Projects & Improvements

Before and After: A 45-Minute, Tool-Free Redo Gives an IKEA MALM Dresser a Trendy New Look for Just $30

published Aug 29, 2022
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About this before & after
Home Type
Project Type
Mid-century Modern
Skill Level
Rental Friendly
Before: a six drawer dresser with plain drawers
Credit: Jane Depgen

For tenants in walk-up apartments, flat-pack furniture is definitely easiest for getting up and down the stairs on move-in and move-out days — and the days in between, too! The only problem is, if you end up with all flat-pack furniture, it can be tough for your space to feel different from big box showrooms or stock retailer images.

Jane Depgen, who lives in a fifth-floor walkup, knew that the IKEA MALM would be easiest for getting up her building’s stairs and would provide ample storage underneath her TV, but she wasn’t thrilled with the way it looked on the outside. “I only lasted a week or two with my new dresser before I realized I was unsatisfied with my purchase, but I was too lazy to attempt to return it/sell it and too stubborn to give up on it!” she says.

Credit: Jane Depgen

The white oak drawer fronts were just a bit too plain-looking for her — a bit standard-issue, college dorm-like, even.

Jane took to the internet to check out IKEA hacks and DIYs to zhuzh them up. “I… couldn’t find anything that inspired me or felt unique, so I challenged myself to come up with something I hadn’t seen before,” she says.

Credit: Jane Depgen

Many of the hacks she’d seen used dowels, pole wrap, or moulding to add faux fluting or texture. Jane was looking to put a creative twist on this concept, and she was searching for a solution that didn’t require purchasing any power tools. “I came up with a design that leveraged the same technique in a ‘new’ pattern that, amazingly, would not require saws or power tools to cut the wood,” she says. “After I came up with the idea, I tried to search and see if anyone had done something similar and didn’t find anything! Please let me know if you find others who have done this or if you end up trying it yourself!”

She ended up finding 4 x 8-inch balsa wood sheets ($20 for two packs) on Amazon that she arranged in one of 2022’s trendiest patterns, checkerboard, on her drawer fronts. They matched the measurements she needed exactly. “This was a huge win,” Jane says. She applied two packs of the wood sheets to the drawers with craft glue she had around the house (but a dorm dweller or anyone with style commitment issues could use double-sided tape or Command strips).

Credit: Jane Depgen

Her recommendation for anyone going the glue route is to remove the drawers from the dresser and lay them on their backs so the drawer fronts are facing the ceiling to prevent the wood sheets from sliding around. This way, she says, “gravity is on your side.”

After the wood sheets dried in place, Jane cut 4 x 8-inch rectangles out of an $8 roll of wood- grain contact paper. Jane was pleasantly surprised that the contact paper was almost identical to the grain of the dresser. She covered her 24 balsa sheets with the adhesive material to complete her subtle checkerboard look. “I was done in about 45 minutes,” she says.

Jane says she loves her dresser “it feels sort of trendy because of the checkerboard pattern” but also somewhat retro since it recalls brutalist-style furniture of the 1960s and 1970s.

Credit: Jane Depgen

“I think it’s reminiscent of some vintage furniture pieces I’ve seen which incorporate different shades, textures, and thickness of wood to create subtle visual interest,” she says. From IKEA-identical to vintage-looking for about $30 and in less than an hour? This one goes into the IKEA Hack hall of fame.