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How We Turned A Smelly Purple Dresser into an Entertainment Center

I’m all about local “swap-n-shop” groups on Facebook. It’s like an online garage sale… without the “Craigslist-killer” factor. I’m a member of 5+ local groups where people buy and sell all kinds of items… clothes, shoes, designer handbags, housewares, and furniture.

Since I opened a flea market booth with 2 friends last summer, I’ve been on the hunt for cheap furniture pieces that I can give life to… and make a little profit in the process. You may have read my post about my tried and true “paint-sand-stain” technique (if not, read it here).

Over a year ago (okay maybe two years ago) I saw a Facebook post selling a nice wooden dresser. Key word being wooden, because I like to be able to sand. I could tell from the photo it would need a little repair from what looked like a minor dog chew mark, but other than that it looked pretty solid and like an easy project. Just needed a couple coats of paint, a little sanding to accent it, and some stain to finish it off.

I dragged my husband to this lady’s apartment after work one evening and from that moment on we were in over our heads. I know I said the great thing about buying things off Facebook is that it isn’t as creepy as Craigslist. True, because you can check out someone’s profile and try to get a vibe. Well, I certainly didn’t get the “I’ve got to move out of this apartment tonight so my boyfriend can’t harm me and my daughter” vibe. Things got weird in that apartment really fast. I felt sorry for the lady. She was probably my age or younger, and you could tell she had had a hard life and from what she told us she needed to move quickly and quietly. I felt good about showing up, paying what she asked ($30 for the dresser), moving it out and being on my way. The apartment was clean because and mostly packed up. What I can’t describe to you was the horrible smell of the apartment… the smell of cat. You know what I mean.

Oh, and then there’s the dresser. The photo she had taken and posted must have been in the worst lighting possible. I was expecting a dark wooden dresser. Not a purple one.

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We loaded up the dresser and took it straight to our storage unit. I just prayed that the cat piss smell hadn’t been absorbed by the wood. It was that bad. I could always burn it and be out the $30…

So, let’s get to the real reason why you’re reading this instead of my weird story about where we got the dresser. I knew that I wanted to use this piece as an entertainment center for ourselves. I’d seen numerous pins where DIY’ers like myself would remove the first row of drawers and bam – there you have it… a TV stand with storage!

We moved this dresser with us and it sat in the garage with crap on top of it. When we moved again, my husband gave me an ultimatum… do something with it or get rid of it. So WE did!


In this post I will outline the steps we took to transform the “purple cat piss smelling dresser” (it no longer smells, just so you know) into a kick ass entertainment center. We snapped lots of photos along the way to show our progress. This project was much more in depth than I anticipated, but we both learned quite a bit about furniture refinishing. Enjoy!

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We began by applying a thick coat of Citri Strip gel paint stripper to all painted surfaces of the dresser, including the top because I wanted to remove its finish and re-do that part too.

Because I’m pregnant we were careful about fumes when we purchased our supplies. This stripper is made with citric acid so it had a surprisingly pleasant orange-y scent. Not bad at all.

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One mistake we made was doing this project in the driveway on a windy day. Our gel stripper was drying out. It needs to stay wet to work as it should. You can see how it is drying out in the photo above.

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We moved it inside the garage and put another goopy layer on in hopes of it staying wet and working better. As you can see, the purple started magically disappearing. I knew the purple paint was spray paint (based on the finish and unevenness), but we didn’t know what would be underneath.

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We started scraping off the paint with a plastic putty knife – plastic so we wouldn’t gouge the wood. Underneath we found black… joy! Not only was this just black paint but it appeared to be oil-based. It was like goopy tar. It did not behave like regular paint. Total mess!

We also went ahead and applied another thick coat to the top of the dresser.

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We struggled to scrape off much of the black, so we did a 3rd layer of gel stripper.

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As you can see, after the 3rd stripping process we finally started seeing some wood. The paint that I like to use is Valspar Paint + Primer from Lowe’s and it has great coverage. We decided to call it quits here.

My husband used mineral spirits on a rag to remove the excess dried stripper from the wood. This is important so that the stripper residue doesn’t effect the new paint.

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I used wood filler to plug the old hardware holes in the drawers. I wanted to use a knob that would need just one center-drilled hole.

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I let this dry for a day and then sanded it down. Turns out I did this too early and some of the filler was still a little wet down in the holes, so I had to repeat the process. Lesson learned!

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My husband sanded any remaining spots of the old finish off the top of the dresser.

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The dresser was looking good and ready for stain after the mineral spirits wash and sanding any remaining paint chips off.

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I used Rust-o-leum’s stain in the shade Kona for the top of the dresser. I used an old t-shirt to apply it with the grain. I rubbed it in well and did not wipe any off.

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We let the stain dry for several days before doing anything else with the dresser… we also had other things going on and simply didn’t  have time to work on it.

Next, I painted the drawers using Botanical Bath from Valspar. Our Lowe’s has discontinued Valspar Ultra so I had to go with Valspar Reserve. Boo! It was more expensive and I still think I prefer the Ultra. I used a flat finish.

Next up, we started working on the actual structure of the dresser and what needed to be added & removed in order to make it into an entertainment center. This is where my dad’s help comes in.

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Dad had some scrap pieces leftover from other projects that we used to make the dresser look complete where the top row of drawers used to be. He took off the drawer runners that helped keep the top drawers in place. Since we were taking those out, the runners could go.

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We added in a smooth piece of paneling to act as a shelf for our electronics. He said this was $13 at Lowe’s. And now we have extra for future projects 🙂 We glued this in with Power Grab and used the nail gun to secure it even better.

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We cut a spare piece of oak trim to use to finish off the edges of the new shelf. Again, we used Power Grab and a nail fun to secure it into place.

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What a difference the oak trim piece makes! (upper left square- no trim, and to the right you see the trim).

He used caulk to seal up any gaps. It didn’t take too long to dry and then I was ready to paint! I used the same paint. Like most projects, I used 2 coats. Painting inside that shelf was NOT fun!

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Lookin’ spiffy!

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Obviously none of this would have been possibly without Phil’s support…

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Next up, we stained the drawers using Minwax Special Walnut and wiping it off with a clean t-shirt rag. When the paint dried on the dresser, we stained it as well.

I marked where we should drill the new knob holes by finding the center of the drawer, measuring corner to corner diagonally.

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Again, my assistant was all over it…

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We drilled the holes and screwed in the new knobs.

Next up, it was time to apply our clear coat finish to the top. We wanted our entertainment center to be waterproof so I wouldn’t have to worry about sweating glasses or sippy cups!

We used Helmsman by Minwax to do this. It was a little stinky, so I didn’t do this part.

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We applied two coats of this. We smoothed out any brush marks and imperfections with 0000 steel wool before adding the second coat. We applied this with an old synthetic brush and then with a foam brush. I don’t think it made a difference.

We popped in the drawers and voila!

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We made sure to apply felt pads to the bottom so that it wouldn’t damage our new hardwoods.

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I love how this piece turned out and fits into our house. We get so many compliments on it and most people can’t believe that we did this ourselves!

I hope this post has been detailed and informative for those of you looking to transform something from drab to fab. Please leave any questions about the products or process in the comments!

(Thank you to my parents and husband for their help with this big project. I am thrilled with how it turned out!)

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