Ideas for an Old Dresser

With some paint, tools and basic woodworking skills, you can convert an old dresser into a stylish piece of furniture.

Use a little creative ingenuity to upcycle an old dresser into a new piece of furnishing with vintage charm. Whether it’s the kitchen, bathroom, living room, foyer or bedroom, a converted dresser can suit many different needs. Refinish the dresser in a fashion that complements the style of the room and works with the intended use of the furniture.

Refinishing Options

Begin by refinishing the dresser, after deciding which finishing technique serves your project, decor and lifestyle best.

Paint – Paint complements any style. Latex paints dry and cure quickly and provide easy cleanup with soap and water. Oil paints provide the best coverage, typically not needing a primer, and provide the most durable finish. However, oil paints have strong fumes, dry and cure very slowly, and require chemical solvents for cleaning paintbrushes. Paint with a flat or matte sheen gives furniture a soft, velvety appearance but is hard to clean, so reserve this look for decorative pieces. Satin, semi-gloss or glossy sheens work best for furniture that is handled often.

Stain – Stain complements rustic, country, contemporary and traditional styles. The previous finish must be completely removed, stripped and sanded down to the bare wood. Dark brown stains can be used like a glaze to antique a painted dresser.

Lacquer – Lacquer complements modern, contemporary and eclectic styles. Lacquer paints typically come in spray cans, or you can achieve a similar look with high-gloss latex paint.

Distressed – Distressed wood complements shabby chic, country, rustic or eclectic styles. Chalk or milk paints work best, or use latex paint with a matte finish. Chalk paint adheres well to previously stained or painted dressers without the need for intense prep work such as sanding and priming. Apply two or three colors and sand away the top layers in areas of natural wear for a timeworn look.

Kitchen Island

A dresser that stands roughly about 36 inches high can be transformed into a chic kitchen island. Use a glossy sheen with latex paint or oil paint, so you can wipe away greasy or messy spills. Chalk paint sealed with clear soft wax provides a water-repellent finish. For an aged look, apply dark wax over the clear wax.

Color Ideas, Hardware and Tops

Make the island a focal point by painting it a different color than the walls or cabinets, but tie it in with the surrounding decor by matching or coordinating with nearby accents. Color ideas include:

  • Blue
  • Gray
  • Green
  • Turquoise
  • Black
  • Red
  • Orange
  • Coral

Complete the transformation with new hardware in iron, pewter, oil-rubbed bronze, brushed nickel or chrome, according to your decorating style, or spray paint the existing hardware. Install a towel bar on one side and replace the top with a butcher block or stone slab that overhangs the front and sides by about 6 to 9 inches.

Bathroom Vanity

Repurpose an old dresser into a stylish bathroom vanity to dress up a guest bathroom or powder room. Take careful measurements of the available space to ensure finding a dresser that fits.

Simplify with a New Sink

For a vessel sink atop a dresser vanity, you only need to cut two small holes in the top for the faucet and drain. Typical drain diameters for vessel sinks are 1.5 inches, and most faucet hole diameters range from 1.25 to 1.5 inches. Measure the height of the plumbing coming out of the wall to make the appropriate cuts to the back of the dresser.

Vessel sinks are manufactured in a wide range of materials and shapes. Pair a dresser with a shiny black lacquer or high-gloss finish with a square glass sink with angular, prism-like edges. For a distressed finish or rustic dark brown wood stain, consider a hammered copper, stone or classic white porcelain sink. You'll need to seal the finish with a water-resistant sealer to prevent rot and mold.

Occasional Table

Convert an old dresser into an occasional table that you can use wherever it suits your needs best. Create a one-of-a-kind foyer table for the front entry, a sofa table for the living room or make it a console table for a bedroom TV. Remove some of the bottom drawers to make an open shelf for large sea-grass baskets, books or large urns. Remove a couple of top drawers for a cable box and DVD player.

Welcome guests with pizzazz by painting a foyer table conversion in a bold color. Place a contrasting accent piece on top, such as a coral vase on a turquoise table, or an emerald green glass bowl on a crimson table. Consult a color wheel to find complementary colors that make furniture and accessories harmonize.

About the Author

Michelle Radcliff owned a retail home furnishings business for eight years. Radcliff offers decorating advice on her blog, Home Decorating News, is a regular contributor on interior design at and earned certification as an interior decorator from Penn Foster College in 2013.