Shabby Chic Dressers with a Steampunk Twist

I’m hot, sweaty and covered in sawdust. Also, I made this:


Two of them, in fact!

When I started, they looked like this:


Actually, only one of them looked like that. The other one looked like this because I bought it preassembled:


[3-Drawer Rast Dresser from Ikea]

There was no way I was going to buy a new piece of furniture (even it was from Ikea and only cost $35) when I could easily buy a used one that was already assembled for $15 on Craigslist. Unfortunately, I could only find one that hadn’t already been painted or stained another color, and the time it would’ve taken me to strip it and sand it down wasn’t worth the savings. I suppose I could’ve waited for another cute little pre-assembled unicorn dresser to come along, but I didn’t feel like it. So I bought a new one instead.

This was my first attempt at an Ikea hack and (after a few false starts and several trips to the hardware store) I think it turned out remarkably well.

Let’s cut right to the chase, shall we? Here’s how I did it:

Step 1: Remove most of the furniture from your postage stamp-sized living room in order to create a proper workspace.


[Bonus points for watching West Wing while you work!]

If you live in a house with a garage or a basement or any place outside of Manhattan that has actual living space, you can skip this step.

Except the West Wing part. You should totally do that.

[A friend recently challenged me to find a way to do all of my projects within the confines of my apartment. I don’t know how my roommates are going to feel about that, but on this occasion I gave it a go.]

Step 2: Assemble your dresser(s).

Since Ikea is generally pretty great about providing clear, idiot-proof instructions, I’ll not bore you with a recap.


I will say that if you plan to line your drawers (which I highly recommend because it looks wicked neat) I suggest you do it before you put them together. Much easier that way. In fact, I disassembled part of my used dresser for that very reason. It also made them easier to stain.


[These are my gorgeous drawer liners! I just cut some fabric to size and applied some Modge Podge. Simple, but effective.]

Step 3: Plan the hacky part.

There are a million and one Ikea Rast hacks out there, though most aren’t really hacks. Merely refinishing a dresser and using it as a nightstand doesn’t really qualify as repurposing it. I mean, it’s not like you’re gonna use it as a baby bathtub or a gerbil house or something. (What? There are some bizarre hacks out there.)

While it may not count as a true hack, I’d like to think that mine is at least a quasi hack because it involves drills, saws, lumber and many, many trips to the hardware store.

Whatever you want to call it, I always recommend doing a Google image search before starting any project. Though, if you’re anything like me, you’ll sit down to do a quick search, five hours will go by and you’ll wind up with intricate plans for a project that has nothing to do with your original idea. It’s good fun.

The designs that inspired me most were this one, this one and this one.

The hollowed-out bottom on the front of the original dresser was unappealing to me; so I definitely wanted to figure out a way to fill it out a bit. This one seemed to take the simplest approach…


[Picture credit: The Turquoise Home]

…just slap some crown moulding on there and call it day. [Yes, I know I used the British spelling of moulding. I’m not trying to be pretentious or anything, molding just looks wrong to me. Get over it.]

She did a beautiful job on it, but I wanted a more rustic look to match my awesome headboard.

This one was much more in line with my aesthetic….

blog 3153

[Picture credit: This & That]

It’s simple and elegant with lots of room for personalization. The thing I liked best about this design was the way she built up the bottom.

blog 3151

[Picture credit: This & That]

The problem is, she didn’t really describe how she did it. So I emailed her. She very graciously replied. But, as it turns out, she didn’t build it at all. Her husband did it. Which is great, but not terribly helpful.

I was tempted to reply, asking if I could have her husband’s email address, but thought better of it.

Because I’m a details kind of girl, and because I don’t have a husband, I wanted to know how to do it myself, dammit! So with the help of my handy friend Rusty, we sketched out our own plan and made a shopping list.


[I’m awesome at math. Except for not at all.]

Step 4: Buy your boards and trims…and a miter box/saw.

My original concept involved building up the base using 2x4s, filling in the gap in the front with a 1×3 inch board and laying some crown moulding around the 2x4s to bring it all together.

It didn’t so much work out.

First of all, the guy at Home Depot cut all of my boards wrong. Every. Single. One. This was actually the worst part about doing this project in my apartment rather than at my parent’s house. I was deprived of the knowledge and helpfulness of my go-to guy Dan-the-Man at Lowe’s.

I had to go back, get new boards, measure them all myself and have them cut again. Thankfully, they didn’t charge me the second time around. AND I got to keep the original boards. They are now supporting all of the air conditioners in my apartment. Frustrating, but still a win.

Step 5: Cut your boards.

I don’t know about your local hardware store, but the Home Depot in the Bronx won’t do any miter cuts. Even in you show up in a mini skirt, a tight tank top and a push-up bra. So I had to do them myself. And I did. And it was awful.


Sadly, no matter how I laid them out, it just didn’t look right. The trim was too small and didn’t cover enough of the front piece. So I bought a piece of larger trim, but that didn’t look any better.

Then I scrapped the whole plan and went back to the drawing board.

You know what sucks? Cutting a bunch of 2x4s by hand and not using them. There was much cursing.

I eventually figured out that I didn’t need to build up – I needed to build out! Back to Home Depot I went…

Step 6: Buy your boards (again.)

I’ll give you an exact shopping list this time since this design actually worked. The Rast dressers are made of unfinished pine, so everything I bought was the cheapest pine available, which conveniently matches my pine headboard. (Remember, I bought enough to build two nightstands, so all of my quantities are doubled.)

crown moulding2 – 1″ x 3″ boards cut to 23 1/8” (to fill in the hollow section in the front)

4 – 1″ x 2″ boards cut to 12 3/4″ (side pieces)

2 – 1″ x 2″ boards cut to 26 3/8″ (front pieces)

4 – 9/16″ x 2 3/4″ pine crown moulding cut to 12 3/4″ (sides)

2 – 9/16″ x 2 3/4″ pine crown moulding cut to 26 3/8″ (front)

Wood glue

Stain (I used the Miniwax in Dark Walnut that was left over from my headboard)

Miter box and hand saw (Mine was less than $8)

Sandpaper (I don’t pay too much attention to what grit I’m using, I just grab whatever I’ve got lying around and go with it. I’m sure I’ll regret that someday, but today is not that day.)

I’d also recommend picking up a couple of shims or spare pieces of lattice work because the 1″ x 3″ boards didn’t quite fill up the entire hollow space. The guy at Home Depot gave me a bunch of them for free, probably to keep me from throwing a fit, which was a good move on his part.

Step 7: Cut your boards (again) and sand the edges.

The cutting process was much easier this time around.


It literally took half the time and effort to cut the 1×2″ boards as it took to cut the 2x4s.

I did have to get creative when it came to bracing the smaller pieces though…


[At least the unused 2×4 bits and extra trim was good for something!]

I forgot to mention in my shopping list that I also picked up several pieces of “stain grade” faux wood lattice trim. You know, the crappy kind that can do this…


I was going to trim each of the drawers and the side panels like in the painted white version (pictured above) and I spent a good deal of time measuring and cutting a bajillion little pieces, but I didn’t end of up using them so it was all for naught.

Once everything was cut, I laid out the boards to make sure they fit together properly before staining them.


Not gonne lie. Though I heeded the old adage, ‘measure twice, cut once,’ I still screwed up a couple of times and had to go back to HD to buy a few replacement boards and cut them AGAIN. Eventually, (after much more yelling and cursing) I got it right.

Step 8: Stain

I decided against using wood conditioner this time around. I’d like to say that my decision was born out of some high-minded aesthetic principle, but frankly it was laziness – pure and simple. This project had already taken up way more of my time and money than I had originally anticipated, so I said, ‘the hell with it’ and jumped straight to the staining.


It turned out fine anyway. The only difference was that I didn’t need as many coats of stain.

As with my headboard, I used an old rag rather than a brush to stain. I was equally happy with the results.

It’s been wretchedly hot and humid in NYC for the past couple of weeks so I left them out to dry for two solid days. My roommates LOVED it.

Step 9: Build your base.

I started out by fitting my 1″ x 3″ board into the front of the dresser. I used a couple of shims behind the board to make it flush with the frame.


I also used one of my faux lattice work pieces underneath the board to raise it up a little bit so there wouldn’t be any gap between the base and bottom drawer.


I certainly hope none of you are operating under the misapprehension that this was a straightforward process that was in any way easy for me. Quite the opposite, I assure you. I built this thing up and tore it apart again more times than I can count. So many times in fact, that I stripped several screws in the process and had to resort to unconventional methods to remove them.

IMG_4024I broke a drill bit…


And cracked more than one board…


…not to the point of breaking, mercifully. I would have cried if that had been the case. That particular board is part of the original frame and replacing it would have been a bitch.

Somehow at the end of it all, I managed to cobble together the base.


If you’re wondering how I attached them, I used 1 1/2″ wood screws and drilled through the original base board, the shims and my additional 1×3″ base board directly into the 1×2″ board. I think on the second dresser I might have attached my 1×3″ board directly to my 1×2″ board, then added the shims and attached the whole unit to the original base board, but I honestly don’t remember. I must have blocked that part out.

In any case, once the base was solidly attached, I applied some wood glue to both the base and the trim and just stuck it on there.


It’s been several days and so far it seems to be holding just fine. I used A LOT of glue though.

Step 10: The fun part…or so I thought.

I was super excited when I found these beautiful, vintage, steampunk drawer pulls on Ebay…


[Before you start thinking I’m some trendy douchebag hipster or über sci-fi nerd for using the word steampunk, my description is copied word-for-word from the original posting on Ebay. The only reason I even know what the word steampunk means is because I watch The Guild (season five, episode seven). Ok so maybe I’m a little bit of a sci-fi nerd. Shut up.]

Because these handles are so large, it rendered my drawer-trimming idea completely ineffectual. It would’ve been too much. Plus, no matter how much they claim that faux wood trim is ‘stain grade,’ it’s not. At least not if you want to match it to real wood…


Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined what a royal pain in the ass it would be to attach my glorious drawer pulls. But it was.

Because the original knobs are attached with one screw and my awesome handles require two, I was going to have to drill at least one new hole for each. I didn’t end up using any of the pre-drilled holes however, because I hated their placement.

What followed was a lot of measuring, re-measuring and then measuring again…for good measure. So much measuring.

With all that measuring, you’d think the actual drilling part would be easy…but you would be wrong.


Very, very wrong.


Luckily, these drawer pulls are so large, they covered all of my copious mistakes. By the fourth drawer or so I finally got the hang of it. IMG_4017

Then it was just a matter of putting the drawers together and moving them into my room!


Here’s a close-up of the finished product.


I’m especially pleased with how the drawer liners came out, except now I don’t want to put anything in them!


This is my view when I roll over in bed…


Pretty sweet, right?

I was going to take some photos from further away so you could see how they look next to the headboard, but then I decided that I wanted to finish all of the projects I have planned for my room first and do one big reveal at the end. So you’re just going to have to wait.

Well, I need to take a shower and put my living room back together.

Later taters!


2 thoughts on “Shabby Chic Dressers with a Steampunk Twist

  1. Pingback: Holy shit, they’re evolving. | Frivolity On The Edge

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s