With a little sanding and painting, you can turn an antiquated wooden dresser into a dramatic accent piece for your bedroom or hall
How to refinish a dresser
Rob D. Brodman


(not including dresser)

  • wood filler
  • primer
  • matte latex enamel (base color), 1 quart
  • matte or glossy latex paint (accent color), sample size
  • new wooden drawer pulls (optional)
  • pads for dresser feet (optional)


  • drop cloth or newspaper
  • pencil
  • screwdriver
  • putty knife, 1 inch
  • sandpaper or sanding sponge, 100 grit and 180 grit
  • microfiber dust cloth
  • paint tray
  • mini roller
  • synthetic-bristle brush, 1 inch or 1½ inch
  • painter’s masking tape, ½ inch and 1 inch
  • artist’s brush, preferably ¼ inch


1. Take it apart. Place the dresser on the drop cloth or newspaper. Remove the drawers. Use the pencil to number each one on the back to identify where it fits. With the screwdriver, remove the drawer pulls and any wheeled feet, and set them aside. Remove any ornate parts that aren’t essential and come off easily.

2. Smooth out the surfaces. With wood filler and the putty knife, fill in any cracks and gaps, and the holes from any removed parts. Also smooth over any remaining fancy details that you want to conceal to create a more polished look. Once the filler is dry, sand the patches with the 100-grit sandpaper. Then scuff-sand all the surfaces with 180-grit. Wipe the surfaces with the dust cloth.

3. Prime and paint. Pour the primer into the paint tray. With the roller, prime all the visible surfaces on the dresser drawers and the case itself. Include the outside edges of the drawer fronts and the inside edges of the case where the drawers fit. As you prime each area, immediately follow up with the synthetic-bristle brush to remove any excess drips of paint. Brush with long strokes in the direction of the wood grain. If you are painting new drawer pulls (or want to repaint the old ones), prime them now. Rinse the tools and let the primer dry. Then use the same procedure to paint the drawers the base color. When the paint is dry, add a second coat. Let dry.

4. Create the detailing. Apply the 1-inch painter’s masking tape along the front perimeter of the drawers where you want a stripe parallel with the edges. Apply the ½-inch tape just inside that, and then another round of 1-inch tape inside that, making three lines of tape with their edges abutting. Remove the ½-inch tape, leaving a tidy gap ½ inch wide. In a similar way, create ½-inch gaps for other design details, such as the jogs around some of the drawer pulls on the dresser in the photograph. When the pattern is complete, press down all the tape edges that face the ½-inch gaps. Use the brush to apply the accent paint onto the gaps and on the drawer pulls, too, if you have primed them. When the paint is dry, add a second coat. Let dry. Carefully remove the remaining tape. 

5. Add the final details. Place the drawers back into the dresser. With the artist’s brush, fill in any gaps in the design. Install the drawer pulls and any wheeled feet, or replace the wheels with pads that protect the floor.

Style notes 

For a bolder look, keep the dresser color neutral but have fun with the accent color, like a dark green dresser with a bright yellow accent stripe. For a more subtle look, make the stripe the same color as the dresser, but in a different finish. 

If your dresser has a natural wood finish that you’d like to maintain, paint only the drawer fronts. For lighter wood, use white or black on the drawer fronts; for reddish wood, use dark green; for tan wood, use blue-violet.