Follow College Fashion on Twitter!

Apartment Decorating: How to Turn Trash into Treasure


Dorm room decorating: how to turn trash into treasure
Photo Credits: 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Editor’s Note: Every Sunday, Blair shows us how to decorate our apartment or dorm without spending a fortune. Since your room says as much about you as your outfit, what do you want yours to say? This week, she’ll show you how to give an old piece of furniture a makeover for cheap!

Have you ever envisioned the perfect piece of furniture but weren’t able to find it anywhere? Or have you found something you loved in a store but couldn’t afford the hefty price tag?

With a little knowhow and some DIY skill, those problems will be a thing of the past! This article will show you how to turn old furniture you find in your attic, at yard sales, or at thrift stores into new and unique furniture you’ll love!

The Process

Step 1: Go hunting!

The first step in creating your own unique piece of furniture is to find an old piece that you want to remake.

Look around your parent’s attic, thrift stores, and on craigslist. Examine each piece and envision what you could turn it into! You can start small with things like picture frames, small tables, or stools, but eventually you might want to look for pieces like chairs, dressers, and desks for the best savings and style potential.

Step 2: Prep work

After you’ve found something you’d like to remake, it’s time to get it ready!

In order to make your furniture beautiful, you first need to clean it and prep it for painting. I usually just fill the sink with hot water and a little bit of dish soap, then use a rag to wash off the surface. I do this a few times, letting the piece dry in between each step. That way, you can get off all the dirt and oils that might prevent it from holding paint.

Next, use steel wool or sandpaper to rough up the surface of the wood. Creating a rough surface is crucial to getting your paint job to stay!

Finally, wash off the dust you’ve created from sanding. Now your piece is ready for priming.

How to sand a piece of furniture

Step 3: Priming

Now it’s time to prime your piece of furniture to get it ready for painting!

I usually use a water based, stain blocking primer, but make sure to talk to a customer service representative when you buy your paint. The most important part is finding a primer and a paint that work together! For example, you can’t use an oil-based primer with acrylic paint.

Latex Primer

Step 4: Painting

This is the fun part! I usually use an acrylic paint in a color that I love. Acrylic paint is much easier to use (and way easier to clean up), but if your furniture is going to be subjected to a lot of wear an tear, oil based paint might be the best bet. Either way, make sure to follow the directions on the can… and the more coats, the better!

Painting an old piece of furniture for your dorm

Step 5: Enjoy!

Once your furniture has completely dried, put it in your room, sit back, and be proud of your handiwork!

Shopping List:

  • used or antique wooden furniture you’d like to remake
  • sandpaper or steel wool
  • paintbrushes and/or rollers
  • primer and paint that go together in a color you love!

And for a little inspiration, here’s a peek at two projects I completed recently for my own room!

Furniture makeovers: blue painted chair and dresser

So, do you DIY?

Do you ever attempt DIY projects like this one? Do you love decorating your room/apartment to express your personality? Have you come up with creative ways to turn something old into something new and unique? Leave a comment and tell us about it!

Posted on on September 20, 2009 / Filed Under: Dorm Room / Tags: , , , , ,

Blog Widget by LinkWithin

12 Responses to “Apartment Decorating: How to Turn Trash into Treasure”

  1. 1
    September 20th, 2009 at 12:26 pm

    I definitely want those two projects you completed for your room, they are in my fav color, bright blue! I love all these tips and how they show how we can all be innovative & inventive with a budget — comes in handy when there’s an urge to rearrange. =)

    I’m a brand ambassador (titled expressionista) for some cute/fun/colorful room decals from The brand is all about encouraging expression.
    Check em out, if you want a free sample (any design of your choice) to include in your decorating series let me know.


  2. 2
    September 20th, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    I lovelovelove the idea behind this series! My most recent project was really small, but I have a white board/magnet board that I painted blue so it wouldn’t be so boring. I obviously can’t use the white board function of it now, but I have pictures and magnets and stuff up on it. It was a really cheap, easy way to make something functional a little more colorful (which is always needed when you are working with white walls).

  3. 3
    September 20th, 2009 at 4:24 pm

    I love doing this! Before I came to college I was in search of a small desk that I could turn into a vanity. I found a wooden one and stripped it, painted it white, and gave it adorable drawer pulls.

  4. 4
    September 20th, 2009 at 4:34 pm

    Great! :D I love to diy, and I really need it. My room it very boring, so I’ll try some of the tips! Thanks! :D
    My inspiration is the room thar Serena Van der Woodsen has on Gossip Girl (drool) I really looove her style.

  5. 5
    September 20th, 2009 at 9:32 pm

    My best project was a small dresser that I inherited after my grandfather passed away…it was a lovely dark wood, except for the top, which for some reason was painted white. I went to my local paint store and they got me set up with a wood marbling tool and some stain – basically I painted something that was (originally) wood, but then was painted over (in too many layers to just strip it), so that it once again looked like wood. And it turned out great! I would recommend it to anyone who has something that isn’t wood, but they would like to make it look like it is.

  6. 6
    September 21st, 2009 at 12:47 am

    I love this idea.

    I recently completed a project like this.

    when you go shopping for furniture, there are a few things to keep in mind.

    look at the shapes and lines of the pieces, not on what they look like currently. also, make sure it’s solid wood, and not pressboard covered with a veneer.

    I got a solid wood dresser that used to be in a college dorm more than 50 years ago. i got it at goodwill for 10 dollars. I painted it black, and then got some plain wooden knobs for a dollar, and spray painted them hot pink. the whole dresser cost me less than 2o bucks, and looks great! we’ve also done things like this with furniture we’ve found on the curb. our stuff looks really great.

  7. 7
    September 21st, 2009 at 10:38 am

    I have been in love with the drawer pulls from Anthropologie and I finally decided to create my own Anthropologie-inspired piece of furniture. I painted my dresser and gave it an “antiqued” look and then added a mix of drawer pulls to give it an eclectic, bohemian sort of feel. It was very easy, inexpensive and fun. I’ve already started scoping out the next piece of furniture that I want to paint.

    Here’s my blog post about the project…

  8. 8
    September 21st, 2009 at 1:53 pm

    I adore this. DIY is such a great way to decorate on a budget and really express your personality! With a limited budget and limited space, moving to college really forced me to be creative. I started a youtube channel all about DIY so that I could share my project ideas with other people looking to express themselves and have practical, easy projects at the same time.

    I can’t wait for more! =]

  9. 9
    September 21st, 2009 at 1:53 pm

    Some wonderful ideas here… Once I get my first place I will definitely start hunting for pieces to make over :D :D

  10. 10
    September 21st, 2009 at 6:50 pm

    Half of my room a home is DIY, often of cute stuff I found in catalogs like PBTeen, but didn’t want to pay for and/or wanted to see my own twist on. I’ve done drawer pulls, cute little paint-bordered mirrors, bead-edged lamps, the like. Back in middle school I made strings of colored beads and hung them over my window curtains and valance, a la the inside of Jeannie’s bottle on “I Dream of Jeannie.” I got sick of them eventually, but they were really cool and sort of Boho while they were up.

  11. 11
    June 2nd, 2010 at 12:08 am

    I’m glad I came across this article! I will doing my first DIY project with a dresser a friend gave me. It doesnt really fit the mood of my room and I want to spruce it up a bit. The two items you did for your room was a perfect match for the theme of my room :] Thanks for the how to and I’m looking forward to this project now!

  12. 12
    August 16th, 2010 at 9:38 am

    These are really creative ideas! Check out this site that I have gotten a lot of decorating ideas from! It’s really connvenient and has great suggestions!

Leave a Reply


* Comment Rules: CF is a positive place and our comments section is no different. Constructive criticism is fine, but if you're rude, we'll delete your comment. Please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name and do not put your website in the comment text, as both come off like spam. For more info, see our Comment Policy. Have fun & thanks for adding to the conversation!


* Want a custom avatar to show up next to your comments? Sign up for a free Gravatar.