Let’s Upscale an Ikea Tarva Dresser

Can I afford a West Elm dresser? Absolutely not. So I decided to take the ever-popular Ikea Tarva dresser and turn it into something worthy of West Elm (sort of). I’ll show you how I did it in this post, and full disclosure, it was not cheap. But! It was also not thousands of dollars which is a win in my book. I wanted a more boho, natural, woody look, but I’m not a fan of cane, so I decided to use wooden dowels to dress it up. There was lots of miter saw work, and lots of glueing, but I LOVE the end result!


  • Ikea Tarva dresser – $179.99
  • 5/16 in x 5/8 in x 8 ft half round moulding – $4.98/piece
  • Minwax Fruitwood oil-based stain
  • Minwax Polycrylic finish


  • Miter saw
  • Measuring tape
  • Paintbrush (make sure it’s good for water-based and smooth finishes)
  • 220 grit sand paper
  • Circle saw (optional)

Step 1: Assemble Dresser

Assemble your dresser! I did the whole thing: drawers, frame, put the drawers into the frame. But I wish I hadn’t. It’s a pretty big dresser and I live in a pretty small apartment. Normally I do all of my staining/sanding on my tiny balcony (it’s too small to even fit a chair) but obviously my giant dresser didn’t fit out there. So I had to sand/stain inside which was dirty and smelly to say the least. If you’re working with a small outdoor (or indoor) space, I’d recommend sanding and staining BEFORE putting the dresser together. That way you can break it up into smaller chunks and hopefully avoid wreaking havoc on the inside of your apartment.

Miss Casserole with the corner of the Tarva dresser

Step 2: Sand

Again, I did this inside, so I didn’t use any electric sanding equipment to try and cut down on dust. I used 220 grit sandpaper on just the top and sides of the dresser. Since I was going to be covering the drawers with dowels, it wasn’t necessary to sand the drawer fronts. I tried to give it as good a sanding as I could by hand to give it more of a “I bought this dresser at West Elm” feel. I didn’t sand the dowels! First of all, that’s a lot of tedious work and honestly so boring. Plus, because it’s technically moulding, I think its paint/stain ready. Once you’re satisfied with the sanding, make sure to wipe it down with either a damp cloth or a tack cloth. This gets the dust off and will give you a smoother finish.

Step 3: Measure, Cut, and Glue

Alright now for the fun part. I found that the best way to do this was with the dresser lying on its back. To measure the size of the dowels, I just laid the entire 8-foot piece on the fully-assembled dresser and marked with a pencil the approximate (key word APPROXIMATE) length. I tried to size the dowel so that it would hang over the top and bottom of the drawer to minimize the gap between drawers. Then I cut that first piece as a template and used it to measure the rest of the dowels. I cut and cut and cut until I had enough dowels to cover the dresser. I laid the pieces out as I went so that I could monitor the amount that I had. Once I had covered the dresser, I glued the dowels down in sections. I tried to line up the dowels on each drawer so that it looked like a continuous line down the dresser. But of course we’re all about doing things imperfectly here, so that didn’t quite pan out. I didn’t need to clamp any dowels down, they seemed to adhere well with just some light pressure and have held up well thus far.

Measured and ready for glue
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Step 4: Stain and Seal

Once everything was dry, I started applying the Fruitwood stain. I took the drawers out and stood the dresser on its legs for this part. I stained the entire outside of the dresser along with a bit of the inside so that the parts that showed when the drawers were in would match the outside. I stained the drawers the same way I did the dresser, just with a bunch of paper towels dipped in stain. I let them dry for about 24 hours. When using water-based poly on top of oil-based stain, it’s important to wait the full 24 hours to preserve the color and finish. Then I coated every stained surface in polycrylic. For the drawer fronts and dresser sides/top, I did three coats. For all the little bits, I did two coats. Between each coat, lightly and I mean lightly sand with 220 grit sand paper. Use a DRY cloth to wipe away any dust and re-coat. I waited maybe 2 hours between each coat, it dried pretty quickly. I always go by touch, if I can comfortably touch it without messing up the finish, I slap on another coat.

Step 5 (optional): Clean it up

Yes, I should have done this before staining and poly-ing, but in the true spirit of Unestablished, I did not. After everything was finished and assembled and in my bedroom, I looked at the dresser and realized the edges of each dowel were not perfectly aligned. And yes, it bothered me just slightly too much to leave alone. So I took out all the drawers and used a circle saw to trim the edges. I marked on each drawer a continuous line so that the tops and bottoms would be more even from drawer to drawer. And that’s that! Style to your heart’s desire 🙂

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1 Comment

  1. That’s so beautiful !! Love it .. I see Cassie likes it too 😊

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