We're Maryal and Chris Carter, the crazy-in-love couple behind the blog and the specs. Our love of chambray and mutual blurred vision unites us, and this is where we share our adventures in love, style, food, DIY and so much more, seen through our bespectacled eyes. Thanks for joining our journey!

An Easy DIY Wood Dresser Makeover

An Easy DIY Wood Dresser Makeover


We've tackled a lot of DIYs here on the blog that all fit into the "super easy" category and that, we hope, all fit into the "pretty cool" category, too. We live for it! Easy and effortless, max cool factor. That's our jam. And when we tell you that this refinished bedroom dresser was easier than easy to tackle and that we shocked even ourselves with how cool we thought the outcome was, we're not kidding. This baby really exceeded our "easy" and "cool" expectations, and we hope it exceeds yours, too! 

But before we give you the step by step breakdown of exactly what we did with this pretty little dresser and how we gave it the easiest, fastest facelift ever, you need the backstory. Because our DIY projects without the story behind them aren't nearly as entertaining! Naturally, it always includes a few mistakes, headaches, or some hilarious mishaps, and this project is certainly no exception.

You guys are well aware by now that we're currently in the midst of a bedroom makeover that is basically an all DIY pursuit, and as such it has been a slow, slow process. And it's not just that tackling each DIY project, piece by piece has taken what seems like an eternity, but finding inspiration and figuring out what we're going to do for each element of the room has been a beast in and of itself. And the element that we've spent the most time and effort contemplating with absolutely no inspired resolution was the dresser. Which was a problem because... we were living with no dresser in our room for months. I know I know... so weird. Whhhhyyy! 

You see we had put our cool old black dresser (that we gave a fun DIY makeover last year & showed you here on the blog) on OfferUp because we felt like it didn't necessarily fit our bedroom makeover vision and we were ready to let it go and find a new home elsewhere. The only hitch was that I thought it would take a minute for the dresser to sell, so we'd be able to live with it and utilize it until we found the perfect new dresser for the room. Much to our surprise, the dresser sold in just a few days and off it went, leaving Chris' undies, socks and shorts in piles on the floor. I was laughing but C, however, was not. And those sad little piles sat like that for months because we hadn't found the perfect replacement yet. We were looking for a simple, old, solid wood dresser that we could give a makeover that would match our new bedroom. Also, it had to be the right dimensions for the space, which can always make searching for the perfect old piece a bit of a patience game. 

So, there we were, with Chris' undies piled up on the floor, waiting for the dresser of our dreams to show up in our OfferUp feed when BAM! Inspiration struck. But first, more important info about this dresser's checkered past. Drama drama drama.

When I got my first job and moved into my first place post-college, my mom gifted me the most amazing dresser and nightstand set from Pottery Barn that I absolutely loved. And when I moved into this house, that set came with me. And then, disaster struck. I was walking out of my master bathroom with my bottle of nail polish remover open, taking off my nail polish as I walked. What was I thinking? I know so much better, I promise. As I was walking into the bedroom I kicked the laundry basket, tripped, and the bottle few out of my hand and landed, tipped over on the top of the dresser. You can guess what happened next. One huge chunk of the dresser top's paint was completely ruined and there was nothing I could do to fix it because I didn't have the paint Pottery Barn use on the dresser.

*Note: If you absolutely love the color of the dresser body like I do (SO good), some close colors I've found that are similar are Bejamin Moore Sioux Falls, Benjamin Moore Dartsmouth Green and possibly Benjamin Moore Antiqued Aqua. 

And this was all before my DIY life really ramped up, so I didn't exactly jump on finding a fix. I sat devastatingly helpless! But when my parents came into town I showed my mom the dresser, asked her if there was some way she could think of that we could salvage my beloved dresser and hide that horrible paint mess, and she knew exactly what to do... of course! She'd seen a beautiful silvery-charcoal, subtly metallic Ralph Lauren paint that she thought would be a great fit for the top of the dresser and my parents helped me strip the top of the dresser, sand and repaint it in that color. And the end result really was so pretty!

But when C moved into the house we had to rework some elements of the master bedroom and make it functional for both of us (I know... compromise), so the dresser and nightstand made its way to the guest bedroom. And we loved it there! It was kind of perfect, so my heart wasn't too broken to see it leave my room. And there it stayed... until now.

So back to the whole "inspiration struck" thing. Last weekend I had a list of projects that needed tackling around the house, and refinishing the top of this dresser landed on it because I decided that to fit even more perfectly with the guest bedroom and our home's laid-back, cottage-cool vibe, the dresser in the guest bedroom needed to get a tiny facelift. And C actually had the nerve to roll his eyes and say, "but what to we get of that." Rude! And I told him that there was this gorgeous sort of butcher block wood top underneath the silver paint that I'd seen when my parents and I had stripped it after the nail polish remover debacle and that I wanted to get it back down to that, sand it and give it a nice, natural wood stain. He reluctantly agreed to go along with this (and about 76 other projects that day) because he knew that one way or another, he'd be helping me strip the top of that damn dresser whether he liked it or not. Have I mentioned that he's the best? He is. He really is.

And much to our surprise, not only was this thing really easy to strip (easier than it was before — assuming it's the paint), but it was also so easy to sand back to its natural wood state and the stain that we used, which we just had lying around in our shed, was absolutely perfect! All in, I think the project took us two hours max. Max! It was perfect. It was magical. It was a whim of an easy DIY that C thought would be super annoying, but that he actually ended up loving so much, he convinced me that it needed to go back into our room and become our master bedroom dresser once again. And he was absolutely right — it's the dresser we've been waiting so long to find for our room... and it was just across the hall! 

Which of course leaves the guest bedroom without a dresser for a minute, but hey, I'll take that over tripping over C's sock piles all day long! The guest bedroom dresser is a DIY project for another day, and you know we'll share that with you here once we get around to it. For now, see our step by step guide with all of the info on how we refinished the top of this pretty little dresser below! 

The Before Pics: Left is the dresser in its original state when we bought it, from the Pottery Barn website. Right is with the silvery-charcoal Ralph Lauren paint on the top after the nail polish remover disaster.


Paint Stripper

Paint Scraper (metal or plastic)

Large Paintbrush

Wood Stain

Soft Cloth (3 to 4)

Finishing Sander

Plastic Drop Cloth

Painter's Tape

150-grit clamp-on sanding sheets

Safety Mask

Chemical-resistant Gloves

how-to-refinish-wood-furniture copy.jpg

How To: Easy DIY Bedroom Dresser Makeover  

1. First things first - prep. Any time you're using paint stripper and anytime you're only refinishing a portion of a piece of furniture, prepping with precision and care is so, so important. First up, make sure your piece is sitting on some sort of tarp or canvas to cover and protect whatever surface is beneath it. And you can see exactly how we tarped and taped off the dresser to leave the top exposed with the rest of it covered in the pics, and that's the exact method I used to prep both times we stripped this dresser top and it worked like a charm both times. Basically we took the plastic tarp roll and wrapped it around the dresser like a skirt. And I'd be lying if I said that it wasn't easier with two people -- C wrapped the tarp while I taped the top with total precision as we went. We started on one back corner of the dresser and wrapped it around until we met that corner again and used the tape all the way around at the top of the tarp. 

2. Next up? Paint stripper prep and safety. Any time you use paint stripper, I always say that you should take it seriously. Paint stripper is really nasty, toxic, yucky stuff that is absolutely NOT to be used anywhere but outside in the open air. Seriously guys, do not use paint stripper inside your house or anywhere where it's not well ventilated. We're learning more and more every day about the damage this stuff can cause if inhaled and it's really, really bad. So bad, guys! But if taking the proper precautions, it can be perfectly OK to use and actually pretty useful for projects like this. As you can see, we stripped this dresser top in our backyard in the open air, but we also used respirator masks to protect us further. Another precaution you absolutely must take? Chemical-resistant gloves. Paint stripper will burn your skin immediately if it touches it, and there's no more probable place the paint stripper will touch than your hands. And in all honestly, the gloves we used for this aren't the right gloves for the job -- it's just what we had on hand. Paint stripper will eat through disposable gloves pretty quickly, so it's best to use something more heavy duty that’s specifically chemical resistant. So to recap: open air, mask, gloves and even maybe some safety glasses to protect your eyes from splatter. It's just the way it is, guys! Don't fight the prep.

3. And now, we strip! No no no, not that kind of stripping (though that would have been interesting). We stripped that silvery paint off of the top of the dresser to get down to that pretty butcher block wood top. Pour your paint stripper onto your surface liberally, distribute evenly across the surface with any large, thick paintbrush and let sit for 10 to 15 minutes. The thicker you lay the stripper on and the longer you let it sit, the more paint it will eat away, so give it the full 10 to 15 minutes before you start scraping. No less, no more. Less and it won't be as easy to scrape off, more and you risk doing damage to your wood. And yes, I'm always still *irrationally* scared that paint stripper will eat through painter's tape or tarp, even though that’s never happened to me. It won't, so don't panic if a little bit spills over onto your painter's tape. Nevertheless, respect that paint stripper is powerful stuff so try to be as precise with it to avoid any disasters. 

4. After 15 minutes it should look like the paint has sort of bubbled up and become wet. That's a good sign! Now, you're ready to scrape. Another full disclosure, this part is definitely easier with two people, but can totally be tackled solo, too. Using a metal or plastic paint scraper (we used metal because again, that's what we had on hand, but you do risk damaging the wood with a metal scraper. Plastic won't give you that problem) scrape the goopy paint in the same direction as the grain of the wood off of the surface and into a metal bucket. Keep scraping row by row, off of the edge of the surface and down into the bucket. You may have to go back over the same spots two or three times with your scraper to get more paint, but that's OK. As long as the paint is coming off, that's what you want. 

5. Once you've gotten all of your paint and paint stripper goop off of your surface, assess and decide if you need one more round of stripper. Since we were going for a raw wood look and staining the wood after this, we really wanted to get as much of that silvery paint off of the dresser top as humanly possible, so we went one more round on the stripper. And it worked really quickly since there was only a small amount of paint that remained. 

6. Wipe your wood off with a damp cloth. This is just to remove any remaining paint stripper from the surface and prep the surface to sand.

7. Sand your surface with a finishing sander using 150-grit sandpaper in the direction of the grain. Since we were going for a sort of natural, stained wood look we had to make sure that the sandpaper would even out our surface and get any remaining paint off without making any visible marks, so sanding in the direction of the grain in our situation was really important. Sanding will also help prep the surface for staining so the stain soaks in evenly, so it was important for us not to skip this step. If there is any paint leftover on the wood, the stain won't work as intended. 

8. After sanding wipe the surface off with a clean, damp cloth again and let air dry, or dry with a clean dry cloth. 

9. Now we can apply our stain! This part wasn't planned for us. We went back and forth between just leaving it raw and putting a clear coat over it until I remembered that I had a tiny can of stain in the shed that might be really subtle, look great on this wood and tone down the yellow slightly. Took a flier on that one, and we're so happy we did. We applied the stain, in the direction of the grain, with a clean dry cloth very subtly, meaning we didn't use a lot of stain on the cloth when applying it. Also, right after I applied the stain to each section of our surface, Chris would immediately wipe it off virogously with another clean, dry cloth. So it was a wipe-wipe process and the result was even better than we'd hoped for! What we ended up with was a very subtle, sunbleached look which was exactly what we wanted. 

So what do you guys think of the new dresser top? Do you like it better than the silver? If you have any questions about refinishing a wood furniture piece this way, using paint stripper, stain, etc. please let us know in the comments below — we love making your DIY life easier and more fun! Or if there’s a piece that you have that’s gotten damaged in some way like the dresser did in the nail polish remover debacle and you’re wondering what to do with it, send us a pic at hello@loveandspecs.com and we’ll throw around some ideas so you can make your piece awesome again! Cheers! 

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