DIY

The Mid-Century Modern Map Dresser

How in the world did the dresser on the left become the remarkable and eye-catching dresser on the right? I hardly know myself! This project was completely spontaneous and evolved on its own. It’s the piece I received the most compliments on this past weekend at the craft fair/flea market I was a vendor at. I’ve also been asked numerous times by many of you either in person or on instagram or facebook, HOW this look was achieved.

It all started with this flea market I signed up for. I was in way over my head trying to get too many things done in a short amount of time. I wanted to have enough things to fill up the 12 x 12 space I was allotted. This dresser was being used in my boys room for clothes. The bottom drawer wasn’t even being used and the organization was a mess. Since it wasn’t really working well where it was I started thinking it would probably be a good piece to uncover a bit and find out what kind of wood was underneath the existing paint.

So, one day, I took all the drawers out to the garage and began stripping the paint off. After uncovering a little portion of a drawer I realized the wood was Walnut! Walnut is a high quality, beautifully rich wood… definitely worth uncovering. So I continued on.

I have done more paint stripping in the last month than I ever care to do again! I started with Citristrip (my favorite!) but then ran out. I decided to try something a little more affordable and ended up with Ready Strip from Menards. Well, unfortunately this paint remover did not work as well for me and for whatever reason using the 2 different brands on one of the drawers created a stain that I couldn’t remove, even after lots of sanding. I was very, very sad about this.

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You can see the discoloration in the middle drawer. This is a screenshot from my Instastory about this project. You can still watch the highlighted story on my instagram page (Jddecor2018)

I went ahead and finished cleaning up all the drawer fronts and sealed them with a few coats of Shellac, sanding in between each coat. I didn’t need to stain the drawers at all, the color of the wood was beautiful as is even though there were some imperfections here and there.

I was sick of removing paint so I decided to just paint over the main portion of the dresser. I used 2 different paint colors and wanted to try on ombre effect.

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I can’t really explain why this is where I ended up at this point in the process. I was thinking I needed to do some kind of paint design on the front to cover up the imperfections of the wood that were bothering me (even though in this picture the wood looks amazing, up close you could tell). So having it half painted was a necessity. I sealed the paint on the top and sides with 2 coats of Polycrylic.

This dresser is definitely a classic mid-century modern style of furniture. When you have mid-century modern it’s fun to play with bolder colors alongside the natural wood tones. A quick search on pinterest lead me to this super fun inspiration piece by Samantha Pattillo.

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While this is absolutely gorgeous and I seriously contemplated doing something similar, I just felt like it was going to be too complicated for me. Plus, it wasn’t really my style. I want to put a design on furniture that I would also love even if it wasn’t completely within my typical style preferences. This mid-century modern stuff is definitely outside of my comfort zone but it was a challenge I wanted to conquer.

I went back and forth on what to do next. I tried to make my own stencils (FAILED) but I decided I wanted to somehow incorporate a travel theme. Wanderlust is all over the internet and I love to travel anyway. So, the challenge was how to make the ombre colors make sense with the wood drawer fronts and somehow have a travel theme.

Thankfully, I had this giant old map (I purchased mine years ago off ebay, but this link is the same map I have) that had been on our wall for a while but I had taken down because it was too big and hard to hang up. It wasn’t in the best shape and I have another world map that works better for educational purposes. So, I took a major risk and spontaneously decided to cut the map and decoupage it onto the drawers. THIS WAS MY FIRST DECOUPAGE EXPERIENCE!

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After some good old mod-podge and a rolling pin (because I don’t have a brayer)… this is what it looked like (above). A brayer would have worked much, much better. Oh well.


How I decoupaged: I painted a layer of mod-podge all over the area where I wanted the map to go. I wetted the map completely using a spray bottle on both sides. This made the map more pliable and easier to stick to the glue wrinkle free (be careful not to rip it!). After rolling out the wrinkles and air pocket and getting it nice and smooth an additional layer of mod-podge is applied on top.


I tried to cut around the continents as best I could without removing too many islands. I wanted it to be somewhat accurate but if I didn’t cut out the ocean in between the Western and Eastern hemispheres there would have been a lot less land mass on the drawer fronts. Seeing the land masses is cool so I sort of just positioned the map accordingly to cover up the stain in the wood. I wanted to show as many countries as possible without completely losing the wood also.

But leaving it like that didn’t look right. So, then I played around with some other techniques.

After the mod-podge dried and I cut the edges in between the drawers off I took them back out to my garage and began “distressing” the map. The map already looks distressed, but I wanted it to actually be distressed. So I took a 60 grit sandpaper on my orbital sander and began scuffing it up. Certain chunks of the map came off pretty easily and others were tough. I figured if it wasn’t coming off then I did a good job gluing and the portions that did sand off were better off gone anyway. I also used a 220 grit to smooth out the rough edges as well and get a nice clean surface to work with.

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Here it is after all the sanding was done. The distressing/sanding was unpredictable, scary, and a complete experiment. I did also have to scrape off quite a bit of glue with a metal scraper too…being careful not to scratch the wood underneath as well. But if the map was going to be sanded off in some places I needed to be able to see that beautiful wood underneath again.

Once I got everything cleaned up, glue off, sanded smoothly I put another layer of shellac over everything. But, it still didn’t look complete yet. It needed more blending or color or something. I didn’t want it to look like someone just ripped a sticker off an old dresser.

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So, like I shared on instagram, I used my paint again and did a very watery layer on top of the white parts of the map with a little “glazing” the paint over the entire map area. I wanted to add dark wax at the end and having some paint on there would help the wax have something to stick to. I mimicked the same ombre effect I did on the sides so that it would appear that the map got darker towards the bottom.


Side note: How I achieved ombre…
I used 3 different brushes, a spray bottle of water, and a jar with a little of my 2 colors mixed in. I began with the light color and worked my way down until I wanted to see it start blending. Then I started at the bottom with my darkest color and went up. Then I used my mixed third color with a very wet brush and blended. I did this 2 times so there would be 2 coats of paint and that way I could keep tweaking it until I liked how it looked. The spray bottle was to help keep the paint a little wet in case I needed to blend more. Since I already had a 3rd middle color mixed I just put a tiny blob of paint on 3 different paper plates, sprayed a ton of water onto it, and that’s what I used to paint the map on the drawer fronts. The blue ombre effect works so well with this piece because of the travel theme. When flying, or traveling by ship, seeing many different hues of blue in the sky and in the ocean makes blue a perfect travel theme accent color.


After the paint dried and I was happy with the coverage I added a layer of clear wax. I used my Annie Sloan Clear Wax since that is what I had. Then I added the Annie Sloan Dark Wax on top of that to add the final aged and distressed look.

When adding wax, always use the wax last and always apply it and then wipe off the excess. After a day I went back with another cloth and buffed it. The wax really did add the perfect amount of darkening around all those map edges to make it look like it is really supposed to be there and that it was there for a really long time.

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After a day or so I buffed the drawer fronts to help the wax set.

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I was happy and sad to sell this piece at the event. It’s always great to know when a customer appreciates the style and look of something as much as you do and so that gives me a great deal of satisfaction. I think I will definitely try to get a similar look again on something else someday.

Here is the full list of products I used for this project:

Foam brushes – used for sealing with shellac and polycrylic
Citristrip – used to remove existing paint on drawer fronts
Polycrylic – used to seal the paint
Shellac – Brushed on with foam brushes in 1 direction, once dry I sanded lightly and did a second coat. After it dried I buffed it using sandpaper
Mod Podge – used to adhere the map to the dresser
Paint brushes – use your favorite brushes or ones designed for chalk painting
Waxing brushes – LOVE these round brushes for waxing
Annie Sloan Wax – you’ll have to find a retailer near you or browse other waxes
Folkart Home Decor Paint – Nautical color
Dutch Boy Chalky Finish Paint – Color name: Peridot Sparkle
Old Map – this is the one I have, originally bought on ebay
Sandpaper – used 60 & 80 grit for taking off finish, 220 and 120 to distress and smooth map
Orbital Sander – similar to what I have
Nitrile gloves – necessary to protect hands from paint stripper or stain
Fine sandpaper and holder for buffing – similar to what I have, this is very handy to use when buffing and sanding in between coats to give a more gentle control of sanding
Waxing/buffing cloths – for wiping off excess wax and buffing the following day

And the final pictures:

Mid-Century ModernMap Dresser

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Stay tuned for more posts about how the event went and more DIY furniture flips!


This post contains affiliate links to amazon. That means if you click those links and end up making a purchase I get a small commission. It doesn’t change the cost for you but it does help support my furniture flipping! Thank you 🙂


If you have any questions about anything or have any feedback to share please write a comment below! I would love to hear from you.

Till next time!

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