before and after

before & after: three dresser transformations

by Kate Pruitt

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

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  • Wow, the last one is a huge transformation! Congrats! But in my taste, the second dresser was very nice “before”. That said, it looks very good with the transformation aswell ;)

  • wow! thank you for the inspiration! i have a halfway primed dresser sitting in my garage…for about 4 months now :(. i became unmotivated and overwhelmed! perhaps this might do the trick! :)

  • just in the nick of time [again!] I just picked up a set of vintage dressers yesterday and was thinking about lacquering them. I wasn’t sure if it is a job that an amateur can do – but the step by step from the first before&after make it seem doable. thanks again d*s !

  • the second dresser transformation ruined a beautiful mid-century modern piece. if you wanted a dresser that looked like something from ikea with better handles, then that is exactly what you should have done rather than destroying a piece that many people would have appreciated for what it is.

  • Wow, I love your transformations, Natalie and Naomi! I would love to stumble across a piece like that, Natalie. Did you buy it used?

    I knew my makeover wouldn’t appeal to everyone, but I didn’t feel too bad about altering this old dresser as it was locally made out of three different kinds of inexpensive wood and veneer. I personally prefer the bright and cheery version :)

  • I second the “crime” Carolina mentioned was committed with the second project! However, the transformation in the dresser is truly astonishing.

  • The first piece is a beautiful choice of color and a great way to make an ugly dresser look regal.

    The second dresser is a complete crime.

  • Love the red one and the black one. I agree the mid-century modern one was better before. I have been looking for something like it for quite awhile so I was disappointed with the result on that one.

  • The red and black dressers are too cool, but I’m with some of the other commenters r.e. #2. The second dresser went from something really unique to something I’ve seen in eleventy billion design blog posts, often as Ikea hacks, thanks to swapping out the handles.

    I’m imagining how fantastic it would have looked with the same paint/stain job, except with the wooden handles as a cool natural-wood contrast against the white front drawers. :/

  • I love them all, even the second! However, I am a little sad that the detail on the drawer fronts in #2 was removed… I think that is what “made” the piece but I certainly appreciate the transformation. That’s the point right?… to take something from another time and modify it to your liking, giving it a new personality.

  • Love the first – don’t like the second, either before OR after – and the third one made me want to run out and do the same thing RIGHT NOW! LOVE IT!!

  • To priscilla (and others), I think it’s great that you prefer the original version. But, I thought I should clarify a couple of things. This was not a Danish piece, nor was it made of teak or other quality wood. It was mass-produced by a now defunct local furniture store. It was for sale online for four months before I decided to cave and buy it, so the demand for it didn’t seem very high. Although I love Ikea, I was looking for a piece this shape and it cost half as much as the cheapest dresser they sell. Although I appreciate that you prefer the original version, it’s hard for me to think of my refinishing someone’s cast-off for my home as a crime. The new version makes me happy!

    • Steph

      Well put. I think it’s pretty harsh to call a non high quality wood makeover that makes someone happy a crime or shameful.


  • I guess I’ll have to disagree with most of the posters here. I like the first and third, but the second one is really my favorite. I love the brass rings!

  • Steph, I think the “after” looked gorgeous. To each their own I say. You did a great job.
    Naomi and Natalie’s dressers are beautiful as well and the hardware on Naomi’s is just beautiful

  • Wow. I’m not usually a fan of painted furniture, but these are all so perfectly done. The paint and hardware is just right for the style of each piece. I’m really impressed.

  • All 3 dressers turned out quite lovely. I don’t know if I would have the time and patience and guts to tackle a big project like a dresser, especially with all that sanding.

    And I really think people need to stop condemning those to choose to paint their furniture pieces. It’s a piece. of. furniture. And it’s someone else’s piece of furniture, with which they can do as they please. It’s not the end of the world. She did a fabulous job with it, and there are plenty of midcentury pieces that look exactly like that- how dull.

  • All three ‘afters’ look amazing! I am truly inspired by each of them! Personally I feel the #2 ‘after’ improved the dresser ten fold. It was dark and blah before, now it is bright and beautiful! Well done. I don’t see any crime here!

  • Love the first – the red is beautiful, but the second is a real shame. That dresser was gorgeous before it was painted and had the handles added, now it ‘s just blah.

  • I like the warm wood and white combination, but I find myself missing the “masculine” wood handles on the second piece. Perhaps they dated the piece a bit too much for Steph, but I like the midcentury modern touch. It would really be neat to see the piece with painted draw fronts *and* the original wooden handles with, perhaps, a splash of color.

  • I’m usually not one to say, “Agh! That wood! Why paint it?!” I love painted wood pieces…But with that being said, I do like the after of the 2nd piece, but the before was so beautiful, in my opinion, if it had just been sanded down and re-finished, it would have been gorgeous! I probably would have painted the wooden handles a 50’s looking teal-blue or something, maybe with a gold stripe down the middle of them or something, but other than that, I think the midcentury wood was just beautiful as-is…

  • just a general question, because I see that in how-to lists all the time. Why do you need to sand again after applying paint. Won’t it all come off again?

  • Love the transformations! Colorful creativity at it’s best! Where did you find the hardware for dresser #2? What did you do to hardware to the finish on dresser #1? Fabulous job!

  • I really like all three, but I think the 2nd one is beautiful and well done. Furniture should make you happy! :)

  • The first dresser was beautiful; the third, genius. The second took a fifteen hundred dollar piece and rendered it worthless. :P

  • I agree with the others. The second didn’t need fixing but I get everyone has different taste. The third is great!

  • I also have to disagree with the others on #2. Not only I think it’s impolite to deride someone’s hard work on their own property, the transformation in the piece is beautiful and bold. It doesn’t look like anything at Ikea. The clean lines, two-tone color and subtle hardware make all the difference.

  • I LOVE the red dresser- the price is spectacular for a piece that looks like it’s worth much much more. The second and third look good but are overpriced for makeover furniture. As for painting the wood on #2, I have no problem with that– it wasn’t particularly lovely wood– but I think the original handles were unique and awesome and would have looked great either as wood or in a contrasting color.

    Somebody asked why you sand after the first coat of paint and whether that will remove the paint… I used to think the same thing but if you wait until the paint is fully dry and use a fine grit sanding block, the paint should remain. What it does is remove little imperfections that always seem to appear after the first coat and I’ve found that projects end up much smoother in the end with this extra step.

  • I love the second dresser. I don’t think the “before” is all that unique. It seems very common to see a version of that dresser/credenza in most tours of MSM homes. I like that she made it work for her home and her style. And I agree that it is rude to call someone’s work a “crime.” Just because we are not face-to-face with someone does not mean that manners are not required.

  • 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.

  • 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….

  • @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.

  • 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.

  • 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……

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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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!!

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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”!

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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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