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Vintage upcycled chest of drawers

Chest of drawers upcycle

I knew it would be a good day when I noticed a house clearance on my street. The owner was moving into a care home and the family wanted to get rid of all the old furniture as quickly as possible. So naturally I volunteered my services, and one of the pieces I collected was this vintage chest of drawers. It had some cosmetic damage, but structurally was in great shape as it had sat in a bedroom for the last 50 years. I hadn’t done an upcycled chest of drawers before so was very excited to take this home.

And upon closer inspection I noticed a couple of Harrods badges. Clearly this was once a very expensive piece of furniture. Turned out to be a very good day indeed!

Vintage upcycled chest of drawers


While doing my usual assessment of the piece, I noticed that the top surface was a strange plasticky material with a wood grain print on it. I’d never seen such a thing before. It turned out to be formica, which is a plastic laminate material that was very popular in the 70’s. And as much as I wanted to respect the original craftmanship, this had to go, so I ripped it off. This image shows what was left once I removed the formica. Not a pretty sight, but I knew I’d be painting it so I just needed to get it as smooth as possible.

Upcycled chest of drawers - Before

Sanding the upcycled chest of drawers

I wanted to get all of the original finish off, so this required some serious sanding. Luckily my dad (a.k.a. the sandman) has sawdust in his veins and was able to help out once more. The old lacquer was very tough, so 40 grit sandpaper was used to get the top surface off, and then successively higher grits were introduced. It’s important when doing this to wear a good quality dust mask and goggles, because you never know what toxins will be thrown up into the air. Here is the chest of drawers with all the original finish removed. Thanks dad!

Varnishing the drawers

At this point I was noticing some mind boggling formations in the wood grain. So I decided to oil the drawers to make that grain pop out and then varnish them for some extra protection. The result was better than I expected. And it was great to reveal these patterns that had been hidden for so long under the old lacquer.

Painting the chest of drawers

I wanted to add a pop of colour, and chose Stiffkey Blue by Farrow & Ball. It’s an inky blue named after the Norfolk beach where the mud is a peculiar blue colour. And I felt that it would nicely complement the orangey tones in the wood. It also makes this piece very unique and interesting, and gives it a more up to date, contemporary feel. So first I added the primer, and then followed that with 3 coats of paint. Please be aware that if you’re using Farrow & Ball paint, it’s advisable to also use their primer, otherwise you risk a less than perfect finish.

Finishing the feet

I really like the feet on this upcycled chest of drawers. The design is lovely, and with a coat of oil and varnish they were totally transformed.

Finishing touches

The edges on some of the drawers were faded so I touched them up with a dark stain. This worked wonders and blended in nicely with the rest of the drawer.

Upcycled chest of drawers - Staining damaged patches

The original keys were missing so I had some new ones cut. The costs for this can vary depending on the complexity of the key. These ones were quite complex so cost £15 each. The locks were a little bit stiff so I sprayed in some WD40 and it loosened them up instantly.

Upcycled chest of drawers - Lock

I also widened the recesses for the locks to ensure a nice smooth locking action.

Upcycled chest of drawers - Adjustments

The finished product

Unbelievably this upcycled chest of drawers was originally unwanted and destined for landfill. However I’m pleased to say it has now found a new home with a lovely young couple and their cat, and will be enjoyed for many more years to come.

If you’d like to know more about upcycling, feel free to contact me and I’ll be happy to help. Or you can receive our newsletter to get the latest news, updates and projects straight to your inbox.