dresser drawers in a tiny apartment.

May 2, 2016

dresser drawers in a tiny apartment | reading my tea leaves

This isn’t a post about babies sleeping in dresser drawers, but you wouldn’t be faulted for thinking so. It’s still the first joke people make when talking about welcoming a child into a small apartment. No, blame it on spring cleaning and getting the place ready for our impending sublet, but I’ve been on an apartment improvement kick lately.

Dresser drawer improvements might come across as the least important of all changes one could make to a home, but sometimes tiny tweaks to a piece of furniture are indeed exactly what make all the difference. And when embracing antique and vintage furniture instead of buying brand-new, sometimes a few cosmetic upgrades can take something from feeling outdated (or plain yucky) to loveable.

One of my original blogger friends, Barb Blair, has just published her second book, Furniture Makeovers. It’s an ode to giving old furniture new life and as I paged through her lovely volume a month or so ago, I got renewed energy to finally finish a project that I’d begun back when we lived in North Carolina.
dresser drawers in a tiny apartment | reading my tea leaves

James and I bought our little Eastlake-style dressers cheap; just $75 for the pair. It was the most we’d ever spent on furniture and we’d had to sell a different, uglier dresser to make room and scrape together the cash. We printed out Mapquest directions (as you did), and drove fifteen miles outside of town to pick up the dressers from a stranger’s garage.

The dressers were in fine shape if you overlooked the mildew and the cracked drawers. If you squinted, the hardware lined up evenly. If you didn’t care about a desilvering mirror, you could even give yourself a wink and nod and make out your reflection winking back. We didn’t have to convince ourselves though; we loved the dressers immediately. And by some miracle, they matched the headboard we’d rescued from my parents’ attic. 

I drove directly to the local Home Depot to find paint and replacements for the awful dresser pulls someone had stuck on in the 80’s. I bought the best, cheapest drawer pulls I could find and fitted them into holes that had been drilled too big and too crooked by who knows who, who knows when. Inside, where the drawers were paint stained and cracked in places, I hastily put down sheets of the least ugly Contact paper I could find. It was cut too short and it wrinkled when I put it down. I didn’t bother trying to smooth it out.

Before Faye was born, I painted the dressers again—a dramatic change I’d been hankering for—but my other slapdash improvements remained until a few weeks ago.dresser drawers in a tiny apartment | reading my tea leaves

In the back of Barb’s book, a tutorial for lining dresser drawers with wallpaper caught my eye. And while I wasn’t ready for anything so dramatic as the kind of work that Barb specializes in, I immediately thought of the crinkled contact paper in the bottoms of my dresser drawers. Maybe it was finally time to let it go.
dresser drawers in a tiny apartment | reading my tea leaves

After debating about a suitable pattern on which to lay my clean undies and folded t-shirts, I decided on a subtle lattice print paper from Farrow & Ball for the drawers. I measured and cut the wallpaper using Barb’s technique of cutting the sheet to the width of the outside edge of each drawer. I borrowed my mom’s copper ruler with a square edge and did my best to be patient and cut straight lines with my utility knife. Mostly I was successful. At any rate, the improvement from wrinkled Contact paper was impressive.dresser drawers in a tiny apartment | reading my tea leaves

And it’s true what Barb says: details matter. dresser drawers in a tiny apartment | reading my tea leaves

While I was at it, I decided to finish the drawers by finally replacing the hardware. I chose drawer handles and pulls from Schoolhouse Electric that complement the antique dressers without needing to be antique themselves. They’re smaller and simpler than the hardware I’d found when we first bought the dressers and I like that the pared-down aesthetic lends a little modern edge to the more folksy furniture.
dresser drawers in a tiny apartment | reading my tea leaves

I especially love that the new hardware has the same clean lines as the bed frame that we bought when we upgraded to a queen mattress last month (more on that in last week’s post).
dresser drawers in a tiny apartment | reading my tea leaves

The finished project isn’t so dramatic to be life-altering, but it’s the exact change that’s made the dressers feel even more like us. Slow and steady wins again.

What about you guys? Little improvements with big impacts in your spaces lately? Spring cleaning?

Disclosure: When I embarked on this project several weeks ago, I reached out to Farrow & Ball about their eco-friendly wallpapers. They generously sent a roll of their painted lattice wallpaper for me to use. The modern hardware for this project were provided by Schoolhouse Electric. I used Greenwood Pulls and Riverwood Knobs in matte bronze. The hardware is made in the US from 95% recycled brass. (The old hardware’s life continues on at my mom and dad’s. One woman’s trash…)

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  • Reply Rita Tocta May 2, 2016 at 8:50 am

    Exactly the same task over here..aaa I’m mean almost the same task, here the drawers were lined with plain brown craft paper which is what I do for years 🙂 ! I do love Farrow & Ball wallpaper, I have some samples and love the quality and texture. I was hoping you were going to share a trick on how to make an old dresser open smoothly since one here is like pulling a wagon 🙂 but well I do love it still, smell of old pine inside 🙂

    • Reply Erin Boyle May 2, 2016 at 9:47 am

      Beeswax!!! Take the stub of an old candle and rub it along the edges of the drawer that rub!

      • Reply Stacy May 2, 2016 at 12:10 pm

        This was exactly the issue I’m having with my boyfriend’s old dresser. It’s in serious need of a makeover, which I’m going to tackle in the next month or two, but the old drawers that barely move are the worst part. Thanks for the tips!

  • Reply Rita Tocta May 2, 2016 at 10:08 am

    Erin for president! :)) thank you for the tip, makes sense and I have beeswax! Yay!

  • Reply Alix May 2, 2016 at 9:50 pm

    Erin, how are you liking your new bed frame? I think it’s gorgeously minimalistic!

    • Reply Erin Boyle May 3, 2016 at 7:49 am

      Loving it!!!

  • Reply Gigi May 3, 2016 at 12:47 am

    Thanks, Erin! I love your DIY home-improvement posts, especially since they come with helpful photos. 🙂 I can’t wait to have a home of my own and to try some of this out (right now I’m a graduate student..)

  • Reply Moni February 26, 2017 at 6:02 pm

    What color paint is on your dresser? I love it!

  • Reply Mo December 14, 2017 at 10:19 am

    It’s kind of funny, that I just before I read this passed my front door and did a little mental dance of you at my latest little improvement. Yesterday I spent 45 minutes of quality time with my mother (yeah, our quality time often contain projects like this) rehanging the door on an old inherited armoire and fixing the mail flap on my front door. It still makes me happy a day later and inspired me to put up a hook for the recycling bag in my kitchen and fix that broken light. Sometimes it really is the small things that make the biggest differences!

    Thank you for a wonderful and thoughtful blog!

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