Think milk paint always has that on-trend rustic look? Not so fast. While milk paint is a fantastic choice for projects that call for an intentionally distressed finish, there are other ways to use this famously versatile product, including this month’s foray into mid-century modern chic.

Updating a Vintage Find

We love stumbling across “good bones” pieces like this mid-century dresser. While the dresser was likely once a treasured part of someone’s bedroom set, it came to us with considerable wear and tear. It was also missing a drawer, which some people might think reason enough to take the dresser out to the curb for garbage pickup, but we saw potential. The structure was there and the foundation firmly intact. Our job? Come up with the right paint application and color scheme to give this dresser a second chance.

Deciding on a Design

Choosing the right color for a paint job isn’t always easy. In fact, it’s often downright difficult, even for professionals.

Originally, we picked out a green shade, but we quickly switched over to a dark blue. After testing both colors on the dresser, we realized that neither felt right. Inspired by the work of talented designers like Martha Leone, we decided to play outside the box with Black Iron, a dark, smoky black that’s both rich and soft. The result was even better than expected.

With the right base hue on board, we selected Boardwalk for the drawer fronts. Though we would’ve loved to leave the drawers natural to let the wood itself take center stage, there was simply too much damage. Boardwalk’s warm neutral tone ended up being the best of both worlds by contributing a fresh, smooth look while evoking the same natural feel we got from the original wood.

The Painting Process

As is always the case with milk paint, the actual application was remarkably straightforward. First, we used some Natural Crackle (gelatin glue) to reattach a few peeling pieces of the dresser’s veneer and then went straight to painting. No need to sand, prime or engage in any other tedious prep. We also noticed that the top of the piece was Formica laminate and we wanted to make sure the milk paint adhered to the top surface. To prevent any issues in the future, we used Ultra Bond in our paint mixture. Just add Ultra Bond and water to the paint powder, mix and apply.

One we were happy with the paintwork, we used Milk Paint Finishing Cream to protect the finish. Now the dresser’s next owners will be able to use their new favorite piece of furniture without worrying about stains or spills. Finishing cream adds that extra bit of protection you need for high-traffic areas like dining rooms or entryways — this dresser would make a stellar storage piece in either spot — and cleanup is as easy as a quick rub down with a damp rag or sponge.

Last, we added a little wax to the inside of the drawers to ensure they will slide like a dream, and our work was done.

The biggest takeaway from this month’s project is that milk paint is just as brilliant for modernizing furniture as it is for creating rustic, farmhouse finishes. The one-two punch of Black Iron and Boardwalk is a designer’s dream, and as for that missing drawer, it makes a cozy and convenient spot for our stray bits of knitting.