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How to Get a Coastal Bleached Finish on Solid Wood Furniture

With baby #3 arriving any day now, it seemed like the perfect time to start another new project! When I nest, I nest hard, I guess. Thankfully, I have a husband who is more than willing (usually) to go along with my hair-brained ideas, even if it is mostly work for him. Besides, it’s the perfect time for me to take on a project that involves a lot of products with fumy chemicals...since I’m pregnant and he has to do it! I am such a good wife.


We picked up this dresser second-hand from some friends who used it as the changing table in their nursery. It is a solid pine, Pottery Barn dresser and is very nice quality. However, it wasn’t quite the look I was going for in the new baby’s nursery.


The look I was going for was more of a beachy, weathered driftwood feel, similar to the design below.

Refinishing and painting furniture isn’t exactly my favorite activity, nor is it Kyle’s, but we were trying to get this look without spending hundreds of dollars for something new. I had seen some really cool bleached furniture projects and decided this is the route we should take. It was actually a somewhat long decision process after a few failed attempts at testing stain, and it comes full circle in the end from bleaching and whitewashing to staining again. We didn’t exactly make it easy on ourselves, but I think the result was worth the trial and error.


We started by sanding off the original stain and finish down to bare wood. The sanding took a bit of time, probably around 5 hours total because we created an insane mess for ourselves by starting the project IN the house. If you learn anything from reading this, please remember to always sand OUTSIDE.

We decided to sand it instead of strip it with chemicals because there are no nooks and crannies in the dresser to contend with, and I hate stripping stain off of furniture. After it was sanded, we added bleach to a spray bottle, spritzed the whole piece down until it was damp, and let it dry. We repeated this spritzing process about 5-6 times over the course of a couple of days.


This is before we sprayed with bleach:

(This is NOT 409. It is an emptied / cleaned out 409 bottle with BLEACH and water in it.)


The bleach definitely grayed-out some of the yellow tones in the wood, but it was still not quite the look I wanted. Next, we used whitewash paint mixed with water and gave the whole thing a nice rub down.


Here it is before the whitewash:


Here it is after the whitewash (the change was verrrrry subtle):


The whitewashing took me about 45 minutes to complete, it was super easy. Just use about half paint, half water, and wipe it on with a rag. You can easily wipe it off as you go if you get too much on it. At this point, I thought we were going to be done with the project. But alas, it still wasn’t quite right to me. I love the raw wood finish, but it was still giving me that unfinished IKEA pine vibe.

Now, I think if you ultimately wanted the exact finish we got, you could skip everything we did up to this point except for the sanding. Sigh. We learned the hard way, but it wasn't an expensive error, just a lot of waiting for stuff to dry only to find we didn't get the finish we planned for. I think if this process were done on a different species of wood, the effect would be better.


Anyway, because I couldn't let it go, we moved on to Plan B. We had a few stain samples from our stain testing phase a few weeks ago, so we dug out the lightest one we had, Minwax Weathered Oak, and slapped it over the entire dresser. Now we were getting somewhere! This brought out more of the woodgrain lines I was hoping to see before. The problem with bleaching pine is that it is already a very light wood, so making it lighter was actually washing out too much of the grain for me.

We did two coats of the stain because once that was done, we planned to add a white furniture finishing wax that I knew would lighten it up again. Once the stain was dry, I took a very stiff wire brush and scratched lines into the wood with the grain to get more texture. Pine is a very smooth wood, and I wanted the white wax to be pressed into the grooves for that weathered look at the end.


Here is what it looked like after I brushed it:

After wiping down the wood one more time to remove any dust from the scratching step, Kyle sealed the stain with a spray-on polycrylic clear matte finish. This step goes pretty quickly and only takes about an hour to dry between coats.


Finally, Kyle took the white finishing wax, which is about the texture of soft butter, and rubbed it on with a dry rag. After a few minutes of drying, he rubbed it all back off. He did this step in sections so it didn’t dry too much in any one place. We allowed the wax to dry and cure overnight and wiped off any remaining chunks the next day as we added new hardware.


Here's what it looked like after Kyle applied the wax and wiped it down with the garage lighting:

Once the wax was dry, Kyle drilled new holes for the drawer pulls and installed them.


What was once a very dark, reddish dresser is now that beachy / driftwood / coastal look I was going for all along! It certainly took a few tries to get it here, but I’m glad we had the experience of learning what we liked and how to achieve it!

Now that's what I'm talking about! We may have taken the long way to get this look, but I'm glad we went the extra few steps to get exactly what we wanted. By the way, who thinks I should just keep the unfinished rug pad look, too? But seriously, more to come on the nursery design - once the baby is here, I'll know whether it's getting a feminine or masculine touch!


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