How to Lighten Dark Stained Wood | Mahogony Dresser

Is your dark stained wood furniture looking a little too dark? Does it need a lighter and brighter appearance? The solution is easier than you think!

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how to make my dark wood lighter

That was the question our custom client had for us. This gorgeous dresser was in her family for years.

She loved it but said it was just too dark for their home. She also wanted some of the dark stained wood to show but didn’t want it too dark.

BTW, don’t mind the hope chest sitting on its side in the background – that’s a project for another day!

before makeover of dark stained wood mahogony dresser

Some of you might be concerned about lightening up dark stained wood with, omgoodness, should I even say the ‘p’ word??

And I totally get your concern. Paint is not the only solution!

elephant in the room

This dresser was HUGE!! So that made the dark wood overwhelm the room she had it in.

It was the elephant in the room. And that elephant was loud!

partial view of dresser makeover with antique dress form, wall decor and table top decor

So we decided to quiet the loud elephant.

close up of drawers on painted dark mahogony dresser

prep steps

To begin the quieting, the piece was prepped. Here are the steps I took to prep this piece:

  • glued and clamped peeling veneer (only a little bit of veneer had lifted)
  • removed the knobs
  • sanded top of the dresser to bare wood
  • scuff-sanded the framing to remove the sheen (220 grit)
  • hand-sanded drawer fronts to completely remove the original finish
  • sanded the decorative trim on top drawers with Surf Prep Rad Pads
  • vacuumed with a shop vac
  • thoroughly cleaned the piece with Simple Green
  • applied one coat Zinsser Clear Shellac on the framing & sides
full view of dresser makeover done in white wax and light colored milk paint. decor sitting on top and around dresser

the ‘p’ word

While I was busy with the prepping, my client was deciding on a paint color. Yes, that ‘p’ word!

side view of dresser makeover with dress form and bolts of fabric next to dresser

Maybe that freaked you out when I said paint! But no worries! The whole piece wasn’t going to be painted, only the framing.

side view of dresser makeover showing white waxed wood and painted frame. decorative items sitting on top of dresser

We’ll talk about the wood in a minute, but let me say that painting the framing actually helps to draw the eye to the wood drawer fronts.

The drawers are framed and that helps the eye to see the gorgeous quarter-sawn mahogany wood!

close up of dresser makeover showing decorative detail on drawers.

marzipan milk paint

Anyway, back to the paint. She chose Miss Mustard Seed Milk Paint in Marzipan. It’s a soft neutral with an almond tone to it.

side view of dresser makeover

Because I had only scuffed sanded the framing, the milk paint chipped beautifully. And the shellac that I had applied helped to create the crackling you see.

close up of mahogany dresser showing white waxed wood and milk painted framing


wood grain

Remember I said I sanded the top down to bare wood? You couldn’t even see the grain it was so dark!

Let’s chat about the wood surfaces now. Miss Mustard Seed White Wax is one of the easiest ways to lighten dark stained wood.

view of top surface of dresser made-over with white wax

It goes on like room temperature butter with a chip brush and then buffs so easily with a blue shop towel.

You can see more about this process in this post:

How to Apply Wax to Dark Furniture

I break it down step by step for you in that post!

dark wood top of dresser that has been white waxed

White wax settles into all the grain and all the cracks and all the decorative trip details. The wood is still visible showing off all its beautiful grain.

The white wax brings contrast to the details making them stand out even more!

mahogony dresser makeover with childs lace dress hanging from drawer pull

like a gazelle

This piece will no longer be the elephant in the room making all sorts of loud noises!

Instead, I like to think of this piece as a gazelle, quietly grazing while onlookers take in the peaceful view.

This piece is living in our client’s home, serving the family in a much quieter way.

dark stained wood dresser makeover. dresser has been lightened with white wax and painted in a light shade ofmilk paint


BTW, my little dog, Barkly, just couldn’t stay out of the camera frame.

dresser makeover with cute dog in front of the dresser

And he kept coming into frame and then leaving the area. That little pup doesn’t like to stay still!!

mahogany dresser makeover with small dog standing in front of it

Here are a couple of posts you might find interesting:


Thanks for stopping by today! Your support means so much! Join us on Instagram and Facebook! You can also pin any image in this post to your furniture makeover Pinterest boards for future reference!

Want to see that hope chest I mentioned at the beginning of this post? Click here! You won’t believe how much better it looks!!

Until next time,

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  1. I love how this turned out!! Your little dog is adorable. Thank you for this great tutorial!

    1. Cynthia Gayle says:

      Isn’t he the cutest? Just a bit on the noisy side though!

  2. This is so pretty! ❤️ I have my Grandmother’s Armoire I’m about to tackle with bleach. I hope mine turns out as well as yours.

    1. Cynthia Gayle says:

      Thanks so much! I can’t wait to see your Armoire!!

  3. This is such a great makeover! Love the detailing on the drawers of that chest!

    1. Cynthia Gayle says:

      They don’t make furniture like they used to! Thanks for stopping by!

    1. Cynthia Gayle says:

      Thank you Carol! This is one of our favorite techniques!

    1. Thanks Laura! I appreciate that!