The pros and cons of Modern Masters Dead Flat finish.

how to protect wood without a finish
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It’s been a few years since I wrote about the finish of our Restoration Hardware table and how we protected it. While we love the protected finish, it wasn’t what we had originally hoped for. While the powder Restoration Hardware natural finish is unrealistic for daily living, it is oh so beautiful.

One of my readers suggested Modern Masters Dead Flat as an alternative to standard varnish. She used it on her Restoration Hardware table for a beautiful finish, but with minimal protection she sometimes regrets. Designers like Brooke Giannetti have incorporated it into their home.

protect restoration hardware table dead flat varnish
reader photo

When designing our new kitchen, I wanted to warm up our cream cabinets with a wood island for contrast. I wanted to ensure the wood would look natural, not shiny from varnish, which is hard to achieve while protecting wood.

how to protect wood without a varnish

Originally, I had selected unfinished white oak, which would darken over time from sun exposure. As you know from my kitchen renovation series, things don’t always go as planned, and our carpenter made it in red alder. In an attempt to be flexible, we then sought a stain for our island to achieve the same look. Unfortunately, that also affected the finish I was hoping to achieve.

how to protect wood without making it shiny

What is Modern Masters Dead Flat?

Modern Masters Dead Flat is a faux finish. It’s a non-yellowing clear water-based varnish that minimizes sheen. Stains are oil based, so combining the two was risky, but I just despise anything “red” in our home and the red alder was no different. In an attempt to work with the carpenter, we agreed to a stain and continued with the Modern Masters Dead Flat. Overall, I like the finish, but it is a bit splotchy in places.

protect wood without varnish

Where is Modern Masters Dead Flat best used?

On raw wood. I’ve had readers share their experience on their powder Restoration Hardware finish and while they all said it goes on pretty well without taking up the powder, unfortunately, as previously mentioned, it offers very little protection. When tested on raw wood it looks flawless.

We decided to use Modern Masters Dead Flat on the base of our island because it’s an area that needs to be wiped down on occasion, but is not as likely to encounter spills, little girl art messes, {one of our main concerns at this season in our lives} and stains that will set.

This finish wipes clean with a wet cloth, but as predicted, doesn’t offer much protection. We do have a marker stain that won’t budge.

For me, this finish is not suitable for surfaces, at least those that are frequently used or used by children, but great for cabinetry, console tables and accent pieces.

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You can find Modern Masters Dead Flat here. If you have any questions, please leave them below and I’ll be happy to answer!

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  1. Could you please share the color of your cabinets? Your color scheme in your kitchen makes my heart skip! I’ve been trying to visualize what I want and you have made it materialize! Just dreamlike!

  2. I have a gorgeous raw wood table from Bramble & Co that unfortunately soaked up greasy finger prints like the Sahara soaks up rain the first time we used it. This isn’t used for every day – just special occasion meals with family. I bought the Dead Flat finish and am hesitating to use it – does yours protect against little finger prints?

  3. Beautifully done kitchen! I want to use Modern Masters Dead Flat Varnish on my kitchen island in my home as well. I’m curious how your cabinets are holding up. Have you had any flaking, or other issues not mentioned above? The product has great reviews, but I’m wondering how it will hold up on cabinets over time. Thank you for the information!

    1. No, they’re doing great. As I mentioned in this post, I wouldn’t use it for a surface, but it’s been great for the island/cabinetry. They show slight wear by the trash, but that is to be expected with the minimal protection. Hope that helps!

  4. Hi! I am new to your website and am LOVING all of your content. I am hoping to pick your brain. I just bought the RH 1950s Tractor Seat Stools. RH says they are oak with a natural finish. I just got them and they feel completely unfinished to me. They will get heavy use since they are at our kitchen counter and I would like to add some sort of matte protection to them. Do you have any suggestions? I am thinking the Modern Masters Dead Flat won’t be enough so perhaps a varnish? Thanks SO much!!

    1. I think for stools Dead Flat or a wax will be perfect. I just don’t recommend it for a frequently used kitchen table. Hope that helps!

  5. If you have a spare piece, experiment. Green cancels red as it is on the opposite side of the color wheel. So look for a greenish stain, or mix one yourself! 
    I love the color of the island, it is gorgeous!