Updating an Old Dresser | A Makeover

Right after we got married, Anthony and I shared a twin mattress on the floor in our first house because it was the only mattress we had (mine from college).  That set-up lasted a few weeks until we bought a new mattress and a secondhand bedroom set from a local thrift store.  We stripped the shiny varnish from the set of dressers and gave them a coat of satin poly to modernize them a little (key word:  a little).  You can see them in our first house tour.  We also added some new hardware I found on clearance at Lowe's.  (Was this the beginning of a lifetime of furniture makeovers?  Looks like it.)  We used that set for years and are still using the bed (though it looks a smidge different), but the dressers have hopped around the houses we've had.  The tall dresser eventually got traded for another tall dresser (that matched a long dresser we bought from someone online) and the long dresser went from kid's room to kids' room and landed in the living room in this house where it held the TV.  When I spotted a longer dresser on Facebook marketplace a couple of months ago, we decided to swipe up that one and swap it out with our old one in the living room.  Did you follow all that?  Basically, we still have this dresser we bought as newlyweds but now we have no place for it. 

It sat in the breakfast nook for a few weeks which drove us all crazy so, pushing all sentiment aside (which wasn't easy), we decided to sell it.  But it sat and sat and sat with very little interest.  *womp womp*  I might've been asking too much considering it still looks like it hails from the 1980's but I was trying to recoup the money we spent on that "new" dresser.

We knew something was going to have to change to get this thing out the door and we didn't really want it to be the price since it's in great shape and has great bones so...

I know, I know.  Is that even the same dresser?  Y to the E to the S.  Fantastic, right?  I mean, I'm a little on the subjective side but you can't go from 1983 to 2020 much better than that.  ;)

Here's how we did it:

First of all, I've been going through a phase (a long phase now) where I have a hard time justifying painting real wood.  I walked through some consignment stores with a friend a couple of weeks ago and saw umpteen pieces of painted wood furniture and, while most of them were pretty, so many had gorgeous features and edges that I bet looked fantastic in their raw element.  But maybe they were beat up and had a ton of botox a la furniture going on which made the only option paint...who knows.  Down here in the South though, there are a ton of people buying used furniture, painting it, and selling it.  It's a legit thing.  Someday though, someone is going to make a killing buying used, painted furniture and stripping it down to the original wood.  You heard it here first.  ;)

Second of all, let me backtrack and eat my words because obviously, I painted this dresser.  Like I said above, it was in good shape so why would I paint it?  It's all the shell's fault.  That little shell shape carved into the top middle drawer, did you see it?  There's no covering that up with stain and I felt like it was such a 1980 faux pas that it had to go.

I filled it in with drywall compound* because that stuff has been sitting on our counter for days as we continue to mud this kitchen ceiling over here and so it was readily available and dries hard.  Had we had wood filler* on hand, I would've used that so that's what I'd recommend for you if you ever find yourself wanting to fill in a shell like this one.  

Note:  If you do ever use wood filler to fill in something in a piece of wood furniture, I'd recommend using a thin layer of spackle* at the very end.  Wood filler doesn't sand smooth enough to me because it has fibers in it and so using spackle at the end will really give you a smooth, seamless finish.  I'd fill with wood filler, let it dry, sand, cover with spackle, let it dry, lightly sand, and then give yourself a high five.  You can get a visual in this post.

The other thing that had to go to make this dresser 40 years younger was the curvy bottom edge.  It's kind of like the curvy wood header over the kitchen sink in our rental...they both just screamed "outdated" but once they were gone it was like whoa, instant update.  (PS, a big thank you to Lily Ardor, who inspired us to get rid of the curves with her awesome dresser makeover.)

To get rid of that outdated edge, I measured up a few inches off the floor and sharpied on a line.  The line showed Anthony where to cut.  By cutting off a few inches and adding legs (which I'll get to in a minute), the dresser stayed close to the same, standard height.

Using his circular saw*, he cut the sides and front.  The back was open with a 1 x 2 piece of wood spanning the length.  He removed that piece of wood and moved it up because we thought it probably needed to help support the back of the dresser and we needed a place to screw our new legs into. 

After we cut off the bottom, I painted the dresser.  I didn't get any pictures of this process because it was a little chaotic but...first, I gave the whole frame a quick sanding, wiped it down, and gave it a coat of spray primer.  I used spray primer because I wanted to go the oil-based route to block any stains and/or old stain from seeping through the paint.  After that dried, I used our new-to-us paint sprayer* I picked up an an estate sale and that ended in a disaster.  To be clear though, the dresser looked great after one coat but paint dripped everywhere because of some user-error (yep, that's me) with using the sprayer.  It'll be better next time which I had hoped would be the second coat of paint, but the weather here didn't cooperate and I ended up just brushing a second coat of paint on with my trusty Wooster* and Handy paint cup*.  (All of our favorite painting tools are here.)  I also added some Floetrol to the paint to help it dry more slowly which in turn, minimized visible brush strokes.     

The top of the dresser got a coat of polycrylic* (also brushed on) for added durability.  (However, timeline-wise, this was the very last thing I did to the dresser.  I didn't want to finish the important top of the dresser before the next step, risking scratches.)  The drawers got pretty much the same treatment except I taped off the sides, the hardware holes, and inside to keep the paint confined to the drawer fronts only.     

Next up, adding legs.  Gimme a dresser with legs any day.  We bought these furniture legs* and, even though they're a little bit more shiny and glam that I had thought they'd be, they're still so perfect for this project.  They're also really heavy duty so I have no qualms about the sturdiness of the dresser.  To put them on, we first flipped the dresser upside-down and did a dry fit before we screwed them in.

Then I penciled in the screw holes before we pre-drilled holes to make sure the legs went on right where we wanted them.

Pre-drilling holes before screwing on the legs was important so that the wood didn't crack as the screws went in.  I don't know if it would have but we didn't really want to take any chances.  Making over the dresser sounded fun, rebuilding the whole bottom?  Not so much.

We did the legs right after dinner one day and this was the scene in the living room:  

It answers the age-old question, "How do you get stuff done with kids around???"  Uhhh, we just do it when they're around and hope it all goes smoothly?   ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ 

While we had it bottoms up, Anthony also screwed a piece of wood to the center of the bottom of the dresser, going from front to back and to that he added another piece of wood perpendicularly that acts as another support leg.  We didn't know if this additional step was necessary, but since the dresser wasn't built with legs, the top is thick mdf with wood veneer, and the bottom panel is just a thinner piece of mdf under the drawers, we thought adding some extra support in the middle wouldn't hurt and it would keep the dresser from ever bowing in the middle.  If we had solid wood on top and bottom, we probably wouldn't have needed the extra leg.  Sorry for no visuals on this!  I wasn't able to take pictures at the moment but you can see that extra support leg here:
It's not visible unless you hit the floor and look under the dresser.

A "new" dresser called for new hardware; hardware that complimented the new legs so I grabbed these handles* because they went with the simple look we were going for and fit into the existing holes.

I thought about filling in the existing holes and going the single knob route but, filling in all those holes plus drilling more would have added a lot of time and we were already working on this in our spare spare (maybe add one more spare) time.  So we worked with what we had.  

The dresser wasn't finished there though.  It could've been but there's one more thing I had to do to push it just a little farther over the modernized edge.

I lined the drawers and oh my goodness, they are my favorite part.

I found a roll of this removable wallpaper at Dirt Cheap last year for $3 and haven't found a use for it yet...until now.  I made myself a template (like I did adding liners to these drawers) and used a sock to smooth the wallpaper into each drawer, cutting off the excess on the sides with my xacto knife.  (It was a process similar to lining this tray.)

Lining dresser/cabinet drawers is such an easy way to up the ante design-wise.  And lining all of these drawers probably took me about 20 minutes.  I probably could have gotten two dressers lined with one roll of this wallpaper too so, even at full price, it's not a bad deal!

As much as I hate that I had to paint this piece to modernize it, it is amazing how the paint brought out details like the pretty scalloped edge on top that seemed to hide in the dark under the top of the dresser before.

As far as paint - I went with Cloud Cover by Ben Moore (color-matched to Valspar Simplicity) because we had it on hand.  It's a warm white that's eventually going to get painted on our exterior.  I debated dark charcoal, dark green, and dark blue and, while they would all have looked awesome, not buying more paint was a plus.  No, I didn't use a special kind of paint (chalk, furniture, or other) for a few reasons (all of which probably deserve a whole post) but in a nutshell, this hutch that I painted many, many moons ago has Valspar all over it and even after several years, several kids, and three moves, it's held up phenomenally.  That's enough proof to me that Valspar is all I need.    

While it looks like this dresser went from dark to light in a day with a few blog post pictures, this thing actually took us about a month to finish for lots of reasons including weather-related delays, kids getting sick one week, and LIFE.  But gosh, I'm so glad we took the leap and changed it up because now it has a whole new life ahead of it.     

And I'm now convinced that each and every curved-bottom dresser needs to go through a little bit of surgery to acquire legs.  Aren't you?  ;)

**Update for those wondering...I listed the dresser for sale online and within the hour it was sold, out the front door in 24 hours.  It was bittersweet to see it go but I'm happy that someone else will love on it like we did.  :)  **

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  1. Oh my goodness, this is fabulous! In love with those legs. Have a bdrm set I have been wanting to make over and I think I am copying!

    1. YES! Do it Lisa! And send me pictures when you do!

  2. So after all that are you still selling it? Did the price go up?
    Beautiful job!

    1. I wish I had a place for it now but we don't. :( But it gives me hope for future dressers. I'd love to find one like this to redo when the girls get their own room someday! So, to answer your question, yep, I'm still going to sell it and the price will definitely go up! :D

  3. Sheena,
    This is absolutely gorgeous! I love the gold and white :)

  4. I love this dresser makeover! Cutting off the bottom is genius. What size legs did you use? Are they 4in? Thanks so much for sharing!

    1. Thanks!! The legs we used were 4 inches, yep!

  5. Sheena, thank you for this post!! I purchased all the same hardware as you and followed your tutorial (also helped that one of my girlfriends had a shed full of power tools) and it turned out better than I could have expected. I hated my dresser and the clunky bottom and now it is one of my favorite pieces of furniture. Also spent less than $50 on the whole project. I have some before and after pics I would be happy to share... just not sure how to. Thanks again for this post!

    1. That is AWESOME!! I would love, love, love to see it! You can tag me on Instagram (@beaninlove) or just email me pictures if that's easier! beaninlove@gmail.com Can't wait!

  6. Wow. Just wow. I have several pieces of this type of furniture that need updating, and I'm so OVER the farmhouse fad. These days I'm leaning hard toward the sophisticated, mid-century inspired style of decor which is always current. This gives me hope for my furniture and MAYBE the courage to give this a try.

    1. I'm right there with you on the farmhouse fad! Haha! One piece at a time, you can do it! :)

  7. Hey there! I’m going to take in a similar project! I’m very new to DIY. For the paint did you use the ben moore color but the valspar brand? Can I ask them to color match by name or would I have to bring in a sample? Do you recall about how much paint you used?

    1. Hey Kristina! Yes - I used the BM color but had Lowe's color-match it. I just asked for it by name and they had it in the system but I don't know if that's the case at every Lowe's (I would assume so?) To be sure, you could bring the BM swatch in and have them color-match that. As far as the amount of paint, I can't remember exactly but I know it wasn't more than half a gallon. If you're going to brush or roll the paint on, you could probably get away with a quart. Sprayers usually use more paint (in my limited experience with them), so you may need a smidge more. Hope that helps! Let me know if you have anymore questions! Good luck! I'd love to see the finished product!

  8. Looks great I have filled in countless designs on dressers and know exactly what I mean when u end up going with paint although I don't mind paint I enjoy a good stained dresser don't get me wrong but to really put the extra work in sanding perfectly and all the other prep for stain I just generally only stain oak or maple or anything more high end on the wood scale! Wanted to add if u have not already used Bondo highly recommend that product for filling in any dings brakes or just style changes like filling in the 80s shell some guy with tight latex pants and a full can of aqua net to achieve that perfect hair style all the woman wanted as well lol but that's the guy that thought the shell was really RAD. But if u have not used Bondo u can do just about anything with it even build or mold parts that might be missing like the corner of a dresser or drawer and it holds well and just as strong as it would have been before the fix! Dresser looks great would love for you to check out my FB business page if u get time it's under https://www.facebook.com/myextramiles

    1. That was supposed to say what you***** mean lol sorry talk to text and some texting of my own made for a ugly looking msg my apologies but u should get most of the msg ty

  9. I lean toward mid century modern and accumulated mcm wood pieces decades ago when they were cheap out of fashion discards. This is brilliant! I inherited a solid HEAVY wardrobe with this house, but find it ugly in style and so big and heavy I'd have to demolish it to get it out of that tiny room... so I filled it full of stuff and looked for a mcm storage unit; however, wood mcm pieces are scandously priced these days. That wardrobe is perfect for the task, just ugly with black and gray splotches and curves on the bottom. I thought about painting it but the doodads... Still, it is so functional.. what if I saw off feet and doodads, paint it black and add Asian half circle handles?
    Yay! You are brilliant.