Flip A Thrifted Dresser Into A DIY Custom Closet Built-In 

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In this post, I’ll show you exactly how I took a thrifted dresser and turned it into a beautiful DIY closet dresser system for my daughter’s room. I’ll go over each step in as much detail as possible so you can do the same! 

Let me start by saying that this was a first for me! I’ve never built a cabinet or drawer of any kind, so this DIY closet system was definitely a learning experience for me.

Why I decided to do a DIY closet dresser

This project happened because my daughter’s dresser (which was only a year old) was falling apart. It was made cheaply out of particle board (even though the price I paid for the dresser was not cheap!), and the drawers were not holding up.

The drawer bottoms were so flimsy that the weight of toddler clothes would make them collapse. I had attempted to fix it in the past, but I was done. It was time to find a better solution because this storage space setup was not working for us anymore, and I decided I wanted to turn my daughter’s standard closet into something much better.

I did a complete walkthrough of this dilemma (and the entire DIY closet dresser build) on my Instagram account and saved everything to the highlights “closet {kids} ” and “closet 2” if you want to take a look at it there! 

Here’s what the closet storage situation looked like to begin with:

The first step was to come up with a plan. Almost immediately, I had a vision for this space. I was picturing a closet dresser with hanging space for dresses and bulky items with a long shelf for decor, and some beautiful lighting.  So now it was time to get to work and make my daughter’s “princess closet” (that’s what she called it when she saw the plans!) happen. 

The plans for a DIY custom closet dresser

The first thing I considered was doing a dresser + IKEA PAX DIY closet organizer system and “hacking” it to make it look built-in. Unfortunately, the cost to ship to me from IKEA was more than the IKEA PAX system itself (ha!), so the IKEA hack idea was out.

I landed on the idea to do the dresser + some built-from-scratch cabinets created from MDF boards, because we were dealing with some significant lumber cost issues at the time of this build. I do really like MDF, and it’s commonly used for cabinets. It’s much stronger than particle board but cheaper than lumber. And I figured if I could get a thrifted dresser, that would make me feel better about purchasing material for the rest of it. 

Bonus: a dresser meant some of the drawers would already be built for me! This plan felt like the easiest way to achieve what I wanted.

After stopping by my local Habitat ReStore and picking out the CUTEST dresser, I came up with some rough plans:

I also created a mood board for the finishes:

Mood board for the DIY closet dresser

My daughter chose the color and I chose the wallpaper from Interior Blossoms. I went with an antique brass for the sconce and drawer pulls. I will link all of the sources to everything I used at the end of this post!

Starting the DIY closet dresser build

I started with the dresser. I was not in love with the top drawer because it had different detailing than the rest of them. It was removed altogether.

Next, I took the drawers apart. These drawers were on wooden undermounted sliders so they weren’t very easy to open, plus they could be pulled completely out of the dresser. This was not safe or functional for a four year old! So I got to work.

Adding new sliders

I decided to put the dresser drawers on metal sliders. However, the drawers needed to be re-built to allow for space on the sides for the sliders. I took the drawers apart, saving the fronts and the bottoms of them. I used three pieces of MDF and connected them using pocket holes with my Kreg Pocket Hole Jig. Then, I attached them to the drawer front. Kreg tools are so helpful for projects like this.

This photo shows the drawer front and the drawer bottom. You can see that by keeping these, I saved myself a lot of time and effort! The drawer front already had a groove in it that the bottom piece could slide right into it. The bottom was already cut to the curve of the drawer front too. I did have to trim the sides a bit to fit the new, slightly smaller size drawer. I cut them down with my table saw.

Rebuilding the drawers for the DIY closet dresser

Here’s a look at how the pocket holes connected the drawers. I also added wood glue to every joint and secured the back with screws for extra strength. I did NOT want these drawers to fall apart a year later and you don’t see the screws at all once the drawer is in the dresser.

Important: always remember to pre-drill holes for these screws (these are called “pilot holes”) to prevent the wood or MDF material from splitting.

Squaring off the drawers

The other lesson I have learned about building drawers is to make sure they are perfectly squared off! What I mean by this is, make sure that the measurement from the bottom left corner to the top right corner and the one for the bottom right corner to the top left corner are the same. if not, you will have a LOT of trouble when it’s time to put them on sliders in your cabinet or dresser.

After the drawer was built, I installed the sliders on the drawer and in the dresser.

How I dealt with the deep drawers

Another issue I ran into with this particular dresser is that the top two drawers were actually one very deep drawer. I hate deep drawers! They are a nightmare. Things get buried and they are always messy.

After researching some solutions, I decided I was going to build a two-tier drawer system by creating an upper drawer within a drawer. I was basically creating my own version of this Rev-A-Shelf (insanely expensive) system:

When I re-built this very deep drawer, I made the back of it approximately half the height of the sides to allow space for the second drawer to slide back on its own.

I measured the space from inside the left side to the inside of the right side and subtracted 1 inch to account for the space that would be taken up by the drawer sliders.

Then, I constructed a second drawer at my just-measured width to be the top tray, at half the depth of the total drawer space. Now I had two drawers in one! I added sliders so that when the main drawer was pulled out of the dresser, the top tier could slide back into the space of the dresser out of the way so my daughter could have easy access to the bottom part of the drawer too. I am so happy that this actually worked out!

On a side note, there’s a video at the end of the post that has a tour of this space and you can see this drawer in action there!

If you’d like to remember this post for later, please pin this to your favorite board!

WOW you need to check out this amazing DIY built-in closet dresser that was made from a thrifted dresser! If you're looking for custom, functional storage and organization for your closet you need to see this

Applying removable peel-and-stick wallpaper

I opted to install some wallpaper on the back wall from Interior Blossoms. When I saw this pattern, I knew my daughter would love it! Not much wallpaper was needed because of the built-ins on either side and the cubby area under the shelf, but I think it really makes the small space available shine!  

I think it’s safe to say that my daughter loved it!

Rainbow wallpaper added to the back of the DIY closet dresser

Building the lower section sides

When I planned this whole closet out I decided the bottom left section of the built-in was going to be a pull-down concealed hamper. The lower right side side would feature some smaller drawers for things that don’t need a lot of space like bathing suits, dance class outfits, etc, and then some shoe cubbies. And before you ask: Yes! The shoe cubbies are large enough to fit full-size adult shoes.

 The base was constructed out of scrap stud wood and I covered the front with scrap plywood.

Then, I made the actual cabinet out of 1/2 inch MDF board and used scrap flexboard for the backing. I wasn’t super concerned with the backing since it was all going to be painted out and you wouldn’t see it, especially where the hamper and drawers would be.

I used pocket holes again to essentially build a box and I secured the backing with wood glue and nails. This is the nail gun that I use and LOVE!

Building shoe cubbies

I constructed the shoe cubbies out of 1/4 inch MDF boards. I first cut the middle dividing piece. Then, I measured the height of the space and subtracted 3/4 inch (to account for the MDF boards) and divided by 4 spaces, which gave me the height of each section.

I measured and made a mark where each horizontal piece would go and used my table saw to make a slit about halfway through the piece.

I cut each horizontal piece and again used my table saw to make a slit that went about halfway through each piece. Then they slid together to create the shoe cubby grid.

Here’s what it looked like:

Then, I added small pieces of wood to the inside of the cabinets on each side to work as “brackets” to support the cubbies.

Once everything was in place, I secured the cubby grid to the brackets using wood glue and nails.

At this point in the project, I had installed both of the bottom sections of cabinets but I chose NOT to create the face frames until after the cabinets were built. Again, I’ve never built anything like this so I was literally building “as I go” for each step of the way.

If you’re having trouble following along, don’t worry! I have the full tutorial for building the shoe cubbies here!

Building the top section cabinets

The top section cabinets are where I will hang my daughter’s dresses on a simple closet rod. When she gets older and requires bigger hangers, we will switch to a pull-out slider with hooks and hang items forward-facing but for now, the kid-size hangers fit this hanging section perfectly!

I opted to use beadboard as the backing on these cabinets. I installed it first so that I could use pocket holes to attach the cabinets to the wall. That way, there would be no visible screws in the backing of the cabinet. It was secured to the wall using construction adhesive and nails.

Important: Always attach cabinets to the wall by locating your studs and drilling directly into them. This is my absolute FAVORITE stud finder — it’s NEVER WRONG! The top cabinets hit the studs in the corners of the closet space.

At this point, once all of the main cabinet bodies were built, I added the face frames using 1/2 inch MDF boards. I cut the tops and bottoms 2.5 inches wide and the sides 2 inches wide. I secured them with wood glue and nails.

Building out the mini drawers for the DIY closet dresser

Next were the mini drawers. Drawers can be a little intimidating, but you’re really just building a box. Remember, we want the measurements from corner to corner to be exactly equal!

To make it easy on myself, I built all the sides and the bottom of the drawer using 1/2 inch MDF. I decided to add shelves to the cabinet space and then do an undermounted slide system on top of them for the drawers to slide on.

To be honest, I was a little sick of drawer slides by this point and wanted an easy way to make sure all the drawers were even. In retrospect I would say it’s not the best solution and I don’t recommend it because the drawers are a little wobbly. I added pieces of wood on each side of the slides to support the drawers and make them less wobbly, but at the end of the day I probably didn’t save any effort by doing this instead of traditional sliders.

Constructing the drawer face

I constructed the face of the drawer by using 1/2 inch MDF and 1/4 inch MDF and making a border out of it. This created a shaker-style look for my drawer face.

I should mention that at every step of the way I’ve been wood-filling holes and seams and applying caulk to corners. This makes paint-prep SO much easier! Not only does it save time at the end, but you don’t have to worry about fitting your caulk gun into tight spaces!

To attach the drawer face to the drawer body, I drilled two small holes through the front of the drawer body. I installed the drawer slide on the bottom of the drawer and slid it into the space it was going on the dresser.

Next, I held up the drawer face and marked where it needed to go. I placed the drawer face facedown on the floor and took the drawer body out of the cabinet and lined it up with the markings I made on the face.

I used two screws to drill from the inside of the drawer into the drawer face, making sure they weren’t long enough to go through the front of the drawer face. Here’s what they looked like once they were done:

Constructing the pull-down concealed hamper

I had to get a bit creative with this step!

First, I constructed the main cabinet door using 1/2 inch MDF and 1/4 inch MDF for the shaker-style border. I set it aside and decided to build out the part that the hamper would sit on. I used ALL scraps from my garage so it’s not the prettiest situation but I wanted to hold the hamper in place but still be able to remove the hamper if needed. And no one will see it!

I made the mistake of securing it to the cabinet door first as shown in the image above. Oops! When I went to install it in the closet, I knew it wasn’t going to fit because of the bump out of the closet frame. The space was way too tight.

I gave my attention to the hinge that I ordered. I was able to get the rev-a-shelf tilt out tray hinge from Amazon and installed it in the cabinet. Then, I needed to install another board to the hinge. This board would secure the hamper shelf behind it and the cabinet door in front of it.

Trust me, this was the ONLY way to get it in my specific space. If I was dealing with an open space instead of a closet corner, it would look very different!

Priming and painting the DIY closet dresser

I started by priming everything using Kilz All Purpose Primer.

Priming and painting a DIY closet dresser

Once everything was primed, I painted using Valspar Signature paint in the color White Truffle (Sherwin Williams), which I purchased from Lowes. I really love what a good white paint can do for a space!

Finishing Touches

Adding light

The sconce I ordered from Amazon was a little too orangey for the look I was going for, which was more of an aged antique brass look. To solve this, and to get the sconce to match the knobs a little better, I used Rustoleum Satin Bronze spray paint (after Rub and Buff failed to adhere to the surface of the sconce smoothly, sigh).

The sconce was not hard-wired. I attached it to the wall and used the “magic light” trick (not invented by me: I attached a remote controlled puck light like this into the sconce. Super glue was used to do this because it holds well and I can still change the batteries when needed.

I used rope lights to line the inside of the closet around the trim to give a glowing affect. I don’t feel like these lights showed up well in pictures because of the warmth of the light, but they do look pretty cool in person!

These are the knobs I found on Amazon, and I absolutely love them! I purchased these cut-to-size screws, since I needed every size except what came with the knobs. I used thread lock as well to prevent the knobs from loosening over time! Just a drop of thread lock in the knob hole (not the drawer) before you screw them in and you’re all set!

Finishing the dresser top

From Home Depot I also purchased a sheet of wood to add to the top of the dresser to give it a “countertop” look. I cut it to size and then ripped down pieces to add to the front and sides to make it look more like solid wood. I stained it the color Mission Oak.

Before I give you a complete materials list, here’s a reminder of this closet before I did my thing:

A child's closet in need of a DIY closet dresser.

Check out the “After”

The finished DIY closet dresser, with cubbies, mini drawers and shoe cubbies.
the finished drawer inserts in the DIY closet dresser

Tools + Materials used for this DIY closet dresser:

Finishing Items

And there you have it!  Isn’t this one of the prettiest kids’ closets you’ve ever seen, if I do say so myself? I took this small closet that was really unworkable before and turned it into a brand new closet with extra storage, a built-in dresser, and a gorgeous feature wall and shelf where my daughter can display her treasures and books, and I’m pretty proud of myself.  

I really could not be happier with how this DIY custom closet dresser project turned out! Have you used DIY to create the closet of your dreams? I would love to see it! Tag me @diy.ourhome or comment with your before and after pics! 

Check out the tour in this video!

If you enjoy this post, please share! I appreciate it so much!