This week there's been an article in the North Shore Times, the Manly Daily, and The Hills Shire Times on my blog, my painted furniture and my furniture painting tips. I've had so many people contact me because of all the recent Press coverage, so if you are coming here for the first time, thank you for your interest and welcome to my wonderful world of furniture painting. If you are starting to paint for the first time, be warned - it's very addictive.
Every week I get a multitude of emails asking me how to paint furniture. It seems that more and more people are looking for ways to fresh up their home, their old furniture, or vintage roadside and op shop finds, to save some money or just that they love vintage treasures that are well made but need a little DIY love.
For years I lived with both dark furniture or revolting orange pine furniture because that was what we could afford at the time. About 10 years ago I was looking at replacing the furniture in our bedroom to lighten up the room and make it all fresh and pretty. I decided I'd first try my hand at painting the bed and some other furniture in the room. I thought if it didn't work out, I'd then buy new ones. Well I never did end up buying a new bed and my furniture is now all transformed by a few coats of paint (and time and effort).
In the last 10 years I've painted so many pieces of furniture and I've learnt so much through trial and error. I now use lots of different techniques depending on what finish I want. I often make my own paint and like to achieve an old fashioned French finish but this guide will definitely get you on your way. I've been hesitant to blog "How to Paint Vintage Furniture" before. In no way is it definitive or the only way you can paint furniture. I'm
not an expert okay I probably am a bit of an expert these days :), this is something I've got a mad passion for but I'm mainly self taught.
So without rambling on any further, here is how to paint furniture:
Painting Vintage Furniture
This may seem like a lot of instructions but I have found that it's better to be thorough and do a good job the first time around rather than to finish a piece and not be happy with it or have to re-do it.
- Choose pieces according to your ability, your level of patience and how much time you are willing to spend on it. Otherwise you may end up with a garage full of unwanted junk. Trust me - I've still got four French chairs need upholstering in my shed and I'm not sure I can be bothered.
- If you are painting a family heirloom just check first that your mother isn't going to have a fit or you are not painting an expensive antique that may drastically reduce it's value. If you have found something cheap on eBay, a second hand shop. or the side of the road then I say "go right ahead". If no one else wanted it for that cheap price, you should be welcome to do what you want with it.
- When buying vintage furniture check the quality of the piece: I try to always choose solid wood furniture, and not laminate or particle board. If you are buying a chest of drawers make sure the drawers all slide well. I also look for dovetailed drawers as this is a good indication of quality. In time I have a dedicated blog post on what I look for when buying vintage furniture.
- Handles can be expensive to replace so factor that into your costs if you don’t like the original handles. You can always paint the handles to change their look.
- Cleaning is the first step to make your job easier when you're refinishing furniture. Wipe down with a dusting brush, damp cloth or a damp scrubbing brush. Paint has difficulty sticking to dust so you really want to remove all debris and wax or grease. There are many products at the hardware shop for cleaning furniture. Don’t over-wet timber furniture, it will swell the wood fibres and cause all sorts of problems.
- Number the drawers as you remove them so you can remember where they go. Drawers often aren't quite the same size and this will save some frustration when putting them back in.
- Hardware - If you don't want to paint the hardware, remove it for easier painting. If you are painting the hardware then this step is not necessary. If you are changing over handles and your new handles need different holes then fill in the old holes now and drill your new ones at this stage before painting.
- Now conduct repairs - Fill any cracks or holes with wood filler and sand to a smooth surface. Glue and clamp loose joints.
- Sand your piece all over very lightly. When you are painting furniture you do not need to completely remove the old finish if the old surface is in good condition. Just roughen it up slightly so the paint has something to adhere to. Either use a hand sander or an Random Orbital Sander. Be careful to not leave burr marks (those circular gouges you see on a poor sanding job) on your furniture. If the old paint is chipping then you will probably want to sand it smooth or remove it with a chemical paint stripper or heat gun.
- Use a good quality paint brush. My recommendations for which paint brush to use are here. They will not drop hairs or leave as obvious brush marks as cheaper brushes. If you clean your brushes promptly and care for your paint brushes they will last for years.
- Protect your painting area. A drop sheet will protect your floor (or carpet or where ever you are painting). I also have old gym gear I wear and I always keep it handy so I can grab it and paint when I want.
- Prime your piece. This is especially important with old wooden furniture that can bleed tannins and stain though your paint. If this occurs, two coats of primer will usually fix any bleed though. If painting your piece a dark colour, you can use a tinted primer. Just ask your paint store to add some tint to your primer. I use and recommend Zinsser. It is worth the extra money. Don't whine about the cost - the extra dollars per tin will save you a lot of hassle. Trust me and a million other painters, Zinsser works. (and no, I'm not endorsed by Rustoleum Zinsser)
- Choose your paint according to what look you want. For something modern you can choose a high gloss enamel finish. However I prefer a satin or matte finish for an old fashioned French look. *See my notes below on selecting paint.
- Stir your paint (and primer) well. Paint can really settle over time. For a large tin I use a stirring wand on the end of a cordless drill, but even a stick using an up and down motion will work. Often shaking the tin briefly will mean that the paint and tint are not consistent throughout the tin.
- Paint your piece – You can spray, brush or even roller it on. I only ever use a brush. I don't have room to spray and also I don't really like the look. Turn chairs and intricate pieces upside down and paint hard to reach places first. Keep an eye out for paint drips and runs. If you find any, you can just feather your paint brush across them before they dry to remove them. To avoid runs in the first place don't overload your brush.
- For a very smooth professional finish, sand very lightly with fine sandpaper between coats. Once again make sure you remove all dust, paint hates dust. This step is not necessary if you are not a perfectionist.
- You will usually need at least 2 coats. Wait as long as possible between coats of paint to give them drying time. Each type of paint has different drying times - it's usually on the paint can. The longer between coats the better. You can't rush this process and expect a good finish. Humidity and the thickness of your coats and type of the paint will all affect drying times.
- When painting dark pieces of furniture with white paint, you will often need more than 2 coats. Don’t panic if the piece doesn’t look good after the first coat - the second coat of paint always makes a big difference.
- For a shabby chic look lightly distress your piece where high use would happen naturally (on edges and near handles) or to highlight mouldings.
- Protect - If you have used acrylic paint then I suggest you use a top coat for protection. Choices are a polyurethane, a sealer, or furniture wax. Don't use an oil based poly or sealer over white paint, as again it will yellow it. I almost always use furniture wax. My guide to Australian topcoats and waxes can be found here.
- Now the hardest part of all... WAIT. Paint needs time to cure and harden. Wait at least a full three days to place objects on your newly painted surface to avoid scuffing your finish. To be on the safe side, I recommend waiting five days. Waiting takes willpower because you will be so keen to use your new-to-you piece, but the wait will be worth it. Your paint will actually take around 3-4 weeks to reach maximum hardness and durability.
- And lastly, don't be afraid, experiment and work out what works for you. Embrace imperfections, it’s vintage and the imperfections are part of its charm and history. So much of my skill has come from trial and error. You learn so much when you don't just copy from others but work on developing your own style.
*My views on which paint to choose.
I don't use oil based paint - not in my house and not on my furniture. Oil based paints smell, are not low VOC and are difficult to dispose off. It's a pain to clean up your brushes, and then the cleaning solvents are difficult to dispose of. Oil based paints also take a long time to dry. The only exception to my dislike of non water based paints is that I do occasionally use Zinsser shellac based primer. I leave my paint brush wrapped in gladwrap in the fridge in between coats to save on cleaning.
The main reason I don't use oil based paint it that due to the alkyds in them, oil based paint will ALWAYS yellow over time. I want my white furniture to stay white. Depending on the previous finish and the amount of sunlight your piece gets, this can actually happen quite quickly, often within months of painting.
These days, water based paint technology has made such great advances that it is just not necessary to use old fashioned oil based paint. Many paint companies are phasing out their range of oil based paints altogether.
Some water based options are:
- Water Based Enamels give a hard durable satin or gloss finish with no top coat required. Examples are Dulux Aqua enamel or Taubmans Water based enamel. I used a water based enamel for my kitchen cabinets. It has been a great choice and 6 years down the track it is still in wonderful condition and looks as fresh as the day it was painted. This is what I recommend for bathrooms and kitchen cabinetry.
- Flat acrylic paint (interior latex / emulsion / acrylic) that you would normally use on walls. I love using this for my painted furniture. It will usually require a top coat but it is easy to paint with, easy to clean up, gives a great finish and is very affordable. You can easily just buy a 500ml sample pot and use that. It will cost around $10. This size will paint several pieces of furniture.
- Milk paint is a wonderful option but quite expensive and actually requires a more advanced technique. It is quite lovely to use and gives a beautiful finish when sealed with furniture wax.
- Chalk paint (such as Annie Sloan or Porters Chalk Emulsion) is a wonderful traditional paint for furniture. It is also expensive but I use it all the time as I love it. (I'm not talking chalkboard paint) To find your local supplier just check google - they are not sold in major hardware shops. I get asked all the time but no I do not sell Annie Sloan Chalk Paint. I absolutely love the authentic french feel this paint gives my furniture. The chalk paints distress very well and you can create very beautiful pieces.
|Milk Paint Bedsides|
|Annie Sloan Chalk Pint - french wash|
I also always check the "mis-tint" pile of paint at the hardware shop. Someone else's mistake may be your perfect colour and can save you a load of money.
For some inspiration, why not check out my portfolio of painted furniture. Remember to have fun. You'll find painting furniture can be very therapeutic, relaxing and not to mention extremely addictive.
Here are some other Painting Guides:
See here for all my DIY tutorials in one place