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DIY: Dresser Transformation

Julia Konya

DIY Blogger, Cuckoo 4 Design

Making over a piece of furniture is an activity that does double duty: outfitting your home with something you really love and giving new life to an item that might otherwise end up in a landfill. If you’re not sure how to get started, Julia Konya of Cuckoo 4 Design has a wealth of advice, the product of countless DIY projects transforming ugly or boring furniture into clean, classy creations. Read on for tips that will empower you to tackle a piece that’s readily available and always necessary: the noble dresser.

Find a Good Piece

If you’ve been waking up to the sight of a drab, dingy, disappointing dresser every morning, there’s your target. Make it something that starts your day with a sense of pride. Otherwise, you can find good furniture, ready to be transformed, for a cheap price all over the Valley. Some of Konya’s favorite places to look are Craigslist and local auctions like Tom Hall Auctions in Schnecksville, where she got her solid-glass dining table for a mere $25. With such a little investment, you can feel comfortable experimenting. Konya’s jam is mid-century modern and the occasional French antique. It can take some Pinteresting and browsing blogs like Cuckoo 4 Design to get an eye for a dresser’s potential, but once you have that vision, you’ll be able to identify your dream dresser.  

Design Decisions

There are two basic ways to redo a dresser: play up the natural grain of the wood by refinishing it, or create a whole new look with paint. If wood is a look you love, find a nice wood grain and a fairly smooth surface. A gouged-up dresser can be disguised with patching and painting, not so much with stain. With a lot of dainty and whimsical scrolls and fluting, it will be much easier to paint than to refinish, since staining requires a thorough sanding of every surface. As for the color, keep it simple if you have a busy or cluttered space. That said, delve into the freedom of design!


New handles on your old dresser can refresh it as quick as a wink, but if you love an incomplete set on an old heirloom, Konya recommends seeking out vintage hardware to match online. Finding the perfect set for a project can be super fun, especially on Etsy where small companies sell original hardware that far outstrips the stuff at big-box stores. Keep an eye out for hardware even if the rest of the piece isn’t to your liking: “I’ve bought a dresser just for the hardware and chucked the dresser,” Konya says. Tassels are a cute way to dress up your dresser’s handles, so check some out on Etsy while you’re there!


Photo courtesy of cuckoo4design.com


Tools of the Trade

To get started, you’ll want to assemble the right equipment for each step of the makeover. Konya let us in on her favorite stuff to use through each step of the project.

You’ll need sandpaper of various grits, and possibly a Dremel tool, if you’re bent on getting into a lot of little crevices. You can also use a very potent stripper and a toothbrush, but make sure you’re set up with hand and eye protection and a gas mask (not just a dust mask) to fend off the fumes.

From here, you can use a stain or get creative with paint colors. If the dresser is gouged and you’re planning to paint, patch it up with a filler like Wunderfil. Quality matters—some fillers won’t hide the marks as well. Then sand, use a degreaser to take dirt and grease off (Krud Kutter is one good choice), wipe with a tack cloth and apply a good primer like Kilz brand. The primer may end up grainy, and you can sand and wipe it down again.

Painting Pointers

Depending on the look you want, use oil-based paint (glossy) or latex paint with a varnish over it. Konya recommends Purdy brushes, and the quality matters. Cheap rollers aren’t as smooth and cheap brushes can leave bristles gunked into your paint job. There’s a reason some are labeled for oil-based or latex paints, too.

Chalk paint, is the easiest way to experiment with the rustic distressed look. In fact, you can make your own chalk paint by mixing dissolved plaster of Paris with latex paint, an especially fun option if you have some leftover paint colors from another project.

Paint remainders are also great if you want to get a little funky with your painting, like Konya’s dresser with a different shade of pink on each drawer. Keep an eye out for the paint-mixing mess-ups that are sold at a discount at Home Depot.

Go forth and turn some sad old dresser into a work of art!



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