I DIYed the Floral Nightstand of My Dreams… for Free
As a climate-conscious student, whenever I’m designing a space — whether it’s my dorm room or my bedroom back home — I keep sustainability front of mind. It’s especially important to me when it comes to furniture, which in general has become less sustainable and of worse quality in recent years (and that’s not just my own opinion; The Washington Post interviewed furniture industry experts about it).
Because of this, I always ask myself: Where can I limit my consumption of cheap, low-quality, and mass-produced items? What can I get secondhand? What can I make or upcycle myself? What supplies do I already have?
My family recently moved into a new house, which meant I had a new bedroom to decorate — and the perfect opportunity to put my beliefs about sustainable design into action. I’ve long been obsessed with rustic, painted decor, especially the floral motifs in the Ecuadorian folk art my family buys in the mercados artesanales when we visit our loved ones in Guayaquil and Quito. However, I didn’t have the budget it often requires to invest in well-made, artisanal furniture in the U.S. So, rather than buy a mass-produced nightstand brand-new, I took it upon myself to DIY a painted nightstand with what I had on hand. A hand-me-down nightstand, leftover paint, and some patience were all I needed to create the look responsibly and on a budget.
- A nightstand or another piece of furniture you want to upcycle
- Wood stain or paint
- Paint brushes
- Acrylic or tempera paint
- Old newspapers or recycled masking paper
I inherited an unassembled nightstand from a family member who had purchased it before realizing it just wasn’t right for them. The nightstand is made of untreated wood, which means it had not been previously treated with any stain, paint, preservative, oil, chemical, or adhesive. This meant I basically had a blank canvas to work with, which was great, but you can use any old furniture, even if it’s treated — you’ll just need to either strip the existing stain or paint, or use those existing textures in your project.
Since my nightstand pieces were untreated, I knew I’d need to stain them myself — and I went with a thrifty option. My family already had some stain left over from when they painted their fence, so I just used that. (The exact stain was Arborcoat Exterior Stain in the color Normandy, which is a semi-solid stain.) If you don’t happen to have any stain lying around, the small, 8-ounce sample jar I used retails for around $6 and is more than enough to paint an entire nightstand.
Because all the items I used had previously been purchased for other purposes, I was able to complete this project without spending a single cent. However, even if you have to buy all your materials (minus the nightstand you plan to upcycle), you could get it all done for under $50.
1. Prepare your space.
I’m a messy crafter, so before painting, I laid down some paper to save my floor from stray splashes and spills. I used recycled masking paper to protect my work area, but old newspapers would also work well.
2. Paint your base layer.
My next step was to start painting. Because I was using untreated wood that hadn’t previously been painted or stained, I was able to dive right in with my wood stain. I chose to stain my nightstand before assembling it in order to better access all its nooks and crannies. I made sure to move each piece from the spot on the paper where I stained it to a new, dry spot on the paper in order to prevent the stain from sticking to the paper as it dried. Because I was using a semi-solid stain, I only needed one layer, but be sure to follow the instructions on the label of whichever stain you choose.
3. Sketch out your design.
While waiting for the nightstand to dry, I scrolled through Pinterest and found a beautiful Tyrolean cabinet to use as the inspiration for the florals I wanted to paint onto the nightstand. I then sketched a similar pattern right onto the craft paper I had laid out on the floor so that I could have my design inspo right in front of me once it was time to start painting.
4. Assemble your nightstand (if needed).
Because I stained my nightstand while it was disassembled, the first thing I did once the pieces dried was assemble it. This was a quick process that only required an L-tool, some screws and wooden pegs, and the instructions that came included with the piece. If you didn’t start with a disassembled nightstand, or if you assembled it before you stained it, you can skip this step. You can also wait to assemble the nightstand until after you’ve painted on your design; however, you’ll probably be able to better visualize what the final product will look like as you’re painting if you’ve already assembled it.
5. Paint your florals.
Once the nightstand was assembled, I used an old paint palette — although a plate that you can wash afterward also works well — to mix my colors. Then I got to work. I used an extra-thin brush to get clean, neat lines, and I prioritized big, abstract shapes over small details. My goal was for the florals to work in harmony with the shape of the nightstand itself, so I made sure to paint more vertical flowers on the long sides of the nightstand, and a horizontal arrangement on the horizontal front side.
At first, I was painting the florals freehand, looking at my craft-paper sketches for guidance, but soon realized it was easier to sketch the design with pencil directly onto the nightstand, then paint over that. This made it much easier to paint my designs more accurately — although I wasn’t too concerned with making minor mistakes, which I definitely did.
I spent a total of about three hours painting, mostly because I was having such a good time, but the project can take as much or as little time as you want to dedicate to it.
6. Style to your heart’s desire!
Once I was done painting, I let the nightstand dry for a few hours. The last step for me was to set up the nightstand where I wanted it, then fill it with books, jewelry dishes, and other trinkets to make it feel complete.
I loved this project as a way to bring my personality into my space in a creative, sustainable way. The attention to detail and patience required to paint the flowers also made it a nice activity to help me decompress.
The final product turned out exactly how I wanted it to be — a welcome complement to the bohemian, shabby-chic influences elsewhere in my room — and I feel empowered to try new upcycling projects in the future. And the knowledge that I was able to do this with leftover or otherwise secondhand materials made the project much more meaningful! The project only took me a day from start to finish, including drying times.
The best part was that the nightstand didn’t need to look factory-made (like I mentioned, mine had its fair share of imperfections) or cost a ton of money for it to turn out beautifully.