Want to make an inexpensive IKEA dresser look like a thousand bucks? Try painting it with a gorgeous new color. This instantly transforms your furniture. And it can be completed in just a weekend. Let me break down the steps for you and share some tips for painting over super glossy surfaces (it’s not as hard as you think!).
- Drop Cloth
- 220 Grit Sanding Pad or Sanding Sponge
- Tack Cloth
- 4″ Nap Foam Roller
- Shellac-based Primer
- Paint of your choice (my favorite green paint for furniture is Clover Green)
- Top Coat
- New Hardware or Legs (optional)
Step 1. Prep
The NOLDRI dresser has a glossy, shiny finish that is typical of most IKEA furniture. Painting straight over this kind of surface is destined to be a frustrating experience. Imagine spraying water to glass, the water will bead up and run off. Well, technically paint provides better adherence than water, but to prevent chips or scratches down the road, spend the time to prepare the surface (your future self will thank you for this).
Start by cleaning the piece thoroughly, especially if you’re working on an older dresser. Use water and soap to remove grease, grime or stain. Make all the necessary repairs, remove peeling or chipped paint, fill holes or gouges with wood filler.
Next sand with 220 grit or medium grade sanding pad. I like to use a sanding pad because it conforms to the shape of the furniture piece a lot better than a thin piece of sandpaper or a sanding sponge, and it’s easier to hold flat when sanding. Don’t sand too deep into the raw material. All that is needed is a light scuff sanding for 5-10 minutes max. Do make sure to sand all the places you’d paint over, including all the edges of the drawer fronts and the frame of the dresser.
Remove sanding dust with a tack cloth.
Step 2. Prime
For laminate and other high gloss finishes, applying two coats of shellac-based primer is the KEY to the success of your paint job. In the US, Rust-Oleum® Zinsser® B-I-N Primer is a popular brand for this. It does a good job blocking stains, bleed through and wood knots. However, it has a strong smell, so you’d want to apply the primer with windows open.
The first time you apply shellac-based primer, you may be surprised to find out that it is very watery and hard to work with. Apply a thin layer in long, even strokes. Don’t go over the same spot multiple times. This primer dries quickly, doing so would turn the half-dry primer into a sticky mess. Watch for drips on the corners. If the drip dries, you can sand it down before the second coat.
I recommend using a roller (such as this one) instead of a paint brush, because a roller leaves a more even finish. A paint brush tends to create brush strokes. And don’t use a disposable chip brush, it can leave loose bristles behind and make the surface look uneven. Unless you’re looking for a ragged, textured look and feel.
Use the 220 grit sanding pad to sand between coats and before moving to the next step. This helps smooth out the surface and remove any air bubbles, bumps or imperfections.
After you’re done with priming, you can store the paint brush or roller away. Don’t bother cleaning them. Shellac hardens when it’s dried. Soak the old brush or roller in denatured alcohol to dissolve the substance overnight before your next paint job. Easy, right?
Step 3. Paint
The fun part! This is where the magic happens. After all the prep work, now you can put on a fresh coat of color and watch the dresser transform right in front of your eyes. It is fun, relaxing and therapeutic.
Some people like to use a paint sprayer to create a super smooth finish. If you don’t have one, or don’t want to move the furniture to a spray tent, a paint roller is a great alternative. I actually prefer this method, because a roller is easy to control and doesn’t require a lot of preparation.
Use a brush for the edges and corners, then go over the same spot immediately with a roller. For a large, flat surface, use a roller to apply a thin layer of paint in long, even strokes, similar to applying the primer.
After the first coat of paint has fully dried, normally 2-4 hours later, go back and apply a second coat. This should cover all of the spots and give you that amazingly consistent and smooth finish.
Note that with a roller, you will see a bit of texture under light, it’s not noticeable from a distance. Jeanna Sue experimented with different paint rollers to get the best result. Her blog post is worth a read.
Step 4. New Hardware or Legs
This is completely optional. But changing hardware or legs is the EASIEST ways to update a piece of furniture. If your budget allows, add a bit of bling or natural wood color with new parts. They can elevate the look instantly.
If you get the same square legs I did, find the point that is 1” away from the corner of the dresser, and drill pilot holes to the bottom of the dresser. You may need to add support boards, if your dresser doesn’t have a flat surface to drill into. When the opening is big enough (we ended up using a ½” drill bit), you can insert the metal plate and screw in the legs.
Step 5. Top Coat
High quality paint designed for trim and cabinets usually don’t require a top coat. However, based on my previous experience of accidentally scratching painted furniture (oops), adding a protective top coat makes a HUGE difference in the durability of the piece. There are many products on the market. Water-based clear polyurethane is my go-to choice. Both because of its ease of use (it applies milky and dries clear) and its excellent quality. Furniture I’ve finished with polyurethane has a solid, smooth finish that doesn’t stain or scratch easily. Wait a couple of days for the paint to fully dry, then apply two coats of poly to seal the entire piece. If you want to find out more about the differences between topcoats, Katie Scott has done an extensive comparison: Battle of the Topcoats.
Once the final coat of top coat is dry, fold a small brown paper bag from the supermarket and gently rub over the surface. This trick can remove dust nibs without scratching the finish, leaving a silky smooth feel.
Let’s do a quick before and after of this IKEA hack. This olive green works so well for a kids bedroom or a nursey. Earthy, soothing and a bit playful.
If you don’t feel like DIYing, here are two of my favorites on the market.
Have you painted glossy furniture or cabinets? Let me know in comments below how was your experience and if you have any questions!