When Should You NOT Paint Wood Furniture?

When should you not paint wood furniture? Painting “perfectly good wood” is controversial. Don’t believe me?

If you’re a DIY’er that paints furniture for any length of time, I’m certain someone has opened their mouth and gasped: OMG, you paint wood?! Why would you do that?”

…riiiight after you proudly showed them how awesome your piece looks after you spend 6 hours painting it.

Not the best feeling in the world.

In fact, you feel rather crappy after that kind of criticism.

I mean……we all know that solid wood is the almighty indication of quality furniture, and to slather on a superficial coat of paint??–gasp!–how dare thee.


The Real Truth About Painting Wood Furniture

Want to know the real truth about painting wood furniture?

It’s not the end of the world.

It’s paint. It can be stripped years from now, if you’d like. And most times, that piece of wood furniture was taking up space in some thrift store, or someone’s curb side, and you (the awesome DIYer), saw its potential and breathed new life into it.

We should actually get an award for being so green, eh? 🙂



When Not To Paint Wood Furniture


But is there a time when you should not paint wood furniture? 

Yes, there is. Before you jump in to any project, you do have to consider these situations to make sure you’re making the right choice. Here are those times when you should put down the paint brush and step away slooowwwly.


STOP:  If Grandma is Rolling Over In Her Grave

Would your Grammie be P.O.’ed if she knew you were painting over her antique hutch? Maybe she adored it. And every time you think you might take a paint brush to it, you cringe at the thought of Grandma smacking the brush out of your hand.

If you can’t bring yourself to do it because of guilt, then just leave it alone. Maybe pay someone to strip it and re-stain it back to its original beauty. Or, if you want to try to strip and stain it yourself, check out my YouTube video tutorial on how to strip furniture and stain it. At least this way, Grandma will be smiling down at you instead of waiting to lecture you at the gates of Heaven :).


STOP: If You Just Bought a Can of Rust-Oleum

Yikes! Hold it right there! Some paint is just not made for furniture (like this kind of Rust-Oleum spray paint). That’s what happened to a friend who had the great idea to paint this beautiful, expensive chair with black Rustoleum paint (see below).

The result?

Horrible black, chipped paint that destroyed the wood. She ended up hiring me to see if I could strip it. WHEW! Tough job of getting black paint out of nitty-gritty cracks. Just don’t paint wood if you’re going to use the wrong paint.

Stripped Chair Collage

So What Paint SHOULD You Use on Furniture Then?

In the last few years, the amount of options for furniture paint has totally exploded. It used to be that you had to sand…prime…then paint. But now, you don’t have to do that! As long as your surface is smooth, you can use any of the following paint on your furniture!

NEW! Click here to read more about the PROs and CONs of each of these furniture paints!


  1. FolkArt Chalky Paint
  2. Amy Howard at Home
  3.  Annie Sloan Chalk Paint
  4. Miss Mustardseed Milk Paint
  5. General Finishes Milk Paint
  6. RECLAIM Beyond Paint
  7. Shabby Paints
  8. Heirloom Traditions


STOP: If You Haven’t Consulted Papa Google (or Mama eBay)

One splash of paint and you’ve just ruined something you could sell on eBay for three or four figures. Do your research first and find out how much your piece of furniture is worth before you paint it, especially if it just looks like something so rare and special.

This almost happened to me! Remember this amazing Anco Bilt vintage drafting table I found at a thrift store for $30? I had no idea it was valuable! I almost painted it!!!! Until I searched Google and found that one has sold for $325 on eBay! Now, it’s in my pretty, colorful basement office “AS IS.” And I love it, flaws and all :).

If it looks really valuable, it probably is. Don’t paint it if you’ve got a real gem on your hands!

Thrifty Basement and Home Office Makeover Thrift Diving Blog2677


STOP: If You’re Just Trying to Be Cool and Trendy

Painted furniture is hot right now. But trends go in and out of style. Painting chevron stripes all over a perfectly good wooden buffet that had not one scratch on it may seem like a good idea. But in 5 years, it may be outdated. Then you may need to buy a book on how to strip furniture, creating more cost and work for yourself.

Only paint furniture because you love the look of it, not because you’re trying to emulate someone else’s look. Be true to your own decorating style.

The Big Take-Away

Don’t just listen to me. Use your own gut to determine what wood furniture you want to paint and not paint. These are merely guidelines for when you take on your next furniture painting project. It’s your house that you will be decorating, and you’ve got to live in it. But don’t also destroy a piece of ancient history or a family heirloom because it’s the “in” thing that people are doing.

Questionable Projects?

Here are a few of my makeovers that probably bordered on “questionable” when it comes to whether or not I should have painted them.

So when I found this vintage chair at the thrift store, I had no qualms about painting the frame and replacing the fabric. It wasn’t my Grandma’s…..it wasn’t an antique…..It was just a lovely chair begging for some TLC. Such a beauty! I did get a couple negative comments about painting the wood, though…


Vintage Chair Makeover BEFORE99.jpg


But the “after” was too pretty and updated, who could really complain, ya know?

A Vintage Chair Makeover


For this vintage buffet makeover, I even polled my readers what I should do: paint or strip. They were split down the middle. I ended up stripping the top and restaining, and then painting the body.


1_vintage buffet thrift diving BEFORE1




My Project Gallery

Just check out my project gallery for the whole gamut of wood pieces I’ve painted. I can imagine that in 15 years, when painted furniture has run its course, we’ll all be diving for the paint stripper, huh? 😉 In the meantime, let’s enjoy the beauty of painted wood and keep making our homes a little more colorful :).


Resources If You Want to Paint Wood Furniture (Or Refinish It)

If you’ve decided that you’re definitely going to paint or refinished that piece of furniture, make sure you learn from the best in the business on how to do it! These books are must-haves to get you started! Click on each for more information.

Furniture makeovers - Simple Techniques

Refinishing Furniture


Wood Refinishing


When should you not paint wood furniture - Put down the paint brush if any of these apply to your furniture piece - ThriftDiving.com

Your 2 Cents

So do you have your OWN set of guidelines for determining when to NOT paint wood furniture? Have you ever been not sure to paint or leave it alone? Leave a comment below to add to the discussion! 🙂



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Hey there, I'm Serena, a 38-year-old working mom of 3 young boys who can't get enough DIY! If you actually made it to the bottom of this post to read this, it means you're really enjoy my blog. That means SO much. If I can inspire just one person through my passion and energy for DIY, then I'm fulfilling my life's purpose. Thanks for joining me, and I hope you'll subscribe so we can keep in touch! ~Serena

Comments (73)

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  1. I’m 50-50 on whether or not it is a good idea to paint wooden furniture. It can look great, and I think that you should do what makes you feel good about your furniture. As long as you aren’t painting an antique chair or dresser. Probably something you should check before ruining its value.

  2. Normally when our furniture gets damaged the first thing that comes to mind is to get painted. No ones thinks twice on that. This article was very helpful for me. Thanks.

  3. Sandy says:

    Thanks for adding some balance to the current painted furniture craze. While most of what I have seen out the web is inspiring, I have seen a few before and afters that are alarming because the piece should not have been painted – it should have been sold to an antique dealer if they hated it . Just like today, some furniture of yesteryear was mass produced and lower quality – perfect for a redo! Higher end pieces though should be treated with respect. Hate it when a truly beautiful wood grain is obliterated.

  4. Sue says:

    A few years ago I purchased a plain, painted, kitchen table for $5 at an auction. The top had been painted black and I had plans of stripping it and refinishing it. It proved harder than I thought so I took it to a local sheltered workshop to be finished . They got it stripped but found a burnt, “sad iron” mark on it and refused to to do any more to it because they thought it was a mark of history. 🙂 I’m not sure what to do with it now. Should I just stain and polish the top or go ahead and paint it?

  5. Kay Purdie says:

    I’m lucky enough to live in a place where lots of old furniture is sold at the local auction house. Most of it is house clearance. I agree with your point about ‘Grandma turning in her grave’. I’m old enough to remember when dark wood furniture was very valuable – I saw a Georgian chest this week go begging at the auction for £200. 10 years ago it would have fetched £1000. My point is these are all fashions and having spent a lot of time on renovation and makeover websites I see too many people are painting beautiful furniture. These items are our heritage for future generations. I’m afraid I disagree that “you can strip the paint later”. Once the patina of these lovely old items has gone it can never be got back.What’s more this furniture will come back into fashion again as all things do. There’s so much mass produced, low quality furniture around that would benefit from a paint job – please please stick to those.

    • Hey there, Kay! I agree with you that painted furniture will one day go out of style and original wood furniture will come back into fashion again. I’ve joked that we should all invest in companies that produce stripper so that one day we will be rich when everyone is begging to have all that colorful paint stripped off. 🙂

      You could also look at it this way: let people paint pieces, but hold on to valuable wood pieces, so that when it does come back in fashion, those pieces that were saved from the paint brush will be even more expensive! 🙂

      Thanks, Kay!!!

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