before and after

before & after: barb’s dresser + alicia’s patio set

by Kate Pruitt

the amazing barb at knack studios is at it again, and i am very happy to see what she’s been up to. much like the other projects from barb that we’ve featured (this dresser project and desk makeover are some of my faves), this old dresser is an amazing display of what some imagination and a coat of paint can do. thanks barb!

[have a before & after you’d like to share? just shoot me an email with your images right here! (low res, under 500k per image, please)]

CLICK HERE for alicia’s patio furniture makeover after the jump!

i’ve never wanted a backyard and patio so badly as when i saw this makeover from alicia. even though this furniture set had been through a fire, alicia saw great potential in the shape and decided to tackle the set with paint and fabric (and a lot of elbow grease). i love the fresh cheery yellow she chose, and the clever pairing of the bright color with dark graphic upholstery…perfecto! great work, alicia!

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  • i know it might not be popular but gasp it is sad to see that beautiful, beautiful wood covered by black paint

  • The patio set is gorgeous but the dresser makeover… I ‘m just not a fan of the neo-georgian/shabby chic anthropologie look. How about stripping the old varnish, bleaching and tung oiling the wood inlay and painting the chipped spots in with a color? That would show the inlay, feel more sophisticated and less cutesy,but still keep the ‘used’ vibe going, since the veneer isn’t perfect, while working with the beauty of the item. As this is, it reminds me of the 1970’s fad for painted Victorian stuff.

    • kate

      stay tuned next month- barb will actually be joining us for a regular “before & after 101” column where she teaches basic re-finishing skills each week. including how to strip furniture. we want to give people the skills to create their own projects- and choose whether or not they want to paint or leave it how it is ;)

  • I’m torn between painting and refinishing… I once bought a”school bus yellow” painted dresser that probably had nice wood underneath, but I hate stripping so I painted it white and had no guilt what-so-ever. I might have had a hard time painting a piece that was still “wood”. To each his own.

  • Yeah, I have to agree…I’m not a fan of the black. It looks burned actually.

    It is unique, most of the painted furniture I see is white, and that does make it different. Just not a fan.

    Those painted chairs though…brilliant.

  • i agree with mary..such pretty wood, it would’ve looked great refinished. i’m a sucker for interesting wood grain patterns. great job on the patio furniture, though!

  • Love the patio set- it’s so well done (and has potentially expanded what I’m willing to look for for my own place!)

    Didn’t love the shape of the dresser before, so don’t have a stance on the to paint or not to paint debate. I suppose it works for some people though! :)

  • like the patio set :)

    not a fan of the dresser. the stenciling is a bit cheesy and makes it look cheap. i like the before better.

  • I usually love Barb’s work, but all the lovely details of that dresser are lost with such a dark paint color. I don’t even have anything against painting wood, but in this case I think I would have gone with a sand-and-stain.

  • I’m a sucker for beautiful dressers…refinished, painted, raw, whatever. Kudos! But, I do agree with Jarel. It would have been equally–if not more–beautiful with a deep ebony stain in order to keep that beatiful wood grain :) Anywho, wherever did you find the gray floral design? Did you hand paint that or is it an appliqué of some sort?

  • I love the dresser!

    While visiting my best friend in Greenville SC last summer (Grace – REALLY great little city BTW!), we stopped by the Pendleton Street Arts District and happened upon Knack Studios via the lamp shop/art gallery that’s connected to hers next door. All the shops on that block are connected by interior doorways, enabling shoppers to wander through several studios without even realizing it. I had no idea I was in Knack Studios until the gallery owner told me what shop it was.

    I was positively giddy with excitement. Barb wasn’t there that day, so I didn’t get to meet her. :(

    • ng

      i’m so hoping to go to greenville on the d*s book tour. hopefully we can swing by when we’re in charleston :)


  • The patio set looks great! …But I must agree that the stenciling job makes the dresser really unattractive! The black paint doesn’t bother me, but the off-center flowers definitely do. I’m well aware of the rule of thirds but in this instance, the odd placement actually just looks like a big mistake. Usually I find imperfections to be charming, but I think the aesthetic of this piece would be vastly improved by painting over the stencil.

  • that patio set is just perfection. adore it. i agree that the wood grain could have shone with a new stain, although i appreciate that she chose to create a new special bit of character with the floral design rather than painting it straight black.

  • Ooo, I actually really like the dresser. It gives it a mysterious look. I have a dresser that I got free off Craigslist that has about a dozen coats of paint on it… I can’t wait to strip is down and make it over. This dresser make-over gives me some ideas!!

  • Ok, this is the worst furniture makeover yet! Why not take an old dresser with boring wood – which there are plenty of – instead of ruining beautiful wood like this?? This is really sad.

  • I absolutely love the dresser! Finally something not in “turquoise” or “pink” with owls and little birds: a grown-up remake :)
    As to the patio set, I wish no paint was involved. How about staining it? A subdued color? I can’t believe the color choices: yellow and black. It’s the traditional color combination for poison and danger, it’s so out of place to lay these colors on a patio set… but I guess taste is taste, right?

    • woah- that’s the first time i’ve ever heard anyone associate yellow and black with “poison and danger”. first time for everything i guess…

      btw- the set is metal, so it’s much much tougher to stain than wood.


  • I also think that the dresser looked much better with the natural wood finish. Great idea, but better left alone on this one. The patio furniture is awesome though.

  • LOVE the patio set! Yellow was a great choice. The fabric looks navy to me, no?
    And I love the fact that something that was completely unusable was re-done and saved from a landfill.

  • I’m not a big fan of the dresser (before or after) or the yellow on the table and chairs…BUT the bottom line is what was junk is now in use and beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right? Whatever rescues it from the dump is ok by me. I am a trash-pickin’ refinisher myself for the most part, but am finding that a few painted or white-washed (any color) pieces against my antiques makes them all look better.

  • Quite a shame to cover up such magnificent craftsmanship that went in to that wooden dresser. Heart-breaking!

  • Bookmatched veneer covered by black paint? There’s so many cheap dressers made of nondescript wood around–why select this one?
    I don’t mind the black paint but the decal thing isn’t well done.
    But the veneer was very good–why not just find another dresser to paint?

  • LOVE that black dresser! And the off-center design! I immediately forwarded it to my sis who is preparing to re-do a dresser!

    I love the old veneer as well, but so often you can’t restore it in a way that looks good. I love the paint alternative for older furniture! Such a unique look, that I am sure is just right in someone’s home! Wish it were mine!

  • I LOVE the dresser! The wood is pretty nice, but the paint and stencil made the dresser unique.

  • I love Barb’s work.

    I am surprised at how harsh the comment are. Ok, some of you would have done it differently.

    Better a painted dresser than one in a landfill for starters. Barb tends to take dressers that are kind of down on their luck and give them life again.

    What about the post after this where beautiful reclaimed wood was painted orange? Not a peep on that post.

    In any case, if you hate it, that’s fine, but I would suggest considering nicer delivery.

    I’d fill my house with Barb’s dressers.

  • I actually saw this dresser for sale on etsy. So for $500 it can come and live in your house.

  • Oh dear ….. I’ve done it again! I’ve caused some ” hot mess” action on d’s! I can honestly say from the bottom of my heart I appreciate the passion from both sides.

    The floral pattern on this piece is wallpaper from designers guild , and it has a black background which makes the silver floral pattern seem like a stencil….. But it is actually a really gorgeous paper.

    I’m on the road right now on a cross country adventure but if you would like the pattern name email me after the 22!

    All the best friends!


  • well, what can I say? I giggled through most of these unkind comments……
    because they simply have no darn idea how talented you are Barbie………..

    you just keep right on goin’………

    ps. i’ve always like that little saying, “if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all”.

    i love my piece of knackage and can’t wait to own more!

  • Oh I’d love to know how to strip down metal furniture and repaint it! Yay! This will be a brilliant series!

  • I personally think the dress looks awesome in black but could look equally awesome if refinished! Both beautiful looks.

  • Normally I really like the Knack makeovers and painted furniture in general, but I have to agree with most people here that this one is a tragedy.

  • The make-over is well done, but at much too high a price; my heart sank when I saw the superb wood grain disappear. I don’t write this to be mean, because the Knack makeovers show more talent than I will ever have in my little finger. And I’ve never written a negative comment on a design site before. But I’m starting to raise my voice on the painted wood issue. I happily paint wood when it has no character. But (speaking only for myself) the original wood grain of that dresser was a natural wonder. Sometimes you can’t improve on that.

    Nothing personal, Knack. I am very glad the dresser didn’t become landfill, and I do love the yellow in the patio set.

  • The wood grain is beautiful, but personally, I love the painted dresser! I also love how it the finish has been rubbed to give it a little ‘age’. Clever use of the wallpaper as well.

  • I love looking at the furniture makeovers. One of my favorite things to see is people reusing old furniture instead of just throwing it away.

  • Come on it’s now a running joke that as soon as anyone paints wood everyone has an opinion – geez one person even suggested staining metal. Perhaps the before and after column should be appreciated for those who well like a nice surprise! Great dresser, those wood inlaid dressers get pretty marked up and it looked like the lower corner was already peeling.

  • At first glance I can understand why some people might be horrified by the painted dresser. However it is very difficult to see from a photo what kind of condition the veneer was in. If the veneer is very thin and was not taken care of it can become extremely brittle. Restoration is a very time consuming process and from a business point of view painting this piece was probably the best option.

  • Wow, you people sure get heated over personal opinions! I personally hated the dresser after the paint job because I love the wood-grain before. I don’t hate painted furniture, in fact I’m not against painting this particular dresser, but why cover up such beautiful grain altogether? To me, it wasn’t a great makeover. Maybe if I hadn’t seen the wood grain before I would have liked it better, who knows. That doesn’t mean I don’t think Knack does good work, and I didn’t get the feeling that anyone here who hated the makeover felt that either, we just didn’t like this piece. I do like the patio set, it looks beautiful. Everyone take a breath and relax.

  • As much as I completely share the pain here on the subject of painted wood – anyone who actually has *done* any refinishing, knows that some damage is too much to ignore – especially with veneer. Veneer can be brittle and very unfriendly. If you look hard in the photo, there are parts that are simply not there. And replacing veneer can be challenging at best. In all honesty, half of the reason beautiful antique wood furniture is available TO refinish is *because* layers of paint preserved those antiques for years and years.

    But hey – if nothing else, this generates conversation, huh! :)

  • Oh gosh, I gasped too. Loved the inlay and the little bit of damage. So sad. But, cute patio set! And I don’t even love yellow.

  • I am looking forward to designsponge taking on the task of writing tutorials about furniture re-finishing. I assume that only ‘green’ products will be used? For me, the new products are so slow and labor intensive that they bring even more meaning to the “paint over wood” discussions.

  • Count me as another horrified reader. What a shame to splock black paint on that beautiful wood. This is exactly the type of “mistake” I look to strip off when I do my own projects.

    • jackson

      i understand not liking the after, but i think what barb did is far from “splock”ing. it takes skill to finish a dresser like that, whether you like the look or not.


  • I’m so happy to see I’m not alone in being aghast at what was done to the dresser. I usually LOVE the before and afters, sometimes only Like them, but this one left me feeling sad. A long time ago, an artist chose the wood, lovingly placed it so the grain was the star of this dresser and proudly offered it up. I know it wasn’t in the best of shape, but I’d rather see it just really well cleaned and oiled or waxed and left to shine with the patina it has acquired through being used…


  • let people be honest with thier opinions. if a person believes that the dresser was “splocked” then let them, instead of having to watch every word they say lest they offend the designer who has offered her makeover for display. Im sure everyone knows the designer is very talented, but a lot of people just didnt agree with particular makeover for a reason I think was understandable.

    • sarah

      people are allowed to be honest with their opinion, and so am I. me expressing my opinion doesn’t disallow someone else from leaving theirs. I always find it odd that people expect me to produce content and never say a word about it, or about people’s comments on it. the comment section should, and does, go both ways


  • Really looking forward to the furniture stripping how-to-series from Barb. I find it hard to find good, reliable and well written information on furniture stripping online. If you know of any good websites, please pass them along!

  • LOVE, LOVE! the black dresser. Personally, I think the transformation is this dresser’s “Little Black Dress.” She’s been updated and very chic.

    Fabulous and brave is your artistic eye. Thanks for refreshing inspiration.

  • The unpainted dresser may look good from afar, but look again. There is a big loss of the veeneer to the lower drawer, chips to drawer edges and then loss of molding to the top drawer. The rubbed black paint gives a it a purposeful tattered Gothic feel. I like!

  • While I don’t always like everything everyone does. I do deeply appreciate the whole creative process. Sometimes I can’t bring myself to cover something with paint or strip something else away but it’s so creative and it serves to remind me that it’s such a personal style.
    Thank you leaping and sharing :^)

  • Love the table & chairs but the dresser looks SO much better before the “improvements” !

  • I think I must be insane – the team wood comments are overwhelming… but I LOVE the dresser.

    However, I totally get the poison, danger, bees from the patio set – it’s not my personal colour choice, but then I’m writing from the Antipodes…

  • I love the dresser. I think the new look brought a new youthful, graphic and elegant look. It’s just wonderful.

  • I think the dresser looks fantastic. Much better than the original. Like someone else said, coolly gothic. I would put it in my house in a heartbeat.

  • Wow! Both makeovers are fantastic! The dresser really caught my eye…I have an old one that would look stunning if I could do the same thing to it. I also have an old patio set that I’ve been thinking of painting it white and then use a pretty rose print for the seats. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your work!

    • Love your idea of white with rose print seats, that may become my next project too, as I’ve just bought a very shabby & worn aluminium garden set that really needs help. Now you’ve inspired me, maybe I’ll paint the actual scroll plant pattern in pastel shades for when the cushions are not on there? Thanks for the idea :)

  • I’m really late to this party, but I can’t resist chiming in. I recently started doing some upholstery and refinishing work and when I am out looking for good “before” dressers and wood pieces, I usually stop myself and picture finished pieces by Barb at Knack. If a piece doesn’t have that level of potential, I leave it for someone else.

    Barb, I think you do stunning work all around, but this dresser is far and away my favorite piece you’ve done. Brava!

  • I LOVE the black dresser and have a piece of furniture I’m going to paint black. I would love to know the steps you took to achieve this look. Did you prime it first or paint a color before painting it black?

  • Everyone has a different line drawn of when to paint, when not to paint…I think if it needs to be refinished there should be no rules, it’s up to whoever’s refinishing how they want to spend the effort and only limited by their imagination. Like art, it is personal and not everyone will love the same thing. I found it inspiring…I love the refinished dresser and the colouring, I think it brings out the lovely little details that blended in before and has real character… on the flipside, I personally am not a fan of the addition of the paper/decal application as I think it stands out too much and conflicts with the piece. I bought a dresser to try and do a similar makeover and turn it into a kitchen island (without a decal application haha) but maybe wallpaper inside the drawers!?

  • It’s interesting how polarised people are over that dresser. I’ve returned to this post time and time again just to look because I think Barb’s dresser (after the makeover) is the most beautiful dresser I’ve ever seen.

  • Sorry but I am in love with the dresser. Yes it might be an antique but the black rustic look makes it look amazing !!! U go with ur bad a$& talent and forget what the others tell u bc U know how bad a&@ it looks and that’s all that matters!!! Congrats! I wish I could do what u do! U are very talented!!!

  • We have some found patio chairs that resembles what you have restored, where would we find how to restore ours, especially the seats which ours are totally lacking.