Dressing tables give a room a touch of old-fashioned luxury and hark back to an era when people weren't so rushed. But they're not just decorative furniture. With a large mirror, ample tabletop space and drawers for personal grooming items, a dressing table is a functional addition to your bedroom or bath. If you've found one at a garage sale or own an old one that needs updating, a coat of paint or varnish will work wonders in restoring it.
Preparing the Table
Depending on the age and condition of your dressing table, you may need to do some preliminary work before starting your refinishing project. Start by pulling out all the drawers, removing all the knobs, handles and mirror, and giving all the surfaces a good dusting with a tack cloth. Check the table for soundness. If screws are loose, tighten them. If a leg is wobbly and needs to be reglued, now's the time to do so. You want your dressing table to be as structurally sturdy as possible before you start. Then, move all the pieces onto a plastic drop cloth or waterproof tarp in a well-ventilated area such as an open garage or porch.
Completing the Refinishing
The success of a complete refinishing project depends on getting down to bare wood; otherwise, the new finish won't adhere properly. A variety of paint and varnish strippers are available. Chemical strippers work faster, but eco-friendly solutions are on the market. Apply the stripper to the table per the manufacturer's instructions; allow it to penetrate the finish, then scrape with a paint scraper. Use a metal pick or toothbrush for corners, scroll work and other spots hard to reach with a scraper. You'll probably need to repeat this process several times to remove all the old finish. Once the finish is entirely gone and the wood is dry, sand the outside of the dressing table with medium grit sandpaper, followed by fine grit. Wipe down with a tack cloth to remove all dust.
Varnishing the Table
If you're performing a complete refinishing, chances are you're going to be varnishing the dressing table. Use a high-quality paint brush to apply the varnish and work in a well-ventilated area. You may want to wear a respirator mask if you're sensitive to fumes. Apply the varnish carefully and slowly to avoid air bubbles or drips. If you plan on staining the wood, do so before applying the varnish. Allow the stain plenty of time to dry before varnishing.
Painting Over Paint
If the dressing table is painted, you may be able to simply paint over the existing paint, but you'll still need to prepare it. If the paint is heavily soiled, you can wash it with a trisodium phosphate solution, available at home centers. Allow it to dry, then sand the entire surface with medium grit sandpaper, including all the crevices, corners and scroll work. Wipe up all the dust with a tack cloth. Mask off the mirror with painter's tape and newspaper and apply a coat of primer tinted the same color as your topcoat. Give the primer 24 hours to dry before applying the topcoat.