before and after

before & after: nicole’s dresser and desk

by Grace Bonney

this before & after story is about two furniture makeovers, so be sure to click “read more” at the bottom of the post to see the second piece. both of these pieces come from d*s reader nicole in austin, texas. nicole acknowledged that the wood-purists in the audience might “want to burn [her] at the stake” when they see the paint job, but she felt her vintage dresser was beyond repair and too full of cracks to leave in its current condition. i know the non-painters in the audience would request the wood be refinished and left alone, but i love the sunshine yellow color and the way nicole changed the dresser to fit her personal style. and the paper on top? swoon.


CLICK HERE to see nicole’s desk before & after, after the jump…


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  • I’m a midcentury modern wood purist type but I have to say I looooooooooove the yellow dresser – What a great job!!

  • That yellow dresser looks great, Nicole! Nice job. :)

    (I wonder how the so-called “wood purists” feel about 18th c. Gustavian furntiure. Do they think the Swedes were “ruining” perfectly nice wood by painting it?)

  • What paint was used for the yellow dresser? I LOVE that color. The paper is such a perfect touch to both items.

  • Beautiful job!

    OK, who out there had the bedroom set that the desk belongs to? I had the desk, dresser with mirror and tall dresser. Oh, the memories!


  • I absolutely love it, Nicole. And…I’m in Austin (well, Pflugerville). So…fooey to those ‘purists’. Both pieces are stunning! I especially love the papers you used.

  • call me a purist – I HATE that after job. It looks horrible. I wouldnt take it if you were giving it away free.

    I DO like the desk after.

    Chaque’un son gout.

  • That is the EXACT desk I want for my bedroom! Alas, I hope the thrift stores and garage sales will be good to me so I can do such amazing work!

  • OMG! That’s an antique veneer dresser! This isn’t about being a “wood purist” — you just lost hundreds, possibly thousands, of dollars with that DIY. The damage can’t be undone, since taking the paint off would also damage the fragile veneer.

  • Lizzie, I really, truly am not trying to fight here, but it simply isn’t true that every piece of old, wooden furniture is valuable (monetarily speaking). This dresser, most likely from the 1930s, was probably a mass-produced piece. Unless it was in absolutely pristine condition (which Nicole has indicated it was not) or was made and signed by a specific manufacturer old unique pieces, it was probably worth less than $200. I see veneered pieces like this one on Craigslist, eBay, and at yard sales all the time for $25-150. Here’s one now!

    Really — in 20 years, are we going to start trying to preserve solid wood furniture sold by Sears in the 1970s? Not everything old is “valuable”. I live in a very old house and have a lot of old furniture (some of value, some not — I have what I have because I love it), but I’m realistic about what needs to be preserved and what doesn’t.

    Sometimes it really does just come down to individual preference, and that’s enough to justify modification.

    Personally, I would argue that if Nicole took a damaged, unrepairable piece of furniture and turned it into something she loves and will get use out of, she increased its TRUE value manyfold.

  • sometimes you borrow a piece of furniture from future generations and sometimes it makes sense to make it you own. That yellow dresser is heart-stoppingly beautiful. Not sure I’d have the guts to do it but I wish….! t.x

  • love the yellow dresser. i’m with anna.

    does anyone have a link re how to apply paper (or whatever the decorative finish is) to the surface such as the yellow dresser?

  • i have to say that all of these before/after furniture pieces are getting really old and boring. nothing personal against this specific piece, but in general. we get it. paint it. add some wallpaper. add a bit of modern fabric. yawn.

  • sarah, right here. I didn’t have it but my parents did, the long dresser is in the garage holding tools..I recall the mirror is somewheres in the house…lord knows where the rest went (do we want to know?) hate that gold.

    always liked the shape though, so the after makes me very happy =)

  • Hate to say it, but I think I’m with Ruth… no reflection on these pieces in particular, but I think we get it with the repainting/recovering. Maybe focus more on the repurposed stuff? (headboard to bench is a good example)…

    • hi guys

      i’ve said it before and i’ll say it again- before & after day is entirely submission driven. i promise we post the best and brightest of what we get, but if we don’t receive more creative submissions, we can’t post any. we’re doing more outreach these days to try to find makeovers that move beyond chairs and dressers, but i will always love the simplicity of a good chair upgrade. if you don’t like them, you’re always welcome to scroll right pass them ;)


  • I’m always game to see more before and after paint jobs! I think they all have the potential to take different turns. Shape, size, hardware, paper, glass-no glass. I always enjoy seeing them. Veneer does not age well. I say paint it rather than try to fill and restore. ;-(

    My fav. is pine and have a hard time putting a brush to that patina. It’s subjective. Old oak always needs paint! ;-) I loved it!

  • I absolutely LOVE the dresser. It’s fantastic!!

    And I totally agree…just because it’s old and made of wood, that doesn’t automatically mean that it’s valuable.

    On another note, there are those of us in this world who absolutely hate antiques anyway. I’d much rather see a fresh, bright, cheerful paint job on a vintage piece of furniture than have some dull, boring wood piece that I feel obligated to keep just because it’s an “antique”. Antiques may be valuable to someone else, but they’re not valuable to me, because I consider most of them eyesores in their original state.

    One last thing…

    I can’t even IMAGINE being the type of person who can look at someone else’s hard work–something that they’re obviously very proud of and that took tremendous talent to achieve–and respond by saying “I HATE it!”

    What an unbelievable lack of tact!! It’s people like that who bring to mind the saying “with friends like that, who needs enemies?”

    There’s always a tactful way to express an opinion. I think some people could definitely benefit from a lesson in manners.

  • I love the yellow dresser! I am getting really intrigued by these lovely paint jobs. How do you paint a piece like this? I really wouldnt know where to start!

  • well said, beth. today alone there were, what, two home before and afters and SIX pieces of furniture? there are blogs out there just for furniture make overs. i don’t mind a few now and then here, but it’s getting to be a lot. the homes are interesting, but please, not another chair or dresser!

  • lol. arguing about before and after decorating?! really?

    i love the before and afters so much – they really inspire me and give me hope that it doesn’t take lots of bux to make something beautiful.

    i can see some people may think it gets old, but i bet the people who have actually done this type of thing – can appreciate the process and whatever end result.

  • I love both the dresser and the desk marvelous! It was interesting reading some of the posts because recently I inherited some beautiful antiques from my grandmother. Many were true antiques and worth a pretty penny as long as I don’t paint them. However, not everything is a valuable antique so I feel at liberty to paint those items. I have to say that I hate the idea of devaluing a piece with paint, but at the same time I know that I will never sell any of the furniture. Afterall, it was my grandmothers:)That said shouldn’t one make the furniture suit their personal style despite the fact if left untreated it would be worth thousands. I mean if they aren’t interested in selling it what difference would it make. I guess it goes back to the saying “money isn’t everything.”

  • I agree with kristi!!! And I love decorating and houses and furniture so much, I like to see everyone’s style and ideas. It takes all kinds to make the world go ’round!
    IF everyone had the same style, no one would be unique.

  • Hmmm… I’m not for the old things just because they are old, but I think the first one is sad, because a nicely made 1940’s piece ended up looking like a poorly made 1970’s piece. While the second makeover I don’t mind, it started life as a mediocre item and ends that way too. I just wish that the first makeover had worked WITH that nice wood inlay somehow. Pickling? Bleaching? Definishing and staining? I’m not a fan of the contact papery anthropologie-ish neo 70’s looking stuff people end up with.

  • Beth, Angela, and Sarah…

    If y’all are so dang tired of seeing these before and afters, then why don’t you submit your own? You obviously have some tremendous ideas and are holding out on us.

    I will be anxiously awaiting your submissions (and the submissions of the others who feel the need to grumble and complain each week at the before and afters).

    In the meantime, I will continue to enjoy the hard work and gorgeous pieces and homes that others submit.

  • Anna, That Craigslist dresser is not at all the same thing. I can’t tell for sure, of course, but I’m pretty sure the DIY dresser was 19th century, with hand-applied veneers.

    I see pieces like that in antiques stores in the $2,000 range all the time. The Craigslist piece is department store junk from the 30s.

  • It is a shame to ruin the veneer. Even if it is mass produced, it looked good. And paingin over soilid wood is one thing, but you can’t really “undo” it with veneers.

    The paint+wallpaper thing is going to look really dated in a few years. Le sigh.

    I find the “distressed” look really obvious and fake as well. I’m ready for this fad to be over.

    I will say this, though it isn’t to my taste, it was executed well.

  • Lizzie, the point is…

    Who cares? If the owner of this dresser had no intentions of selling the piece, and if she didn’t like it in the original condition, then it was of no value TO HER–THE OWNER.

    In it’s current condition, she obviously loves it, and therefore the value TO HER has increased.

    Not everyone is money-driven with their decisions.

  • Both pieces look great! Especially love the desk. I have a matching nightstand waiting to be painted blue a la Somethings Hiding In Here.

    I never get tired of seeing *just* chairs or dressers because I love to do this myself and it is a whole lot of freakin’ work: haul the thing home, strip, sand, patch, prime, sand, paint, sand, and paint again. To see someone else’s hard work and lovely results is both fun and encouraging.

    Can also do without the “hate it” comments. It’s helpful to see/identify things that you don’t like if you’re trying to develop your eye, but you don’t have to say anything out loud.

  • P.S. I paint things all the time — I’m not advocating wood for the sake of wood. But I think this particular piece was worth sending to a restorer. Hopefully the photo is just deceiving me.

  • This particular piece looked better unpainted. The veneer application was just lovely. I’m not too fond of the original hardware; would have swapped it out w/something Georgian or Edwardian in feeling. I understand that the owner is happy, but I think the painted result is ho-hum.

  • i agree with the others that this dresser looked beautiful the way it was and the painting, distressing, and wallpaper thing is getting old. would love to see “this old house” type column about furniture preservation.

  • Well, I think that everyone should be free to paint whatever piece of furniture they like. A good idea though, is to try to find out before you start painting if the piece is a valuable anitique. If it is, and you still don’t like it- sell it to an antique lover, take the money and buy other items, massproduced 1930’s dressers for example (maybe you’ll get ten for the price of one antique!) and paint away! Just trying to solve this to paint/not to paint problem so everyone can be happy :)

  • hey nicole!

    Fellow furniture painter knack studios here….I think you did a wonderful job with your piece! Your colors and the execution of the paper on top and in the drawers is flawless!

    Keep up the good work, and don’t let naysayers keep you from enjoying the fruits of your labor! xoxo

  • I am not normally a fan of painting veneer pieces, but this dresser is just so beautiful! While you may have covered the wood, you have still managed to preserve the charm and character of the furniture, which not all makeovers do. Fantastic job. ;)

  • i love the before and afters and get tons of inspiration from them! even if i don’t like an after result, it encourages me to think about what i’d have done differently.

    also, i’m always game for a good debate, but i’d rather support someone’s creative endeavor than express negativity for the sake of submitting a “valid” counterpoint. i particularly liked the yellow dresser and love the personality she infused into the piece.

    HazelStone – furniture makeovers do not have to stop at the first makeover. i’ll always be excited to see nicole’s amazing hard work!

  • The beauty of all of these before and afters is that an item is infused with love and becomes a personal expression and happy thought for the owner.

    The item is not the priority here; the person is. :)

  • i absolutely love the desk but think the dresser looked better before. i’m just a sucker for the way the wood was cut for the drawers with the grain making that fragmented diamond shape.

    both pieces are structurally great which provides an awesome canvas for a makeover.

  • The yellow dresser makes me sad and doesn’t strike me as anything special (I actually thought it was a repost at first). I’m not a wood purist by any means, but the wood piece just looked so much nicer to my eyes. I’ll trust that it wasn’t in great condition but the after brings it down even further. Painting it removed so much character.

    And I think it is okay to review the before-and-afters that we see here. We all have opinions and as long as they relate to the submission I think it’s fair game.

  • I appreciate seeing paint jobs of dressers & desks. I have so much OLD furniture, and the painting techniques give me ideas.

    I love raw wood, but what is the point of keeping wood the way it is if YOU don’t enjoy it.

    I love that you updated the furniture but kept the original hardware. It’s beautiful.

  • Before and afters are my favorite on this site. They have encouraged me to do soooo much work of my own. Instead of hanging onto furniture that I didn’t really like, I painted it and made it something that I love and now I want to keep it forever.

    I’m not a huge fan of the after version of the dresser, but I don’t think it was a crime to paint it. I do love that paper, have we heard where it came from?

    The desk is awesome. Love that.

  • Wow..what a response. I deeply value hearing everyone’s thoughts…hence my reason for submitting the pieces (my very first attempts at furniture transformation, nonetheless…yikes!). Thank you to everyone with positive comments…it is so humbling and definitely makes me look forward to sharing more work in the future! And to those who are not so crazy about the painted wood…I COMPLETELY understand where you’re coming from and cannot say I’m surprised about your feelings. I totally agree with Erin’s suggestion of applying due diligence in establishing the value of a piece before altering. I have SO much respect for antiques…my home displays many that I would never DREAM of painting. However, I must be honest…it’s totally possible I jumped the gun in this case. I found a paint color & paper combo that made me absolutely dizzy with happiness and I hit the streets looking for an inexpensive, neglected piece to alter. When I found this damaged dresser for $50 on Craigslist I was pumped! While I certainly recognized its natural beauty, I also knew I had no interest in seeking out a professional to fix the damage (the extent of which is definitely not visible in the pic) and restore the piece for who KNOWS how much $$$. I suppose at this point I could have done the purist furniture world a favor and released it to someone who would love it for what it was…peeling, bubbled veneer and all…but for what its worth, I LOVE this dresser more than I ever thought I could love a piece of furniture (or anything inanimate for that matter–ha!) It’s sad, I know. So, crazy as it sounds, please rest assured it will live a long, happy life with someone who values it at more than a mere $50! Thanks again, guys! I look forward to sharing more pieces in the future! :)

  • I must agree with Lizzie. The piece appeared to be a lovely antique veneered chest before having any value destroyed by the cheery makeover. Had it been an ugly mass produced chest that had no other life beyond the junk pile, then by all means paint it. I do not believe that was the case and this strikes me as a real shame.

  • i love the yellow dresser! and the desk is amazing! – it looks greek (that shade of blue and white)!
    i love seeing before and afters; they look amazing. i am always so inspired by them, this dresser and desk in particular.
    good job to nicole! you did an amazing job!

  • Seeing that is so inspiring. Makes me want to find a gorgeous vintage piece, and tackle a project like that. So polished looking! I especially love the gold dresser.

  • hi guys

    just a quick note about the comment policy at d*s (which is to your left when you’re writing a comment)- i wholeheartedly welcome heated disagreement, but ask that you refrain from name-calling. it’s ok if you want to say want to say something mean about me, but not other commenters.

    arguments and disagreement are fine, but name-calling and cursing aren’t. i’ve had to delete a few comments from this morning that took things to a pretty insane level with cursing. everyone has a right to their opinion, but i don’t think it’s constructive or mature to curse at another commenter for disagreeing with you. so, continue the heated debate, but please remember that cursing won’t be allowed. there are plenty of sites that let you do that, but this is my site and i’m not cool with calling anyone an “f-ing” anything because they do or don’t like painted wood.


  • I really liked this before & after piece (and all of them for that matter), very inspiring. I’ve had an old dresser in my guest bedroom for a long time and now I feel like it could be something I love instead of something that I just tolerate. I’m going to redo it! Thanks Nicole!

  • It’s a great makeover, Nicole! As always, I’m inspired by another Before & After.

    To Grace – thank you as well for a wonderful site! I hope you have a beautiful day!

  • Grace, you really live up to your name! You handled these angry commenters (seriously, angry over someone else’s furniture?) with grace and class. Thank you for your sanity.

  • there is a term in Japan called Wabi Sabi and it’s the value of the aesthetic beauty of transience in age, including furniture with bubbling veneer, cracked wood. The paint on some of these projects seem like make-up on an already beautiful face, not necessary. Also, to reiterate what others have said, once wood is painted it is almost impossible to get back it’s natural inherent beauty, not to mention paint is so toxic to our earth.

  • why all the bickering?
    the owner is clearly satisfied with the result of her work and was kind enough to share it with fellow readers.
    while it may not appeal to everyone’s taste, (thank goodness, it would be an awfully boring world if we all had the same taste), she has brought personal value to something otherwise invaluable for her and her family to enjoy.
    that in my opinion, surpasses any monetary or even historical value the piece may have had.

    why is it that changing the original state of a piece of old furniture so reviled? not all of us have the same vision for a piece as did the maker who crafted it. since most of us are not makers of fine furniture, customizing someone else’s vision to suit our own tastes and environment is the one of a few things we can do. some may argue that changing an element of ones work of design is sacrilege, but i see nothing wrong with infusing a piece with fresh creativity if the alternative is to rot in a landfill or dingy antique shop for the rest of its days.

  • a little paint never hurt anyone (unless ingested). hater’s are gonna hate, but i love the before and afters. especially that gorgeous, beautifully distressed, my-favorite-shade-of-yellow dresser!

  • I just want to chime in and say I love the before and afters. It’s delightful to see what people can make and I’m inspired by the creativity of others. And I love the painted yellow dresser! Nicole, it looks like you not only came away with a great piece of furniture you love – you had a fun experience making it your own. Yay!

  • Hi Josee–to answer your question, I used a very light layer of repositionable spray adhesive on the paper drawer liners. It keeps the paper from slipping but comes right up without tearing if you choose to remove it.
    As for the questions regarding the dresser top paper…I also used a very light layer of spray adhesive made especially for paper in order to avoid wrinkles. Of course it will also need to be sealed, which I have yet to do (shhh…) :)

  • Isn’t an object’s value really in the joy it brings the owner? Since Nicole so obviously loves her dresser, who is anyone to tell her she “ruined” it?

    I think it’s lovely.

  • If you want to get more diversity in your before and after items, why not do contests for specific categories? Textiles, wall art, rooms, houses, furniture and so forth?

  • Love both pieces and appreciate the hard work that went into the make-overs.

    Also love free & open debate when civility is applied. Cheers to Grace for maintaining that on this site …and kudos to all mothers who teach their children to say nothing if they can’t say something kind!

  • why anyone commenting on a DESIGN blog would want to ‘make rules’ about how people should treat their own furnitire is beyond me. free your minds:)

    i love the before and afters, in general and theese in perticular.

  • While the yellow dresser doesn’t fit my personal taste, Nicole did an absolutely beautiful job with it. Personally, I have painted quite a few wood pieces, and I didn’t bother to find out their value first. Why? Because as they were, they were of no value to me. They were sitting unused, and now that they are painted, I use them every day.

    I understand the folks who believe the dresser was beautiful as is, but the fact of the matter is this — if the owner didn’t find it beautiful, she did what she had to do to make it beautiful in her eyes.

    And FYI, all paint isn’t toxic to the Earth. It just depends what paint you choose to use. I exclusively use no-VOC or low-VOC paint, and I’m looking into clay and milk paints as well.

    I love the before and afters, even if they are all chairs and dressers. They are inspirational, and I learn a whole lot from people like Nicole who put their heart and soul into pieces like this. It shows :)

  • I am glad you are doing the contest. Not sure if I’ll be able to participate (just became primary caregiver to a cancer patient), but I will be watching.

  • great pieces! what was your process on applying the paper both inside the drawer and on top of the dresser? would love to know where you found the paper.

  • I love it. The yellow is beautiful. I prefer to paint wood. Most of the wood furniture in my home has been painted.

    I do have an old bed frame that I was going to paint, but decided against once the room was complete.

  • I just stumbled onto your site and love your before and afters—how inspiring! I, honestly, was a bit turned-off by the strong opinions regarding paint, however. I mean, it is not a moral dilemma–it is furniture. In my personal opinion, the wood was too formal –which is so 80’s (1980’s)-lol–Bravo! on a job very well done!

  • Normally I love the “before and afters’ but not this time. The yellow dresser looks like the before. Sorry ,something beautiful and timeless got reduced to a flea market find.

  • I love the yellow dresser. I adore all of Barb’s work @ Knack. I love the before and after column complete with chairs, because I try to do this kind of thing sometimes. The first thing I read in the morning every day is DS. Monday is my favorite, but Before and After day is great too.

    I don’t love everything, but that’s ok. It makes me thing about what I would do differently. I enjoy that.

    And I agree with the idea that if it makes the owner happy to paint stuff – right on.

  • I was just browsing the internet for Gustavian Painting techniques and found your link.

    I love what you’ve done with these old tired pieces of furniture and to those who appear to have a problem of boredom (?) or jealousy (?) or whatever (?) I say……TELL THEM TO MOVE ON.

    Thanks so much for sharing your projects!

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