before & after: three dresser transformations

We get a ton of dresser makeovers in our inbox, but I thought it was interesting to receive such similar styles all around the same time. And since they were all so nicely done, I figured why not share them all? The unifying trend to the success of these pieces seems to be patient and diligent sanding, careful painting and choosing the right hardware to finish off the look. Each one of these dressers looks a million times better than its “before,” and all of them cost a good deal less than a new dresser — a testament to the resourcefulness of these three renovators. Great work, ladies! — Kate

Time: 6 hours

Cost: $28

Basic Steps: I started by lightly sanding the entire piece with a 150-grit sandpaper. Then I filled in any dents or scratches with wood filler and sanded those down. Next I primed, and when that dried, I sanded with a 220-grit sandpaper. Next came three coats of high-gloss red oil-based paint. Between coats I lightly sanded with steel wool and then finished off the piece with an oil-based polyurethane.

Oil-based paint can be really tricky to work with and is quite different than latex. My advice for anyone who wants to achieve this look would be to start with something you don’t mind throwing out. Once you’ve gotten a handle on how to work the paint, move on to something a little bigger. Also, don’t be afraid to go bold with your paint color! — Natalie

Have a Before & After you’d like to share? Shoot me an email with your images right here! (Low res, under 500k per image, please.)

CLICK HERE to see Steph and Naomi’s dressers after the jump!

Time: about 6 hours over the course of a few days (to allow for drying time between coats)

Cost: $160

Basic Steps: I loved the lines of this piece, but the wooden handles made it a bit too masculine for my taste. I knew that if I removed the handles, I would have to paint the drawer fronts to conceal the holes. As reluctant as I was to paint this piece, I think the combination of warm wood tones and crisp white paint gives it a fresh new look that still pays homage to its midcentury roots.

I removed the existing wooden handles and sanded the entire dresser with coarse-grit sandpaper. I then filled the holes with putty and sanded everything smooth once the putty was dry. I used a foam roller to apply a single coat of Kilz oil-based primer to the drawer fronts and brushed on three coats of Olympic’s non-VOC latex paint color-matched to Valspar’s Swiss Coffee. I used a painter’s rag to apply Minwax gel stain in American Chestnut on the rest of the dresser. I then brushed on two coats of Minwax water-based Polycrylic over the entire dresser for added protection. To finish everything off, I measured and marked the locations for the new hardware, drilled pilot holes and installed the new brass ring pulls. — Steph

Time: 6–8 hours

Cost: $144 for two cabinets

Basic Steps

1. Prime un-assembled Rast cabinets.

2. Sand.

3. Apply first coat of paint.

4. Sand again.

5. Apply second coat of paint.

6. Sand some more.

7. Apply third coat of paint.

8. Assemble cabinets (don’t add drawers).

9. Add hardware.

10. Install drawers.

My advice is don’t skimp on the sanding. The trick to lacquered pieces is that the wood grain should show through as little as possible. Don’t skimp on hardware either because that is really what makes the piece pop. — Naomi

  1. Carolina says:

    I am sorry, maybe it’s because English is not my mother language that I used the word “crime” as we use it in my home country, colloquially. I didn’t mean to be disrespectful, I just meant it was something I wouldn’t have done myself. It’s only a matter of taste.

  2. susan says:

    I LOVE the red dresser!
    Although it is not my primary taste, Steph did a great job on #2. I can imagine it in a high-gloss canary yellow or with some wild stencils–large numbers, letters….

  3. Steph says:

    Thanks for the feedback, everyone. I agree that the dresser would have looked nice with some re-staining or some combination of painted wood and wooden handles as well. I chose this particular style for a specific room and decor. April, the hardware is from a great Canadian store called Lee Valley (also available in the US). Details and links on my blog:

  4. Caro says:

    @Steph: People tend to forget that your furniture is yours to do as you like, and they definitely should NOT have shamed you for transforming it into something that suited you better.

    I myself have been stuck (and still am) with gorgeous older furniture/heirlooms no one wants me to change in any way or sell, but nobody wants to take them home either!

    I think all transformations look amazing and I would love to have any at my home. Stunning.

  5. Martrese says:

    I’m w/Carolina. . .criminal (metaphorically speaking).

  6. sarah says:

    the first and last are the best, quirky and elegant, but the middle was a shame. even if it was mass produced it’s still an interesting peice of furniture, those handle were super funky.

  7. Keri says:

    Wow! My entire bedroom suite looks just like the first dresser. The dresser I had was taller though. Now I’m wondering what my mom did with all my old furniture, because it might be time to steal it back……

  8. vania angelo says:

    e amo vocês!!!!!!!!!!!

  9. Susan says:

    These look great! What is the difference between using latex and oil paint on furniture, and which provides better long-term wear?

  10. June says:

    I love the second one – no crime indeed! It looks much more modern with the contrast b/ the white drawers and thin wood frame – I had to look a few times to see how it was the same piece of furniture.

  11. All 3 makeover’s are absolutely stunning. Fantastic, professional looking jobs – i would love to have any one of these pieces.

  12. Danielle says:

    Actually, I really love the second one in both its forms. All of these are lovely.

  13. anne says:

    Although I’ve followed the blog for a long time now, I’ve never commented before…
    The second piece of furniture was my favorite, and thanks to design-experts around here, I’ve found out I actually have very poor tastes! I’d be forever thankful to the design-police for making me see the light!…
    Seriously… How rude people are! I guess a simple ” Oh, I really liked original #2! Where did you get it? I’d love to have it for my own home.” would have done the trick.
    Now, to my mind, design is somewhat art. Art is somewehat fuelled by creativity that is somewhat fuelled by our personnality and history. Who are we to judge that with such a peremptory tone?
    Second, design is art, and the appreciation of a “creation” is only left to someone’s subjectivity.
    So, please , may our subjectivity get rid of words like “crime” and “shame” when we come accross someone’s creation.
    Art, design, creation, interpretation really doesn’t need offensive and judgemental assertions.

  14. Jenn says:

    When I saw the first dresser, I thought it was so beautiful how could you change it? But when I scrolled down I was blown away. Absolutely stunning. I would never have had the nerve to try that, but it came out so gorgeous! Congratulations!

  15. Katie says:

    when I saw the original dresser in #2 I was drooling and disappointed to see the handles removed. I love the original retro feel of it. that said, however I really love the after too. it is my personal favorite of all the “afters” and is definitely something I would purchase for my home… (if I didn’t see the original). anyways, I admire your work and think you did a beautiful job!!

  16. Tania says:

    All three of these came out beautifully! Kudos!

    I can understand the reaction to #2, I felt the same initially. As a fan of midcentury, I had the same initial, visceral reaction. The handles and the color of the wood scream midcentury. Nothing like this is ever available in my area and if I found it on craigslist or at a thrift store, I’d be doing a snoopy happy dance while yelling woo hoo. To those who don’t share this midcentury love, when someone changes features that identify it as from that era, its as if someone took a vintage chanel jacket and cut it up until it was unrecognizable.

    But after she explained further, I get it. I do think the white drawers and hardware go wonderfully with the midcentury lines/leg. It does look very refreshed and stands out. Great job.

  17. esther says:

    Sorry, but the second one was better in the original way, anyway…But it´s your home and your dresser and your hapinnes and you decides your way, of course.

  18. G. Taylor says:

    People who live and breathe design tend to have passionate feelings about it. This is a open forum for discussion; It’s not necessary to rush to someone defense just because there are strong reactions to something posted here. As long as no one is personally attacking another there is no need to take offense!

  19. Em says:

    What’s irritating is when people don’t seem to read before commenting. The second makeover is not an underappreciated mid-century treasure ruined by paint. It’s a (relatively) cheaply made mass-produced piece in a mid-century style that has been greatly improved by a careful makeover.

  20. carol says:

    Very nice! I love all but the second is my fav by far. Great job!

  21. Jantree says:

    The second is my favorite as well. I love the clean lines and the pop of brightness that comes from the white drawer faces. It is ridiculous to say that all of your hard work has created anything less than a unique and fully functional piece of furniture that suits your personal taste (and mine). I did not at all enjoy the dresser prior to the work, although it has a particular design, I did not find the style of the handles, or the stain color to be particularly attractive. And as to the commenter that mentioned a “ruined $1500 piece”, please, read the description before commenting.

  22. Melanie says:

    By far, the second is my favorite transformation. The before version makes me think of the furniture of cheap hotel rooms in the 50’s or 60’s The after version reminds me of classic furniture from the early 70’s. (Of course, that probably says more about my misspent youth than it says of the dresser :-) But I love it. It’s cheery and tasteful. It would look fantastic in my home.

  23. inder says:

    I love all those before & afters.
    I like the first an third one here, but trop my tears for the lost handles of the second.
    The original would have been beautiful with a bit of color, i guess.

  24. Charlene says:

    Steph, girl your dresser looks dang awesome! Yes it was “classic” midcentury before and frankly I am over-saturated with the look. Your re-do captures the spirit of the era; clean, fresh and intriguing. If I saw this dresser and one looking like the before, cleaned up and sitting next to it, I’d choose yours. That’s my opinion. But the opinion that matters most is yours, in this case! And since you love it then it works! And if only for being bold enough and talented enough to pull off such a fantastic re-do, I say “Brava”!

  25. Becky says:

    uuugh. what I wouldn’t do to find a mid-century piece like the before #2 around here, especially at half the price of something from Ikea… cheap veneer or not. I’m all for transforming a cast off into something beautiful, but I guess what kills me (and it appears that I’m not the only one) is that I don’t view the original as a cast off. The after is lovely, but I hate that such a classic piece of mid-century was lost in the process.

  26. Jo Kin says:

    Number 2 wasn’t good because I preferred the original wood look with those unique drawer pulls! Number 3 was exceptional and the most impressive change you made.
    You took a simple pine dresser and made it into something wonderful. All three were done well but number 3 really took my breath away. Keep up the excellent work!

  27. jon says:

    Sorry if this has been mentioned before, as I read through a lot of the comments. What brand and color is the paint? Me and my wife really like it. Thanks.


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