DIY Upcycled Furniture & 5 Favorite Looks

One of my number one goals when furnishing my apartments or buying clothing, accessories or basically any fun stuff for myself or others is to try and buy handmade, vintage or used. Not only do I happen to generally like those types of items better, I also love how it avoids adding another piece of Ikea furniture to a landfill (I apologize for my early twenties, okay?). In some ways, I can’t believe that I ever bought anything new, since buying used (if not always vintage or handmade) is almost always cheaper and more personally fulfilling. I love the chase and scouring thrift stores and Craigslist for great finds and I love all the people I meet and the stories behind their items and why they have to let them go. I also am not ashamed to admit that I love having stuff that isn’t currently housed in thousands of other homes across the country.

Having just moved cross-country to California late last year, much of the past few months of my life have been spent decorating my new pad. I cut everything loose when I left New York, aiming to set myself free a bit and start anew — which always seems like a great plan until I spend four weeks sleeping on an air mattress and arguing with myself outloud at an antique market (don’t ask).

So it is with great pleasure that I tell you that I have finally – as of this week – finished unpacking and decorating. This is by far my favorite living space yet and I am thrilled with my findings and new surroundings. My style is a bit, er, loud? Definitely unique but ultimately just really girly and maybe a little “young.” Like teenager young. But hey! Nobody is judging… right?

Amongst my most favorite of finds is the dresser pictured above. When I first set out in full force checking out local handmade markets, antique shops and design blogs, I found an enormous amount of what is commonly referred to as “shabby chic” furniture. I was already familiar with the style, as my best friend back home often repurposes furniture in the same fashion. But I’d definitely never seen so much of it or such a variety. It’s obviously hugely popular here in Los Angeles and makes sense as it often has a certain laid back, beachy feel. I found many artists that I love and eventually settled on someone to do a desk for me and someone to do a dresser (both people were found on Craigslist, ultimately). Since I was having trouble finding pieces I loved once deciding on the style, both artists sent me their stripped items as they came in and I waited patiently until something I liked came in.

Next: DIY Handpainted Furniture + 5 Inspirational Looks

From what I can gather, the process is similar and admittedly easy for most upcyclers. They scour Craigslist or thrift shops for cheap but well-made dressers, vanities, desks etc and bring them home piece-meal. They then (with some variation person-to-person) sand them down, prep them for paint, paint them, seal them and give them fresh knobs and pulls. And they make good money doing it. While I didn’t tackle doing any major pieces myself, I did upcycle several smaller pieces for my apartment that I hope to share in the future.

Here are the simple steps to repurposing an old piece of furniture for those interested in trying it out. Then read on for some awesome pieces done by some talented folks across the US.


Paint, primer, high quality angled paint brush, foam paint roller or a high quality low nap roller, paint tray, tack cloth, sander or sanding block, sandpaper of various coarseness – fine to medium, screwdriver, sandwich bags to place hardware in, paint stirring stick

Note: When painting furniture, if you are not using “Chalk Paint”, you will need to use a primer first.  Do not skip this step or your paint will come right off or will discolor.

1. Remove hardware and place in a baggie. Mark the back of hinges and knobs with a magic marker or wrap painters tape around them and use the tape to write on what door or drawer they came from so you can put everything back exactly where it was originally.  It will save you frustration as doors will not line up if the hinges are not placed back exactly in the same spot they came from.

2. Sand all surfaces to remove as much of the shiny surface as you can.

3. Clean the surface with a tack cloth.

4.  Apply a coat of primer. When painting furniture use two light coats of primer and two light coats of paint, letting each coat dry thoroughly before applying the next. Use a foam roller on the flat surfaces and a high quality angled brush on the beveled and raised sections.

5. When the primer is dry, you should not see any brown color seeping through the paint. If you do – roll on another coat. When the primer is dry, use your sanding block to go over any areas that need smoothing. Clean with a tack cloth before applying paint.

6. Once you have a coat of paint on and it is dry, look for placed where dust has settled, drips, or bugs that have dried into the paint. Go over the areas with the sanding block covered in fine grit sandpaper. Then use a tack cloth to remove all the sanding dust and roll on the next coat of paint.

7. To apply wax: Wait until the paint is thoroughly dry, or overnight, to wax. Only use wax that is clear – Johnson’s is clear. Apply a very, very thin coat with a soft cloth. Rub it on in a quick circular motion. Less is more – so use just a little bit of wax. After it dries, buffing it will bring out the shine and color vibrancy.

8. After the wax is applied – let it dry. Drying time can vary depending on the temperature. 3o minutes to overnight. You will know when it is ready to buff as it will look a bit hazy and feel slightly tacky or sluggish when a dry cloth is wiped over it.  If you don’t have a soft cloth, try balled up pantyhose.

Source: In My Own Style

Vanity (The Painted Chair 078, $715)

Dresser (Knack Studio, $595)

French Armoire (Painted Cottages, $1,795)

Dinner table (Clay Silver, $599)

Dresser (Shabby Maggie, $650)


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Kayla F.
Kayla F.about a year ago

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Kayla F.
Kayla F.about a year ago

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Allison C.about a year ago

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katarzyna phillips

some of the last pictures were terrible! i'd imagine some of it in a kid's bedroom! each to their own i suppose! although i do buy second hand or donate, sometimes you really do have to go for new. but new doesn't always mean expensive. it's called 'shopping around' for the best price of things

Latoya Brookins
Latoya Brookins3 years ago

One of the most beautiful pieces of furniture I've seen had an Indian mural on it.

A lot of people see outdated or plain looking funirture and think it should taken apart and dumped. It's great that there are people that see the value in them and can make them look as good as new or even better than they did before.

Winn Adams
Winn Adams3 years ago


Jennifer L.
Jennifer L.3 years ago

I love the look of painted furniture. It's so modern and fun, and a great way to add color to a room.