A Perfect Gray Blue

November 16, 2010

Do you have a signature color?  The one hue you turn to time and again that brings you happiness, soothes your soul, and brings you constant comfort?   There is such a color in my world, and it is the perfect gray blue.  The color that brings to mind a hazy afternoon in Provence, or a cloudy day on the Côte d’Azur.  (I’m guessing, I’ve never been, but a girl can dream!)  I swear, every time I see a well executed combo of white and dark wood with a beautiful gray blue, I completely melt like buttah!

Whenever I hear designers talk about their perfect ‘gray’ or ‘blue’ I’m all ears, but my personal quest for the perfect gray+blue continues.  It can’t be too blue, or it looks like a baby boy’s pastel nursery.  It can’t be too gray because it will feel lifeless and devoid of color.  Capturing the perfect shade of gray blue is a tricky thing I tell you.  It has to be just right!

Enter this little dresser I found at the local thrift.  Definitely in need of some love, and with such lovely curved drawers, I couldn’t pass it up!  It became the perfect specimen to test yet another shade of gray blue.

Here’s the sweet little dresser ‘Before':

honey dresser before


And After:

cg dresser gray blue


Here’s the quick play by play on this charming dresser.  It was pretty sad when I found it and had taken some abuse, but at $40, I still couldn’t pass it up.  Perfect shape!  It could have been restained if I had sanded it down, but I decided to paint instead.


sad top


In several places, the drawer fronts were chipped, so I filled in the gaps with a few layers of wood filler (allow to dry between layers) and then sanded smooth with a medium grit sanding pad.

patch and sand

95% of the time, I prime, but I didn’t this time, just like with this other dresser, because I wanted to allow for a bit of distressing around the edges, and priming makes it more difficult to reveal the wood underneath once you’re done painting.

Originally, I picked the color ‘Old Fashioned’ by True Value’s line of paints, but it was too pale, so I mixed in one part of the paint from this credenza to four parts of True Value’s ‘Old Fashioned’ to arrive at my perfect gray blue!


mix paint


Here’s a tip when your brushing latex paint on furniture: try the additive Floetrol.  It’s a paint conditioner (not thinner) that lengthens your drying time and minimizes both brush strokes and drag in your paint, just like the Penetrol for oil based paints I mentioned here.  

  add floetrol


People sometimes ask me if I paint the inside of furniture.  If it’s real wood like this piece, my answer is ‘rarely’.  I like the contrast of the raw wood interior, and too many layers of paint on your drawers can make them stick, so I say skip it.


dont paint insides


Here’s another tip for getting a super smooth finish on painted furniture when you’re not spraying on the paint: use an excellent quality brush.  Here, I’m using my favorite angled Purdy paintbrush.  They’re pricier than your average home improvement store brand, but completely worth it, you can’t beat the quality!  If you take good care of them, they will last you for years.

I love a true antique brass finish (not that super shiny sheen leftover from the nineties) so I used a little Brasso cleaner to remove layers of tarnish from the existing pulls and key holes, then I added some new knobs to the top this dresser.  {Here’s a quick peek at my favorite silver polish too.  It’s a cream formula and comes with a sponge, so it’s like cold cream for all your silver and silver plate.  I use it to polish up the antique silver for parties, try it, you’ll love it!}


brasso and silver cream


use brasso


I gave the dresser a coat of Polycrylic to protect the finish and preserve it over time.  Now this bureau looks so polished and pretty!  Don’t you love those little key holes?  They’re real!  I wish I had the keys that go with this piece, sadly they’re long gone.


cg hardware blue gray dresser


I compared the colors on the True Value paint swatch card, and the next color down is pretty darn close to what I mixed!  It’s called ‘Reward’, how appropriate is that?


reward paint true value


This lovely little lady now sits in the foyer, but I’m in a quandary now.  You see, there are two dressers in the entry now, can a girl have two in one space?  Isn’t that overkill?  I think this one will have to be sold soon, but I’m going to enjoy it for few months, and likely sell it in the spring.  That is, if I can bear to part with it!


dresser in foyer 2


cg gray blue dresser boy


Fabulous storage, classic style, and the perfect place to drop keys and mail, what more could I ask for?

Have you also found the perfect shade of gray blue?  What’s your signature color that you turn to time and again when you decorate your home?

**This revamp was featured on Apartment Therapy, check out the full post here!

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168 Responses to “A Perfect Gray Blue”

  1. Krissy says:

    Ok I have a dresser that the drawer fronts are chipped but it almost looks like a seperate layer of wood (if that makes sense). I can’t tell from your before picture if your drawers were chipped like mine. I thought of putting a new layer of luan (sp?) on the drawer fronts and painting from there but now I’m thinking maybe I should wood fill them. Any advice or closer up pictures of the chipped drawers before the filler? Thanks!

  2. Barb Vlack says:

    Kate, I love what you did with this piece! Have you thought to try a locksmith to get a key for those drawer locks? I was successful when I searched for one for an antique chest. Those drawer locks are not meant for high tech security. It seems that one key might fit all.

  3. Classy and cool cool blue! Well done!

  4. Kathy says:

    Oh how I love. I’ve made the mistake of reading this before work and now I want to do nothing but stay home and read your blog…and then go thirsting…and then paint. Thanks for all the detail you provide.

  5. Kathy says:

    I meant THRIFTING!!!! Autofill OFF!

  6. It is such a pretty color. Blue has always been my favorite color, although the hue and tone of my favorite blue changes through the years.

  7. Shaunna says:

    Absolutely beautiful, Kate. I’m also on the quest for the perfect gray-blue. I just painted our bedroom in almost the exact color…and am about to paint a dresser as well. You know i love your work! -shaunna :)

  8. Violettia says:

    You can generally have keys made quite easily for these kinds of pieces. Visit your local locksmith and ask! They would be a wonderful addition to your gorgeous piece.

  9. lynne says:

    I LOVE what you did with this darling dresser. I too have a painted antique piece at my entryway beneath my stairs except mine is “shabby chic” white. Have you ever noticed an odd smell in your old dressers? Sometimes it seems like moth balls an other times its just an old smell. Is there anything you’ve done to successfully eliminate odors?

  10. Alyssa says:

    I really love the lines of the piece! That’s a great gray-blue with the color handles you have on it. For me, the gray-blue issue sometimes even depends on lighting, which must also depend on where you live, I’d think. Here we have fairly strong sunlight, so color tends to really edge toward the blue rather than the gray most days. Maybe that’s just me though.

  11. Oh, no, you CAN’T sell it – it’s perfect! Love the colour, and the hardware came out great. And I love the glass float displayed on top of the dresser :-)

    I wouldn’t say that I have a signature paint colour, but everybody knows that I love purple :-)


  12. I totally know what you mean about the perfect Gray Blue. I just painted the interior of our entire house different shades of gray blue. Love it.

  13. Jolee says:

    I have some antique furniture that had working locks but no keys. I removed the locks and took them to a local locksmith. They were able to give me replacement skeleton keys for all my antique locks and they were very inexpensive. Good Luck!

    BTW, the dresser looks great–I am painting some furniture now and I am having a very hard time getting a good finish. Your tips came at just the right time :)

  14. Oh. My. Fabulousness. Your transformations are always so lovely and this piece is truly inspiring me to finally refinish my living room set before the holidays!!! The color you selected is divine and the hardware is a-maz-ing. Thanks for all the details about the process – I’m a total clutz and spray-painting success always eludes me. I can’t wait to put your tips into action! ;))

  15. This turned out great–just like all your projects!

    Warmly, Michelle

  16. Ellen says:

    It looks Fabulous….smiles.

  17. Shreya says:

    It looks so very lovely!

  18. ellen says:

    Thanks for all your amazing step by step tips on producing the end result – i especially love the picture of the tag from the thrift store and the price of $40.00 ! It is so worth looking for treasures amongst the discarded and tragic looking discards. BTW, I think you can have two dressers if you want.

  19. Claire Rose says:

    The blue gray color looks divine on the chest and perfectly fits the nook beneath the staircase. My colr is deep toile blue -check out my blog for my newest creation-at Bless My Nest!

  20. lucy says:

    hey, I have that exact dresser in my bedroom!! mine is the natural finish tho, but i LOVE how it looks painted!

  21. Andrea Larson says:

    My favorite blue/gray is Silver Marlin (Benjamin Moore). Just painted my bedroom and bathroom and want to do my whole house in it!!!

  22. Love it! Thanks for all the tips on the painting and the Brasso product.

  23. Amy says:

    I am in love with this dresser. So sweet! Especially those drawer pulls.

  24. You did an excellent job refurbishing this really nice piece of furniture.
    If it was mine, I know I wouldn’t give it away, even if I had to bear with two dressers.
    Thank you so much for the detailed step by step instructions.

  25. B. Anna says:

    I am so in-love with your signature gray-blue. I have been looking for something in that range. Thanks for sharing. I am so tempted to paint furniture, but wouldn’t attempt it on anything I currently own. Even if I have a few large pieces dated in the post 1900’s they are in excellent shape, not to mention, I got amazing prices for them. Still they weren’t dirt cheap and gnarly looking that I would attempt painting them. I’ll keep my eyes peeled for projects I can test your ideas on. It seems folks on craigslist ask absurd prices for their junk; it feels as though I’m paying them so I can move their unwanted misfits. I wish I could find the bargains you get.

  26. Tara says:

    I’m not sure if two dresses are overkill, bu this one looks like it was built for that little space by your stairs!

  27. you’ve hit me where I live. That color is indeed, perfect and the chest looks great in the foyer.

    great job.


  28. Jill says:

    As Lynne asked above, I would also like to know if you have any tips for getting that old mothball smell out of antique furniture. I inherited a bedroom set from my great uncle that is fabulous but many of the drawers have a mothball odor. I have tried wiping out the drawers, spraying febreeze in them and letting them air out. This only works for a few days and the smell returns. I pack my clothes in the drawers with scented fabric softener dryer sheets but this also only works briefly. Any ideas?

  29. Phyllis says:

    Kate, I love your gray-blue. Besides the gustavian blues, I also love sky blues and turquoises. Thank you for sharing your paint color name and the mix you used.

    I have had great luck finding keys for dressers and hutches at antique shops and lock smith shops. If you can take a drawer in to a shop, they can usually find a key that works – they seem to be pretty generic. When I find skeleton keys at antique shops, I buy them. It is a nice bit of serendipity when a piece of furniture that the key will work in shows up not too long after.

    Scented dryer sheets, febreeze, etc. are “perfumes” that just mask the odor temporarily and are not healthy to use. If the odor has penetrated the wood, you have to use something that will draw the odor molecules out of the wood. I’ve had pretty good luck getting rid of smells by using ground coffee. I fill a knee-high hose with some grinds and put in in each drawer or trunk. I’ve heard that unscented cat litter or activated charcoal (buy at pet store) work too, but I haven’t tried those. Setting an item out in the sun for a few hours also helps, but you have to be very careful that the wood doesn’t dry out and split. Follow up with a thorough cleaning using Murphy’s oil soap.

  30. Aly says:

    if you end up selling it, i’ll TAKE IT!

  31. lisa says:

    I love dressers and two of them are not too many in one room. Makes sense why my husband has dubbed me the furniture queen!

    My perfect shade of grey that I just found is “Light French Gray” by Behr. I fell in love with the name and then went gaga once it went on the walls. We just did the dining room and now I’m thinking the bedroom is next.

  32. Michelle says:

    hi! I have a dresser that I want to paint for my son. its in great condition but I just want to change the color. It is light stained wood with a clear coat of shiney-ness on it! Should I sand that off? stip it off? or just paint on it?? please help. thanks!

  33. Lauren says:

    I have a question! Did you sand the dresser at all before you painted it?

  34. If you love blue-grey, the color of clouds… move to Seattle. You’ll enjoy the sky Spring, Fall, and Winter! We’re dying for sunshine out here, but seeing your wonderful paint job and how cool the dresser is cheered me up. Don’t worry about 2 dressers in the foyer – looks like one is at one end and the other is far enough away and different enough to store other things.

    Scarves, mittens, headbands and winter stuff in one? And summer sweaters, cycling jackets, and other light clothing – besides maybe some short vases that inspire your choice of flowers from the garden? Love it.

  35. Lori says:

    I just love what you’ve done with this dresser! Don’t sell it and if you consider it. . . I’ll buy it:) My favorite color is pale blue and I too have painted most of the rooms in my home (and hallways) a pale grey/blue. Thanks for the inspiration!

  36. Claire says:

    Does anyone have suggestions for a good furniture wax that can be used for distressing purposes(i’ve heard its nice if it has a brownish tint to it?). Thanks for any advice!

  37. Rebecca says:

    Regarding the smell – I found out by happenstance that much of the smell is in the floor of the drawers. I have two similar dressers (ha! No furniture problem here…) that had badly warped or soiled drawer bottoms. After replacing them with 1/8″ finish plywood there is no discernible smell.

    One will stay as iss and I still need to paint the other. This is great inspiration.

  38. Christina says:

    Wow!! Love what you’ve done with this dresser! Going to dig in my basement this afternoon to see what I can do with an inherited dresser that I thought was not presentable. Great tips!! Thank you for your inspiration :)

  39. angela says:

    I love your site. I did professional faux finishing for over 10 years and yet you break it down so simply. Love all your ideas.

  40. Lorraine says:

    I have a dresser that I believe is identical to yours. I refinished mine (stain) and turned it into a bathroom vanity for my master bathroom. Love what you did to yours.

  41. Bethany says:

    My absolute favorite color of paint is call driftwood gray by Martha Stewart Living. You can get it at home depot – it’s a perfect gray blue.

  42. Joanne says:

    Absolutely beautiful!

  43. Brooke says:

    I just posted my makeover of this EXACT SAME DRESSER :) Your’s looks amazing!

  44. Monica says:

    Hello… for the drawer pulls… did you leave them soaking in brasso or rub them with a lot of elbow grease? I ask cause I have some and it’s taking quite a bit of work to get them looking decent. Any tips would be great!

  45. Dawn says:

    HI, love your postings and your two tone dresser. I am painting 50 year old bedroom set that belonged to my Grandparents. My issue is getting a smooth coat of polycrylic. I keep getting brush lines / it shows as a differnt techture on the finish. I am using purdy brushes. What can I do to get a better, smooth, finish? Thank you for your advice! Thank you Dawn

  46. Heather says:

    LOVE this piece. I too have an old dresser with key holes -working key holes. A friend suggested that I try a skeleton key -should be able to get one at the lock smith. I havn’t made it that far on that project, however it will be my next stop!

  47. CentsationalGirl says:

    Hi Dawn, I’ve stopped using paintbrushes for the Polycrylic, instead I use those inexpensive one application sponge brushes, they provide a MUCH smoother protective coat.

  48. Jewelsy says:

    I have two of those little vintage dressers sitting in my garage right now. I have been wanting to paint them for a while. I love the step by step instructions. I am looking forward to exploring your site some more. I have a lot of furniture that I can repurpose.

  49. mitzi says:

    Hi Kate, Love your ideas & detailed instructions. Is Chalk paint the same as Milk paint? Do you have to use wax over it? —– I too have problems with smells in older furniture. Dresser & trunk left in garage smell musty- like an OLD TENT. Wanted to store gloves, hats, boots & blankets — but they get ruined. I tried cat litter, air fresheners etc… but not coffee or charcol or sunlight yet — I’ll try them now, thanks for the ideas everyone! I thought mabe I’d have to use spray primer inside & out to block the smell. Still might have to — hope not! Thanks Again!!

  50. CentsationalGirl says:

    Hi Mitzi, it’s tough getting smells out of old furniture, I’ve found the best way is simply to air it out for a few days outside – also try baking soda inside the drawers, a natural deoderizer. Also chalk paint and milk paint are different, they have different formulas, milk paint comes dry and is mixed with water, chalk paint is made by Annie Sloan and it’s designed for furniture.

  51. Jackie Toye says:

    Love it!!! Baking soda, carpet fresh and leaving it out in the open works wonders. And believe it or not, “Dirt” Bowls of it shoveld from your yard in the drawers. We’ve purchased some pretty funky smelling old furniture.

  52. Genevieve says:

    Kate! I totally understand your love of dressers and NO WAY can you have too many! Or at least that is what I keep telling my hubby! I actually purchased a similar dresser from my local consignment store for $65 and was trying to find that PERFECT shade of grey…who KNEW there were so many! LOVE the color you have picked here and was so thankful you told us how to paint it. I am a novice and looking forward to starting my first project ;) As for this dresser, are you still selling it? How do you sell it? What would be the price point? I MIGHT be interested (shush…don’t hell the hubby :)) I am LOVING your website and as I posted this dresser to my pinterest, I realized in fact that I had already done so once before. Has to be a pretty great dresser if I feel in love with it twice :) Genevieve

  53. Kimberly says:

    I have one more question, did you remove the key hole plates before painted, and if so… how did you without damaging them?

  54. CentsationalGirl says:

    Hi Kimberly, they had tiny nails that attached them to the piece, so I carefully removed them then nailed them back into place.

  55. Kate says:

    I have almost the exact same dresser, except the curve extends through the whole piece. I definitely went the cheap brush route and got some brush marks, so thanks for the “don’t be a cheapo with the brush!” tip.

    BTW-I saw another one that is really similar to this with only slightly less damage in a shop in Ojai CA for $500, so you got quite the deal!

  56. Gretta says:

    I should own stock in Purdy. Absolutely RIGHT about Purdy brushes. I bought a similar dresser in much worse shape (no top) & plan on having a top made; also, I like to line old pieces (either in compartments with doors or inside drawers) that are ratty inside with vinyl wallpaper. In most cases the adhesive on “self-adhesive” wallpaper is sufficient; it solves the odor problem and is pretty as well as washable.

  57. This article has been great inspiration for me because I have a dresser I just bought at a garage sale that I wanted to perk up! The grey blue color is amazing! I look forward to applying the same method with my own twist! Thanks for breaking it down so well!



  58. frank says:

    I love how it turned out, now ill have to reconsider throwing away or giving away my furniture if i knew i can transform old to new. since you didnt use a primer would you still be able to use wood polish products on the furniture? will i break apart the paint as you clean?

  59. Jami says:

    This transformation is amazing! I love it! I am working on a table and have finally decided to take the plunge with Floetrol. At this point, I am all done with the table, but the top is not smooth enough for me (I used the sponge roller suggested by the SW folks), so I sanded again and will try mixing some Floetrol into the ProClassic, but how much? I only need a small amount of paint, so I do not want to mix up a whole gallon. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thank you!

  60. CentsationalGirl says:

    Hi Jami, I mix Floetrol and paint in a separate plastic container, those dollar ones from the paint department, I use more than recommended, probably double, try that! It won’t hurt the paint.

  61. Edie says:

    I’m so glad I stumbled onto your blog. I’m really into painted furniture now, however Hubby is more interested in REFINISHING his granny’s art deco style dresser than painting it. Not my choice but totally his call (this time). Do you have any projects that might help?

  62. Abbey says:

    LOVE your blog. Your voice in your writing makes me giggle! I think I see a little one running up the stairs in one of these shots. How in the world do you do these projects with kids? I have twin 20 month olds and would LOVE to re-do an old dresser for their new big girl bedroom, but have no idea when I’d find the time.

  63. Meredith says:

    Hi Kate!
    I have been following your blogs for a while now and I love them :) I am planning on repainting my home soon and was wondering what brand and paint color you have on your walls in the foryer. It is the perfect tan color I have been looking for! Beautiful dresser make over by the way :)

  64. CentsationalGirl says:

    Hi Meredith, all of the paint colors in my home are under the “paint on my walls” button in the sidebar!

  65. shay says:

    Thank you for posting this, I have a very similar dresser and was thinking about painting it grey, I had know idea where to begin. Now I do! Thanks love your web site.

  66. Ann says:

    I LOVE this!!! I was especially attracted to your mention of Provence (I have been there numerous times) and you are 100% correct. There is a certain French blue that is difficult to get your hands on. Thank you so much for sharing. This will be my next project! Ann

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