardware flavor. It seems to marry well with our nubby seagrass carpet and the bamboo blinds (we have yet to put up) for the windows, and provides a nice foil to the more formal chandelier and molding in the room.
Plus, I really love that it provides extra storage for games, toys, and DVDs (we still have a few of those), and that we can shut the TV away when we don’t want the kids to watch it, or when people are visiting.
And, finally, the before and afters: