5 Easy Ways to Update an Old Dresser or Chest

DIY Makeover Ideas for Old Dressers and Chests

Old dresser for sale at Alameda Point Antiques Faire
" NYC skyline, top dresser drawer" by allaboutgeorge /  CC BY 2.0/ Flickr

It's easy to find old dressers for sale at flea markets, yards sales, thrift stores, and consignment shops. Taller chests of drawers are usually available too. Occasionally you'll get lucky and find one in perfect condition with a finish you like, but that's the exception rather than the rule. In most cases, the pieces need cosmetic makeovers.

Refinishing is an option, but sometimes the wood isn't good enough—and sometimes you just want a different look. That doesn't mean you shouldn't buy the piece. It just means you should consider other chest or dresser makeover ideas. Here are five ways to update an old dresser or chest:

Paint It a Fun Color

The easiest way to update an old dresser or chest (without giving it a proper refinishing) is to paint it. You can go with black or white, but why not increase the wow factor by painting it a fun color? You can choose a soft and distressed look or choose glossy, bright colors. Imagine a bright pink or bold blue piece in an otherwise understated room. Or, if a soft, vintage look is more your style, opt for pale aqua or yellow with a shabby, timeworn finish. If you choose the right paint color, you can even disguise any flaws in the finish.

Browse your local hardware store for primers. If the piece doesn't have a lot of gouges and chips, you may be able to avoid all the sanding. Some primers are designed to rough up the finish and help the paint to stick.

Paint It with Chalkboard Paint

Chalkboard paint has been trendy on walls for years now, but why not try it on a flea market dresser or chest? You can paint just the top, the top and sides, or use chalkboard paint on the entire piece. After you've finished, top the dresser or chest with an eraser and a small bowl of white or colored chalk. You can decorate the piece with new chalked designs whenever inspiration strikes you. The project is fun for any casual space, but it's ideal for a child or teen's room.

Paint It with a Design

Turn your flea market dresser or chest into art by painting it with a decorative design. You can opt for a stylized geometric pattern, faux zebrawood, a garden-inspired floral, or any other design that makes you happy. View designers' and artists' blogs for inspiration. The talented Miss Mustard Seed, for example, painted a stunning Union Jack flag design on an old dresser with stunning results. If you're not especially artistic, consider using stencils to make the process easier.

Upholster It

Though you may not think of upholstery when you consider the options for wood furniture, upholstered dressers and chests look stunning. You can upholster just the top and sides, the drawer fronts, or the entire piece.

To trim your piece after you upholster it, you can use gimp or braid for an opulent, romantic look. Or, opt for nailhead trim—single nail heads or easy-to-attach strips—to give the piece a sleek, sophisticated look.

Cut Off the Legs

If you need a low-slung, sleek console in your den or a server for your dining room, you can cut off a dresser's legs to give the piece a new look. For taller bedroom chests, cutting off the legs may lower the height enough to use the piece as an entry table, bar, or living room chest.