How to transform Ikea furniture

You may have noticed in my bedroom redecoration project that my furniture in particular underwent some serious transformation.

One of the reasons for this is that I live in an apartment, so I can’t really paint walls, which means if I want color I have to find other ways to get it. The second is that, while cheap and easily found, Ikea furniture has tendency to look like…well, like Ikea furniture.

First step is first: start with your Ikea piece. I have the Aneboda nightstands and dressers, which may be the most ill-conceived Ikea pieces in history. Seriously. Clear plastic inserts? Perfect for viewing all the stuff you’ve shoved in drawers? I don’t know what I was thinking when I bought these, but in my defense I was in college and we all do stupid things in college. Some people get arrested. I buy crappy Ikea dressers. DON’T JUDGE.


At the beginning of its life, my furniture looked like this:

It’s very…bland. Step one was to remove the handles and paint! Paint ALL THE THINGS. So, the first thing everyone tells you here is that you can’t particle board and you know what? Those people are lying to you.You CAN paint particle board, you just have to work at it.

Call a trusted friend and convince them to help you haul all of your furniture to a suitable painting location. (Thank you Nancy! I love you! You rock!) In this case, my living room, which is not at all ventilated enough but its what I had. Start with an oil-based primer. You need this to make sure your paint will adhere to the surface. If you’re really dedicated, you will sand your furniture first to give it a little more surface for the primer to grip. If you’re me, you will clean it then half-heartedly give it a few swipes with sandpaper before deciding to watch Doctor Who instead.

Painting furniture

One note: You will need time to do this. More time than you think. I used an entire three day weekend to paint two dressers, two nightstands and a large shelf. It took pretty much the whole time. Start with your oil-based primer; I used Behr’s version and it worked great. Do a coat of that and then let it dry for 24 hours. It really will take the full 24 hours to dry. Do your best to keep your cats from walking on it, and if you figure that out, tell me how. Then move on to your regular colors — you can use standard interior paint for this. That really only takes a few hours to dry between coats, which means if you push it, you can get it done in about a day.  Then, and this is key, top the whole thing with a Polyacrylic top coat. This will keep the paint from getting ruined when you want to use your furniture. I recommend a good brush for this. And as much ventilation as you can manage.

Painted, no paper

Once you’ve done this, it’s a good time to stare at your work and have a minor panic attack over color choices. I went with purple for the dressers and nightstands, gold for the large shelve, and pink for some smaller accent pieces. This was only step one, but the purple on it’s own was not quite what I expected and left me terrified that I’d picked a color better suited for a five-year-old.

Also, you’ll note that I still have the ugly plastic inserts (now with bonus paint splatters!) that make this line particularly unattractive. Which brings me to step two — covering up the plastic. Before I chose the rest of my colors, I went on a hunt for fancy designer paper and found what I wanted at Paper Mojo.  Look for paper that comes in large sheets so you won’t have to deal with seams, unless you have a Martha Stewart level of perfectionism.

Let’s all assume I do not.

Fancy paper

Then cut your paper to size and glue it onto your plastic. I once again enlisted Nancy’s help, for she is very precise and I am very not. Once cut, the paper was glued to the fronts of the drawers. No fancy equipment needed here, just ModPodge and patience. It made a world of difference; the colors in the paper toned down the purple and it was SO nice not to see a jumble of stuff in the drawers.

Nightstand, no hardware

Finally, handles. I could have painted the standard Ikea handles but they do scream Swedish Big Box store. I really wanted the adorable brass Octopus handles from Rustica Hardware, but at nearly $40 each there was no way. Woe. Instead, I went with a pretty brass honeycomb pull from Knobs4Less, which was way more affordable and picked up the pattern in the paper a bit.


Of course, the Ikea handles were some weird width not duplicated in ANY OTHER HARDWARE EVER so I had to drill new holes for these. I borrowed my friend Maia and her electric drill/screwdriver and we drank port and installed hardware. That’s happening Friday round these parts, let me tell you!  Amazingly enough, despite the port, we got most of them installed properly.

At the end — I am really pleased with the results. It no longer looks like generic Ikea furniture and even with all the bits and pieces it was still cheaper than buying new furniture. I hear a lot of people say that you can’t give Ikea furniture new life, and just toss it out because it’s cheap. But it is possible and the results are, I have to say, not too bad at all.


This entry was posted in Life.
  • Nadia

    Very nice! This is a good way to put your own unique twist on a generic piece of furniture.