French Provincial Dresser: Before and After


After looking around for the perfect dresser for Hailey’s room, I found this little tired out French Provincial dresser on Craigslist for $40 and immediately began picturing the possibilities.

I removed all the knobs and the crooked but elegantly curvy fake keyhole.

I am a perfectionist, but not a prepared perfectionist. Usually I bungle things up by not prepping, then later I’m sorry and have to backtrack and spend quadruple the time to fix the details I overlooked in the beginning. So I’m proud to say that I went to the trouble of fixing the off-center knobs on the top dresser drawer. They looked funny and made the drawer hard to open. I filled the holes with Elmer’s Wood Filler, let them dry, and sanded over the top of them.  I also filled the other nicks and scratches on the top of the dresser, and lightly sanded a few spots with chipped paint.

Part of the panel at the bottom had come unglued, so a bit of wood glue, a shim and a clamp did the trick.

My next step was to prime the piece with two coats of Zinsser’s Oil Based Primer, applied with mini-foam rollers. I sanded the primer with extra-fine sandpaper and a sanding sponge meant for sanding between coats. (Note: my preference is the sandpaper vs. the sanding sponge. The sponge is supposedly “washable”, but really only is effective after about 5 washes before it loses it’s grit. I had to wash it probably 10 times per project.)

When the primer was as smooth as I possibly thought it could be, I painted the piece with “Pooh’s Favorite Things” by Behr from Home Depot, again using mini-foam rollers and sanding between coats.

Now my knob holes had to be drilled, so I marked the center of the drawers by using an old artist’s trick (maybe carpenters do it too?). I angled a ruler from corner to corner, diagonally, and marked the center with a small line using a pencil. Then I angled the ruler the opposite way and marked the center again, creating an “X” in the middle of the drawer panel. I marked both sides.

Using my small hand screwdriver and a drill bit, I drilled through the center of the drawers – and my eyes breathed a sigh of relief at the now centered knob holes. Now the dresser was ready for the finish. I used Minwax Gloss Wipe-On Poly for the finish. I pour the poly into a recycled container and use a torn old t-shirt to apply. I applied two coats.

I painted the knobs with Rustoleum’s Oil Rubbed Bronze paint, which is all it is cracked up to be. Everyone is amazed that it is spray paint. (Yes, I tell my secrets. I can’t help being proud to be frugal.)

And finally, the finished product! After all the hard work, feeling like I’d never finish, and hating that we had dresser pieces scattered all over the porch of our apartment, I had to take in the lovely lines and curves that now look good enough to eat. So I must admit that for a week after it was done, several times during the day you could find me sitting on the rocking chair admiring the dresser.

The DIY Show Off



  1. Andie
    Posted August 17, 2010 at 5:53 am | Permalink | Reply

    This is unbelievably beautiful. wow.

    • Posted August 17, 2010 at 8:27 am | Permalink | Reply

      Thanks so much Andie! What a good find, huh?

  2. Sam
    Posted August 17, 2010 at 9:30 am | Permalink | Reply

    It looks lovely, Sarah~ I’m very impressed. Your and Anna’s blog has inspired me to pull out my sewing machine this summer and be creative. 🙂 Thank you for writing!

    • Posted August 17, 2010 at 9:36 am | Permalink | Reply

      Fun, I didn’t know you liked to sew! Have you completed any projects yet?

      • Sam
        Posted August 19, 2010 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

        I love quilting and am working on a new quilt. However, I’m trying to branch out so I’m trying my hand at altering some clothing items. I had an old cashmere sweater my grandma bought for me when I was like twelve and is obviously too small by now, but I can’t get rid of it! I cut it all up, re-sewed, and was able to make a little half-sweater thing that is still cute. My other attempts at similar projects did not turn out well, but I’m counting them as practice. 🙂 ha

      • Posted August 19, 2010 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

        Wow that’s super creative! I can’t believe you did that. I’ve heard of people cutting up and resewing sweaters but can’t picture it.

  3. Alissa Jones
    Posted August 19, 2010 at 4:17 pm | Permalink | Reply

    oooh!! I have the desk and lingerie chest that match this dresser. I was about to get rid of them but now I’m super excited to try painting them instead!

    • Posted August 19, 2010 at 6:41 pm | Permalink | Reply

      That’s great! If you do paint them, take before/after photos so we can post them on our blog as a guest post!

  4. Posted August 21, 2010 at 8:13 am | Permalink | Reply

    Stopping by from Remodolaholic party! I love how this dresser turned out! Looks wonderful in the room. I am also working on a french provincial set to sell. I do the same thing. I sit back and just stare at what I did for a few days before the feeling kind of wears off!!

    • Posted August 21, 2010 at 8:57 am | Permalink | Reply

      Hi Bonnie! I’m glad I’m not the only one to be in awe of furniture transformations! I just took a look at yours as well – the dresser looks beautiful. Nice job!

  5. Posted August 22, 2010 at 2:11 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Very beautiful! What a nice find. I love your color choice, it looks great with the pink in the room.

  6. Posted August 25, 2010 at 5:36 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I LOVE this. Thanks so much for writing such a great detail post on how to do this. 🙂

    • Posted August 25, 2010 at 8:49 pm | Permalink | Reply

      I’m glad you liked it Kim! I just checked out your blog too – very creative!

  7. Posted September 2, 2010 at 3:31 am | Permalink | Reply

    Stunning ! I’m very thankful for this post it gives me the impetus I need to do my bedroom set. Your dresser is amazing, lovely. I hope I can do it 🙂

    • Posted September 2, 2010 at 10:20 am | Permalink | Reply

      Thanks Elise! And good luck on your bedroom set!

  8. Posted September 2, 2010 at 4:47 am | Permalink | Reply

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this tutorial. I just picked up a $35 6 drawer dresser that looks similar. I have to admit, I bought it mostly for the drawer handles (similar to yours.) I wasn’t sure what color I wanted to paint the handles, but now I know! ORB!

    Quick question, did you use oil based paint for the Pooh’s corner color?


    • Posted September 2, 2010 at 10:23 am | Permalink | Reply

      Brittany – I’m glad you liked the tutorial! I’ll keep an eye on your blog for your dresser handle redo – I hope you post it. 🙂 As for the paint – no, it was the cheapest flat paint, which became super resilient once I coated it with polyurethane.

  9. Carla
    Posted September 2, 2010 at 5:57 am | Permalink | Reply

    Uau! (admiration exclamation in portuguese) 🙂 Great job!

    First time in your blog and i just adore everything, i’m staying!


    • Posted September 2, 2010 at 10:28 am | Permalink | Reply

      Carla – Muito obrigada! I’m glad you like the blog!

  10. Posted September 2, 2010 at 7:21 am | Permalink | Reply

    this dresser turned out great! I love that color…and in a nursery…swooon!

    • Posted September 2, 2010 at 10:29 am | Permalink | Reply

      Thanks Nikki! I just checked your blog out as well – love it!

  11. Posted September 3, 2010 at 12:00 am | Permalink | Reply

    I was totally meant to see this post. I just inherited a dresser very similar to yours. It has those handles and that gold line. I want to paint it but am scared because it is NOT wood. Is yours made of wood?

    • Posted September 3, 2010 at 12:04 am | Permalink | Reply

      Mine is only partially made of wood. There is some particle board with a veneer of some sort (on the sculpted parts). And the paint adhered just fine! If it is shiny, just scuff it up a bit with fine sandpaper, and be sure to prime it.

  12. Jessica Meier
    Posted September 23, 2010 at 10:34 am | Permalink | Reply

    Only one word comes to mind…INSPIRING!! 🙂
    Thanks for sharing your secrets too!

    • Posted September 23, 2010 at 10:36 am | Permalink | Reply

      Thanks Jessica! I’m so glad you are inspired, that’s our goal. 🙂

  13. Posted April 26, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I have a French provincial 3-drawer nightstand I got for $25 on Craigslist that I am going to do this to! I just have to decide what color, but I’m leaning towards spray-painting the hardware white to contrast with a rich dark color, or possible sunflower yellow.

    • Posted April 26, 2011 at 7:49 pm | Permalink | Reply

      I love having contrasting color on mine! The hardware makes a huge difference in the look.

  14. Krystal
    Posted July 6, 2011 at 3:47 pm | Permalink | Reply

    WOW you did a great job. My question is, do you see brush strokes? I am inspired to paint some shabby chic dressers for my little girl’s room but was wondering if I should use spray paint to avoid seeing brush strokes. Also, did you say that you paint and then sand over the paint and then paint again? Why are you having to sand over the first layer and did you sand in spots or all over? Thanks for answering all of my questions. Your project looks GREAT.

    • Posted July 6, 2011 at 4:36 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Thanks! I don’t have brush strokes – the sanding was to prevent that. But actually I just completed painting my second daughter’s dresser this week, and I used a mini foam roller, and painted on about 3 very thin layers without sanding. I don’t have any brush strokes there either, and that went a lot faster!

  15. krystn
    Posted July 30, 2011 at 10:28 pm | Permalink | Reply

    ok yes, i see you take the pieces off. sarah how the heck do you know what a shim is!?

    • Posted July 30, 2011 at 11:23 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Haha, I don’t even know where the heck I found that shim! I know I’ve never bought them…

  16. Jill
    Posted September 3, 2011 at 3:00 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Sarah, I’m inspired! I bought a tall dresser in the same style at a yard sale. It has a strange smooth, shiny white surface on the top, definitely not wood and not the same material as the rest. It’s almost like a counter top. Do you or anyone out there have a similar top? I am worried about how paint will stick to that in particular. Am also debating painting it white with gold accents or hot pink!

    • Posted September 17, 2011 at 4:01 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Sorry for the late reply! My new baby girl was born on the 3rd. I have both a desk and a nightstand with the same type of laminate top you are speaking of. With the nightstand, I sanded it down and primed with oil primer, then painted it and poly’d it. The paint has stuck well! The desk I’m thinking I will just leave the laminate white.

  17. Raquel
    Posted September 16, 2011 at 10:25 pm | Permalink | Reply

    What would you suggest for the knobs/handles if they are glued on and can’t be removed. Do you think it will look okay to paint them the same color as the dresser?

    • Posted September 17, 2011 at 4:00 pm | Permalink | Reply

      I love the look of different tones, but you could try the same color, then change it if you don’t like it! My though is to use a fine paintbrush and handpaint the handles while they are glued to the dresser. More time-consuming than spraypaint, but I think it would work well.

  18. Andrea Bowers
    Posted December 11, 2011 at 11:19 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I have a French Provincial dresser that I, too, would like to refinish. It’s very similar to yours. Do you think I would get similar results with spray paint?

    • Posted December 12, 2011 at 8:35 am | Permalink | Reply

      Definitely! Have you seen those triggers you can buy for a spray paint can? That would really help you not get a frozen finger! Just keep your hand moving back and forth, and do lots of thin, even layers.

  19. Debbie
    Posted January 2, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Do you have any idea where a person could find 5 of those beautiful drawer pulls!? I refinished the same dresser about a month ago. Then right before Christmas, I found a matching Chest of Drawers! It had ugly contemporary brass pulls on it. I have been unsuccessful in finding matching ones!
    BTW…I didn’t realize that the decorative legs and front panels were plastic when I started….ruined the panels and
    had to improvise! I’m happy with it but, it’s not nearly as beautiful as yours!

    • Posted January 25, 2012 at 9:18 am | Permalink | Reply

      I’m sorry I missed your comment! I would check ebay, you never know what you can find there! I’m sorry your panels were ruined – One of the dressers I refinished did have some plastic on it if I remember correctly!

  20. Posted February 29, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Very impressive and tempting me to do something this summer!

  21. Andrea
    Posted April 8, 2012 at 8:32 am | Permalink | Reply

    So doing this! Couple questions. Did you sand between the two primer coats? Also, did you do all of this in one day?

    • Posted April 9, 2012 at 10:10 pm | Permalink | Reply

      I did sand between the primer coats. However, when I painted my second dresser, I just used a foam roller and did not need to sand between coats. NO I didn’t do it in one day! I would slip out to the front porch while my baby was in the living room watching a sign language movie, so I could watch her through the window as I worked. It was on the porch for a couple weeks I think. If you have more time than I did, you could accomplish it in two or three days, then let it dry for a few days before using.

  22. jen einfeld
    Posted September 24, 2016 at 3:01 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Do you want to sell this piece?! 😉

    • Posted September 24, 2016 at 4:54 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Haha! Well I was thinking about it lately because my decor has changed quite a bit! But I think it’s still pretty cute in my third daughter’s room!

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