Art Deco Waterfall Dresser Makeover (Full Video Process)

I found an art deco waterfall dresser at the thrift store for $19.99, I knew right when I saw it sitting there I was going to buy it and do a waterfall dresser makeover. These things can be hard to come by and I realized if you see a piece of furniture in decent condition that you don’t often see buy them! Especially at a price like that.

In this waterfall dresser makeover, I paint the sides and front details black, stain the top, and I also stain the drawers. I am going to go through each step on how I fully refinished this old waterfall dresser.

If I am going to be honest, this project was a lot of work. A lot more than I was expecting, but that’s typically what happens. I was having difficulties removing the old varnish on the top and the drawers but eventually got it down to a point where it was ready for some stain. I really wanted to save the veneer design on the drawers because I thought they were beautiful, that was a priority.

I have a full guided video below if you would rather watch than read. Anyway, let’s get this makeover guide started!

 Art Deco Waterfall Dresser Makeover – Full Guide

Planning Phase – What Needs To Be Done?

With vintage furniture, especially veneer furniture, you need to check for chips and cracks in the piece and determine what you are going to do about it. My piece had some chips in the veneer but they weren’t huge. I decided I wasn’t going to touch up these parts because it wouldn’t be worth the time. Since I am buying and selling furniture I am not getting paid per hour, so I skipped this part full-on knowing I would get similar pay.

I also had some issues removing the bottom drawer, there was a crack in the slider that I knew needed some glue, so I applied some right away. Since the drawer was still sticking I used my utility knife and shaved off a few layers on top of the drawer to give it some more space to properly slide. It worked great!

In phase one, I put a plan together.

The dresser sides and front details were going to be painted black. The top and the drawers were to be stained. Since we are messing with veneer here I wanted to do as little sanding because the veneer is super thin, typically 1/8 of an inch. This meant I was stripping these surfaces, doing so will help remove scratches because there were many on the old finish. Also, I haven’t refinished many pieces like this before but the old topcoat was super thick and I knew it was going to take some time to remove it.

I put my plan together, gathered all my products so I was ready to start. Planning things out like this will really help you enjoy the process and make it much quicker. Needing to go to the store when you’re in the zone sucks!

Alright, time to get started on this project. I used screenshots of the video so don’t mind the photo quality. The video is at the bottom!

1. Strip Old Finish Off

In step one, I apply a paint stripper over the drawers and the dresser top. This is because I am staining them to keep their natural wood grain look. I am using a paint stripper from the local hardware store, but this Smart Strip on Amazon will do the trick.

paint stripper on waterfall dresser

Apply a lot of stripper over the old finish, in my case, the old finish was super thick and needed multiple layers. I applied 2 layers of paint stripper and scraped them off using my steel putty knife. This step was difficult because old varnish was stuck deep in the wood grain and I could only do my best to remove it all without hurting the veneer.

I applied paint stripper to each drawer too, having similar results with the stripper so I did 2 coats on the drawers too.

stripping varnish off old drawers

After scraping the paint stripper off of the several surfaces there was still stripper residue remaining. I used mineral spirits and steel wool to clean this up. Check out our full guide on how to properly clean wood after stripping.

2. Sanding

After stripping the old finish I had some blotchy looking surfaces that I needed to fix up. I tried some old scraping methods, but eventually, I gave up and sanded the surfaces. Like I said we are working with veneer so I grabbed a 220 grit paper to lightly try and remove the old finish in the grain. I did the best I could!

I started to sand where I was painting it black because I wanted a smooth finish and also by sanding it makes the paint hold on better to the surface.

sanding waterfall furniture

After finishing up sanding I wiped everything clean with a clean rag and mineral spirits. There are many ways to clean after sanding. Read our 6 effective ways to clean wood after sanding article to see what option suits you best.

3. Priming

Now the project is completely dust free and you can prep for paint. With the design of this waterfall dresser, the top surface had a curve and there is a detailed edge that was being painted black but it was connecting to the top that was being stained. This meant I needed to do some taping. I needed to tape and cover where I didn’t want black paint to flick on.

After applying the tape to make sure the lines were all going to match and cover it appropriately I could begin the priming coat. I am using a Rust-Oleum flat white spray-on primer, I would use a grey primer with black paint but I had leftover white. I just need to make sure I have enough coats of black and a proper protective finish so chips and scratches won’t show the white underneath.

priming a waterfall dresser


I lightly sprayed on a coat of primer just so the paint would hold on a bit stronger. Remember, I have each step in my Youtube video below!

4. Painting

appying paint on an art deco waterfall dresser

Now let the primer dry for an hour or so, after waiting I grabbed my synthetic paintbrush and mixed my black paint up. I am using Behr black paint from HomeDepot called “Totally Black”. If you are interested in learning how to properly paint furniture black check out my article “How to Paint Furniture Black – Ultimate Guide“. You will also see the best black paints you can use too!

Anyway, I began applying my first coat. After applying the first coat you could still see the white paint so I knew I was going to need at least 3 coat of black paint.

After each coat, I grabbed my 220 grit sanding sponge and lightly sanded between. This ensured an ultimately smooth finish. If you have some drip and streaks in your paint make sure they are completely sanded out before your final coat.

5. Condition The Wood

I decided I wanted to use a wood conditioner. It really is a good idea when you want to avoid seeing blotchy areas when using oil-based penetrating stains. Wood conditioner sets in the wood and evens out the staining job creating an even looking colored surface.

Since I had a blotchy surface already with the old finish between the wood grain I thought it could help the process.

wood conditioner being used

I used Varathane wood conditioner, see the latest price here on Amazon.

Wood conditioner is easy to use, I followed these steps:

  1. Cleaned the surface with mineral spirits and waited for it to dry completely
  2. Began applying wood conditioner with a cheap foam brush
  3. After a couple of minutes, I wiped the excess amounts of conditioner off the wood
  4. Now I waited for the wood conditioner to completely penetrate for 30 minutes before I could start staining it. Wipe it one more time after 30 minutes though!

6. Staining

The wood conditioner has penetrated into the wood and now it’s time to start staining the waterfall dresser. I had intentions to use one stain only but applying the first color choice it wasn’t right, so I ended up using 2 colors.

I started staining the top and the drawers with Early American stain but it wasn’t dark enough. Next, I grabbed my Ebony wood stain, which is almost as dark as you can get, and lathered it on each piece.

I knew it wouldn’t penetrate well so I put a lot on and let it sit for a while. Just think about it, I pre-stained with conditioner and applied a penetrating oil-based stain. There isn’t much left for this piece to absorb anymore…

But it ended up with much better color and less blotchiness. The chips in the veneer also filled in nicer with the Ebony stain.

stained art deco waterfall dresser

I applied this stain heavy compared to a typical stain job. Since I had some blotchy old topcoat underneath, I used a clean rag and created a wooden look by rubbing the cloth in a straight line with the old grain. It matched up well and created a cool design that I loved! Let it sit for a few hours untouched and make sure no dust can reach it. I applied a coat of spray lacquer over it and voila, it remained to look this awesome!

With the drawers I let the stain penetrate as best as possible. I couldn’t match the unique design, but it still darkened them nicely. The top and the drawers are not the same color but since the dresser top is darker that look is ok, the other way around I probably would have painted the top black too.

7. Topcoat Finish

Finally, let’s spray some topcoat on this beautiful art deco waterfall dresser. I am using a Watco Lacquer spray, I love this product and use it all the time. It dries fast and creates a durable surface. Simply spray 3-4 coats of lacquer and your surface will be ready for use!

It can get some getting used too, and if you miss a couple of spots you can sometimes notice. I like to take my time going up and then moving back over again in one coat. These are light sprays so you don’t cause streaking and dripping paint. See how I spray in the video.


I use a 220 grit sanding sponge between coats to keep an ultra-smooth surface. My final coat of lacquer is always a bit thicker just for that extra layer of durability.

8. Paint Drawer Pulls Black (and topcoat them)

After the full process, I needed to do something to the old drawer pulls. I couldn’t really replace them because they are indented in the drawers. I thought about covering them with cup style pulls, but it would have been a lot of work and taken away from the vintage style. The natural pulls were perfect I just needed to add some paint.

I decided black paint only made sense here.

Next, I taped around the first one trying to protect the drawers, but after taping one I said “I am not doing that to all 8 pulls”. I then grabbed a clean rag and used it if I brushed over the edge too much. I applied 3-4 coats of black paint on the pulls just to hide the wood underneath. The cheap foam brush was making it difficult to cover well.

When that dried, I grabbed my spray lacquer and added a couple of coats for protection. Now the piece is ready to hit the market. Update: I sold it on day one! See the details below.

Art Deco Waterfall Dresser Makeover Video

Take a look at the video below and don’t forget to subscribe to my channel! Thanks 🙂

I Sold The Waterfall Dresser!

Before I could even publish this article I sold the art deco waterfall dresser for $225. I probably could have gotten more, who knows. But I am happy it hit the market and sold quickly.

What did it cost me?
  • the dresser was $23 taxes in
  • 2 Cans of Lacquer $24
  • Early American Stain $19
I saved money because:
  • I re-used black paint from another project I already profited on!
  • Re-used paint brushes
  • Re-used the Ebony stain from another project
  • Used paint stripper I bought from many projects ago
  • The mineral spirits are over a year old, already paid off lol

I guess we can say it cost me approximately $66 dollars to do this project. However, I used a lot of leftover products that I spent money on before, but the amounts would have been factored into past projects that sold.

Furthermore, I spent hours and a few days doing this piece. It was difficult. I didn’t count my hours since I enjoy the hobby, but I would say I spent upwards of 10 working hours to refinish the waterfall dresser.

My total profit was $159.

If I did hit ten hours of work, I still made 15.9 dollars per hour. I will take it!

Materials and Tools Used

Bosch Random Orbital Sander

Early American Wood Stain

Ebony Wood Stain

Varathane Wood Conditioner

Watco Lacquer

0000 Steel Wool

Rustoleum White Primer

220 Grit Sanding Sponge

Black Paint – HomeDepot

Final Thoughts

I hope you enjoyed the breakdown of how I refinished, restored, and stained, this art deco waterfall dresser. Doing a makeover on a waterfall dresser was not easy but it was fun. I would certainly take a swing at it again if I had the chance.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments on Youtube. Plus don’t forget to subscribe over there if you want all my up to date videos and flips.

Thanks for stopping by!