sidenote- did you know bees are attracted to the scent of paint stripper? Um, yeah. I spent a good amount of time hiding for dear life). Recently I discovered that they make hand held power sanders for jobs like this. BRILLIANT! Definitely going on my Christmas list for the next time I want to tackle a project like this.
To recreate a finish I liked I went to Home Depot. I swear, the people who work there are geniuses. They told me about a method of getting a shiny, off white finish. Mix one part blonde varnish with one part acrylic paint. Pretty easy, huh? Three coats later she looked like this: