before & after: refinished dresser + card catalog

I used to be sheepish about painting pieces dark colors, but after seeing how beautiful Grace’s dining chairs look in the new D*S office — elegant and dramatic in a fresh coat of midnight gray blue — I’m completely convinced that it can be done well. These two projects are further proof of the transformative power of dark hues. The before and after comparison of this dresser makeover from San Francisco-based graphic designer Kate Koeppel is like day and night, almost literally. The modern bronze handles look fantastic against the new graphite color, and this piece suddenly has an understated chicness that it simply couldn’t achieve in its former gilded state. Amazing job, Kate! — Kate

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.)

Time: 10–12 hours (not including drying time)

Cost: $200 total (including a few tools, sandpaper, paint, hardware and the dresser itself for $100)

Basic Steps: Over the course of two weekends, we sanded, primed and painted — the sanding portion of our project took quite a few hours — using both the electric sander and working by hand on all the curved and carved parts. After sanding and wiping the whole thing down inside and out, we primed the dresser with two coats, sanding lightly between coats. We let the primer cure for 48 hours, then wiped the whole dresser down again to get rid of stray dust and help ensure a very smooth surface for the final paint color.

We used sponge cabinet rollers to get a really smooth coat and an angled sponge to get into all the carved details without leaving any brush strokes. We picked a satin eggshell finish, after finally settling on Benjamin Moore “Gray.” Again, the dresser needed two coats of paint, and we sanded lightly between coats to keep the final finish smooth.

My advice would be to always vacuum the piece of furniture and do a quick moist wipe down with a cloth or sponge between sanding and painting at each step, and always do a little fine-grit sanding between the final coats to ensure a very smooth finish. I’d also recommend having a partner painting with you, to make the job go faster, and to help each other maneuver the furniture to get the hard-to-reach cracks and tight spots when painting and sanding! — Kate Koeppel

See Laura’s card catalog renovation after the jump!

We’ve posted a few great card catalog projects in the past year or so, and I’m thrilled to see more people snagging these almost-obsolete pieces of furniture from thrift stores and Craigslist and giving them new life. In the case of this card catalog makeover, Laura has given it a totally new look with hairpin legs, a beautiful dark teal color and freshly polished brass hardware. While I’m a huge fan of natural-wood card catalogs, I think the color Laura chose sets off the hardware quite nicely; it almost has a crisp, nautical feel. Lovely work, Laura!

Time: About 1.5 days

Cost: About $450: $300 for the card catalog (only used about half of it for this project); $150 for the paint, furniture wax, pin legs (which took up most of the budget) and other small materials

Basic Steps: The original card catalog came in four pieces, not including the base. We were lucky because it could be taken apart and put back together easily, kind of like Legos. To start the project, we first pulled out all the drawers and removed the hardware. Then one of us got started painting the drawer faces and polishing the brass hardware with Brasso.

With the goal to create a credenza for our entryway, we took the two largest pieces and lined them up side by side, drilling the two card catalog pieces together. We then created new top and bottom pieces for the credenza, which was the biggest component of the assembly. Working with wood we already had on hand, we combined two pieces of wood together lengthwise to create the top and bottom, making the top piece about a 1/2″ larger on each side so it would have a small overhang. In order to accomplish this, we had to rip, dowel pin, edge glue and clamp the boards, leaving the assembly to dry overnight.

The next morning, we sanded the boards to make each into one uniform slab, then ran the top piece through a router table to soften the edge. We finished each piece with a final hand sanding and glued and drilled these to the card catalog. From there, we gave the piece two coats of paint and used furniture wax to seal it. Once dry, we screwed the pin legs into the bottom, and it was complete!

I was actually surprised by how few hiccups we experienced throughout the process, and I think much of it was due to proper planning. We sketched out our plan beforehand and gathered all the materials in advance, so we weren’t running back and forth to the store. Also, having the right tools available and using quality materials in the makeover makes a world of difference. — Laura

  1. I love, love, love the elongated catalog console table!! When I made mine, I left it as is and now I’m rethinking this… I really love the slate blue too. Beautiful!

  2. Ooh…love the brassy hardware on both overhauls! Nicely done Kate K. and Laura!

  3. The card catalog was a great find and a great makeover! Do you keep little trinkets in there too?

  4. Kate says:

    LOVE the card catalog table!

  5. FinderMaker says:

    Wowsers! I wasn’t expecting much of the card catalog re-do, but I’m bowled over by the finished product– stunning! The proportions and balance of it (very chunky and squat before) are perfectly elegant now. You really knocked that one out of the ballpark! The dresser is most excellent also– amazing what some dark gray paint and fresh hardware can do!

  6. Rachel says:

    That card catalog is absolutely fantastic – I love its new structure and color! Striking!

  7. Sing says:

    That card catalog is so cool. The things I could do with that amount of storage.

  8. Love the idea! There is always so much0 potential that can be used in antique designs.. A little and beautiful journey through time!

  9. Gosh. I have a set of unused metal card catalogs that I was going to sell on Craig’s List. Maybe I give ’em legs and keep ’em.

  10. The first dresser is a great transformation from fussy and outdated to really sleek looking! I also love the way the brass pulls pop off of the dark paint color in the card catalog credenza. So pretty!

  11. I have a great before and after that I’d like to send you, but when I click “right here” on your post it just takes me to a sign-up for GMail. Is there some other way?

  12. Love the new spin on an old find! This new card catalog table is funky and versatile!

  13. Isil says:

    What is color you used on the card catalogue? I’m obsessed with the whole redo.

  14. Laura says:

    Thanks everyone for your comments! Joanne – we used Anne Salon Chalk Paint in Graphite.

  15. Stacy says:

    Both redo’s are great. What is the exact Benjamin Moore number for the Gray?

  16. Hol says:

    Amazing. I actually own the sister to the dresser (a lowboy rather than a highboy.) I just might try to duplicate this project!

  17. isabelle says:

    Love the card catalogue reno. Not so much the dresser.

  18. sécia says:

    WOW. These are amazing works of art!

    ♥ sécia

  19. Kate Koeppel says:

    I am so taken with that card catalog project, the hardware and legs on your new piece are wonderful!

    Thanks for all the kind feedback about our dresser project! The color is Benjamin Moore gray #2121-10.

    HOL- Amazing! I’d love to see how your project turns out!!

  20. unvacuous says:

    Love love love the dresser! Drawer pulls are a perfect choice. Nice modern take on the dated look, didn’t know the silhouette would look so good with the matte paint. We had some furniture like that growing up, wish we would have kept it to try this!

    Like the card catalog but I think I would want a more substantial base for it.

  21. Ashleigh says:

    These are lovely, well done!! Where did you get the cushion from in the second picture?

  22. Sarah says:

    Lovely results, particularly the card catalogue (love the uniform rows of brass cardholders on the graphite bakground)…but if you´d used Annie Sloan Chalk Paint I´m guessing that each project would have taken 3-4 hours each, excluding the joinery work – without lowering the quality of the finish.

    Don´t want to sound like “TV shop” or anything, but it really is such brilliant stuff. After I´d tried it out on furniture and a floor (for my own private projects) I started selling it in my shop in Sweden. And people are going crazy over it here – not just the “shabby chic” folks, but even the minimalists and the modernists.

  23. leanne says:

    A fabulous outcome. Well done. I’m dying to know if/what you keep in the catalogue drawers?

  24. Laura says:

    Sarah – We actually did use chalk paint and it was the fastest part of the project! The time intensive part for us was actually building the piece. I agree that it’s brilliant stuff – I loved using it!

    Leanne – Lots of things! For a size perspective – it’s about the size of a wine bottle, so in addition to those, we keep everything from notepads to hammers (easy accesss) to a stapler. For more (and pictures) check out my blog post on it:

  25. trish says:

    car catalog table is amazing, especially with hairpin legs!

  26. The finished products look fabulous. Definitely a fan of the charcoal grey painted furniture.

  27. Jen says:

    I always thought the style of the dresser was a bit fussy and feminine, but with the new color and hardware, it looks fantastic!

  28. Tammy says:

    Ironically, I’m desparate to find the original base that you did away with! Won’t work in my setting, but I LOVE your final project.

  29. Michele says:

    These are so nice, where did you get the hardware for the dresser?

  30. Amy says:

    Quick question – what’s the history of the gilded dresser? I have come across quite a few of the same style but can’t figure out the origin.

  31. Kate Koeppel says:

    Michelle!- We needed 2.5 inch handles, which were a bit hard to find. We bought the hardware through Lowes online– although the bin pulls we originally wanted came from Restoration Hardware.

    Amy- I know nothing of its history, other than it was made by Henredon. We bought it at an estate sale, and it was part of a much larger matching set.

  32. Wilkinson says:

    Both transformations are great. The card catalog credenza is especially interesting. Such a creative way to repurpose the card catalog.

  33. kim says:

    wow. I think this is one of my top five b+a’s ever. Major kudos!!!

  34. Lindsay says:

    These are all great! I bet if you posted a combined before & after picture that people would share on Pinterest :)

  35. Love the dresser!!!! I have my mom’s furniture from the 50’s. It’s french provincial,very similiar to your piece. What grit of sandpaper did you use? I’m wanting to give the pieces a fresh new look…thank you for any advice:>)

  36. Barbara says:

    Love your dresser! Wanted to let you know that I featured it on my blog today on Friday’s Fabulous Furniture Finds!

    Barbara @Chase the Star

  37. hanako zeidenberg says:

    Wow what an amazing idea~!!!

  38. Nola says:

    what type of primer did you use?

  39. Kelsey says:

    What is the height of your legs? i’m going to order some, but i’m not sure how tall of legs to buy.


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