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Easy DIY: Updating an Old Wooden Chest

Easy DIY: How I Update Old Furniture

I am obsessed with antique furniture. Honestly, I love the look of older furniture. And I love real wood – a lot of furniture today isn’t made with the same quality it used to be & I’m not really into modern straight lines and right angles. I frequent antique stores all the time. Sometimes, I’ve just had a bad day and want to walk around looking; other times, I have a mission and need a piece or decor for a certain space.

When I found this piece, I was on a mission to actually find something large enough to store towels for our new master bathroom, but small enough to fit at the little entryway of the bathroom. I found this little chest & it’s super old. I love It. Aren’t the little wheels adorable? I really wish it would have been in the original wood condition instead of a million layers of chalk paint, but it is what it is. I paid $30 for the chest and planned on either staining it my favorite dark wooden stain OR painting it the same color as the stripes of my master bath – more on that later. After assessing the quality of the wood, I decided paint was better for this project as it had already been painted a lot and I needed to really sand it down to get it smooth and prepped.

What you need:

  • Paint (or stain)
  • Paintbrush
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Sanding block
  • Polyurethane & brush
  • Drop Cloth (yes, I know I’m bad – I didn’t use one this time. But I usually do, I promise.. you should use one)

Steps for a fabulous piece of furniture

Take the furniture apart

Well, sort of apart. Take the drawers out & lay them with the face up so they’re ready for refinishing. If there are cabinet doors or hardware that needs to be taken off – do that. Sometimes furniture has emblems or something I don’t love, so I will pop that off too. But that’s not applicable for this particular project.


I know it’s not fun and it can be messy, but sanding is so important when you’re talking about prepping for a project, especially wood. My husband likes to use the big electric sander and tries to be helpful but I prefer to hand sand, especially when we aren’t getting the wood grain prepped for staining. So.. for this job, I just used a sanding block and just sanded away! Just enough to get it smooth and get a lot of the current finish off.

Fill Bad Spots with Wood Filler

This is easy. I like to use this particular wood filler.

It doesn’t dry out like the tubes of it usually do and it turns colors when it’s ready dried for sanding. Make sure to get wood filler that is stainable and paintable! I have even used my fingers with wood filler before but when it’s a big chunk missing, the best way to fix it is to use a putty knife to get it perfect. When it’s dry, sand the spot so it’s perfectly smooth.


Make sure to clean off all the dust & excess wood filler – it should all be flush and smooth.


You can seriously use any kind of paint. For this project, I wanted it to match my bathroom walls so I used the latex paint that was in our shed from when it had previously been painted. Not my favorite type of paint but it was free and easy to paint and it matched… so, I used it. It was a flat finish in a calming shade of light green. When I’m painting, I prefer thin layers. Big chunky layers just look sloppy in the end. Keep it smooth and thin. I paint in the same direction as the wood grain. For this, the paint dried quickly because I did it outside on our patio on a gorgeous fall day with a breeze. I did three layers. I didn’t do anything between the layers – just painted straight on top of the previous layer.


I’m not into rustic. I know a lot of people are & I think it’s great, but in my house, I like things glossy, clean and ‘finished’ looking. I don’t want it to look banged up or like you intentionally sanded paint off. Polyurethane is my favorite to finish furniture with, especially after wood stain. It just seals it all up and protects all of your hard work from daily life (mine being 2 black labs, a husband and a toddler who doesn’t understand that he shouldn’t hit balls with a golf club inside the house – we’re working on it lol). Basically, I want my furniture to be toddler-proof. If he spills apple sauce on it, I want to be able to wipe it clean without having to refinish the whole thing and without paint peeling off.  So, I use polyurethane.

I know the directions tell you what brush to use but I rarely follow them exactly – I prefer a foam brush like this. And I like them big. The trick to poly, keep a wet edge! It prevents bubbles from forming. If you get bubbles, lightly sand with fine sandpaper and do another layer. I always do 2-3 layers of poly. You don’t have to use glossy poly, you can use whatever finish you want. I actually love to use the new wood stain that has poly already in it, SO easy! Then let it dry. And clean out the brushes ASAP because when poly dries, it’s hard to get the brush clean again. Same with your paint brush.


Once you’re satisfied with the finish of the furniture, add on your hardware. Most of the time, I replace the hardware. Like on this dresser, the wooden knobs were so outdated. And too big! I didn’t love them – so I replaced them with something more appropriate for the space; feminine crystal pulls I picked up when shopping around with my sister. Sometimes I use the original hardware after a good polishing.


Isn’t that such a simple process? I love to do this; I save so much money and I get exactly what I want instead of splurging on a piece of furniture that isn’t what I was picturing. I’ll do a post about our new master bath when we are all the way done with the space but this is such a perfect addition to the space and fulfills our need for towel storage! And it cost about $50 total, yayyy! Now that I’m looking at the pics, my little antique pineapple mirror is not as big as I want it – guess replacing that will be on my list for my next antiquing trip.

Blackout Curtains by Best Home Fashion

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