Color Wheel Compliments

End tables4 by Martha Leone Design

These two happened last week as I was impatiently waiting for a layer of paint to dry on my latest mid century dressers. Grabbing some paint, I mixed two shades of a favorite blue and got going on these antique mahogany pieces. I’ve been painting many of the antiques in my shop this blue color and there’s a reason for that: The warm undertones on the wood work well with this cool blue compliment. So, although I like to use a variety of colors in my work, it seems more important to work with colors that enhance the origins of a piece.

Paint: I used Behr Marque paint in eggshell and mixed small batches of homemade chalk paint.* Underneath the top coat is a lighter shade of blue. I achieved this shade of blue, by accidentally mixing too much Plaster of Paris into the paint. Instead of throwing out the batch, I used it to create depth of color and texture.

* Home made chalk paint recipe: 3 parts paint to 1 part Plaster of Paris mixture (mix PoP with water till you get a smooth consistency).

They are available in my ETSY shop if you’re interested!

End tables by Martha Leone Design End tables2 by Martha Leone DesignEnd tables5 by Martha Leone Design End tables6 by Martha Leone Design End tables7 by Martha Leone Design End tables8 by Martha Leone Design

End tables3 by Martha Leone Design

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MCM with Coffin3MCM with Coffin

Both of these pieces were done for customers’ nurseries. I wish I had this sense of modern style when I was pregnant years ago with my kids! For those of you who want to know how I achieve a slick finished look on mid century pieces, a step by step list is below.

The bowl on this dresser was designed and created by Jennifer Coffin, a friend of mine who is an accomplished potter. Her stunning work expresses a vast knowledge of this medium and her experimental techniques never cease to amaze me. Visit her etsy shop where you’ll find more examples of her work. This bowl, along with other pieces in this collection, is available!MCM with Coffin2

#114 MCM Dresser2 by Martha Leone Design #114 MCM Dresser by Martha Leone Design #114 MCM Dresser3 by Martha Leone Design


  1. If a piece is going to be painted:  Use an orbital sander at a low to scuff up the finish.
  2. If a piece is going to be restained: Carefully sand the surface with an orbital sander at a medium to low speed till all stain and finish are removed. Clean then prep with Pre-Stain Conditioner. Follow directions on the container for dry time. Stain with desired stain using a staining pad to apply.
  3. Prime with oil. I use either Zinzer or a Benjamin Moore oil-based primer.
  4. Lightly sand.
  5. Apply paint. I use the Benjamin Moore Advance line of paints for mid century pieces. These white pieces required four coats. That’s typical for me when using white but other colors usually require only two coats to get good coverage. I use 6″ white foam rollers to apply the paint.
  6. Seal:  I use wax for white finishes and either Minwax Wipe-On Polyurethane (applied with a staining pad) or Varathane water-based polyurethane (applied with a brush that is specially designed for this application).
  7. Hardware: When I reuse original hardware and the customer wants a fresh coat of paint on the pulls, here’s what I do: Sand the surface, prime with an automotive spray primer, spray two coats of the desired color, and seal with a spray polyurethane .


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Peacock Blue Chest of Drawers

Peacock Beach Chest by Martha Leone Design Peacock Beach Chest2 by Martha Leone Design Peacock Beach Chest3 by Martha Leone Design Peacock Beach Chest4 by Martha Leone Design

Peacock Beach Chest5 by Martha Leone Design Peacock Beach Chest6 by Martha Leone Design

On any given day, I’ll work on sleek mid century pieces like these where dust and brush marks are the enemy:

Blue Credenza4 by MarthaLeoneDesign77d MCM MarthaLeoneDesignAnd on textured pieces like these:

Black French Dresser8 MarthaLeoneDesign

Anna Table from leondesign

Variety is what makes this job so enjoyable for me. So, while waiting for the oil-based primer to dry on a mid century piece, I started this peacock blue chest of drawers. It served as a nice diversion from the high end, brushless finish I was seeking on the mid century piece.

Peacock Beach Chest by Martha Leone Design


  1. Lightly sanded and cleaned the piece.
  2. Removed the hardware and repaired holes.
  3. Painted one coat of homemade chalk paint using Behr Marque Opera Glasses in criss cross pattern.
  4. Distressed.
  5. Wiped on/off dark walnut stain to tone down color and add dimension to the finish.
  6. Sealed with Minwax wipe-on poly and installed vintage knobs.

(Pay not attention to the unpainted underside of the top… I noticed this after the piece was sold :)

Peacock Beach Chest7 by Martha Leone Design


This piece has been sold but another one has been painted to match this one except for the hardware. If you’re interested, head over to my ETSY shop to take a look.

Classic Red Buffet

#104 Red Buffet by Martha Leone Design

Another recent custom job for a local client. Painted my favorite red (Benjamin Moore AF-290), lightly distressed and sealed with polyurethane. The solid top was sanded and stained a dark walnut color. Original hardware was reused per the customer’s request.

I don’t tire of the messy process of sanding wood, prepping, painting, sealing, etc. There’s something redeeming about stripping away an ugly layer of stain to reveal the raw beauty of a natural product. Take a look:

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photo 1-6photo 2

photo 3#104 Red Buffet4 by Martha Leone Design#104 Red Buffet3 by Martha Leone Design#104 Red Buffet2 by Martha Leone Design#104 Red Buffet by Martha Leone Design


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Empire Coffee Table

Empire7 by Martha Leone Design

Empire by Martha Leone Design Empire2 by Martha Leone Design Empire3 by Martha Leone Design Empire4 by Martha Leone Design Empire5 by Martha Leone Design Empire6 by Martha Leone Design

Introducing an empire table. I’m calling it “empire” because it resembles several of the design features typically found on empire furniture. Empire style was a design movement that flourished between 1804 – 1814 in Europe and eventually spread to America. It takes its name from the rule of Napolean I in the First French Empire. It was intended to idealize his leadership and the French state.

This table will be on its way to its new home in Florida very soon. The paint finish was decided between my customer and me. It’s a clean finish that honors the true beauty of empire style furniture.

Top: Sanded then stained a custom mix of Dark Walnut and a medium toned stain. Sealed with oil-based polyurethane.
Base: Sanded then painted a color similar to Annie Sloan Old Ochre. Waxed.

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The walls
With my last post, I introduced you to my new dark wall in the workshop. As soon as I finished that wall, I knew another wall needed to be painted white for pieces that need to be shot on a light backdrop.Constellation by MarthaLeoneDesign




Constellation5 by MarthaLeoneDesign

Constellation3 by MarthaLeoneDesign

Constellation2 by MarthaLeoneDesign

A design inspired by astronomy has been brewing in my mind for over two years. This first dresser (I’ll be doing more) turned out exactly as I intended. The graphite gray color is scratched and textured and the lines were hand drawn and are imperfect in the execution.

I call it a constellation dresser because my initial intent was to draw several constellations all over the piece. After giving it more thought, I felt as though the composition would feel random and not dramatic enough so instead, I focused on the map lines and singular stars.

Constellation9 by MarthaLeoneDesign

Constellation10 by MarthaLeoneDesign

Constellation8 by MarthaLeoneDesign

Constellation6 by MarthaLeoneDesign

Constellation7 by MarthaLeoneDesign Constellation4 by MarthaLeoneDesign





Instead of giving a step-by-step, I’ll point out the challenge I faced: The desired effect is something like a scratched piece of paper. To get that texture, the painted surface is scratched with 60 grit sandpaper. Problem is that after poly is applied, the texture disappears to large degree. Image 1 and 2 are before poly. Image 3 is after the application of poly.

The solution was to do more scratching with the low-grit sandpaper and add texture with the side of a piece of white chalk.

Constellation13 by MarthaLeoneDesignConstellation14 by MarthaLeoneDesign

Constellation11 by MarthaLeoneDesign

In an attempt to create more starry texture on the surface, I spattered plaster of paris on the surface then sprayed it with a sealer. I tested its permanence by wiping it and as you can imagine, the powder wiped away. I’ll use paint next time rather than the plaster of paris.


Constellation before

If you don’t follow me on Instagram, you missed this picture of my new wall for photoshoots. I painted it last week and love it. The opposite wall was painted white for shoots that require a light background. Some of you may think this particular piece should have been shot on the white wall. I wanted the overall effect of the shot to feel dark which seems fitting for the design concept.

Gray Garage Wall by Martha Leone Design

Constellation by MarthaLeoneDesign

I squeezed this piece into a busy season of custom work. It’s available in my etsy shop!  SOLD


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One can of paint, two paint techniques.


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Navy Nightstand 4 by Martha Leone Design

It’s been a while since I shared a painting tutorial with my readers. I figure you get lots of advice from other furniture painters out there. Rather, my focus is on the creative process and how ideas are formed and expressed. I’ll be writing more on that subject in the future. But for today, here are two projects with a similar look but different painting process:

Homemade chalk paint on an antique petite cabinet 
This piece is old so I knew the homemade chalk paint would adhere well to it.
No priming was necessary.

  1. Cleaned the piece with a rag.
  2. Mixed small batch of homemade chalk paint.
  3. Painted two coats then distressed.
  4. Sealed with polyacrylic although wax would have been a great sealer.
  5. Painted the antique drawer pull and installed.

Navy Nightstand by Martha Leone Design

Navy Nightstand 2 by Martha Leone Design

Navy Nightstand 3 by Martha Leone Design

Navy Blue petite cabinet


Primed and painted mid-century dresser 
This piece needed a glossy finish with minimal distressing.

  1. Cleaned and sanded by hand.
  2. Primed with an oil based tinted Benjamin Moore primer. Used a 6″ roller.
  3. Painted two coats with a 6″ foam roller.
  4. Lightly distressed along the edges.
  5. Used a staining pad to seal with Minwax Wipe-On Poly.
  6. Used original hardware.

Michael Dresser1 by Martha Leone DesignMichael Dresser3 by Martha Leone Design

bassett w silverknobs

For best results, I used staining pads to apply the wipe-on poly and 6″ foam rollers to cover flat surfaces when brush marks aren’t intended.

staining padroller

Follow me on Instagram as I’ll be sharing more process shots in the coming weeks!



Bathroom Cabinet


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Post into

This quote by William Morris, one the greatest textile designers, expresses why artists delve deep into their medium of choice. As a textile designer, he created tapestries, wallpaper, fabrics, and furniture during the British Arts and Crafts movement of the early 20th century. Much of his work is still in production.

His work inspires me to take something as mundane as a bathroom cabinet and turn it into functional beauty. I found this piece at a thrift store, overlooked by other buyers and myself for weeks. Eventually, I couldn’t resist it’s solid construction and industrial drawer pulls. I purchased it for $20 without a thought as to what to do with it.

photo 2

It was missing a top piece and was super dirty. I cleaned it up, painted it and used one of the interior shelves for the top. After casters were installed, it became the much-needed bathroom storage for our kids’ bathroom.

Cabinet by Martha Leone Design

Cabinet3 by Martha Leone Design

Cabinet4 by Martha Leone Design

Cabine5  by Martha Leone Design

Although I sell most of my furniture, some pieces have made their way into the homes of the people I love most in this world… my family. “If I have succeeded in some small way, if only in one small corner of the world, amongst the men and women I love, then I shall count myself blessed…” I am blessed to have family who appreciates my design sensibilities and wants a bit of my work in their homes.

For my sister’s kitchen (click each image for more shots):Black and Gold Buffet

For my mom’s guest room (She and I worked on this together). It was featured in Reloved Magazine.MarthaLeoneDesign 7aReloved Spread

For my cousin’s master bedroom:French Table 1 MarthaLeoneDesign copy

For my daughter’s bedroom:Black French Dresser7 MarthaLeoneDesign

For my nephew’s bedroom:Michael Dresser2 by Martha Leone Design


So grateful to my customers who make it possible for me to work from home doing something I love to do. Last Friday alone, these items were sold, all of them need
to be refinished.

Follow me on Instagram as I’ll be sharing more process shots in the coming weeks!

photo 3photo 5DSCN3544


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Black, White, and Rembrandt

Black-White by Martha Leone Design5

While at the National Gallery of Art yesterday, my daughters and I enjoyed the current exhibit of Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt then walked through the Rembrandt collection. I’ve always been drawn to his work partly due to his magical use of dramatic lighting know as chiaroscuro.

Chiaroscuro is the term used to describe a dramatic use of light and shade to achieve stunning visual effects in a work of art. Rembrandt mastered this technique, pioneered by Leonardo da Vinci, by manipulating light and shadow to create a dramatic atmospheric mood around his focal point.



To be honest, it seems a bit crazy to include images of Rembrandt’s work in this post. What connection could possibly exist between his genius and my work on furniture? Well if you read this blog, you’ll know that I’ve been exploring the concept of contrasts in color and texture. Rembrandt’s mastery of contrasts in the use of light and shadow inspires me to find new ways to express this.

This tall dresser is the next in a series of black and white dressers where I play around with contrasts in texture, color, and finishes.

Black-White6 by Martha Leone Design

Black-White4 by Martha Leone DesignBlack-White3 by Martha Leone Design

Thoughts on hardware

Whenever I can, I buy vintage hardware from my favorite seller, Violette Slippers. I wasn’t decided on the hardware for this piece so I posted options on Instagram. First option repeated the dresser’s horizontal lines, second option was a combo between round and straight lines, and the third option was rusty old round knobs that achieved a nice contrast. And since contrasts are my favorite things, I went with the round knobs.

Follow me on Instagram as I’ll be sharing more process shots in the coming weeks!

photo 1 photo 3Black-White2 by Martha Leone Design Black-White by Martha Leone Design



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Two French Gray and White Pieces and Lessons Learned


French Gray and white 5 by Martha Leone DesignFrench Gray and white 1 by Martha Leone Design French Gray and white 2 by Martha Leone Design French Gray and white 3 by Martha Leone Design French Gray and white 4 by Martha Leone DesignFrench Gray and White 3French Gray and White 2

Meet my latest french provencal pieces. They were painted for a customer who lives in Washington, DC and will be placed adjacent to a bold stenciled wall in the master bedroom. Mixing the classic lines of a french piece with a contemporary stencil pattern will create lots of drama.


Primer: Zinsser oil based primer tinted gray

Colors on dresser: Sherwinn Williams Cityscape and Nebulous White

Colors on drawer pulls: metallic silver and black paint

Sealer: Howard’s wax on frame and drawers; Varathane water-based Polyurethane on top


Lesson learned

The long dresser had been previously painted by someone else and my customer bought it with the intention of having it repainted by me. In order to prepare it for the new paint, I stripped the top and sanded the entire piece. Here’s a list of problems I noticed in the green/yellow paint job and suggested remedies. Feel free to add to my suggestions! It’s great to learn from fellow painters!

Problem: The green and gold paint were applied in very thick layers.

Remedy: Whether you use a roller or paint brush, always apply thin coats rather than one thick coat and allow paint to dry between coats. Sometimes I use Floetrol which is an additive to latex paint that slows down the drying process and thus allows the paint to flow more smoothly and keeps it wet so that you can avoid those unsightly pull marks you get from paint that dries too quickly during application.

Problem: Paint was applied on the inside and outside of the dresser frame and to the drawers’ edges.

Remedy: Don’t do this unless absolutely necessary! I’ve found that many drawers in dressers built during the mid 1940s-1970s slide into their dresser frame without much wiggle room. So painting the sides and top edges of drawer fronts can be tricky and cause sticking, etc. If I paint those parts, I tend to paint in very thin layers or not at all.

Problem: The green/yellow paint didn’t cure although the piece had been painted weeks before I received it.

Remedy: Oh my goodness people, we really need to take care to properly prep our pieces. I’m guilty of taking short cuts in the past and they almost never pay off. I sand almost every piece I paint, even if I’m using Annie Sloan Chalk Paint although her paint is amazing and doesn’t really need that extra step.

So, what solutions have your found to common painting problems?

French Gray and White


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