How to makeover an ugly piece of furniture

I love buying junk. Especially when it’s cheap!

This post will give you the “know how” to start repurposing old furniture pieces into new treasures. An old dresser, table, or chair is your blank canvas… so grab a notepad and let’s get started!

I will detail the step-by-step process for two different furniture pieces, one is basic and the other is more advanced. Hopefully, my instructions will be a guideline for you as you embark on your project and spark your creativity. My aim is to give you some pointers that will be helpful no matter what kind of style you are shooting for.

The original pieces:

IMG_5159Purchased for $15 at a garage sale held outside a flea market in Conway, MO. This dresser is not old, in fact it is solid oak. The drawers open very smoothly.

IMG_5165Purchased for $3 at a garage sale in Clever, MO. Based on the details, my dad thinks this could be from the 1940s. Solid walnut.

For the purposes of the post, I’ll be calling these by the names “the dresser” and “the accent table”. I knew I wanted a distressed white look for the dresser. Because I would be putting this in my flea market booth, I was shooting for something versatile that would compliment a variety of buyers’ current color schemes and themes.

I purchased the paint I used for the both pieces from Lowe’s.


At the paint counter I asked for their cheapest flat paint in the color Botanical Bath. It is a neutral with a very slight green tint. In the past, I have used plain white to achieve a distressed white look, but I wanted something more rich for these pieces. This quart cost me $14.00. That’s a little steep in my opinion! Sure, I could have gone to Walmart to save money but I’m sure you can agree there are times when you don’t want the hassle of finding a parking space, finding someone who can mix your paint, or the worst… seeing someone you know.

Note: before I began painting I cleaned both pieces with an antibacterial kitchen cleaner. I wanted to knock and dust, dirt or germs off. I will caution you to spray the cleaner on a rag or paper towel, not directly on the furniture. If the grain becomes too wet it will expand.

This paint was considerably thicker and more “full coverage” to use a makeup term, than cheaper flat paints. Because I would be layering another product on top I am not super concerned with coverage with the dresser, but it did help to mask the boo-boos on the top surface of the accent table.

IMG_5167Here’s the dresser after painting. I did two light coats with the Botanical Bath.

IMG_5168I chose to only paint the top surface of the accent table, leaving the legs as is. (Say hi to my brother in the background!)

IMG_5162Getting my paint on!

Okay, let’s talk about the accent table. When I purchased it I knew the top would be great for a handpainted design or pattern. It was a flat surface, that was square with the side indentions. I thought it could be interesting as a plant stand, for a lamp, there are so many options. I spent what felt like hours on Pinterest looking for inspiration. Nothing! All the searches for handpainted furniture turned up bright colored pieces that were rather free-form and just a bit too crafty for my taste.

I had a light-bulb moment when I saw this pattern on burlap in the background of a photo. It was perfect!


I will admit to being artistically gifted, so the idea of sketching this design and painting it was a no-brainer. If this idea scares the crap out of you, I have some solutions.

  • Use masking tape to create a geometrical design. You can do stripes, chevron, herringbone, you name it.
  • Go with polka dots. Find something round to trace around. How hard can that be?
  • Print something off the internet that will be easy to trace.

Tracing is the name of the game. I flipped the accent table over on it’s top, traced around it, and voila I had a template of the area I wanted to cover. I began sketching out the design and went over it with Sharpie when I was done. The purpose of this step is so I could see my final lines. There was a lot of marking and remarking lines just to make everything perfect.

IMG_5172You may notice a couple shapes that I omitted. I decided to leave them out and didn’t outline those with marker.

Next, I taped the template to the top of my table and slipped a large piece of graphite paper underneath. When you draw on top of the paper, it transfers a “pencil line” to the surface. Basically, the same concept as carbon paper but the transfer is not as black. I picked this up at a local art shop for under $2. You can use the same piece a million times. I’m still using a piece I bought over a year (maybe two years) ago. Bargain!


I failed to take a photo of the table after the tracing was done. I started painting! Originally I was going to paint the table green. I started in with a sage green color. The paint was too thin and all my brush strokes were visible I knew it was going to take several coats to make it look decent. I decided on black and am SO glad I did.

I should note that I used acrylic craft paint for this part. This can be purchased for under $2 at any craft store or even Walmart.

IMG_5174Getting started! You can see where I started with a little green. The black covered it with no problem.


It took two sessions for me to paint every little detail of this design. I would estimate that it took 2 hours total.

For the legs, I made a black wash with the acrylic paint. I mixed water with paint and used a cheap foam brush to apply it to the legs and up around the top. I wasn’t perfect with my application and I didn’t want to be. My goal was to have the wood show through in some areas.

To finish the table, I used sand paper to lightly rough up some of the edges. I sanded the edges of the top and some of the detailed parts around the top and on the legs. I used Minwax Special Walnut stain with a rag over the entire table – the top too! I didn’t want to darken the top too much so I did not shake/mix/stir the stain before dipping my rag into it. I’ll have a photo of the final product at the end of the post.

Let’s switch gears and talk about the dresser.

After the paint was dry I began sanding away. The goal was to expose the wood on the edges. I would be staining it with the Special Walnut and wanted the stain to seep into those exposed wood areas.


It took some serious elbow grease to sand off the thick Valspar paint. I have never had to work so hard to sand away paint. One of the beauties of high dollar paint, I suppose. As you can see I focused on the edges and details.

IMG_5230Getting ready for a coat of stain.

IMG_5232I would definitely recommend wearing some kind of gloves because stain STAINS!
You may be questioning my choice of a white shirt – have no fear, no stains!

I’m not super experienced in the staining department, but it’s pretty dang easy. Dip a rag into the stain, rub it on the furniture and then rub it off with a clean rag. You can get different effects by using a lot of pressure or little pressure. This stain dries with the slightest bit of gloss finish. It makes the matte finish of the flat paint go away. Of course you can choose any type of stain or glaze that you like!


Here’s the dresser after staining. I used an old tooth brush to get into the grooves.


I am so thrilled with the finished product! My mom gave me 2 lamps to set on top to “stage” it in my booth. We think that if potential buyers see if decorated they may be more able to picture the piece in their own home. I’m pricing it at $100.


I won’t be upset if the table doesn’t sell because I want it for myself! This little guy took on SUCH a transformation. I will be pricing it at $50.

Here are a couple side-by-side photos:



I have a corner cabinet sitting in my parents’ barn that is my next project. I’m thinking about going gray with it and doing some fun door knobs. I will be sure to post about my upcoming projects and flea market booth successes!

If you’re in the southwest Missouri area, check out Mike’s Unique near the intersection of Sunshine St. and West Bypass. We would love for you to visit booth P4!

Happy Monday to you and yours!


5 thoughts on “How to makeover an ugly piece of furniture

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