Samantha’s Mid-Century Credenza Upcycle, Part One: Stripping + Prepping

mid-century modern credenza upcycle

In this mid-mod upcycling project, Made + Remade Creative Genius Samantha Pattillo puts her experience as a furniture designer to work on a salvaged credenza, with fabulously funky results. See more of the process on her blog or skip ahead to part two (designing and painting).

I found my credenza accidentally when I went on a Craigslist run for two chairs I had seen on a listing. This little guy was hidden in the back of that garage and I knew that he just had to come home with me. For $45 and a little love, I knew I could give him a better life.

I knew parts of him were damaged — he had some deep gouges and years of rough wear on his aged body. I wanted to see what the extent of the damage really was, and the best way to do that was to strip him down. (Isn’t that the best way to really get to know anyone?)

Stripping finishes can be a pain depending on the detail of the piece, but when you are working with furniture that has very thin veneer, you can’t just sand it down. Look at the back edge of one of the boards on the furniture to see if it is veneered or not. Only the back or bottom edge will show it since makers use ‘edge banding’ on the fronts to hide it so it looks like solid wood. If the veneer is less than an 1/8” you want to sand as little as possible.

Since my guy was veneered (with what looked to be a pecan wood) I needed to strip that finish off. Here he is after being stripped.

credenza upcycle

Read on below to see how I stripped the credenza and prepped it for painting, and get tips for doing the same to your own diamond-in-the-rough furniture. Click on the corner of any how-to image to bring up a larger slideshow of the process.


Step 1

 Open Gallerycredenza upcycleGather materials and tools and remove drawers and legs. You’ll want to strip, stain and paint pieces separately. Mark the inside of your drawers and legs before removing all of them to start the project (top right drawer, middle left drawer, back left leg, etc.), since they usually are not interchangeable even if they look the same.

Step 2

 Open Gallerycredenza upcycleStrip off existing finish. Make sure to put on your gloves before starting — this is very dangerous stuff, people! The area around your furniture piece should be clear of any overspray that may occur. Spray one coat over a large area — I did the top and sides of the cabinet all at once. Let stand for 15 minutes (it turns into a gel so it will not drip).

Step 3

 Open Gallerycredenza upcycleScrape off bubbled up finish with your putty knife, being careful not to gouge the wood.

Step 4

 Open Gallerycredenza upcycleRepeat the process, but let it stand for only 5 minutes. This will take any last residue off the surface. Wipe off finish with a rag or paper towel. Lightly sand with fine grit steel wool, which should keep you from having to sand anything down with sandpaper. Here you can see a drawer that has been stripped and sanded next to the ones that haven’t — a big difference!

Step 5

 Open Gallerycredenza upcycleRepeat steps on all surfaces of the piece that need stripping, like these legs here.

Step 6

 Open Gallerycredenza upcycleFill holes. Sadly this little guy had some spots that were beyond refinishing, so I needed to fill the holes and paint over them. Make sure the damaged spots are clean and clear of dirt. Fill your holes with putty. Let your putty thoroughly dry after filling all holes.

Step 7

 Open Gallerycredenza upcycleUsing a flat sanding block, sand the putty flush with the surface.

Step 8

 Open Gallerycredenza upcycleClean the wood. I just wiped the whole credenza down with a dust cloth to remove major dirt, then wiped it clean with a damp towel. What about conditioning? I don’t find it necessary if you don’t have a lot of nooks and crannies like carvings for stain to get hung up in. Plus it’s just one more step in the process — get ’er done people!

Step 9

 Open Gallerycredenza upcycleNow, let’s move on to designing and painting in part two of my credenza upcycle!


  • A paint, stain and varnish remover (I like Dad’s Easy Spray, it comes with a spray bottle)
  • Paper towels (for accidental cleanup needs)
  • Wood putty (I like Durham’s Water Putty — it’s strong and easily sanded)


  • Cheap, disposable paintbrush
  • Putty knife (the flatter your surface is, the wider your putty knife should be)
  • Chemical-grade rubber gloves
  • Fine-grit steel wool
  • Flat sanding block
  • Dust cloth
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4 Responses

  1. Mommom says:

    It's a shame to paint MCM. The only thing I like is the legs were restored. SMH

  2. Jenn says:

    I love what you did with that old ulgy color credenza…you gave it life and made it look sharp and an attention grabber… i love it,,,,,,its awesome!

  3. Pinpopular says:

    Great post !
    Thanks for share

  4. P. Smith says:

    I love mid century furniture. It's a shame this beautiful piece was painted. I have the same one which I refinished and it is gorgeous.

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