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How to: Create Your Own NYC Subway Furniture Design



Just show us some love & link back once you are ready to show off your masterpiece! See the original NYC Subway Dresser here


Finished NYC Subway Dresser

Well our NYC Subway Dresser has become a huge hit – thank you to everyone for all the feedback & kind words. As much as it looks difficult – I hate to say it, but this piece was really really easy. I hate stenciling – all that dab dabbing drives me nuts, so when I was concepting this idea I wanted to make it as easy as possible. It’s the K.I.S.S. method (keep it simple stupid). Or the lazy man’s way – as I like to say, efficient! 🙂 The secret to this piece was not stencils or complicated taping – it was simply stick on vinyl letters from Hobby Lobby – yep, that’s it!

Since I didn’t take step by step pictures of the dresser in progress (because frankly, this was an experiment that totally rocked), I quickly whipped up a piece to show you the steps involved.

Step 1:  Get yourself a piece of furniture to work with and paint your base colors. For this example, I put on a few base color variations to see what worked with what. I used old white, paris grey, duck egg and abusson blue in this example. For the dresser, I used only old white (Annie Sloan Paints). And on the dresser, I sprayed the base coat. Learn how to spray Annie Sloan paint here.

Step 1 - Blank Slate
Step 1: Apply base color

Step 2: Apply the vinyl letters once your base coat is dry. Critical here to make sure they are straight & aligned. Also – make sure you buy extras when doing a large piece. Nothing worse then running out of letters and having to come up with new words from what you have – this is where scrabble skills come in handy!

Step 2: Apply the letters
Step 2: Apply the letters

Step 3: Apply the top coat of paint & let dry

Step 3: Top Coat

Step 4: Peel off the letters once the top coat is completely dry. A sharp knife comes in handy here – but be careful!

Step 4: Peel off letters
Step 4: Peel off letters

Step 5: Once all the letters are off, distress the piece with some sand paper to dull the edges of the letters & add some character. Interesting to see how light the graphite grey becomes with distressing, but don’t worry – this will get fixed. I prefer to distress before waxing because it’s easier – but it also creates much more dust – wear a mask!

Step 5: Distress

Step 6: Apply thin coat of clear wax & then a thin coat of dark wax. For the dresser, I diluted the dark wax using a 4:1 mixture of mineral spirits & wax (4 mineral spirits & 1 dark wax) to create a liquid that I could apply with a brush and then quickly wipe off. Adding dark wax to the graphite makes the grey almost black. Wipe off the excess wax as you go – leaving only a thin coat.

Step 6: Apply waxes

Step 7: Step back and enjoy your master piece!

Step 7: Enjoy!
Step 7: Enjoy!

Maddox is our nephew – so while I did this as a quick demo – I think we’ll finish this one up a bit more (paint the back & add hangers) and then put it in his nursery. But the brilliance of this idea is that you can do whatever you would like – and very easily! Old white underneath is still my favorite – but we will definitely be using this concept on future pieces moving forward.

Materials Needed:

  1. A piece to work on – you choose the size, shape and style
  2. AS Sloan paint – 2 or more colors
  3. AS Wax – Clear and Dark
  4. Mineral Spirits (low odor)
  5. Gloves
  6. Rags
  7. Sanding blocks or a sander
  8. Stick on letters from Hobby Lobby – I used 2″, 4″ and 6″ – buy extra packs of each!

We’re extremely blessed to be a part of such a creative community & we love to see what others create. So seriously, take this idea and make it your own! Share with us what you create from it with a link or a comment – we’d love to see how this idea takes off.

Finished NYC Subway Dresser

As seen on:

Home Stories A2Z


  1. Fantastic! I’ll be stealing this idea for sure. I have a bedside table in my guest room that would look FANTASTIC with this finish! Thank you for sharing your secrets!!!

  2. This is fabulous! I adore it… I would love to make this with references of our recent trip to Hawaii ! Perhaps on my antique wash stand? I wonder if I could make that work…. hmmmm..I am unsure what else to do with that piece, love it but wanted something fun. This just may be the ticket. You are very creative… Thanks for sharing this.

  3. Thanks for sharing your steps for completing this amazing piece. I would never have thought to use vinyl letters. Great idea! And I am so happy now to know how to do this. Definitely beats stenciling. Thank you again!

  4. Great idea! Thanks for sharing your tips about the spray gun. I thought I was going to have to invest some serious cash to get a better sprayer than the one I have (I won’t name brands :-)) But now I think I will go to Harbor Freight and try theirs out. I noticed the one you have is currently out of stock – what are your thoughts on the set with the two sprayers in the case? Still a very good deal. Also did you get a regulator and a filter to put between the compressor and the gun? Thanks again.

    • Steph – I’ve never worked with the 2 pack, but we did get the $30 sprayer which worked just the same. If you have a HF near you – they have the cheaper ones in stock – and they re-stock pretty often online so just be sure to check back. No we do not use a regulator or a filter between the compressor and gun – it’s just the hose & gun – works like a charm.

  5. Genius! I have a coffee table in my garage that would be perfect for this. I will link it back to you once done. Thanks for the “how to.”

      • Hi I know this article is older but I just saw it and I thought it would be a cute idea for a nursery. I would want to go with a lighter paint color like pink maybe and white letters. I was wondering if the instructions would still be the same? Would I still use dark wax? Also if in the future if I wanted to change the dresser is this something that I could sand off easily to repaint or is it a pretty permanent thing? Thanks so much.

  6. Oh, Wow! I love this! Thanks for sharing the how to’s. I’ve been loving these bus blinds for a while now.

    You dresser looks amazing! I am gonna try my hand at this!


  7. New follower, Love Love your work, Thanks for sharing the letter redo, I also work on furniture and this is great! Stop by and visit and hope to have you follow. thanks again, found you from Cassie


    Thank you so much for the step by step. I just happen to have the PERFECT dresser to steal this idea with.

    I’ll be sure to share and link up when I do.

    Just amazing…

    Thank you so much!


  9. I’ve been loving the subway trend for so long and now you’ve made me love it even more by putting it on furniture…AND making it easy! Thank you!! Going to try it on a previous piece that needed a little more pop 🙂

  10. Thanks for the lovely tutorial. I did this same thing last summer with an antique small telephone chair. It sold in my booth at the antique mall very quickly. You are right, It is easy to do and your steps and bang on. Love your site, so I need to become a follower.

  11. Thanks for the inspiration & the instructions! I made my son a huge subway wall art sign for his basement using the Green Bay Packers current and past rosters and history. He loved it and I could not have done it without the tutorial. You are awesome!

  12. Phenomenal! I know this guy who moved to LA begrudingly and who will always be in love with NYC. He would love this piece! It would be a great reminder of his favorite city!

  13. wow, this is beautiful! If I saw this piece in a store, I would have loved it – so impressed you did this! I really want to try this 🙂

  14. Thank you so much for the tutorial. I thought I needed to buy a vinyl cutter before I could do a sign with subway art. You made it look so easy. I will be heading to Hobby Lobby tomorrow for letters. Thanks again. Beautiful job! i also love the way the multicolors look…

  15. Very beautiful & creative dresser!! Thanks for sharing your ” how to”, I’d like to try something like this – now to find the right dresser. 🙂

  16. Okay, I knew I would use this idea someday! My daughter just moved back home from college and is using my husband’s “man cave” for now. She needs a dresser and I got one for $10 bucks at a yard sale. To make it fit in his sports themed room I think I am going to do this with old baseball stadium names or old Philadelphia Phillies players. Wish me luck!!!

  17. I just wanted to know if the vinyl letters u used were permanent or repositional. The only vinyl letters I find in the larger sizes are permanent. I did a little girls dresser using the repositional but they only come in 2 inch. I work with vinyl as I am a scrap booker. I know they would come off just afraid it would pull the underneath paint off. Thanks so much. If u could send me brand and font style. Thank you.

  18. Hi- That dresser is amazing! I am in the process of refinishing a dresser using this design idea for my daughter. I’ve read the how-to over many times and I am somehow missing the color you used for the outside of the dresser. Can you tell me if it’s graphite or Paris Grey? I went to an AS retailer and graphite looked almost black while your dresser looks brown. Thanks!

  19. Could you please tell me what the brand name of the vinyl letters can’t find them anywhere

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