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


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


Linking up: StoneGable •  Mod Vintage Life  •  Domestically Speaking  •  The Dedicated House  •  Savvy Southern Style  •  The 36th Avenue  •  The Golden Sycamore  •  Miss Mustard Seed  •  Liz Marie Blog  •  The Interior Frugalista  •  Finding Silver Pennies

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

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




Linking up to these fine parties: Mod Vintage Life  •  Stone Gable  •  City Farmhouse/Inspiration Exchange

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

photo 4

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.

photo 3

↑  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.

 photo 2

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

photo 1

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

photo 6

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

photo 5

↑  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.

Dixie Buffet in Light Gray

SS buffet2 at Martha Leone DesignSS buffet1 at Martha Leone Design SS buffet3 at Martha Leone Design SS buffet4 at Martha Leone Design SS buffet5 at Martha Leone DesignHere’s a quick introduction to a classic piece. I have had the privilege of painting two dressers similar to this one. This style of furniture isn’t quite my style but I can’t help but appreciate its clean and formal look. The veneer top has taken well to sanding and staining every time I’ve tackled this particular make of furniture. Without over designing of over thinking the color scheme, it’s been refreshed with a clean shade of light gray. The top has been sanded and stained dark walnut and sealed with Varathane polyurethane in satin. It’s a favorite with my customers. Sells so quickly every time.

Steeplechase Buffet 1


Linking up to: City Farmhouse/Inspiration Exchange  •  Miss Mustard Seed  •  Liz Marie Blog  •  The 36th Avenue

Furniture Accessorizing on Hometalk

Many of us have discovered the art of painting and decorating furniture. As much as I enjoy painting, accessorizing a newly painted piece can be even more exciting. Recently, Hometalk asked me to curate a board of accessorizing ideas for furniture. I focused my choices on dressers that boast great hardware. Successful hardware should compliment a piece and highlight its style rather than compete with it. These 18 examples found on Hometalk are effective and can serve as inspiration for us as we work on our next piece.





Empire by Martha Leone Design copy Empire2 by Martha Leone Design Empire3 by Martha Leone Design Empire4 by Martha Leone Design Empire5 by Martha Leone Design Empire6 by Martha Leone DesignApologies to everyone who can’t believe I allowed paint to touch this piece. I held on to this amazing dresser for two years before painting it last week. I could barely bring myself to paint it although I’ve seen many examples of beautifully painted empire pieces that other furniture painters have done. I intended to restore it to its original beautiful finish but ultimately decided to paint it white. It’s a tall and heavy piece and the light color helps tone down its potentially overwhelming presence in a room. The original finish was in bad shape and the crack across the top diminished its value.

It’s been painted three coats of white then waxed to a soft lustre.


This incredible piece was constructed in the mid 1800’s and has been signed by its maker. It’s a difficult piece to find and boasts all of those great design qualities that are indicative of empire furniture. The large antique glass drawer pulls might not be original to the piece.

It’s for sale in my Etsy shop and on Krrb.

Empire before



Linking to: Miss Mustard Seed

Waterfall #3

Waterfall3 by MarthaLeoneDesign Waterfall3a by MarthaLeoneDesign Waterfall3b by MarthaLeoneDesign Waterfall3c by MarthaLeoneDesign Waterfall3d by MarthaLeoneDesign Waterfall3e by MarthaLeoneDesign Waterfall3f by MarthaLeoneDesign Waterfall3g by MarthaLeoneDesign Waterfall3h by MarthaLeoneDesign Waterfall3i by MarthaLeoneDesign Waterfall3j by MarthaLeoneDesign

Thoughts on Design and Color
I’ve been developing my personal style and most enjoy my job when I’m creating bold statement pieces like this one. I’ve done other pieces in a similar style and thankfully, they have been well received by customers who want unique pieces of functional art for their home. If you follow my blog, you’ve probably noticed that most of my recent pieces are black and white. Two of my favorite colors, these neutrals lend well to this type of design when the composition is bold and a bit avant garde for the conservative Washington, DC market. Pairing my compositions with original hardware supports the desire to honor the origins of a piece of furniture.  I’m a sucker for original hardware especially when it’s as amazing as these bakelite pulls (not exactly sure if they’re bakelite).

More pieces like this one can be found here. If you missed the other waterfall dressers, here they are: Waterfall 1 and Waterfall 2.

This piece is available for sale.  UPDATE: SOLD and on its way to Brooklyn, NY.


Linking up to: Miss Mustard Seed  •  Sand and Sisal  •  City Farmhouse/The Inspiration Exchange

Black and white in the kitchen and on another dresser


Drexel3 B-W by MarthaLeoneDesignDrexel2 B-W by MarthaLeoneDesign Drexel B-W by MarthaLeoneDesign Drexel4 B:W by MarthaLeoneDesignThis is one of those monstrous pieces that we don’t attempt to bring inside for proper styling and photographing. It’s a monster… but a good looking one. This type of furniture isn’t my style but I can appreciate its construction and quality. It’s a Drexel and has been painted in two of my all-time favorite color combinations. I’ve always believed that the larger the piece, the more neutral it should be.

I hand sanded the piece then primed it with a water based gray-tinted primer. This preparation is necessary when you’re going to paint a piece with latex paint (as opposed to chalk or milk paint). Ultimately, this step wasn’t necessary as I changed my mind after priming. Instead of using latex paint only, I made a batch of black and white homemade chalk paint. After two coats, it was sanded and sealed with Varathane water-based polyurethane in satin and sold soon after.

Using black and white in our house
These are a few vignettes of our house. Brackets for the shelf on the kitchen back wall were purchased from Design2Create. The reclaimed piece of wood was purchased at Second Chance in Baltimore, MD. Photographs were taken by Rebecca with RCA Colors.  The white area underneath the shelf will eventually be tiled.
Kitchen Martha Leone Kitchen 3 Martha Leone kitchen 2 Martha Leone

I painted this platter from Ikea black and white.

Still Life Martha Leone

Here’s what it looks like before painting:




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