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 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



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.

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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!

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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



Linking up: Sand and Sisal/Inspire Me Monday  •  Mod Vintage Life  •  By Stephanie Lynn  •  Savvy Southern Style  •  The Golden Sycamore  •  Miss Mustard Seed  •  Liz Marie Blog

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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Gray and Brown Credenza

BrownGray credenza by Martha Leone Design BrownGray credenza2 by Martha Leone Design BrownGray credenza3 by Martha Leone Design

Meet my latest mid-century piece. It sat in my garage for some time as I hesitated to work on it, operating under the wrong assumption that the top was covered with formica (I don’t like to paint formica).

Sketchbook in hand, I imagined a fluid asymmetrical design washing across this piece in analogous shades of muted reds and oranges. The plan changed when I sat in front of the piece, staring at its lines. A decision was made. Instead of contrasting its modular design with curvy fluid shapes, I embraced what was already there and simply emphasized the original design with three neutral colors.

Design revised
The original idea was to balance dark and light stain in an asymmetrical design. I numbered the drawers and placed them on the floor for staining. After the piece was completed, I inserted them into the dresser only to find out that the middle left and right drawers were switched by mistake! Here’s the design as I intended it with the two drawer switched:

Wrong drawers on #55 copy copy

It’s important to be flexible and roll with our mistakes so instead of stubbornly holding to my original design (which would have meant sanding both drawers again), I switched the drawers and stepped back to take a look.

BrownGray credenza by Martha Leone Design

Yeah. This was better. Mistakes are good, aren’t they?

Here’s a before shot:

#55 before shot

Anyone who shoots their own work probably understands the benefits of apps that help correct lighting and color. I use Adobe Photoshop. Here’s a raw photo before it was corrected and cropped.

before cropping:color correcting

It’s headed to Peg Leg Vintage this weekend and will be available for sale.

Last week was a favorite work week because I thrive when I’m surrounded by variety and contrasts. While working on this piece I was also working on its opposite: a custom french provencal chest of drawers. Here’s a sneak peek of that piece. I’ll share more photos next week.

French Gray and white 4 by Martha Leone Design




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No. 99 Red

99 Red by Martha Leone Design 99b Red by Martha Leone Design 99c Red by Martha Leone Design 99d Red by Martha Leone Design 99e Red by Martha Leone DesignIn previous posts, I’ve written about the importance of teaching my kids how to manage money. When I started this business two years ago, it dawned on me that my kids could assist, helping with sanding, priming, etc. They eventually took on some of their own projects as they learned basic prep and painting techniques. This little partnership between my kids and me has grown to the point where now they buy furniture from me and do the work without much supervision. My involvement in their projects includes helping with choice in hardware and paint color, application of the sealer, photographing the finished piece, and posting it to etsy.

No. 99 is the latest piece by Grace, my 14 year old. The red paint has a transparent quality to it, even after two coats. It was sealed with Varathane water-based poly. It was offered for sale on etsy and craigslist and was sold in a week, much to the delight of my daughter!

Other samples of Grace’s work
(click each image to be take to the original post)

- She and I worked on this beautiful red piece together:

FairfaxDresser7 Martha Leone Design

Red Atomic Dresser

Anthony’s work

TV Console MarthaLeoneDesign1


Anna’s workAnna Table from leondesign

Gray Console2

79 Petite by Martha Leone Design  


Linking to: Miss Mustard Seed

Recent inventory

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Ok. Well it’s no secret among those who follow my blog, friends, and family that I’m really into old furniture, especially early 20th century and mid-century pieces. In the bits of time I have to shop during the summer months, I’ve found a few beauties. Most of these have been found in the past few weeks and each piece is uniquely beautiful even before the transformation it will probably undergo.
↑  This mid century dresser is just too cool for words. I found it last week.

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↑  A super solid wood piece with a basic design. I’m not sure what I’ll do with this piece yet but do know that the beautiful solid wood top will get sanded and stained.

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↑  This French Provençal buffet is tall and just downright beautiful. What a great find.

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↑  Lane end tables. They’re solid and clean. I’ll probably paint them glossy white and clean the gold accents.

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↑  Two wood end tables. The proportions of the skinny legs and the long heavy tops seem whimsical to me.

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↑  I’m reserving this piece for the friend who sold it to me. She has recently moved and if she finds a spot for it in her new house, I’ll redo it for her as a house warming gift. It’s super cool and made of solid wood. I’m not sure of its age. Is it late 18th century???

bassett wiht silverknobs

This is the matching dresser to my Bassett in Industrial Black and White. Thanks to my good friend Cynthia for finding this piece.

Petite Knapp Dresser

↑  This piece was constructed in the late 19th century. The knapp joints date it to exactly between 1870-1900 when these unique joints were used. If you want more info on this, check out my Knapp Dresser post. With the custom services part of my business growing, I won’t be getting around to developing ideas for these pieces any time soon which means they will need to be shoved to the side in my workshop to make room for custom pieces and Peg Leg Vintage pieces coming in. I think it’s time to rent a storage unit.

#91 Before

↑  This piece is reserved for Peg Leg Vintage. A matching tall chest and nightstand were recently completed in glossy black with silver accents.


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