Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Gustavian Armoire Tutorial

Here is the tutorial I promised for the Gustavian Grey Armoire!  I hope you enjoy this as much as I enjoyed the process of its metamorphosis!  I learned so much and I am excited to share it with you!

I love working with hand crafted pieces like this.  Every detail was created by a human being...and it shows.  Unfortunately, these pine Mexican Armoires are outdated, having seen popularity in the mid to late 90's, they are a trend whose time has come.  It is evident by the sheer volume of pieces like this on Craigslist.  This particular armoire is a bit different in that it has a domed top with  a carved cutout in front.
There were some challenges with this armoire.  I wanted to change the vernacular, which meant I had to remove the old hardware.  That was no small feat, because the pulls on these Made In Mexico pieces are not screwed in, they are hammered in!  Lots of effort but it was worth it! I ended up using a hammer and a flat head screwdriver.  Be careful and patient so you don't cut yourself with the screwdriver, like I did!

Pixlr Editor allowed me to envision the piece without the hinges and black hardware and to see what it would look like painted...

A bit about hinges...  I now know everything there is to know about hinges, including their origin and entire history.  There are more than 20 different types.  Three of those types made their way into my home and had to be returned because they would not work on this piece.  The doors are very thick! I ended up using plain old butt hinges.
I chose 2 inch hinges and merely placed them under each existing strap hinge and drilled small pilot holes, then attached them all and finally removed all the existing strap hinges.  I then filled the holes with wood putty and let it dry overnight.

I also filled the knotholes with wood putty.  It required two applications, allowing the putty to dry thoroughly between applications.

I then sanded the putty with a fine grit sandpaper.

Painting came next...

1).  Before
2).  One Coat Annie Sloan Old White
3).  (Not Shown) Second Coat Annie Sloan Old White
4).  One Coat French Linen
5).  Sand with Medium grit sandpaper.

When I create a piece I keep several factors in mind.  First, the history.  I wanted this to resemble a Gustavian antique so I researched the history of Gustavian furniture as well as hardware.  

In 1771, the future Gustav III returned to his native Sweden from the French court of Versailles to ascend the throne as king after his father’s untimely death. The young monarch had been inspired by French architecture and decorative arts and saught to create the "Paris of the North" within the borders of Sweden. Trips to France and later to Italy gave further impetus to Gustav’s passion for the classical. During his reign (1772-1792), the king transformed this once removed European country into a cultural  forerunner within Europe.  Though the introduction of the Gustavian style actually predates Gustav III's reign, it was the young King that was responsible for disseminating the new style throughout the country.

 Early Gustavian decoration was clearly inspired by the French Rococo and later the Neo-classical movements, but the Late Gustavian style was more closely identified with Italy, after engravings from the excavations at Herculaneum and Pompeii began to circulate in Sweden, ushering in the transition between the more romantic Early Gustavianstyle and the stricter lines associated with the furniture of the Late Gustavian period.

 Following these foreign impulses the Swedes created a more restrained or austere style of decoration more suitable for Sweden than the over embellished continental Baroque and Rococo styles.

Original 18th century finishes were achieved by multiple layers of a pigment such as black Iron Oxide, mixed with linseed oil.

The typical Gustavian grey was reached by mixing these two ingredients and the depth of the color depended upon how much iron oxide was used. A high sheen is not common among Gustavian painted piece

Historical artisans used gesso as a primer sealer for filling open-grained woods and as a wood putty to correct natural faults, imperfections and defects in the various substrates they worked on.

Gesso was a do-it-yourself material. It was made by combining plaster of Paris, or gypsum, with liquid hide glues.

The white "primer" coat mimics this finish.  

When I paint a piece I peruse hundreds, if not thousands, of photographs, as well as old paintings.  I look to see how the piece withstood the ages, where the paint is worn away and the patina of time and use.

With this piece I imagined it came from a large home that had only fireplaces for heat and candles for light.  I was heavy handed with the Annie Sloan Dark Wax to mimic the acrid, clinging smoke that no amount of cleaning could erase.  Then I sanded the corners, where busy hands may have grabbed the doors through the centuries, taking bits of paint and depositing oils.  I then sanded around the hardware to mimic the efforts of the housekeeping staff to keep the hardware clean.  I imagined a servant buffing in the same pattern each time she was assigned the task of cleaning this armoire. Up and down...side to side...year after year... until the pattern became engraved upon the surface.  The mops they used sometimes nicked the base of the piece and removed paint.  I can envision them bustling around the armoire in my mind's eye.  Can you?  

One coat of Annie Sloan Clear Wax, followed by a coat of Dark Wax.  I HIGHLY recommend using a wax brush.  It is easier to control and it uses FAR less product than any other method.

Remember to have clean t-shirts or terry towels on hand to rub the wax in after it is applied.

Escutcheon keyhole cover...a little more ornate than I wanted but I could not find the perfect one!  I placed on on the upper right hand cabinet door and the lower right hand cabinet door and used a mock key pull to mimic a key.

I placed one of these laurel, torch keyhole escutcheons on each drawer and used mock key pulls as well.

The escutcheon was antique so I didn't have to age it.  I found two on ebay.  They aren't precisely what I was looking for but close enough.

The mock key pulls had a shiny brass finish.  I first soaked them in acetone to remove the clear sealer, wiped them off , rinsed in hot water, then boiled them in a mixture of salt and white vinegar. I used a ratio of one cup to one cup.
After you boil them for 10 minutes, remove them from the vinegar and salt solution and place them on a baking sheet in the oven at 450 degrees for ten minutes. Please be cautious when working with chemicals and high temperatures!

It is difficult to tell but the finish had a lovely patina.  The photo does not do it justice!  See how the paint is worn away, as if years and years of use and cleaning abraded it?

The piece still needed something, so I found these large finials on ebay.  I think they were probably from an old pair of fireplace andirons.

Perfect!  You can also see how the white peeks through the grey.

I even played around with Pixlr to see if I wanted to paint the trim white.  Though I did like it, I chose not to.  If I did I would use simple drawer pulls (handle type). 

I bought these bun feet on ebay to add to the bottom.  I never did so because Handsome Husband's arm injury meant I had no helper to turn this extraordinarily heavy piece on its side.  They would have looked nice, however.  At five inches, they would have also added some much needed height.

I actually loved it with just one coat of Annie Sloan Old White (2nd photo)!  The pine finish was really easy to work with! The pine showing under the paint had an authentic aged feel.

I absolutely love Before and After collages!

This piece took a bit longer than most but the paint, itself, took fewer than two hours total.
I chose not to paint the interior because I love the pine finish.

I hope I covered everything!  If you have any questions, please feel free to ask!
As of this moment, there are five Mexican Pine armoires on my local Craigslist.  Some even have lovely curved doors!  Every time I come across one I can envision what it could be!  This finish and hardware would be beautiful on Kitchen cabinets, Bathroom cabinets or even small wooden boxes!



I am participating in Sherry's Open House Party at No Minimalist Here
Yvonne, at Stone Gable, Tutorials, Tips and Tidbits
Marion, at Miss Mustard Seed's Furniture Feature Friday
Courtney, at French Country Cottage, Feathered Nest Friday


  1. Andie, wow! I can only imagine the energy involved in making a piece like this. As always you are inspiring. Beautiful. Congrats!!!

  2. Great tutorial and I always try to distress where the places would normally wear and I always notice that the bottom of the piece is usually more worn and gets less as you go up. My t.v. cabinet in my sun room is one of those Mexican pieces that I got at HomeGoods a few years ago and then painted two years ago and then again last year. You know me it may get painted again. I didn't remove the hardware and you are right it is nailed on.

  3. Hi Andie,

    This is a wonderful tutorial and your Armoire is so pretty.. love the patina!


  4. I need to do this! We have an old armoire that is pine and very dated looking and following your steps I could do this, now to find the time. You did such an amazing job on your armoire Andie I love it!


  5. Great job!!! It's amazing!! Congratulations :D

  6. Turned out great, but looks like it took some work! I have an old armoire...but it is staying the way it is!!

  7. What a helpful tutorial, Andie--very interesting to see what you did to achieve such a beautiful final result with your armoire. Best wishes for a wonderful week to you!

  8. Hi Andie! OH, this looks great and it's always nice to know how others do stuff. You're quite the amazing young cutie pie! ;)
    Be a sweetie,
    Shelia ;)

  9. Beautiful job!!! And a great tutorial - I agree completely with the wax brush - you use much less product with the right tools
    Visiting from No Minimalist Here,

  10. Andie, Thanks for sharing this great project at the Open House Party. I am in love with the paint finish.
    xx, Sherry

  11. What an amazing project!!! So much time, work and research! Thanks for all the details on not only the painted piece but this history that you had in mind when you were re-doing it. You go the extra mile (or two!) in painting a piece...it is just gorgeous.

  12. This is amazing!! I am visiting you via No Minimalist Here. I would love for you to stop by My Dream Canvas. I am hosting a Giveaway for my blog's birthday. Please join in if you like it :)

  13. Wow. I absolutely love that finish. You really managed to transform the style of the piece. Great work!


  14. Andie ... you have done an amazing job! the armoire looks stunning! Congratulations ... I love Gustavian Style and I have recently read about gustav the 3rd in a book called "The Queen's Lover".... Love the paint finish and glad to hear you are feeling better!
    best wishes

  15. What a masterpiece! I loved learning the reason you painted our Mexican piece the way you did. Learning the history of the gustavian period and all the attention to detail you gave this piece make this post so so interesting.
    Kudos to you. You did the most magnificent job!!!! I learned some interesting techniques!! Thanks so much for sharing!!!

  16. This is the most amazing furniture transformation I've ever seen! So beautiful!!

  17. I've been looking for a color/finish to paint my armoire and I think I just found it! Thank you!

  18. Hi Andie! To answer your question, yes, I was a bit nervous before Linda arrived at my house but then the nervousness vanished! It really was just like catching up with an old friend. I would love to meet more bloggers. I'd love to meet you, you little talented cutie pie! ;)
    Be a sweetie,
    Shelia :)

  19. It turned out so gorgeous! I just did a bench in French Linen with a wash of Old White. I love that colour combo, it is perfect for an antique look, isn't it? I may just look for a Mexican armoire too!


  20. Really good job, and thanks for the design history lesion - you have such patience.

  21. This piece is lovely and I love the color as well. I would love to see a pic of the inside to get the whole picture of the armoire. Can you post one? Have a great week. Have no idea how I found your lovely blog, but happy I did. I am a new follower too. Love for you to stop by www.diy180.com.



  22. Gorgeous! This is absolutely beautiful. I'd love for you to share this at my link party if you have a chance! http://www.findingsilverpennies.com/2013/03/silver-pennies-sundays-link-party_24.html

  23. This is outstanding Andie!! I thoroughly enjoyed reading and sopping up every thought and step you took. I might need to share this on my blog if that is alright when I return. I LOVE how it came out...you are something else!!

  24. Wow! That's really lovely. Great job in changing the hardware too, it makes a huge difference! I don't think I would have thought of that.

  25. While painting do you wait for each coat to dry before moving on to the next step?

    1. Yes. Let each coat dry thoroughly. It only takes about 1/2 hour. I am impatient so I use a hair dryer to make it go faster!

  26. Where does one purchase the brand you chose for the painting, waxing, etc? Thanks!!

  27. I'm a great fan of using Annie Sloan Paint. Your project is inspiring. Wonderful tutorial. Thanks.


I love hearing what you have to say!


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