If you can handle a paintbrush and sandpaper, you can transform an old, dumpy chest of drawers into a pretty piece.
Can This Dresser Be Saved?
Credit: Jean Allsopp / Styling: Alan Henderson

Everybody has one: A hand-me-down piece of furniture that, frankly, you'd love to hand back. But before you toss it or pass it on to another, give it one last look. If it's a solid piece with nothing wrong structurally, you'll be amazed at how far a little cosmetic work will go. Pick out new paint and new hardware, add elbow grease, and that once-worthless chest of drawers can become something stunning to add to your room--instead of something you hide in the attic.

Step 1:
Place chest on a drop cloth in a well-ventilated area. Remove drawers and all hardware. Ours had a decorative front panel along the bottom that we wanted to get rid of, so we pried it off and removed the old legs behind it. Fill in any deep scratches, dents, or unwanted hardware holes with wood putty. Let putty dry, and sand spots until smooth with fine-grit sandpaper.

Step 2:
Sand the entire piece and drawer fronts with medium-grit sandpaper. You just need to rough up the wood, not completely strip it bare. Sanding helps remove any glossy varnish that may be on the chest, and it also gives the primer a surface to stick to. If your piece has hard-to-sand details, use a sandpaper sponge, available at hardware stores. Wipe off dust with a tack cloth.

Step 3:
Because we chose single pulls instead of handles, we drilled holes where we wanted the new hardware to be. Make sure you drill the holes a tad wider than the screws.

Step 4:
Cover the chest and drawers with a coat of primer. Allow primer to dry according to manufacturer's directions.

Step 5:
It's time to paint. We opted for a light shade of semigloss blue on the drawers, with a darker hue for the frame. Tip: If you want a super-smooth finish, lightly sand it with fine-grit sandpaper after the first coat of paint is dry, and wipe with a tack cloth. Allow each coat to dry overnight.

Step 6:
If desired, attach new legs to the chest after painting them the same color as the frame. You can find furniture legs at hardware or home-improvement stores. Note: You may need to drill holes for the new legs.

Step 7:
Affix new knobs or pulls to the drawers. Place liners inside drawers. Try scented paper, cork drawer liner, or squares of cedar.


  • drop cloth
  • wood putty
  • putty knife
  • sandpaper (fine- and medium-grit)
  • tack cloth
  • primer
  • paintbrushes
  • paint
  • furniture legs (optional)
  • drawer knobs or pulls
  • drawer liners

Paint is Behr latex paint in Swan Sea (#500F-4) and semigloss Hallowed Hush (#500F-6).

This article is from the March 2005 issue of Southern Living.