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?
But is there a time when you should not paint wood?
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-o-leum
Yikes! Hold it right there! Some paint is just not made for furniture (like this kind of Rust-o-leum 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).
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.
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 these paints on your furniture! Be sure to do two coats so it’s not streaky! (Contains affiliate links).
- Annie Sloan Chalk Paint – This is what I generally use, and it’s best to buy it online at this place. It’s a few bucks cheaper!
- Miss Mustard Seed Milk Paint – While I haven’t used it, I’ve heard great things about it, and you can buy it from Amazon. Score!
- General Finishes Milk Paint – This paint has a nice, thick coverage that (my favorite is Corinth Blue, used in this project)
- CeCe Caldwells – I used this once, but wasn’t really that impressed because it seemed the coverage wasn’t great. But it could have improved since!
- RECLAIM Beyond Paint – This paint is thick and goes on really well, with a bit of sheen. It’s also self-sealing, so you don’t need any top coat! See my china cabinet project and dresser makeover for how this paint looks.
- Shabby Paints – This is another paint I used for this ugly dresser makeover and it worked reeeeaaallly well. They don’t sell everywhere, though, so you have to find a stylish on their website and they can ship to you.
- Heirloom Traditions – I haven’t used this one yet, but I know other bloggers that have, and I’m sure it works well. Buy it on Amazon and get free shipping, too.
- Amy Howard paints – This is a paint I’m getting really excited about! It works well, and they also have a bunch of innovative stuff like their furniture lacquer!
- Folk Art Chalky Paint – This paint is becoming a clear winner to me! It’s cheaper because it comes in smaller portions, especially for small projects you want to do. I used a fingernail scratch and this stuff doesn’t budge!
(This isn’t even an all-inclusive list! There’s tons of furniture paints out that nowadays, but these are my Top 9!).
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!
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.
With That Being Said……
Don’t just listen to me. Use your own gut to determine what 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.
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 pretty basement office 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…
But the “after” was to pretty and updated, who could really complain, ya know?
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.
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 striper, huh? 😉 In the meantime, let’s enjoy the beauty of painted wood and keep making our homes a little more colorful :).
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.
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!