DIY Upcycled Painted Dresser with Moroccan Quatrefoil Top


Living in San Francisco, you see a lot of free stuff on the street. Clothes, books, couches, bookshelves, rugs - I know people who have furnished their entire apartment with street finds! I always dreamed of taking something off the street and giving it a makeover, but just felt like most furniture projects were too daunting.

But one day, I saw this dresser about two blocks down from my apartment, and I knew I had to do something with it. I could only carry the dresser for ~20 feet at a time by myself, and I had to cross a major intersection to get home. So, I decided to wait by the dresser for 40 minutes (as people shot me curious glances) until my roommate got home to help me. Yup. Once I had the idea fixated in my head, there was no way I was about to walk away.

Before: the dresser in the state I found it on the street.

Before: the dresser in the state I found it on the street.


Being my first furniture project, I definitely realized the limits of my abilities. But, I learned a lot and got excited to start doing more big girl DIY projects!

Things you’ll need:

  • A dresser

  • An automatic sander with medium grit sandpaper (optional if your furniture was not previously painted)

  • Fine grit sandpaper

  • Face mask (optional, but a good idea to avoid inhaling anything you sand)

  • Vacuum and/or paper towels/cloths

  • Primer (aerosol spray or regular)

  • Flat paint, in a variety of colors

  • Large paint brush or roller

  • Metallic paint (I used Martha Stewart’s Metallic Paint in Vintage Gold)

  • Small to medium sized paint brush

  • Painter’s tape (NOT the same thing as masking tape, as I found out)

  • Stencil (or some cardboard and scissors to make your own stencil)

  • Clear gloss finish (I used Rust-Oleum Stops Rust Gloss Crystal Clear Spray Paint)

  • Old clothes, gloves (optional)

  • Tarp or cloth to protect the floor you’re working on (optional)

Quick note about the paint: I ended up getting samples of flat paint from Home Depot, and had a lot leftover. Most samples should cover ~16 ft, so you can estimate how much you’ll need depending on the size of your dresser and how many coats of paint you do. I used Behr paint samples in Peacock Feather, Cathedral Gray, and Swan White.

After Steps 1-4. All pieces sanded and primed.

After Steps 1-4. All pieces sanded and primed.

Step 7. Painting the pattern onto the top

Step 7. Painting the pattern onto the top


Keep in mind that this is a several day project, given the amount of time you need to wait in between coats of paint. Patience is necessary!

  1. Remove all the hardware and knobs from the piece, and take out any drawers.

  2. Sand all surfaces of your dresser with the automatic sander and medium grit sandpaper. (Don’t forget the sides of your drawers!) A few sanding tips I learned along the way, for the other beginners out there:

    1. Use a face mask or bandana: I started to inhale all the dust, and it was not pleasant.

    2. Apply even (and not too much) pressure: These automatic sanders are powerful. Don’t press too hard, otherwise you’ll start to make dents and really change the surface.

    3. Be careful around the edges: I didn’t pay close attention sometimes and as the sander moved off the edge, I pretty much made the corner a little rounded, which is not super noticeable, but also not ideal.

    4. Rest the piece you’re sanding on a flat surface: This prevents uneven sanding.

    5. Change your sandpaper when necessary: If the sandpaper starts to feel smooth to the touch, time to replace.

  3. Vacuum the sanded surface to remove any dust, and do a final wipe down with a wet cloth so that the surface is clean.

  4. Prime the wood:

    1. Apply one coat of primer to all surfaces, let dry 1 day.

    2. Sand lightly with fine grit sandpaper (by hand, not using automatic sander)

    3. Repeat a & b one more time.

  5. Paint the solid color(s) onto your furniture with the same techniques as above: Apply one coat of paint, let dry 1 day, and then sand lightly with fine grit sandpaper. Repeat for 2 more coats (total of 3 coats)

    A few tips on painting:
    • Using two background colors (like my grey and white): If you plan on having two different colors next to each other, you should paint all 3 coats of one color before moving onto the next (thus adding more days to your project):
      • First, after putting down your painter’s tape on the edges to prevent uneven lines, apply the first color’s 3 coats. (Paint, dry, sand, repeat.)
      • Remove the painter’s tape, now move it to the other side of the line (on top of the freshly painted surface, and apply the second color’s 3 coats.
    • Painter's tape: Use painter’s tape, not masking tape! Masking tape will rip off your primer or paint (I learned the hard way).
    • About those drawers: On the chest, don’t paint more than ~½ an inch where the drawers go. Don’t use more than 1 or 2 coats (the bare minimum) for drawer sides and tops, as well as sides/tops of where the drawer goes in the chest. I made the mistake of having too much paint, which made my drawers just big enough to not fit into my chest when I was finished. If you do run into the same problem I did, you can sand the sides of the frame to fit a larger drawer, but it’s a bit of a pain.
    • Sand gently between coats: Don’t be tempted to use your automatic sander to sand between coats - this may also rip off your primer or paint.
    • Un-removable hardware: If there is any hardware that cannot be removed, apply petroleum jelly before painting to protect, which will allow you to easily rub off any paint that accidentally got on the hardware. (If it got onto a spot where there was no petroleum jelly, you can gently sand the paint off the hardware later.)
  6. Make the stencil for your patterned surface (optional, if you purchase a stencil, such as one from Cutting Edge Stencils. They’re super cute, and would probably have made my entire project easier!)
    1. Find a pattern you like online that’s repeatable. I used this one, which only required me to cut out one piece.

    2. Print out the pattern and trace it onto your cardboard with a pen, or draw the pattern onto your cardboard by hand.

    3. Cut out the stencil with scissors.

  7. Paint your pattern on to your surface. It's okay if it's not perfect - little flaws aren't as noticeable as you'd think!
    For more tips on using stencils, see Cutting Edge's Basic Instructions.

    1. With a homemade stencil that you have to trace around:

      1. Trace your stencil onto your furniture lightly with a pencil, repeating so that the pattern covers the entire surface.

      2. If you want to add gold accents (as I did) in between each shape, make sure to leave enough whitespace between the shapes when tracing them onto the surface.

      3. Paint between the lines using your smaller paintbrush.

    2. With a purchased stencil that you can paint your pattern color in the holes of the stencil):

      1. You still might want to plan (before you paint) where you’re going to start the stencil and repeat the stencil.

      2. Tape your stencil onto the surface using painter's tape. Using a roller, paint over the entire stencil carefully, making sure not to go beyond the edges of the stencil itself. Wipe the stencil off clean before repeating, and be careful not to smudge your freshly painted sections

    3. Add gold accents: carefully and patiently, hand paint gold in between the shapes of your stencil with the small paintbrush. 

  8. Spray all painted surfaces with the gloss enamel finish, let dry at least 4 hours, and spray a second coat.
  9. If your drawers don't fit into the frame, you can use your automatic sander to make the frame a little bigger. This may take awhile, and requires a little more pressure than previously. I recommend adding the most pressure on the bottom edge of the top of the drawer frame, which is the least visible when looking at the dresser.
  10. Refinish and reattach any hardware you removed. (I repainted my hardware with the gold paint.)

I hope these instructions were helpful, and inspire you to attempt a furniture upcycling project! As I was doing the project, I made a lot of mistakes and started to feel defeated and discouraged. But, after making myself keep going, I barely notice the imperfections and I'm even more proud of the finished product because it was such a challenge. I'm super excited about how the dresser turned out, and can't wait to put it in my future home!