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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  • 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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