before and afterDIY

Before & After: A Basic Dresser Gets Dressed Up

by Maxwell Tielman


They say that necessity is the mother of invention. This may be true, but I’d like to offer a slight addendum. The union of necessity and no money is the real mother of invention. At least when it comes to furnishing your apartment. Y’all know I love a good IKEA hack and this one, sent to us by Chilean designer Soledad Proaño, is a real winner. It has pretty much everything you’d want from an über satisfying before and after: a bland, basic “before,” a bare-bones budget, a momentous epiphany, and a seriously killer end result—and all of it started with the necessity (and desire) for a midcentury dresser but no money to shell out for the real deal. Rather than feel down on her luck, though, Soledad did what any handy-dandy DIY-er would do—go to IKEA. Armed with one of the Swedish store’s beyond-basic pine Tarva dressers, a set of $8 tapered legs, some Danish oil and a bit of ingenuity, Soledad was able to craft the midcentury dresser of her dreams without breaking the bank. Check out all of the photos, plus Soledad’s design notes, after the jump! —Max

ba_tarva_form_1 tarva_ba_before

When my husband and I moved from LA to NY last summer, we didn’t have a lot of money left to spare on the nice, midcentury furniture that we really like. But neither of us liked the look of the furniture we could afford. It was obvious the situation required some creativity and hands-on work, which we both loved. We bought the Tarva dresser at IKEA, thinking we could just do a nice painting and staining and it would be ok. The plan was to assemble the body and stain it along with the little wooden handles, and paint the front of the drawers to later assemble them all together.

When we went to assemble the frame of the dresser, we found out the screws for the legs were a tad short, so they had to be exchanged. You know how exchanging parts at IKEA can be oh-so frustrating, so after trying to speak with someone there, we realized we actually hated the legs anyway, so why not change them? We went ahead and bought the beautiful tapered legs online, only to find out we couldn’t really attach them to the frame without doing some kind of modification – either to the frame, or the legs. The most practical solution we found was to buy a piece of plywood, cut it to size, and attach it to the bottom of the dresser – this solution also gave it more stability (you can never have too much of that with IKEA furniture). We then attached the legs to this base. We took care in staining the sides of the plywood so they matched the rest.

ba_tarva_form_2 tarva_ba_process ba_tarva_form_3

My husband was in charge of the staining with Danish oil – first applied a coat of natural, and then several (maybe 6?) coats of medium walnut. Pine sucks up a lot of stain. I painted the front of the drawers (not assembled) with three coats of Valspar ultra paint + primer in satin Dove White, lightly sanding in between coats. Then, I assembled them and attached the handles.

The whole project took us about a week, including finding issues and solutions. But if we had had all the parts already, this could have been done in a day.

I am so grateful to IKEA for making mistakes with the parts. If those original legs had worked, we wouldn’t have been in the position of looking for a better solution – and probably would’ve thought of changing the legs after the fact. The new legs and the paint and staining make the dresser look light and warm, which is just what we wanted. This is not a keeper for life, but we are happy we can look at it and actually love it!

ba_tarva_form_4 tarva_ba_after_1 tarva_ba_after_2 tarva_ba_after_3 ba_tarva_form_5

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