Two-Toned Makeover Tips

There are so many different ways to refinish furniture these days. You can paint it, stain it, paint and stain it … the list goes on and on. Young House Love has a great step-by-step process for how to refinish a veneer dresser in two tones, which I think is super helpful for anyone looking for a makeover for a dresser or desk. The dark stain with light top is such a cool contrast!

Two-Tone Veneer Dresser After

Two-toned dresser makeover - After.

Items Needed:

  • Dresser
  • Sandpaper (80 grit and 200 grit)
  • Electric Sander
  • Stain
  • Ten cloth rags
  • Cheap synthetic brush for stain
  • Two small foam rollers for primer/paint
  • Oil-based primer
  • Freshaire White Semi-Gloss paint
  • Safecoat


  1. Wipe everything down with a moist rag (both inside the drawers and out) just to remove any spider webs, old pen caps & pennies in the drawers, etc.
  2. Take out your sander and some extra sandpaper to get to all those crevices that it couldn’t reach by hand. Use 80 grit sand paper to rough everything up and follow that with another soft sanding with 200 grit paper just to smooth things out. Always sand WITH the grain of the wood for a nice natural look (nothing screams bad refinishing job like round sander circles that soak up stain and look even more obvious when you’re done).
  3. Wipe everything down with a moist rag once again, this time to remove all that sanding dust. Then when things are thoroughly dry (you don’t want to stain a moist recently-wiped down drawer) it is staining time. The kind of stain Young House Love used necessitates a coat of poly on top of it to seal everything and add a nice glossy finish. They chose it because they planned to use any eco-friendly Safecoat poly (which is lo-VOC, no-odor and 100% non-toxic). Buying a stain with a poly sealer built right in is unquestionably the easier approach since it doesn’t call for the extra polying step at the end, but it’s also undeniably more fumy and has more chemicals.
  4. Use a brush to apply one thin and even coat of
    Two-Toned Veneer Dresser Before

    The dresser before the makeover.

    stain WITH the grain of the wood on each surface that you want to stain. Note: if your wood or veneer isn’t soaking up the stain you probably haven’t sanded it thoroughly enough, so go back and be sure to really sand through the existing poly so the wood underneath can absorb the stain.

  5. Let the thin and even coat of stain sit on every surface that you applied it to for twenty full minutes. After a full twenty minutes, use a clean dry rag to gently rub – again in the direction of the wood – every plane of the dresser that you stained to remove the excess stain. It’s important to remember that you should be gently running the rag along the surface to catch any excess stain but you shouldn’t be applying a lot of pressure (which will result in a streaky and worn down look). Slow and light is the name of the game. There’s always the option to apply another coat of stain following the same steps outline above (brush on stain, let penetrate for a set amount of minutes, wipe away excess with clean dry rag) if you’d like a deeper or more uniform look. So if you’re left with a piece that is a bit to light or a bit too streaky for your liking we suggest going for a second coat and letting it sit at least 20 to 25 minutes to really soak things up before gently wiping it down again.
  6. Apply one thin and even coat of oil-based primer to the top of the dresser with a small foam roller (while being careful not to get any on the recently stained part of the piece). It’s always smart to work out a game plan so you’re not doing a second round of sanding as an afterthought, which could result in your stain getting coated with sawdust. If you don’t have a steady hand you can hold up a rigid piece of cardboard under the lip of the top of the piece to keep primer from getting where you don’t want it. One thin and even coat of oil-based primer should do the trick. The coverage won’t look flawless but it’s there to provide tooth and some nice grip so it’s doing its job as long as everything is coated – even if it looks patchy and thin in some areas while other spots are thicker and less transparent. The reason Young House Love suggests oil-based primer over water-based formulas (or primer-&-paint-in-one products) is solely based on personal experience.
  7. Apply three thin and even coats of semi-gloss latex paint with a second small foam roller (remember you can use latex paint over oil-based primer without issue, you just can’t use latex paint over oil-based paint since it’ll bubble and separate). We were sure to apply the paint extremely thinly and evenly and not to roll too quickly (which can rile up the paint and cause air bubbles). The white paint that they used is Freshaire’s off-the-rack white semi-gloss paint from Home Depot. Young House Love likes that it’s no-VOC and extremely comparable when it comes to the quality and coverage of other less-eco brands.
  8. Let everything dry for 48 hours.
  9. After two full days it will be time to coat everything (both the painted top of the dresser and the stained base of the piece) with a nice protective, glossy and totally wipe-able top coat of Safecoat Acrylacq. Of course you can use a cheap and easy to find quart of basic water based polyurethane instead (sold in the same aisle as the Minwax stain) but if you’re not familiar with Safecoat it’s definitely worth checking out. Apply two thin and even coats of the stuff with a brush (giving it ample drying time in between coats- about five hours or so- to avoid any tackiness or drag marks). You should not get brush strokes if you apply this (or any other water-based poly) very thinly- about as thin as an eggshell or a piece of paper. And you definitely want to brush it on WITH the grain of the wood and gently brush out any bubbles that you see (bubbles can dry and remain forever). The only way you’ll end up with a marred finish or unsightly brush stokes would be if you apply it too thickly or don’t allow an area to thoroughly dry before touching it up again. So gently brush out bubbles as you go and apply very thin even coats, then wait to do a second coat and resist the urge to go over areas that you already did a minute or two before to “clean them up” (because you’ll do more harm than good).
  10. Give everything three full days to completely cure so that everything will be nice and solid and you won’t have to worry about getting rings on the tabletop if you place an object on it.