Old & Red to Rustic & White: DIY Dresser Refurbish

A how-to post on refurbishing an old, ugly red dresser into a rustic white and stained top masterpiece.

This summer has been busy, busy, busy.

In May, I graduated college with a Bachelor’s in Communication Studies and spent a few days in Las Vegas shortly after. In June, I was in a wedding and turned 22. In July, I began my master’s degree at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. After classes ended early this August, I spent some time relaxing and visiting family until this week when fall semester began.

Throughout these few months, I lived out of a suitcase and drove back and forth between my mom’s, my boyfriend’s, my sister’s, and now my new apartment. Yes, I have moved into my very first real apartment in Syracuse with two friends from undergrad. We’re finally pretty well settled in but while I was unpacking in June, I realized that there was no way all of my clothes would fit into a closet. I needed a dresser of some sort.

After doing some searching, I didn’t find anything cute but durable in my price range because let’s be honest, good furniture is too expensive for my college grad self.  So if this isn’t my first post you’ve read or if you know me well, you know the most obvious alternative was to make a project out of my dilemma!

I didn’t really know what I was doing at first but I’m a firm believer that you can do anything as long as you’ve got confidence or at least Google. Don’t think you’re a good cook? Find a delicious recipe, set your timers, and you’re golden!

I’m blabbing… back to the point! As I love projects, it only makes sense that I am 100% obsessed with Pinterest. Time and time again scrolling through Pinterest, I’d see photos of DIY refurbished dressers. I fell in love with one but there were no directions! I found myself Googling every little step that I wasn’t sure how to complete. So now of course, I’m doing to tell and show you in detail how I made my dresser!





Time spent:

About a week because drying times, but you won’t be spending more than an hour or two at a time.


  • A dresser – I found mine at Salvation Army for $50. A little more than what I wanted to spend but time was pressing and this was the perfect size!
  • Sanding supplies – My dad was a carpenter so he has every tool ever. I used an electric sander with 60-grit and 220-grit paper.
  • Drop cloth or plastic – For obvious reasons.
  • A good cleaner – I used TSP. You will need a bucket and gloves when working with TSP so add that to your supplies list if you choose TSP.
  • A good cloth to clean with – I bought rags from Lowe’s and regretted it because little fibers fell off and were a pain to remove!
  • Tact cloth – And lots of it! I bought a two pack, cut them into halves and eventually quarters but I wish I had more. You use this to clean up the sanding dust.
  • Foam roller kit – I bought the cheapest 4-inch from Lowe’s and it worked like a charm. Get the kit so you have the tray.
  • Staining pads (or brush) – This was my first time staining anything and I liked using the pad but it’s a preference thing. The downside was fibers rubbed off similar to the rag I used to clean. I had to wait until I was fully finished staining and it was dry before I went through with TWEEZERS to remove the fibers. Learn from my mistake please!
  • Synthetic brush – This is to apply a finishing protective coat. I did not get this beforehand because when I first read how to do this, it said a foam roller would be fine but after more reading I decided against it. So I used a synthetic brush I had laying around. These were cheap brushes and they did the trick but from my reading, it was suggested to use a high quality stain brush. Do with that what you will.
  • Stain – I used Minwax Wood Finish Penetrating Stain in the color Jacobean. It is oil-based so it’s smelly. If you’re only staining the top like I did, you could get away with one of those tiny sample cans. I bought a quart and have so much left! Not upset about it though, I LOVE the color.
  • Paint – Interior latex house paint works just fine because you will be covering it. I used Valspar Signature in Swiss Coffee with a satin finish. This paint is great because it has primer in it. A quart works for a mid-size dresser like mine.
  • Painter’s tape – To keep your white paint white around the edges.
  • Clear protective finish – I used Minwax Polycrylic Protective Finish in either gloss or satin. I don’t remember for sure which but it’s all a preference thing. Just don’t do matte please. Again, a quart of this stuff will do. This is water-based and is recommended to use on water-based paints or stains which mine were not. I followed what I was reading for this because I don’t know a whole lot about protective finishes and the person I was following did and it’s holding up just fine!
  • Hardware – so drawer knobs, if you want of course!
  • Drill and bits possibly – if you’re adding knobs to a dresser that doesn’t have have the holes.
  • Baskets – if desired. Mine are from HomeGoods.

All-in-all I spent around $150 for everything!


  1. Remove any hardware the dresser may have.
  2. Drill holes if you need to for hardware. My dresser didn’t have hardware but I wanted crystal knobs. You’ll have to measure everything out to make sure its centered how you want it.
  3. Sand off the old stain. You sand with the grain and in straight lines. Don’t do circular motions. Start with the tougher grit paper first and then the lighter grit to make the surface smooth. You’ll have to hand sand any edges or grooves. This is probably going to be the toughest most time consuming step. I did this step outside.
  4. Prepare for painting!
    • I painted in my living room because I didn’t want leaves or bugs falling on to my wet surfaces and it was just too windy. My living room was fine, just make sure you can ventilate if needed.
    • Lay your drop cloth down.
    • Take the drawers out and lay them on their backside.
    • Apply painter’s tape along the top’s edges to avoid getting paint on them.
  5. Clean with your good cleaner (TSP) and cloth. Follow the directions on the bottle about mixing in the appropriate amount of water. Then let it dry, it shouldn’t take long.
  6. Painting time!
    • If you didn’t buy a paint and primer combo, you’ll probably want to prime it first but then again you could probably get away without this because you’re going to put a protective coat on.
    • Otherwise, pour your paint in the tray and begin painting with your roller. Again, don’t make circular motions or anything weird like that.
    • Let it dry overnight because you’ll lightly sand the paint again before your second coat. After you sand, make sure to clean up the dust before your next coat.IMG_2614.JPG
  7. Add a second coat of paint and let it dry again. This is something you could do like after work or before you go to bed because painting shouldn’t take long.
  8. By the third day, you’re ready for staining!
    • Place painter’s tape on the dry paint along the edges of the dresser’s top, especially if you have a light color like white.
    • Get your brush or sponge and apply as directed similar to painting.
    • Don’t soak the wood with the stain and remove the excess. Less is more!
    • Wait a couple hours in between coats. Two or three coats should be fine.
    • DON’T sand in between coats for stain.
    • For best results, let it dry over night after all coats are completed.IMG_2629.JPG
  9. While you’re waiting for the stain to dry, you can distress the painted portions of the dresser by sanding with fine grit paper. This can actually be time consuming because it takes a lot of little distressed marks for something to look antique-y. I wish I would have done more but I’m too impatient. I was beyond ready to use my dresser at this point.IMG_2648.JPG
  10. Add a protective coat. As mentioned in the supply list, I used Minwax Polycrylic. It’s recommended to do 3 coats. I only did 2 because yanno, I was impatient but it looks just fine. Let it dry for at least 2 hours in between coats with very light sanding before each coat. Make sure you clean up the dust before adding your protective layer! Let it dry overnight again before handling.
  11. Now you can add your hardware! You can use the dresser after the overnight dry but I would still be careful for a week or so.


Here’s my final piece in my room now!

***I removed the first drawer on my dresser. If you want to do that, follow all the normal steps of sanding and painting and buy some baskets. Make sure you measure first so you know what sizes to get! On a side note, for my dresser specifically, I had to buy two pieces of thin plywood to fill in some gaps of floor of the drawer space. The picture below shows this better than I can explain.***IMG_2627.JPG

So there ya have it! Feel free to ask any questions in the comments!

I must say thank you to my boyfriend for helping me with some of the work and my roommates for dealing with me taking over the living room for a week. ❤


Tough Subject: Deciphering Homelessness

The other day I went with a friend to lunch at Panera. As we walked up to the entrance, we saw a man sitting on the bench by the door with his dog, an over-sized hiking bag, and a cardboard sign that read “Traveling to Maine” (we are in Upstate New York). Immediately, I was overcome with discomfort.

Then, I watched a woman hand him a $20 bill.

I want to give some more background. According to Nielsen’s zip code segmenting tool, the majority income of this area is $50,000 to $150,000+. There of course are people who live in poverty there, as there is in every city or town. I have never once seen a homeless person in this city but I’m not going to be ignorant and assume there are no homeless people in the area. I don’t know if he was homeless for sure though. His sign said he was traveling and I have no idea what his reason was for traveling. Maybe he has a home in Maine with family, who knows.

More background. I’d like to say I’m a decent person. Maybe I am to quick to judge in some cases. I know I could be more selfless. I am not a saint and I make mistakes.

Back to the story…

Panera was crowded with few available tables. Ironically, the table we chose was along the window where the man sat on the opposite side. By the time we sat down, the man had a bread bowl full of Panera’s delicious broccoli cheddar soup. I honestly have no idea whether he bought it or someone bought it for him. At first I had assumed someone had bought it for him since he was eating outside, but if I was in his position I would have done the same as I watched him share his meal with his dog.

As I ate my You Pick 2, my back was turned from an elderly couple. The elderly man narrated every move of the man outside of the restaurant. His wife repeatedly said, “Aw, that’s his best friend” as the man fed his dog. After they left, I found myself taking the elderly man’s role as I narrated the man’s actions to my friend who was just out of view of the man outside. I tried to stop but I couldn’t and I couldn’t stop glancing at him every once in a while.

I sympathized for him. Then I felt angry at allowing myself to feel bad for him.

His bag. His over-sized hiking bad didn’t appear to be in rough shape. It seemed clean and well kept. I did not notice any tears. And those things aren’t cheap.

His clothing. They weren’t stained. They weren’t full of rips and holes. He may have been wearing sweatpants but that’s besides the point. Who doesn’t own a pair of sweatpants? He was still well-clothed. I didn’t take note of his shoes though.

His phone. He had a cellphone. I watched him in astonishment as he made a call. It looked like an iPhone but having owned several, I think it was the TracFone version. But still, it’s a cellphone. It costs money to make phone calls.

His cigarettes. He was smoking Marlboro cigarettes. A pack of these cost almost $10.  This put me over the edge. If you are begging for money, how can you sit there watching dollars basically go up in flames by your choosing to smoke cigarettes? That money could have gone towards feeding yourself or your dog. If you are homeless, or just in need on money (who isn’t?), you have to make strategic decisions otherwise you could end up dead. Buying a $10 pack of cigarettes isn’t a smart decision.

His dog. This makes me the angriest. I am an animal lover, dogs especially. If you can’t afford to feed yourself or house yourself, on what planet do you think it is okay to own a dog? Okay maybe he had the dog before he went homeless (if he is homeless). Even then, if he really cared about the dog, he would have given it up for adoption so the dog could have gone to a family who can care for it appropriately.

So regardless of how wrong I feel it is to own a dog when you live on the streets. If a homeless person or a begger owns these objects, how can you trust them? I know the cost of cigarettes and a TracFone bill are minuscule compared to rent or a home. But it makes a difference. It provides doubt in their stories for people like me. Then there’s the dog again. Many pro beggers, who make a career out of pretending to be homeless, deceive naive people with dogs. Put a dog in the picture and people will melt in your hands. People love dogs. How could they say no to a drooling, smiling face of an adorable dog? We ridicule people who harm animals and leave them so if you walk past a dog in need, we as humans are likely to stop and help. These beggers know this. They aren’t stupid.

Maybe I’m stereotyping what a homeless person looks like and the way they act. And it is completely possible that this man genuinely cares about his dog. But that doesn’t stop me from feeling that if you are homeless, you should not own a dog. Give them a better chance at life if you can’t provide for them any longer. You at least have that option with pets.

Maybe I’m naive when it comes to homeless people. I grew up in a relatively low middle class area. Many people lived in crappy homes, falling apart at the seams. I did too. But no one was homeless. The first homeless person I had ever seen was in New York City, my freshmen year of college. He was sleeping on a bench. When I studied abroad, I saw countless homeless people on the streets of European countries. Maybe I’m ignorant because I try to avoid encounters with them.

The point to this is it is almost impossible to differentiate an honest homeless person from someone who is trying to deceive others for money. It hurts my heart. I would love to help someone in need but I do not want to help someone just steal my money or care. I think it is perfectly fine to help those in need, but how can you ever tell?

Before I end this, I would like to say I did a little research beforehand for this post, searching to see if others felt the same way and had written about it. I know people personally that do but I wanted to see what was out there on the subject. I came across others with the same puzzling question – how can you trust that a homeless person is genuine? I read some similar posts to mine and I read some with opposing views. But mostly I found tips for surviving homelessness. I felt a little guilty for my anger but I still am angry and will be every time I see someone with a pet who’s begging for money or evidently homeless.

The journalist inside of me wishes I would have talked to him. Asked him a few questions. Find out his story. But the realistic side of me is angry. I wouldn’t call me heartless though. I want to believe that he wasn’t faking it and he honestly does need the help. Moral of the story, society sucks because people can’t be honest.