Resources for Mid Century Furniture Transformations


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Petite Buffet4 by Martha Leone DesignPetite Buffet by Martha Leone Design

Basic Witz sideboard in Benjamin Moore Aura Super White. Wood has been sanded then sealed with Varathane Polyurethane in Satin.Petite Buffet2 by Martha Leone DesignPetite Buffet3 by Martha Leone Designphoto 4

Renee4 Mid Century by Martha Leone Design
Mid century dresser painted in Benjamin Moore Aura Super White and sealed with Howard Citrus Shield Premium Paste Wax. Wood has been sanded then stained with Minwax Dark Walnut Stain then sealed with Varathane Polyurethane in Satin.Renee2 Mid Century by Martha Leone DesignRenee3 Mid Century by Martha Leone Design


Today I’m sharing two recently finished mid century pieces. These types of pieces have become the bread and butter of my business. After much trial (and some error), I have found the products in this post to produce the best results on mid century pieces. A detailed description of how I paint mid century furniture can be found here.



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I use various brands of paint but for mid century pieces that require a brushless finish, I use Benjamin Moore Aura in Satin, Benjamin Moore Advance in Satin, or General Finishes Milk Paint. These are high quality paints that dry to a hard finish.
• Benjamin Moore Aura and Advance paints are my favorites. Advance is a hybrid paint (water based but acts like an oil) and has great self-leveling qualities if a brush is used to apply the paint. However, it requires 15 hours of dry time between costs and sometimes I don’t have the time for that. In those cases, I use Aura.
• General Finishes Milk Paint is very easy to use and without much effort it will produce a very smooth finish.


R O L L E R S  //  B R U S H E S


In my opinion, these 6″ foam rollers are the best rollers on the market. I buy them at Home Depot and always have them on hand. I also use Benjamin Moore brushes designed for application of latex paint. Any high quality brush will work… just make sure the brush is designed for latex application if you’re working with water based paints.




This RIDGID 5 in. Random Orbit Sander works wonders. I use it when I need to sand down to the raw wood. I start with 80 grit and work my way up to 150 and higher. The variable speed control allows me to sand with care, especially when working with the thin veneers on mid century pieces.




Mid century pieces are always primed. I have used many primers over the years and have settled on Zinsser Cover Stain Oil Base Primer which dries in about two hours. The primer is always applied with a roller.



When I want to restain a mid century piece, I always sand down to the raw veneer. That can be tricky though as lots of those beautiful veneers are super thin. In this case, I usually use Minwax Wood Finish (oil-based stains). I prefer the oil based stains over the water-based stains because they produce a richer color.


When I’m doubtful that a veneer can withstand sanding down to the raw, I scuff it up with sandpaper then use General Finishes Gel Stains. I apply all stains with either a staining pad or Scott Shop Towels.





Most high quality latex paints do not need to be sealed. However, I always use these products to provide an extra coat of protection:

For painted surfaces other than white: I use Minwax Wipe-On Poly. It’s easy to use and doesn’t leave brush marks behind. For the smoothest (and lint free) finish, I’ve found that it’s very important to apply this poly with a staining pad.


For painted white surfaces: Howard Citrus Shield Premium Paste Wax is my favorite wax although there are many others on the market. This particular product is easy to apply and buff to a smooth finish. I use white rags to apply and buff.


For stained or raw wood surfaces: I use many different products. Here’s my short list:
1. Varathane Water Based Polyurethane: For a beautiful velvety finish on all of my mid century woods, I apply it with a black brush to produce a perfect brushless finish. The brush can be found with the polyurethanes at Home Depot or Lowes.



2. General Finishes Top Coats: For a very durable finish, General Finishes Arm-Seal (oil based) is a great choice. Or General Finishes High Performance (water based) top coat also works wonders. Both of these products are easy to apply they produce beautiful brushless finishes. I use a foam brush to apply (they are designed to also be applied with a rag but that hasn’t worked well for me).

arm-r-seal-2014 topcoat-high-performance-transparent-2014

3. I’ve been experimenting with a home made version of wipe-on poly. It’s super easy to mix but the technique involves several layers of poly with sanding in between each layer. The end result is the most beautiful velvety finish and is worth the effort! I’ll write about this in a future post but if you’re interested now, contact me.


The products highlighted in this post are based on my personal research and experience. I’ve been careful to refer to the products’ exact names and have provided pictures but no links to where they can be purchased. Most of these products can be purchased a local hardware store. Others can be found online.

Do you have a favorite product for your mid century pieces? Let me know!


Follow me on Instagram as I share more pictures of how I paint and prep my furniture and get sneak peeks of my approach to styling these pieces for photoshoots.


How are you spending these cold winter months?


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Red buffet5 by Martha Leone Design copyOh my goodness people. I’ve been trying to weather these seriously cold days in the workshop (garage) while painting and prepping. It’s been difficult. I’m sure I’m not alone. All of my painting friends have probably been doing the same. My little space heater isn’t helping.

Other than working on custom orders and finishing two pieces (Gray Dresser, Deconstructed W Dresser) for Peg Leg Vintage, I’ve been shopping like crazy trying to fill the recently rented storage unit with vintage finds for those warmer days of spring. Last week, I found this piece at the Goodwill and knew that it needed a bold color. For a piece like this, I prefer to use one bold color rather than complicate the look with multiple colors or distressing. It’s a large piece that demands attention, so I painted it a color that would allow it to scream rather than whisper its way into a room.Red buffet by Martha Leone DesignRed buffet2 by Martha Leone DesignRed buffet3 by Martha Leone Design152a


A few of my recent finds:


Recently, I spent some time refining the blog and thinking on future growth of the business. Here are a couple of ideas to consider for those cold days:

1. Refine the accounting of incoming and outgoing funds for your business. Christina with Phoenix Restoration has written several great posts about growing a furniture business and has offered a free excel spreadsheet that helps track your expenses for tax time.

2. Shop. Shop. Shop. Gear up for a busy spring by spending extra time shopping for vintage finds.

3. Attend a conference! I’m headed to The Makers Summit in Greenville, SC in early March.

How has your business weathered these cold days?


Follow me on Instagram as I share more pictures of how I paint and prep my furniture and get sneak peeks of my approach to styling these pieces for photoshoots.


Linking up: Miss Mustard Seed  •  House of Hipsters  •  VMG206  •  Just a Girl and Her Blog

A gray dresser and evolution of an idea


152b Art Deco by Martha Leone Design

152c Art Deco by Martha Leone Design152 Art Deco by Martha Leone Design152a Art Deco by Martha Leone Design152d Art Deco by Martha Leone Design


On a perfect day, design is easy, effective and beautiful. I wasn’t having a perfect day when I worked on this dresser. I knew what I wanted to accomplish but the idea went through at least four revisions before the paint brush was picked up.


D E S I G N   P R O C E S S

After finishing the piece below, I thought it would be fun to use the shape to create a pattern for another dresser. Take a look at the evolution of this design:

#150f by Martha Leone Design


The shape is rotated 180 degrees and copied till some of the lines intersect various corners.DesignSketch Martha Leone Design


The design is masked off.

Process B by Martha Leone Design


The design feels a bit disjointed so the strong diagonal lines are extended to
close up some of the open spaces.

Process A by Martha Leone Design


Still not working well but I wasn’t ready to scrap the whole idea. So I deleted the strong diagonal lines and connected other lines. Recognizable shapes began
to emerge.
Process C by Martha Leone Design


Oh my goodness. Bad move. So I took a few lines away and added others.
Then took a few more away before painting.

Process D by Martha Leone Design



152e Art Deco by Martha Leone Design

Painted in Queenstown Gray by General Finishes and sealed with their topcoat in Flat.


This dresser is available at Peg Leg Vintage.

Follow me on Instagram as I share more pictures of how I paint and prep my furniture and get sneak peeks of my approach to styling these pieces for photoshoots.


Deconstructed W.

#150 by Martha Leone Design#150b by Martha Leone Design


D E S I G N   P R O C E S S 

I’ve been exploring letterforms and have been sketching on graph paper which is not the usual sort of paper I use. It helped me to conform this design to the proportions of this dresser. The letter W is in view here although it might not be obvious, mainly because of the horizontal line that connects the left and right vertical lines. That line seemed necessary to tie the design together.

#150e by Martha Leone Design#150c by Martha Leone Design#150d by Martha Leone Design


P A I N T   P R O C E S S 

After doing the typical prep of rough sanding and cleaning, I used a dry brush technique to brush the white paint on in the areas that would be masked off. Then, using a ruler, I drew the deconstructed W, masked it off with Frog Tape then proceed to paint two coats of Ralph Lauren Metallic Paint in Graphite. It was sealed using a staining pad and Minwax Wipe-On Polyurethane.

150 process by Martha Leone Design

This dresser will be available this week at Peg Leg Vintage.


Follow me on Instagram as I share more pictures of how I paint and prep my furniture and get sneak peeks of my approach to styling these pieces for photoshoots.


Art Deco in Metallic Silver


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Silver waterfall6 by Martha Leone DesignSilver waterfall by Martha Leone DesignSilver waterfall5 by Martha Leone DesignSilver waterfall4 by Martha Leone DesignSilver waterfall2 by Martha Leone DesignSilver waterfall3 by Martha Leone DesignSilver waterfall7 by Martha Leone Design Silver waterfall8 by Martha Leone Design

Waterfall dressers aren’t my favorites although I don’t hesitate to buy them. That’s because their flat drawer fronts provide a welcoming surface for my ideas. Their “waterfall” curve at the top also inspires me to allow my ideas to fall from the top down the front of the dresser. Some of my other waterfalls (click each image be taken to a blog post):

Waterfall3 by MarthaLeoneDesignWaterfall 1 MarthaLeoneDesignwaterfall 5 LeoneDESIGN copy

The current silver dresser was taped off with Frog Tape then painted two coats of Martha Stewart Silver. After the tape was removed, the dresser lacked interest so I scratched the surface with 60 grit sand paper to achieve a finish that resembles worn out stainless steel. I’ve done this sort of scratching with sand paper on another piece.

The design came from a sketch I did almost two years ago and I think it works well as its angles follow the angles in the inlaid wood. If you keep a sketchbook, take a look back at old ideas… you might find one worth pursuing! If you don’t keep a sketchbook, consider starting one this weekend!


It’s available in my etsy shop.

Follow me on Instagram as I share more pictures of how I paint and prep my furniture and get sneak peeks of my approach to styling these pieces for photoshoots.


Linking up:
Bre Purposed/Your Designs This Time •  Finding Silver Pennies  •  The Big Reveal/Found and Foraged   •  The Interior Frugalista   • Mod Vintage Life  •  Miss Mustard Seed   • Just a Girl and Her Blog


Design detour on a mid-century dresser


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130g MCM by Martha Leone Design

130b MCM by Martha Leone Design

In these extremely cold early days of January, I have been shopping for vintage furniture and planning the next steps for the growth of this small business. Apart from finishing this recent piece, I haven’t spent much time in the workshop since before Christmas, and I miss it.

This recent dresser was sanded then painted in versatile colors that will withstand the test of time. I used Benjamin Moore Super White in satin for the outer frame and General Finishes Milk Paint in Queenstown Gray for the drawer fronts.

Although I’m satisfied with the final piece, it went through two design revisions. In this post, I’ll explain the problem then the solution. If you’re interested in reading about how I paint mid century pieces, check out some of my other posts.



This piece was slated for a customer who wanted the drawer fronts stained and the outer frame painted white. Although I was careful while sanding the drawers, that step proved to be devastating to the exceptionally thin veneer.

130process2 Martha Leone Design



Determined to incorporate the natural wood grain in the final design, I used Frog Tape to mask off areas that were not damaged and then covered the other areas with paint. Since the design was driven by the veneer’s condition, the outcome was a random asymmetrical layout which didn’t work for me although asymmetry is far more compelling than symmetry. The best asymmetrical designs feel random but are ordered and balanced at the same time. This design felt too arbitrary, not balanced. (To get a sense of how symmetry is more preferable than asymmetry, read the comments on one of my dressers that was recently featured on Apartment Therapy.)


In order to maintain a balanced design and minimize the arbitrary pattern, I “erased” some of the natural wood stripes with paint and ended up with a minimalistic design that worked better:

130 MCM by Martha Leone Design

130e MCM by Martha Leone Design

130c MCM by Martha Leone Design


B E F O R E   /    A F T E R


130 MCM by Martha Leone Design


Follow me on Instagram as I share more pictures of how I paint and prep my furniture and get sneak peeks of my approach to styling these pieces for photoshoots.


Linking up: Miss Mustard Seed

2014 Highlights

MCM with Coffin2

 A few highlights from a very productive 2014.

Thanks to Peg Leg Vintage for the opportunity to contribute to your
amazing shop and to my customers who have been both supportive
and great to work with.
Merry Christmas!

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Two Charcoal Pieces

#124c by Martha Leone design


I’ve been in serious production mode since Thanksgiving, trying to finish the custom orders for 2014. Yikes. It’s been busy. Today, I’m sharing two wonderfully constructed pieces, both painted similar shades of gray. The long dresser is available in my etsy shop and the other piece was a custom order.

After a bit of clean up and light sanding, I mixed a custom gray color with plaster of paris mixture then proceeded to paint both two coats of gray. They were distressed then sealed with Minwax Wipe-On Polyurethane. The long dresser was first painted a lighter shade, then topped off with the charcoal color.

These dressers always provide a nice break from the mid century pieces that need far more prep and care. I’ve written many posts that detail how I prep and paint my mid century furniture. Or, peruse the MID CENTURY PORTFOLIO  where any image will take you to a post.


#124 by Martha Leone design

#124b by Martha Leone design



Maple Charcoal Buffet by Martha Leone Design

Maple Charcoal Buffet1 by Martha Leone DesignMaple Charcoal Buffet3 by Martha Leone DesignMaple Charcoal Buffet4 by Martha Leone Design



Follow me on Instagram as I share more pictures of how I paint and prep my furniture and get sneak peeks of my approach to styling these pieces for photoshoots.

Linking up:
Miss Mustard Seed

My approach to styling photos

Dixie by Martha Leone Design Dixie2 by Martha Leone Design


Styling can be challenging because I don’t have enough stuff sitting around to ensure variety in my photos. So, more often than not, I’ll use whatever is laying around as long as the objects support the color scheme I’m trying to pull off in the photo. Achieving a balance between color, shape, and scale are more important than styling a vignette with context or relevance.

D I X I E  D R E S S E R

Shape and texture were the priority in the styling of a recent Dixie dresser. The old newspapers and pictures were found in the bottom drawer of a recently purchased art deco dresser and gave me just enough texture to balance the slick finishes on the piece. I used the old pictures with the slightly ornate frames to balance the straight lines of the Dixie.

Dixie5 by Martha Leone Design

Dixie4 by Martha Leone Design

Dixie3 by Martha Leone Design



Broyhill by martha leone design

Broyhill8 by martha leone design

The paint brushes and white wall were chosen for this photoshoot for a couple of reasons:
Shape: The brushes mimic the vertical shapes on the cabinet door. Also, the curved decorative elements and original drawer hardware both taper from wide to thin.

Keep the color monochromatic: This piece is about shape and line, not color. So adding saturated color would have detracted from the overall design concept.

Broyhill3 by martha leone designBroyhill4 by martha leone designBroyhill7 by martha leone design

Broyhill2 by martha leone design



Often times, I’m most interested in showcasing some or all of the beautiful veneers in my mid century pieces. However some of these vintage pieces come to me with damage that can only be repaired and painted. So, the decision to paint or stain is made based on where the damage is. The design on the top of this buffet hides a deep gouge in the surface while still highlighting the beauty of the wood veneer. I used Bondo to fix the damage. It’s super easy to use and dries to a very hard finish.

photo 1

photo 2


Follow me on Instagram as I share more pictures of how I paint and prep my furniture and get sneak peeks of my approach to styling these pieces for photoshoots.





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#131MCMc tallboy Martha Leone Design#131aMCMtallboy Martha Leone Design

You’ve seen this color combo many times. In the past month, I’ve completed over seven mid century pieces, all in Benjamin Moore Super White and either Dark Walnut or English Chestnut. Although monotony or repetition can suppress creativity, I continually come back to these color combinations because I want my furniture to be versatile. Versatility allows my furniture to withstand a client’s change in style or a move to a new home and hopefully saves them from having to spend money on new pieces as their taste changes.

#131MCMd tallboy Martha Leone Design #131MEMtallboy Martha Leone Design#131MFMtallboy Martha Leone Design

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In our home, most of the furniture is neutral and color is reserved for the walls.  Here are just a few vignettes of the shades in our home.

Kitchen Martha Leone copyKitchen: Benjamin Moore Super White and Jet Black

White Cabinet7 by MarthaLeoneDesign
Living Room: Benjamin Moore Perfectly PestoRecord Cabinet1 MarthaLeoneDesign

Gray Buffet 2Martha Leone Design
Dining Room and son’s room: Benjamin Moore Blackberry

White Dresser 1 MarthaLeoneDesign

Daughter’s Room: Benjamin Moore Orange Blossom


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