DIY Ideas for 80's Furniture?

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Q: I'm moving into my first apartment by myself soon, which is exciting but leaves little budget for furniture shopping. I have access to a free set of nightstands and a dresser, which is great... but .. well.. it's not exactly my style? It's that '80/'90s cheap lacquer-type furniture (I don't know if it's actually lacquer but it looks it). Attached is a photo of a black version of the set. I would be receiving a white version with the same gold pulls:

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Help me out — is this something I can DIY into beauty? Is this kind of finish even something I can paint over? How do I replace the gaudy gold lip pulls? Should I just abandon ship now while I have the chance and go the IKEA route?

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Regina is an architect who lives with her husband and children in Lawrence, KS. As a LEED Accredited Professional and longtime contributor to Apartment Therapy and The Kitchn, her focus is on healthy, sustainable living through design.

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