Dress Up Furniture With Overlays

Meredith K. used overlays to punch up this ho-hum dresser. Photo: Meredith K./HometalkYou know how IKEA sells all this super plain, almost stark furniture? Many people use it as is, since the utilitarian look is a totally legitimate design choice, but I view it less as an ending point and more as a blank slate: there are all sorts of directions I could take that furniture in, if I felt like it, and the same applies to other very simple, unfinished or modestly finished furniture. You can dress it up in a flash with the use of stencils, overlays, trim, and other tools.

Customizing your furniture allows you to create a DIY standout piece on the cheap, but it does more than that. It turns an item into a one-of-a-kind furnishing that your pals just might be jealous of, and allows you to manipulate your furniture to get it to fit into your home's theme and style. Instead of searching forever for that perfect end table, make it yourself!

I was totally inspired by this slide show on This Old House talking about how to use overlays in furniture overhauls, so I thought I'd share a few tips on punching up the look of your furniture with your DIY carpentry skills.


They focused on overlays, trim and flat cut sheets that can be attached to furniture. Overlays come in a huge array of styles and sizes to match with almost any imaginable aesthetic, and you can paint them any color you like. Try contrasting or complementary colors, a muted echo of the shade used on the underlying piece, bright combinations, and more, depending on the look you're going for with your furniture overlay.

In all cases, the overlay elevates the furniture from something flat, boring, and rather bland to something with a little more zing. It can be a great way to create Victorian and vintage-style pieces without having to pay the huge prices attached to reproduction and antique furniture, to dress up your furniture for a mod or glam look, or to just have some fun when it comes to how your furniture looks.

Stencils or Applique

You can also use stencils to great effect when it comes to changing the look and feel of furniture, as well as applying specialty papers. Can't find a paper or applique that suits your purposes? Have you checked a fine paper store? They often have amazing paper (at very reasonable prices) that you can totally apply to furniture -- you'll just need to seal it to protect it from hard use.

Trim or Beadboard

Don't be afraid to hit the hardware or lumber supply store for basic trim and beadboard, either. Adding them can totally change the look of a piece of furniture (or a room, for that matter), by eliminating harsh angles and creating smooth transitions. The use of trim can make a piece look more substantial and luxurious, even if it's all smoke and mirrors!


Paint effects can change the look of your furniture quite dramatically as well, and you don't need to be a Houston paint consultant to rock decorative painting designs. There are tons of great tutorials on the subject (especially over at Hometalk) that can help you glamify your furniture in a heartbeat.

Katie Marks writes for Networx.com.

Updated September 16, 2018.

Get Free Quotes

Looking for a Pro? Call us at (866) 441-6648

Top Cities Covered by our Remodeling Contractors

Get Free Quotes
  • Service Needed
  • Zip Code
Get quotes from qualified local contractors