IKEA Dresser Makeover

How to transform an IKEA TARVA dresser into a Drop Leaf Desk.

I took part in a furniture makeover contest hosted by BHG called Makeover Madness.  It started with 16 bloggers making over a piece of furniture every week.


Each week the projects were voted on and the ones with the most votes went into the next round. I made it through all the rounds and into the finals with 3 other bloggers where we each had to makeover an IKEA TARVA dresser. I won the contest by transforming the dresser into a desk.

Bhg-Makeover-Madness-Final-Four-ContestantsThe Final Four Bloggers IKEA TARVA dresser makeovers.

I want to show you how I transformed the IKEA Tarva dresser into a rolling desk. There are a lot of steps, some easy, others a bit more complicated. I tried my best to take photos while I was working on it, but we had to be done by the end of the day, so I was pretty focused on getting it done and not getting the best photos of the process.

The idea to make it into a desk came from a desk that was in my college dorm room at The Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC.  It was a very smart piece of furniture that had 3 functions.  Built-in shelves above the desk drawer, and drawers for clothes under the top drawer that was the drop down desk.

It was the perfect piece of furniture for a dorm. I went to school there back in the early 80’s. I wonder if they still are in the rooms?  I am sure they have been updated a few times since then  :)   I liked the drop down secretary style desk  because you could simply close it to hide the contents and keep things looking neat and orderly. When trying to come up with an idea for the Final Four challenge, it popped into my head and I decided to just go with it.

How to Transform an IKEA TARVA Dresser into a Desk

supplies needed:


IKEA Tarva Dresser

1 set of desk lid supports Van Dykes Restorers Leaf Support Hinge (photo above)

3 – 4″ rubber caster swivel wheels

1 – 4″ rubber caster swivel wheel with brake

16 screws and washers to attach wheels

12 label pulls with screws – VanDykes Restorers.  Search for discount codes before buying to save $$$

Liquid Nails

Black dot oil cloth – Jo Ann Fabrics

Brass nail head tacks – Lowes

White paint – Sherwin Williams Pure White 7005 in semi-gloss

Blue paint – Behr 570B – 4 Bayou in a semi-gloss




Fake file drawer front:  1/4″ birch or Aspen plywood cut into twelve pieces:  6 – 1/2″ x  8 – 3/4″

Tray top:  S4S Molding – 1/2″ x 1-5/8″ x 8′

Wheel base:  2 x 2 balusters

Bottom of drawer: 3/4″ plywood cut to approximately:  26″ x  13-1/4″

Thin wood strip  to hide bottom of top drawer glides. I cut a sliver from a piece of wood to get the wafter thin piece to fit across the bottom of the top drawer.  You could also use iron-on veneer edging to conceal the space under the top drawer.  It is sold in the lumber aisle.

Optional:  I  considered adding bun feet to the desk so it would look like the vintage file cabinet that got me into the Makeover Madness challenge in the first place. I went with the wheels, but if wheels are not your thing – bun feet can be attached to the bottom of the dresser instead. The legs will still need to be cut off and 4 straight-top attaching plates will need to be mounted on the underside of the dresser.


***If making this for a child’s room, you may not want to use wheels.  Most IKEA pieces are lightweight and can tip. All their pieces come with wall mounting hardware to keep the furniture secure.

1. Assemble the dresser following the IKEA supplied directions with two exceptions:  Don’t assemble the top drawer and move the top drawer glides down 1″ (see step 3).


2. Once assembled, use a  saw to cut off the legs flush with the dresser bottom.

3. Move the top drawer glides down 1-inch.  Simply measure down from the existing IKEA pre-drilled holes for the top glides.  (You may have to tweak this measurement depending on the actual size of the top drawer once you have it assembled)

BHG-Makeover-Madness-IKEA-Hack Dresser into a desk

4. Turn the dresser upside down to make a base to attach the wheels.  I made a cross brace for each corner using cut pieces of a 2 x 2 baluster.  I made them fit very snug. If you have a Kreg jig for joining wood, use it. If not, pre-drill holes and attach screws to hold the braces in place.


5. Attach wheels with large head screws and washers.  Place the locking brake wheel to the side so that it will be easy to reach when you want to move it.


 It should look like this once all the wheels are on.

To Assemble Top Drawer: 

You do not need the original bottom for the drawer. Replace it with a 3/4″ piece of plywood.  You will put the drawer front on the drawer last. Assemble the back, bottom, and two sides of the  drawer using nails and/or screws. You want to make sure that the drawer is the same width as the other two drawers when assembled.  Ignore the channel for the original drawer bottom.


To attach the front of the drawer – Place assembled drawer on a flat work surface, lay drawer front panel in front of the drawer face down.  Center it on the drawer. Place desk hinges in and mark placement of screws and where hinge falls.   Put hinge in “L” position and make sure it is flush with the sides of the desk.   Since my bottom board was 3/4″ pine, it was soft.  I cut out a space with a craft knife along the edge for the hinge to rest in so it would be flush with the top of the board.  You could use a hammer and a chisel, but I did not have them.  Repeat cut out for hinge on opposite side.  Pre-drill holes for screws and then attach hinges.


When the drawer front folds down, it should be flush with the drawer bottom.

Place drawer glides on drawer as shown in the IKEA instructions that come with the dresser.  Place the drawer in the dresser, but note the top edge of the drawer front will be too high.  You will need to cut this down about an inch, but before you do, look at the bottom of the drawer to make sure you have enough clearance to move the top  drawer out. If the second drawer stops it, then you  will have to move the drawer glides in the dresser up a little bit. Once the drawer moves in and out freely, measure how much you will need to cut off the top edge of the drawer front.   I marked this with a pencil and straight edge, then removed the front and cut it with a saw.  Once cut, attach to drawer.


Place four of the 1/4″ birch plywood pieces on each drawer. Evenly space them along the drawer. Use Liquid Nails to attach.  Prime and paint them before or after attaching.  Let dry.

To create a tray look for the top:

I used a saw and miter box to cut the wood to the size needed. I used Liquid Nails to attach it to the top of the dresser.



If you want to add wood initials, cut the back piece of wood so you have an opening for the letters. I used Liquid Nails to attach them.


 I cut oilcloth to fit inside the tray top and for the back of the top drawer front.  I used spray glue to attach it.


Attach the label pulls with the screws provided in the kit.  To make it easier to line them up,remove the drawers and line them up in order on the floor.


I didn’t have the right size drill bit for a power drill to use, so I used a very handy Yankee Push Drill that I brought with me. It was a lifesaver!


The last thing that needs to be done is to add a very thin strip of wood to the underside of the drawer front. This is needed to hide the drawer glides.   I made it by cutting a scrap piece of wood wafer thin.  You can also use iron-on wood veneer along the entire bottom edge.  I used Liquid Nails to attach and added the tape to hold it in place since time was up and the dresser had to be moved to the photo studio.



I hammered in some gold nail head tacks around the oilcloth on the desk drop down.


A hook on one side holds a clipboard. On the other side is a metal magazine or file holder.




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  1. Where can I find how to do this project ?

  2. Amanda Cummins says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed your time taken to show us how to do a fantastic fold out writing desk You can put ribbon and nail gun it would that help Or just glue it
    Or glue waddling and material to cardboard or that wood and glue the underside then measure it up for glueing in it’s place Thank Amanda

  3. Ellen schlesingerer says:

    The desk surface looks to have raised tacks surrounding the decor on the writing surface. The desk-top decor looks like the clipboard hanging on the right side. Wouldnt clipboards and tacks on the writing surface make for some bumpy writing and some ripped paper?????!!!!!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Ellen – I can see why you were wondering about the nailhead trim, but if you were writing using a note pad or the clipboard the writing surface would be smooth since the smooth surface of the clipboard/notepad would be over the nailhead trim. This nailhead trim is optional – you don’t need it – simply don’t add that detail if you don’t think it is needed or gets in the ways of writing.

  4. Kim Richards says:

    Where can I find the desk hinges? I have a drop down desk that needs refurbishing.

  5. John Pinion says:

    You made this dresser look very cute with some rather expensive hardware – I would estimate between $200 and $300 worth, no joke! Great job, but I would question the use of the word “hack” when you spend that much! :D

    1. Exactly! For that price you may as well buy one new.

      1. Diane Henkler says:

        But would a new one be unique, one of a kind? No. This furniture makeover was all about taking something plain and adding style to it. What if… kind of thinking… to see what is possible.

  6. Is the tutorial still available? Before/after etc. Thanks i advance!

  7. Jamie Wiebe says:

    Thus is just what I am looking for!! Does the top drawer (desk top) still pull out so you can have a larger top that your laptop would fit on?

  8. Wendy Bass says:

    Hi Diane. Love your IKEA makeover!! So creative and quite vintage. It’s adorable. Love how you think outside of the box!

  9. WOW – that transformation is amazing! So smart!

  10. I am over the moon for your dresser makeover! So innovative and beautiful and functional, yet something anyone could make for their own home. So good! You are such a talent Diane! Congrats to you!

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Jen – Thanks so much for the nice note of congrats. XO I love a good creative challenge and being a part of the March Madness was so much fun – truly a dream come true. We could not take the dressers home with us :( I only have the photos now to remember it.

  11. Lynda @ Gates of Crystal says:

    Congratulations, Diane! Your desk is so clever and cute! Thanks for hosting this party!
    love and blessings~

  12. Congratulations! A lovely transformation that you created.

    I love that party idea… I just wish I had time to enter it.

  13. I was sooooo excited to see that you had won! It’s gorgeous. Love it! I was reading through your how-to and when I got to the frame on top I thought….. how cute this would be for a baby’s changing table! The flip down drawer front would make necessities easily accesible. When no longer needed as a changing table, it could be used elsewhere for the original intended purpose! Great idea, Diane…but then your ideas always are great :))

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Thanks Sharon – Love your creative and out of the box thinking. It would indeed make a great changing table :) Thanks for sharing your idea.

  14. Holly Gruszka says:

    So cool Diane and so impressive. I just wrapped up by ReStore Montco upcycle project today so maybe I’ll link that up. The open house is 4/19 so I could have a post done by 4/20 (don’t want to post photos until after the open house).

    1. Diane Henkler says:

      Hi Holly – That must have been a great experience working with ReStore. Is it the store off Trooper Road? Looking forward to seeing it on the 20th.

  15. This looks great! I love this idea and I have to check out those pulls that you used. Congratulations!

  16. Congratulations! I can’t believe it’s the same drawer!

  17. Haeley @ Design Improvised says:

    Congrats on the big win Diane! So happy for you and amazed how this turned out – you have some serious DIY skills!

  18. Anne@DesignDreams says:

    Great job on the makeover! and thank you for the party!!