Before and After: 4 Simple, Sophisticated Furniture Make-Unders That Let Natural Wood Shine

published Apr 25, 2022
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vintage wood bed frames sitting outside
Credit: Dana Dore

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Design makeovers are so fun to check out — whether they’re big and showstopping or small and subtle. That especially goes for furniture makeovers, which are a perfect project for experienced DIYers and beginners alike. Unlike room makeovers, these projects are self-contained and can often be done in matter of hours, rather than days (not including drying time, of course).

And while bold and colorful furniture makeovers are a treat for the eyes, there’s something to love about projects that take a more natural approach and let the beauty of wood grain shine through. Here, four gorgeous furniture makeovers to inspire you to embrace the natural wood look.

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A Glossy Black TV Stand Gets a Softer Look

Liz Malm, a government and communications professional, tackles ambitious DIYs in her Washington, D.C. apartment. Perhaps the most arduous undertaking has been a farmhouse-chic dresser that had potential, but was caked in layers of paint and a top layer of glossy black.

Malm was enamored with the curvy lines hiding beneath the paint, and decided to try out a walnut-inspired finish to complement other existing pieces in her apartment. While she was well versed in paint-centric projects, this was her first venture into refinishing — and it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing. For starters, the constrained space of her small apartment made for a tough workspace. 

“Honestly it was a nightmare process,” she says. “I first had to scrape off all the goo from the old paint. I had to do that step three times because of all the layers.” Then came the heavy lifting. “I dragged the whole piece down to my apartment’s loading dock and used a power sander to get off the paint that was too stuck on for the Citristrip.” 

But after two months of weekends spent stripping and sanding, the results made for a stunning dresser in a light, organic wood. As a finishing touch, she discarded the existing ornate hardware and went for a sleek, minimalist brass from Anthropologie. 

While Malm anticipates more wood and natural styles in DIY trends, she has one big tip for would-be refinishers. “Don’t attempt sanding and refinishing if you don’t have access to outdoor or garage space — it’s too hard and too messy!” she says. “I upended our lives for several weekends, and then it was too late to go back.”

A 1980s Wood Bed Frame Has Its Dated Orange Tones Stripped Away

Echoing Malm’s long-term investment in stripping wood, Dana Dore, the interior design blogger behind Adored House, spent several weekends uncovering the beauty in the vintage spindle bed she found on Facebook Marketplace. Describing its original state, she says, “The bed was so beautiful already, but the finish felt very 1980s and it was way too orange for my liking.”

Dore wanted to avoid using stripping agents with fast-acting but harsh chemicals. Instead, she also turned to Citristrip to remove the varnish. “After a few weekends of tedious stripping and scrubbing, I got it down to a natural wood color and used Annie Sloan’s Dark Wax to refinish the wood,” she says. “It was the first time I used this, and it was such a quick and easy process with a beautiful finish.”

Credit: Sara Chen
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A Pair of Nightstands Receive a Kitchen-Powered Makeover

Not all furniture DIYs involve running to a home improvement store. Sara Chen of Sara Chen Design in Charlotte, North Carolina, took to her kitchen to try an experiment that resulted in a stunning set of nightstands. “I stripped a pair of nightstands and bleached them into a light wood tone with Easy-Off oven cleaner,” says Chen, who left the original mid-century hardware intact. She purchased these two 1960s Broyhill pecan nightstands from Facebook Marketplace for $200. Once they’d been stripped and bleached to a raw wood look, the nightstands sold for $895 — proving there’s lots of love for all sorts of wood tones.

Credit: Leslie Jarrett
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A Hand-Me-Down Dresser Nabs a Loving Redo

Sometimes a furniture make-under is so subtle that it feels like an exercise in “spot the difference.” Leslie Jarrett, a former math teacher turned furniture flipper, almost passed up on solid wood dressers that previously belonged to her grandparents. But with a little elbow grease, she stripped the old finish and opted for a classic, warm one that doesn’t stray too dramatically from its vintage roots. Where the subtle impact really comes in, however, is in the hardware and new feet — these are differences that don’t jump out right away, but they give the piece a totally new life.

“When people say, ‘They don’t make them like that anymore,’ it couldn’t be more true for furniture,” Jarrett says.