Recently I shared about how The Guest Room all started with some DIY projects in the spare room of our little apartment. If you haven’t read that yet, you can find it here – hope it encourages you 🙂
At that time, we were approaching DIY for a profit and we learned a ton of lessons that I will be sharing later! For most my life though, DIY has been something I’ve done for fun and function. I’ve talked to so many people who say, “I could never!” “My attempts always turn our horrible!” “I don’t know the first thing!”… So I’m here to share some of the super simple tips I’ve learned through trial and error, some products I love, and most of all: why you don’t have to be scared to Do It Yourself! By the end of this article I hope you feel empowered to look at that coffee table you’ve held onto forever because it’s not in the budget to replace, with the inspiration and confidence to give it new life! Because sometimes life feels a lot like a DIY project! But thankfully it’s DIT – DoItTogether and the work in progress can be pretty beautiful! (More thoughts on that here 😉 )
DIY is a great way to shop for your own home on a budget. There are so many times we’ve opted in for a little more sweat because it meant less dollars! Before I go any further, the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that DIY is also DIfY (do it for yourself). DIY should be fun and stress free. No one is grading your craftsmanship.. if you’re interested in DIY, have fun with it! Let yourself be creative, approach it with the skill and resources you have and don’t hold yourself to the same expectation of a professional. The worst case scenario is, you don’t love it. The good news is, you can always paint over it!
So now lets talk tips! I could never give you an all encompassing article on this one (especially since I’m still learning and you can literally DIY anything!) but the main thing to remember is that you can teach yourself ANYTHING these days with the help of the internet! I have turned to countless blogs, product reviews, and Youtube tutorials to help me. Google is your DIY friend!
Honing in on your own style will also help you know how to approach a piece of furniture or project. I tend to lean towards a modern farmhouse style so most of my pieces are neutrally colored with a distressed finish. This, again, helps me determine which items to makeover and what materials I want to use.
Some things require more work and might be a big undertaking for a beginner (or anyone!) So just like we need to free ourselves from unfair expectations, we also need to be realistic with ourselves so that we’re not disappointed if the outcome is different than we expected or the workload is more than we hoped. I always try to weigh this when considering a DIY. Here’s 2 questions I ask:
- Will doing this myself be more cost effective than purchasing a similar item? (Cost effective enough to make it worth while?)
- Is the amount of time this project will take to complete something I’m willing to invest?
Alright, now that I’ve talked you into DIY and let you in on my thought process, let’s walk through the project I worked on this week and I’ll share all my best tips as we go 🙂
This little dresser was my first purchase after getting engaged! I fell in love with it at a vintage market. It was a steal of a deal and I HAD to have it. It’s always been kind of sentimental for that reason and I really do still love the piece itself, but 25 year old me doesn’t love the turquoise for our space like 19 year old me did and that’s okay!! Our styles evolve through the years and sometimes, for our space to evolve with it, a little creativity is required! (Especially if you like to change things up as much as me 😉 ).
I think there’s almost nothing a good coat of paint cant fix. Probably 90% of my flips come down to a new paint color. True to my modern farmhouse, neutral color loving self, I’m going with white for this piece! It will fit with the space and work great with the black hardware already on the dresser.
Step 1: Prep
I’ve got my plan and now I’ve got to prep:
Remove the drawers and place them in a space you can use to work on them separately.
Remove all hardware and place it somewhere they’ll stay together and not get lost.
Move your piece to a workspace (or just place drop cloths underneath like I usually do..)
Step 2: Sand (?)
Probably the most asked DIY question I’ve received is in regards to sanding! Ugh. Sanding is actually my least favorite part of Do It Yourself projects and I avoid it at all costs! So how do you know if it’s necessary? My rule of thumb is – if it’s shiny, sand it. Remember I’m not an expert, but in my experience, this has proved to be true. If the piece of furniture has a sheen to it, the paint won’t stick well. Pieces with a really heavy seal like polyurethane (you know them, they almost feel tacky to the touch) require a pretty good amount of sanding/removing, so make sure you are ready to put in that work! The more raw and porous the wood surface is, the better it will receive your paint and the less chance your paint will chip and scratch off over time. I’ve found that when unsealed chalk paints or flat paints are used on a surface like this, I am usually able to paint right over them without any sanding!
If it’s shiny, sand it.
My blue dresser seems to have been painted with chalk paint and sealed lightly with a wax seal. It feels like I might be able to get away with not sanding, but I’m choosing to lightly sand any spot that seems a little shiny with loose paper by hand. Again, I could probably get away with skipping this step, but I don’t want to take chances with this piece since it’s such a favorite and such a focal point of our home.
Power sanders are great for bigger projects and can save you a lot of time and muscle! I’ve used a sprayable aerosol chemical stripper, which is an okay alternative for a very small project, but I haven’t found one I love enough to recommend! The next sanding alternative I hope to try is one I’ve seen home decor blogging queen, Erin at Cottenstem, use – this Citristrip stripping gel. She has a whole highlight about it on her Instagram so head over there for more info about it!
Lastly, even if I’m not sanding, I like to wipe down any item with a damp cloth before painting. Just to get rid of any dust, etc.
Step 3: Paint
If I’m not using a chalk paint, I tend to use indoor paint+primer paint from a hardware store with flat finish. I notice the primer combination helps with the durability of my paint, especially if I skipped the sanding. Here’s paint I’m using for this project.
I was on a tight budget for this project and wanted to do it as inexpensively as possible so I had them mix up two sample cans for me at Home Depot with the color “New Home White” by Behr. Each sample can cost less than $3 and I still had a small amount left after 4 coats! It was plenty of paint for less than $6 and the smallest cans of this same paint were $15 — SCORE!
I often find I need at least two coats of paint. If you are planning to distress your piece, you can always lean into painting imperfections and air on the side of thinner paint coverage – up to you! For this project, I painted four coats to ensure the blue color wouldn’t show through.
Step 4: Reassemble
Once your piece is dry, reassemble the drawers, hardware, etc. I like to do this step before distressing so that I can see what the final product will look like as I’m distressing. If you’re going for a clean and finished, not distressed look, you’re done!!!
Adding new hardware is always a super simple way to give new life to an old piece. Especially if you are transitioning a piece to a new space, just changing the knobs to match the new room may be all thats required! Home Depot and Lowes are always great for standard knobs. Amazon is obviously always a great resource. One of my personal favorites for hardware is WorldMarket!
Step 5: Distress
Finer grain sandpaper achieves a shabby chic look the best and it’s easier to work with when you’re distressing a piece of furniture. You can lightly sand the whole surface to give it a more worn appearance, but you want to start minimally with the heavier standing. You can always do more, but it’s harder to undo.
My best tip is to start with edges. Think about the areas that would naturally be worn down if it was a really old piece. Go over the corners and edges, but not every single one. You don’t want it to look completely uniform or like you sanded every area down perfectly. The idea is to make it look like it happened over time! You’ll want to apply this same approach to the individual drawers and/or cabinets of your piece!
I don’t have a set rule or formula for this, I just eye it based on personal preference and always try sand in the same direction with the grain of wood. My aim is balance. I don’t want one side of my piece to look like its weathered 100 years and the other to look brand new. Keeping that in mind, my placement is kind of random! Don’t be intimidated by this step. The more imperfect it looks, the more authentic it looks! So you really cant lose.
*Keep in mind that if you have a color underneath, the sanding will probably bring it up! This is the reason I’m not distressing my piece right now. I chose not to fully remove the blue before painting so it’s likely some will show through when I distress. I might chose to do that later, but for now I like the clean look it has.
Step 6: Seal
I’m going to be totally honest, I don’t do this on a ton of my pieces. Personally I just kind of like the raw, unfinished look and feel. This does leave pieces more unprotected and open to distress even more over time. You may see that as a pro or con. It also makes pieces more porous so they’re more easily stained. If I am going to seal, I prefer wax seals.
I may use a wax seal on this piece later on, but for now, its staying how it is!
Bonus step: Think outside the box!
Sometimes, in order to modernize something or make it more functional for your home, you need to think outside the box. Here are two examples from my favorite little hutch I’m always talking about!
Check out the 70s style, orange glass window pains in the cabinets. When I first spotted the hutch, I knew I wanted to knock those out, but I wasn’t sure what I’d replace it with. Somewhere along the way I got the inspiration for chicken wire and I think it was a really fun farmhousey spin for super cheap! (We bought it in the gardening section at Lowes!)
The second way we altered this piece was to take off the bottom cupboard doors and remove the shelf. I wanted as much open room as possible since the hutch was our main display space in my home decor booth. You might be repurposing something and need to alter it to meet your needs. Don’t be afraid to do something unconventional!
I’m always blown away and pleasantly surprised by what a difference a new color and a little sprucing up can make. There’s just something special about giving new life to an old item that makes the piece feel more personal! Imperfection = personality!
I hope this was helpful and maybe even inspiring to you! 🙂 Please feel free to comment with any questions and pin it with the button below or send it to a DIY (or future DIY) loving friend!!