How to repaint a painted chest of drawers

Re-painting a painted chest of drawers

Original picture of chest of drawers Finished chest of drawers

 This is a 1930’s oak chest of drawers that has been painted in gloss paint and has had different handles put on it sometime between the 50’s and 70’s. The plan was to repaint it and give it a classic aged feel in muted taupe tones (as shown with the finished article on the right hand photo), and try to add some detail to make its appearance less boxy.


The first step is to remove the handles with an appropriate screwdriver, in this case a large flat head screwdriver. And if you plan to reuse them later, pop them in an old tin can or jar, to keep them together.

 Picture of screwdriver and handles No handles

 Then using a hand sander to save time, sand the entire piece. Apply a good amount of pressure and use a course grain paper, such as grade 60. You can move the sander in any direction the idea is to scratch up the surface and take the ‘gloss’ off.


During this process, look out for areas that may need filling during the next stage.

With previously painted chest of drawers it’s important to sand off any paint on the sides and the top edge of the drawer. If you paint over the top of what is already there, the drawer won’t fit back into its slot!

 Drawer before Drawer After

Before and After

All of this took about half and hour.

The next stage is to fill all the holes, dents and gaps. Then mask off all the drawers ready for painting.


On a project that you are going to paint over its not really necessary to use a wood filler. We just us a quick drying general purpose filler and apply it with a flat bladed old knife.

Fill holes

We applied the filler to the handle holes, as we planned to put new ones on, some dents on the top and a crack on the side.

Crack Unfilled Crack Filled

 The holes and the cracks required two applications of filler as it pushes down into the holes.  When it was completely dry, we sanded all the filler flat with the hand sander.

The last step at this stage is to mask off all the drawers. We apply the tape so that a small strip is painted on the sides of the drawers, we use the joints as a guide. Never paint the outside edge of the drawers all the way to the back, they will not fit into their slot when you are finished. We also tape off the inside of the top of the drawer; this guards against drips and makes for a neater edge. In this case we also masked off the locks, as once the paint was removed they were in working order.


The last part of the preparation stage is to wipe off the all the dust with a damp cloth.

This part took about half an hour.


The next stage is painting. We used Grand Illusions Vintage Paint, the product we stock on the shop. It’s a chalk paint, mixed with some acrylic, its self priming and goes on really well, its not thick and clumpy like some other brands. We used a 2 inch no loss brush bought from a local DIY store.

Paint and Brush 

We often use the chalk paints because their properties allow you to age pieces by sanding off the paint to reveal what is underneath. For this piece we used the colour “Mousse” a lovely taupe.

You need to apply at least 2 coats of paint, to a fully dry surface. The first coat always looks a bit patchy. Apply quite thickly in long confident strokes in one direction and watch out for drips, it much easier to get rid of them when the paint is still wet.

Start Painting

We always apply the paint to the two sides first, then the front, then the top, then the drawers. Don’t overwork the paint, or spend time getting it perfect. Try to paint the next paint stroke next to the just applied wet one. Work quickly.

The spring / summer is the perfect time for such projects. A nice sunny day with a breeze will dry the paint very quickly. Very often, once you have completed one coat of paint to every surface, you can start again at the beginning with the second.

One coat of paint all over the piece took about 25 minutes.

Between each coat we always run a piece of sandpaper over it (grade 80 or 120), just to remove any hairs or other bobbles. Remember to wipe of the dust with a dry cloth before painting.

We applied 2 good coats of paint, and then a third in some areas where there were some patches still showing though.

Painting the detail

To make the chest of drawers more interesting to look at, we then painted the stretchers between the drawers and the top edge in “Linen” a lighter colour. We let these dry, then sanded to reveal some of the “Mousse” underneath, giving the piece an aged look. We also hand painted some lines using a small brush around the edge of each drawer. These were also sanded to give a faded look. We also sanded more around the key holes to give the impression of use. 

In total the painting took about an hour and a half.


The last stage when using a chalk paint, is to seal the paint with either wax or varnish. In this instance we used the Grand Illusions water based Matt Varnish.  This gives a harder wearing finish than the wax and is easy to apply and dries to a very near matt finish.


We decanted some varnish into an old jar, and used the same brush (cleaned and dried) as we used for the painting. The varnish is water based, so is cleaned in water.

The varnish is applied fairly thinly. Don’t overload the brush or it will drip everywhere. On application it has a milky appearance that soon disappears as it dries.

Apply varnish

As with the paint, brush on the varnish in one direction. Don’t be tempted to brush over on top of what you have already applied in the opposite direction to the original application – you will see it when it has dried!

Do not overwork the varnish and try to apply in a consistent thickness. On lighter paint colours, thicker areas can be visible when dry. Although clear, the varnish does have a slightly yellow tinge, something to be aware of.

The varnish took about 20 minutes to apply and half an hour or so to dry, on a warm sunny day. Drying times can really vary based on the conditions you are working in.

So, this was the finished piece, without any new knobs.

 Finished piece no knobs

Hopefully this transformation is much more attractive than the original piece.

The very last stage is to drill the holes for the new knobs, choose the right sized drill bit for the size of the thread on the knpb. Always tighten the nut on the back of knobs with pliers to keep them firmly secured.

In total the whole transformation took about 3 hours.

We used about a third of a 1 litre tin of paint (£18.95), and a quarter of a bottle of varnish (£12.95). 

Final photo to follow, with the new knobs on.....

 Finished chest of drawers