DIY Inlay Dresser - Juniper Home

DIY Inlay Dresser


I love mother of pearl inlay furniture. The layer of texture it gives to a room is so COOL, but is it really worth the price tag? Larger pieces are several thousand dollars (sometimes more than $10,000 for repros!)


I bought this dresser at the flea market last fall for my girls bedroom. It fit perfectly between their twin beds and made a great joint nightstand. I thought the size and shape made this piece a great candidate for an inlay DIY. I was super excited when Sherwin-Williams invited me to join a group of talented bloggers to spread the word about National Painting Week. Each of us was assigned a color and I was thrilled to get purple.


Inspired by the lilac wall color in this amazing Katie Ridder room, I chose Rhapsody Lilac for the main color of the dresser and Minuet for the highlights/faux inlay.

I used Sherwin-Williams waterborne interior alkyd enamel in both shades. It wears as well as full on oil-based paint, but cleans up like latex paint. It’s low VOC and there is hardly any smell, (though you’ll still want to keep your windows open or do the painting outside). It really is a great paint. It’s made for trim and doors, but the hard-wearing formula is awesome for furniture as well.

I lightly sanded the dresser and gave it two coats of Rhapsody Lilac in semi-gloss with a foam mini-roller. Once the base coats were fully dried, I took a glance at some inspiration inlay pieces online and just started doodling with an artists brush. I tried a couple different brushes and quickly discovered you only need one for this project – a 1/4″ wide angled artist’s brush. 

You can see on most of the real inlay pieces that the patterns are simple – a couple of circular stylized flowers with vines and simple leaves, all inside a border.
It feels like an intimidating project, but I found that the more relaxed you are, the better and more authentic the result is. I was over-thinking the design on the top of the dresser and that’s my least favorite section now.  Also, don’t go over the leaves twice. The real bone or mother of pearl inlay pieces have a lot of color variation, so you don’t want solid white design here either. The real inlay patterns are often not exact and are even a little crooked. Don’t worry about perfection here. No painters tape needed!
Here’s a little 10 second video to give you the sense of the speed of the project. It takes a couple hours probably to cover every surface with the doodling, but it feels like quick, light work.
Can you hear my kids chattering in the background? This was happening on the other side of dresser :)
Once all the big surface designs were done, I went back and added small leaf patterns to all the edges and sides. This was the fun part for me and the look really started coming together with the addition of the smaller patterns.
It doesn’t really matter what design you paint or where or how, the idea is just lots of movement and pattern, in varying shades of white. The result is folksy and pretty charming. Perfect for a child’s room!
Oh – and a quick note about the knobs. After I started the project I realized I would need new knobs to replace the super traditional brass pulls. I was planning to just pick up some of those round unfinished wood knobs, but then I remembered I had a bunch of these green glass knobs from the clearance section at TJ Maxx. They already had a flower design on the fronts, so I just painted those white.

I love the dimension the knobs give!
One of my girlfriends stopped by our place last week, coincidentally after some shopping at ABC where she saw lots of inlay furniture in pastel shades. She noticed the dresser as she walked past the girls room, gasped, said “Oh no you didn’t” as she ran up to get a closer look at the inlay. Trickery = Success! Insert evil laugh and tapping together of finger tips! 
Later my friend confessed she was pretty confused at the thought of me spending five grand at ABC. She said that’s not really my style, which I *think* I’ll take as a compliment. :)   I’m happy with the dresser, even though it’s clearly not perfect, and super glad I didn’t have to spend thousands to get the inlay look.  Especially for something in my kids’ room! 
Have you checked out the other National Painting Week participant projects? Tomorrow is Aicia and Bruno from Curbly, so be sure to pop over there in the morning.
Also, I just wanted to thank you guys for all the sweet comments and emails about our super sick Gracie girl. I’m happy to report she is on the upswing today. Thanks for the suggestions and for giving me a little time off to take care of her. Have a GREAT weekend! xoxo
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119 thoughts on “DIY Inlay Dresser

  1. Ok, so I've decided that you are way too crazy talented in the free hand painting category. I could never pull off something like that! I just don't have the skills. It looks soooo pretty, and I absolutely LOVE your combination of colors. I wouldn't think to put that pale lilac against the bright fuschia of the headboard but it looks fabulous. I'm learning so much about color from your blog and I'm doing my best to be brave and mix pattern, old and new furnishings, and varying styles. I'm still pretty nervous but taking chances. Thanks for the constant inspiration. And please keep being thrifty as it reminds me to keep my feet on the ground and come up with a different solution or plan instead of just dishing out the dough. happy weekend!

  2. jenny, you never cease to amaze me! seriously incredible and so inspiring. i'm eying the vintage nightstands i saved from the trash room in my building…

  3. I would love to work on a project like this! And you're right, when creating an all over design like this it doesn't ahem the be perfect because the overall look is what pulls it together. Super sweet.

  4. Jennie,

    Love it. I lived in India for three years and often thought about getting the bone inlaid furniture. It was a fairly decent price at the time. Instead, I just bought a small box. I do love what you have done. Terrific idea. I will try it myself. Some of us just need more encouragement.

  5. The colours and "doodling" are beautiful! My favourite bit has to be the sneak peek at what was happening behind the dresser though! Sweet, and looks like many more gorgeous things will be made in years to come :)

  6. The dresser is fabulous. Your girls will be fighting over who gets it in years to come. Did you seal it with something? Did you need to treat the glass knobs with anything special for the paint to stick? As always, thanks for the inspiration.

  7. Even better than the real thing! Your vision for what things can be is really inspiring and the execution is top notch. Your girls are going to have memories of all the special pieces their mom made.

  8. Jenny I don't think I could be any more amazed!! I would love to try this. The pattern is gorgeous as well as the color palette!! Bravo!!

    I hope you can make it over for my $100 Soft Surroundings Giveaway!

    Art by Karena

  9. I've wanted to try the same trick too! (but have been too scared to just go for it) you have inspired me. This is absolutely beautiful. Bravo! Also, did you snag that black and gold jacket number on the rack next to the dresser at the flea market too? I zeroed in on that little baby.

  10. This is genius! Beautiful work, the headboard in the last photo, was that a project of yours? I want to hear more about it! I LOVE IT!!!!!!!


  11. Holy cow!! Your finished dresser turned out AMAZING. Excuse me while I just here and just stare and drool for a little while.

  12. Wow! You are crazy talented. I would think that it would look to busy, but it doesn't since it's all that creamy white on the soft lilac color. Gorgeous! I love that your girls painted on the back.

  13. Jenny I rarely leave comments on blogs. Lazy I guess. But I must tell you I am inspired by 100% of your posts. And you are my style icon! oh and FYI I am not ashamed to say I'm a copy cat. My house is beginning to mimic yours one project at a time.

  14. That turned out so pretty! My 4 y.o. just saw it and is now begging me for one (purple is her fav). This reminded me of a pretty painted chest I once saw in a boutique-y antique store in Charlottesville, VA. It was a very plain chest that was sort of trompe l'oeil painted to look like faux bamboo furniture.

  15. I am dying and drooling!!! This is my favorite DIY that you've done EVER!! And I think I've seen most of them. Once you added the detail everywhere it took it to the next level. Had you just done the drawers, or left more negative space it would have looked folksy.
    Over-the-top GORGEOUS!!

  16. So beautiful. Right now I am making a little room for my two girls to share, well I am in the beginning stages. I have been on the hunt for beds for weeks. I noticed your girlies pink upholstered bed and they are exactly what I am looking for. Any suggestions that won't break the bank. I have been scouring my craigslist and thrift stores with no luck of any pairs.

  17. There is simply nothing that you can't do, is there! The dresser is absolutely lovely and lovelier still is that you let your sweet girls in on the action. Did their handiwork remain?

    As usual, bravo!

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