Repaint Your Old Furniture for a Budget Décor Update

by Camilla Cheung on 22 June 2011 1 comment

If you frugal shoppers are anything like me, you probably have a pile of hand-me-down furniture from your parents, siblings, in-laws, or college roommates. Few of us can afford to buy an entirely new set of living room furniture all at once, and so we hold on to those old pieces, getting by until we have the cash to buy a new desk or get that coveted coffee table.

My husband and I have a plethora of old wood furniture finished in a honey-oak stain. Most of the pieces are hand-me-downs from the in-laws, and we’re definitely grateful for these sturdy, well-made pieces of furniture. Unfortunately, our rental apartment also has an abundance of honey-oak stained cabinets and bathroom vanities. It is just a little too much honey oak for my taste. In the living room, our coffee tables and a large desk with a hutch were both finished with a honey-oak stain, and this past weekend, I decided to change that. With a leftover quart of interior trim latex paint, I gave my desk new life for just pennies and a few hours of my time. (See also: Paint Me Frugal)

Just painting the desk white gave my living room a new lightness and freshness that was balm to my tired soul. It inspired me to move a few accessories around to create a cute vignette of photo frames and vases on top of the hutch, making that corner of the room cheerier and prettier. Best of all, this little living room update was completely free, with leftover primer and paint that we had lying around the house.

If you’ve got a piece of old furniture that you can’t stand the look of anymore, consider repainting it for a cheap (or free) home décor update.

1. Decide if It’s Worth Painting

Not every piece of furniture is a good candidate for repainting. If it has a lacquered, glossy finish, paint may chip off easily. If it is made of solid wood, you may want to think twice before covering up that lovely wood with a coat of paint, which is truly a pain to strip off if you change your mind. Our hutch was made of particle-board with a veneer, but was sturdy enough to last another few years, making it a good choice for painting.

2. Sand and Clean the Surface

Make sure you put down a drop cloth or newspaper under your piece. Rough up the surface of the furniture with 120-grit sandpaper so that the paint will stick. Clean it thoroughly with a damp, lint-free cloth, making sure you remove all dust and particles from the corners. Let the wood dry.

3. Time to Prime

Prime the surface with a layer of water-based primer. This is really important, as otherwise the surface underneath will show through your paint, and you’ll have to apply several layers, which is both more expensive and more gunky looking. Let the primer dry according to the instructions on the can.

4. Paint

Using a soft-bristled brush or foam brush, fill in all the corners and edges of the furniture with your choice of latex paint. Paint all flat surfaces with a small foam roller, making sure you’re applying the paint evenly. Don’t put too much pressure on the foam roller, or you’ll get roll marks all over your paint finish. Touch up your work with a dry foam brush to pick up any excess drips of paint before they dry.

Let the first coat sit for a few hours until dry to the touch. Apply a second coat of paint.

Two coats may be all you need; I’ll let you decide if you need a third coat. Let it dry according to the directions on the paint can, preferably overnight.

5. Apply a Top Coat

If your piece of furniture is going to be receiving lots of traffic, I’d recommend finishing the surface with a clear top coat to protect it from spills and scrapes. The easiest thing to do is to apply a thin coat of water-based polyacrylic using a soft bristle brush or a foam brush. You may want to try the polycrylic out on a small, hidden part of your furniture first to make sure it doesn’t yellow as it dries. Water-based poly dries fast, so work quickly. For a nice shiny finish, sand the piece lightly with fine-grit sandpaper before applying a second coat of polycrylic.

There you have it! Painting your old furniture is easy and cheap, and if I can do it, anyone can!

Have you ever refinished old furniture? How did it turn out?

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Meg Favreau's picture

I purchased unfinished hardwood chairs for my dining set a few years ago and stained them myself. It was a lot easier than I thought it would be. Or, I should say, it was a lot easier to make them look nice than I thought it would be. Ever since a shallac error in middle school shop class, I've been a little hesitant about my wood-finishing skills.