Holiday Inspired Antique Empire Red Dresser Makeover

Meet Holly, she showed up on our doorstep looking like she was on her last leg. Despite her obvious imperfections, all I could see was her beautiful craftsmanship and how she deserved new life breathed into her. I was happy to take on the challenge and considering it was the start of the Christmas season, I decided to give this lovely antique empire dresser a holiday-inspired makeover.

Red is my favorite color and so you can imagine how excited I get during the holidays when I can go crazy with it. With our last Furniture Fixer Upper challenge of the year falling just before the holidays, I knew red would be a fitting color for this makeover.

Holiday-Inspired Red Antique Empire Dresser Makeover

Antique Empire Red Dresser


If you are new here, Furniture Fixer Uppers is a group of six talented furniture painting friends who come together on the fourth Thursday of every month to breath new life into six pieces of furniture. I've included links to the other five makeovers at the bottom of this post. Last month I used a napkin to transform an old Serpentine Dresser that had also seen it's better days.

I always have music playing in the workshop while I work. Because I'm in full holiday mode over here, Holly and I enjoyed many hours listening to period Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker Suite during this makeover.

Inspired by the music, I lined the drawers with musical note wrapping paper. I left the drawers unpainted because I think the old wood with all its timeworn scratches and dents tell a story.

Red Antique Empire Dresser Musical Note Lined Drawers

Before I show you what it looks like now, let's take a look at this wonderful 5-drawer antique empire dresser before the makeover. Missing wood knobs, one keyhole escutcheon is missing, damaged veneer, and lots of knicks and scratches.

Red Antique Empire Dresser Before

And here is the empire dresser after the makeover, painted red and aged with dark wax.

Red Painted Antique Empire Dresser Makeover

My guess on the age of this antique empire dresser

Take a look at the back of the dresser. Judging by the square nails my guess is it dates between 1840-1850. Unfortunately, there is no furniture makers stamp and I couldn't find another dresser just like it during my online research.

Red Antique Empire Dresser Back

The craftsmanship of this nineteenth-century empire dresser

Before we take a closer look at all the damage I want to show you some of the craftsmanship. I've never worked on a piece this old before so I'm taken by all the details like these hand-carved dovetail joints on the drawers.

Red Antique Empire Dresser Dovetail Joints

And the wood keyhole escutcheons.

Red Antique Empire Dresser Wood Keyhole Escutcheon

Here is a look at the top of the dresser with all it's knicks and scratches and this interesting diamond. Not sure if it's an inlay repair or carved into the wood.

Red Antique Empire Dresser Damaged Top

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Repairs to the nineteenth-century empire dresser

The two small drawers on the top of the dresser had a slight curve from buckling over time and the trim was coming apart. Wood glue was brushed into the dovetail joints and trim and clamped in an attempt to straighten them. Because of the curvature, bar clamps wouldn't hold and so heavy duty ratchet straps came to the rescue to hold things nice and tight while the glue cured.

Red Antique Empire Dresser Drawer Repairs

While that was curing it was a good time to fill all the places where there was missing veneer, like the skirt. I use a strong non-shrinking filler compound.

Red Antique Empire Dresser Damaged Skirt

There were a few corners both on the top and base that were pretty beat up.

Red Antique Empire Dresser Damaged Corner

Once the glue was cured on the top drawers it was time to fill the missing keyhole escutcheon and the missing wooden knob screw holes.

Red Antique Empire Dreser Filling Missing Escutcheons

Instructions for the empire dresser makeover

Time for the fun part, to make Holly all pretty again. I did not feel guilty painting the dresser because it was beyond restoration. I knew I would have major paint bleed where the tannins in the wood bleed through the paint if I opened the pores of the wood with a light sanding.  Instead, I primed the dresser to give the paint some bite with one coat of primer.

Red Antique Empire Dresser Primed

I'm on a mission to use up the paint in the workshop and had just enough Emperor's Silk Annie Sloan Chalk Paint left in the can for three coats.

Antique Empire Dresser Painted Red

To deepen the paint color and give the dresser an aged appearance, I used black wax applied with a round brush, removing the excess with a lint-free rag. I applied more wax along the edges of the dresser, around the drawer fronts, and the carved details. In places where I added too much dark wax, I would dab a little clear wax onto my rag and lightly rub it off.

Red Antique Empire Dresser Dark Waxed

In my stash, I had a set of clear diamond-shaped glass knobs and two lovely embossed glass knobs with ceramic backplates.

Red Antique Empire Dresser Glass Knobs

I painted the backplates with white chalk paint and it's hard to see in the photo below but I rubbed silver gilding wax along the edges.

I'm quite smitten with this antique empire dresser, hence the reason I named it. I really want to keep Holly and I'm doing everything in my power to find a place for her in our home.

Antique Empire Red Dresser

Update January 2019

For several weeks after finishing this makeover I deliberated over whether I made the right decision painting the backplates white. I decided to paint them red like the dresser with dark wax nestled in all the lovely details. I'm so much happier with it now.

Red Antique Empire Dresser Painted Red Backplate

Did I tell you that red is my favorite color? I know I did, just testing you. If you love red painted furniture too, then you may enjoy these French Tilt Top Table and Red Antique Bookcase makeovers. I decoupaged a shopping bag onto this Red Tiered Corner Table. Did you know you can paint fabric? Check out my Red Painted Fabric Arm Chair makeover.

If you have any questions about this makeover, please leave them in the comment section below or press the Contact Me button at the top of the blog to drop me an email. I love hearing from you!


Red Antique Empire Dresser Makeover

Now let's see how my talented friends in the Furniture Fixer Uppers group transformed these furniture pieces...

Furniture Fixer Uppers Group Furniture Before November 2018 Challenge
Press the links below to see the after photos and tutorials...

I share my projects at these inspiring link parties.

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