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When Should You NOT Paint Wood Furniture?

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

Watch the Video – When Should You NOT Paint Wood Furniture?

 

 

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.

Listen to the Audio

No time to read this post? Click below to listen to the audio version read by me. 🙂

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.

Most times, that piece of wood furniture was taking up space in some thrift store or someone’s curbside, 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 there are some cases where you should not paint furniture. Because although paint can be professionally stripped off of wood and metal (or you can strip it yourself), the amount of time and cost can be astronomical. Plus, you might be ruining something valuable.

So talk about this, shall we?

 

When Should You NOT Paint Wood Furniture? - Thrift Diving

(I participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites).

Is there a time when you should not paint wood furniture? 

Yes, there is. Before you jump into a 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 paintbrush 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 post 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 :).

When Should You NOT Paint Wood Furniture? - Don't paint wood furniture if your grandmother would roll over in her grave. - Thrift Diving

STOP: If You’re Using the Wrong Paint

Yikes! Hold it right there! Some paint is just not made for furniture (like this kind of Rust-Oleum spray paint). When we first start painting furniture, we think we can just use any type of paint and get great results. That’s not true.

A friend who had never painted furniture before got the great idea to paint this beautiful, expensive chair with a black Rustoleum paint that was clearly not made for furniture.

The result?

Horrible black chipped paint that destroyed the wood. She ended up hiring me to see if I could strip it. WHEW! It was a tough job of getting black paint out of nitty-gritty cracks. And some parts of the wood were stained due to the pigment in the black paint.

When Should You NOT Paint Wood Furniture? - Don't paint wood furniture if you're using the wrong paint. - Thrift Diving

So What’s the Best Paint For Furniture Then?

In the last few years, a huge number 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 necessarily have to do that as long as your surface is smooth and not chipped. As long as the surface is clean, most furniture paints (include chalk paints which have calcium carbonate in them) stick to virtually anything: wood, glass, metal, plastic, masonry. And they can be used both inside and outside, too.

If you’d like to know more about the PROs and CONs of these of these furniture paints, be sure to check out my post: What’s the Best Paint For Furniture?

In the meantime, here is a sampling of furniture paints I have used and like:

  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. Beyond Paint
  7. Shabby Paints
  8. Heirloom Traditions

Considering subscribing to my blog and I’ll send you some freebies to help you get started with painting furniture and DIY.

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. (You can also download a free guide that tells you what’s valuable at the thrift store).

This almost happened to me.

I had found this amazing vintage Anco Bilt drafting table at a thrift store for $30. I had no idea it was valuable! I almost painted it!!!! That is 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!

 

When Should You NOT Paint Wood Furniture? - Vintage Anco Bilt drafting table. - Thrift Diving

 

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

Painted furniture is hot right now, but I’m noticing that it’s becoming a little less popular and people are preferring natural or rustic wood. 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. You can also hire professional furniture strippers to dip-and-strip your wood or metal, but that can be very expensive.

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.

What If You Want to Paint It Anyway??

Okay, so your piece of furniture almost passes the test, but you still can’t shake the excitement of painting it, even if used to belong to Grandma Betty and you know your family will complain.

Here’s a tip I picked up from a professional furniture stripper and refinisher that will make this process a little easier: Always slather on a coat of shellac on the wood first before painting wood. By doing this, you’re creating a protective layer on the piece of furniture that will make it easier to strip the furniture later if you decide you no longer want it painted.

The best product to use would be a clear wax-free shellac. The spray shellac also contains no wax.

When Should You NOT Paint Wood Furniture? - Use shellac with no wax before painting wood furniture to seal it. - Thrift Diving

The Big Take-Away

Don’t just listen to me. Use your own gut to determine which pieces of wood furniture you want to paint and not paint. But also don’t be afraid to do your research. In the past year, I’ve started doing a lot of research about wood, trying to understand more about wood. And the more I learn, the more respect I have for it.

But I also realize that even if you respect wood, some pieces of wood furniture just don’t fit our styles. And I think it’s okay to paint them as long as you don’t feel any regret over it.

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.

You might want to check out my other post, Understanding Wood, to learn more about wood.

 

7 Things You MUST Know About Wood Before You Build or Refinish a Project - Thrift Diving

Projects I Couldn’t Bear to Paint

So before you go, I’ll share with you some projects that were too much of a “good wood” that I couldn’t bear to paint them.

The more I learn about wood, the more benefit I see in restoring the wood to its natural beauty.

Here are a few recent projects I completed where I decided to restore them instead of painting them.

A Natural Wood Table Makeover!

I was >thisclose< to painting this vintage drafting table I had gotten from the thrift store, but decided against it after I saw the gorgeous grain popping through.

When Should You NOT Paint Wood Furniture? - Stripped and natural drafting table makeover. - Thrift Diving

 

Now, I can appreciate the grain and it looks great in my garage!

 

Strip furniture back to its natural wood - Turn a thrifted drafting table into a DIY garage workstation | Thrift Diving

 

Watch This Natural Wood Makeover in Action

 

 

This Mid Century Modern Dresser Makeover

I also couldn’t bear to paint this mid century modern dresser that I picked up for $29 at the thrift store!

The wood was just too gorgeous!

You can read in this Mid Century Modern Makeover post how I attempted to strip and refinish its natural wood but ran into a few problems. 😉

 

When Should You NOT Paint Wood Furniture - Mid century modern dresser gets stripped. - Thrift Diving

 

When Should You NOT Paint Wood Furniture - Mid century modern dresser gets stripped with gorgeous grain. - Thrift Diving

Watch This Mid-Century Modern Makeover in Action

You can see all my videos on my YouTube channel, too.

 

 

Projects That Were Questionable, But Were Painted

I had found this french provincial vanity at the thrift store for a measly $10 and kept it in my garage for about 2 years before I decided to paint it. But I struggled with it because it was such nice wood! But the missing trim would have made it difficult to match up the wood tones. Plus, it has so many nooks and crannies that stripping and restoring it would have been horrific. Instead, I stripped and refinished the top, but decided to paint the body. The people on my YouTube channel loved it, but there were a bunch of haters that accused me a “ruining it.” Watch the video and tell me what you think!

 

 

BEFORE

AFTER!

 

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…

 BEFORE

When Should You NOT Paint Wood Furniture - Vintage chair makeover painted and reupholstered - Thrift Diving

AFTER!

But the “after” was too pretty and updated.

When Should You NOT Paint Wood Furniture - Vintage chair makeover painted and reupholstered with new fabric. - Thrift Diving

 

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 re-staining and then painting the body.

BEFORE

When Should You NOT Paint Wood Furniture - Vintage buffet makeover - Thrift Diving

 

AFTER!

When Should You NOT Paint Wood Furniture - Vintage buffet makeover with wood top and painted body - Thrift Diving

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 when we can 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 101

 

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When should you NOT paint wood furniture? - SAVE this on Pinterest

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

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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148 Comments

  1. Ginene Nagel says:

    I really like your blog, but I’ve been buying and selling vintage and antique furniture since I was 15 and I’m 69 now. I also owned an antique shop for the last 20 years which I sold last June. There is a product called New Life Furniture Masque that removed was, dirt and paint dribbles from wood. I used it for years. It will make a cruddy piece of wood furniture look new again. It is made in a Mom and Pop business in Texas. The kind of place where someone might answer or you might have to leave a message. I am not in any way connected to them.
    It was extremely hard to watch beautiful wood furniture leave my shop when I knew it would be painted by someone who never painted anything before. We can see the results on any Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace ad. A lot of wood furniture has been lost. This furniture was made in the U.S. out of mostly American wood that we will never, ever, never have available for manufacturers again. I really liked your idea to paint a coat of shellac on a piece before painting. I wish I would have thought of that myself even though I doubt any of my customers would have taken that step. I have painted a lot of veneered pieces for the shop if a lot of the veneers were missing. I’d fill in the holes with RediPatch, prime that spot and paint. There were times when I hired someone to patch the veneer which is an art I never learned to do with any professionality. Some veneers were from wood that is now extinct. I can say that I never bought any furniture that had ever been stripped. People that know what they are looking at know that the patina is gone forever. All of that being said, I’ve probably painted over 50 pieces of furniture in the 20 years I was in business.

  2. while I appreciate this blog piece, I say this with all due respect. There are some gorgeous antique pieces that you have painted over and it makes me whince….. the pieces you refinished with a new stain look amazing . painting should be a last resort . Paint over pine , paint over modern ikea pieces but when it comes to antiques with exotic woods we need to be so much more cautious. I appreciate you acknowledge this caution but more is needed based on your projects. anyway maybe we can agree to disagree. be blessed

    1. Hi Sarah, thanks for your comments! I want to point out that furniture that is MORE than 100 years old is an antique. Those pieces are quite valuable. Furniture that is LESS than 100 years old are not antiques and may have some value, but generally aren’t as valuable as something that’s truly an antique. I think a problem people have is to think that everything old is valuable. That’s not true. If it were truly that valuable, it likely wouldn’t be sitting in a thrift store, discarded for a few bucks. Paint can do wonders for a piece. But I would agree that if something is truly valuable, OR an antique more than 100 years old, it shouldn’t be painted. The pieces I have painted were not that old.

  3. Great post! I have an old china cabinet – no manufacturer – from the 1960’s that I am researching if I should and if so, the best way to rehab it.

    I agree with this post. My only addition is I recommend looking at the items very closely. Look for makers’ marks and other details for period pieces. See if it’s something that if you brought onto Antiques Roadshow the value would go to zero.

    I have seen people paint original period Ethan Allen pieces and it completely devalues them. Not to mention, it really killed the look.

    There are some pieces that just worth nothing, but there are times when people are really holding onto a gem that they don’t about.

  4. Tricia Keeley says:

    Hi, I have a hutch that my father brought home for my mom when I was… well let’s just say it was over 45 years ago. Ugh. I was 10 when she passed away, and crazy enough I talked my dad out of selling to antique dealer with all of her other antiques. So. At 40 I decided to paint it. Now I feel awful, I wasn’t savvy about chalk paint then and I believe I used a latex White paint. Would that be something easily removed? Did I ruin it? I also have from my friend a 100 year old or more sleigh bed. How do I preserve it just the way it is. Patina, some of the history colors coming thru. I just want to seal it or keep it from drying out after I clean it. Ty in advance and ty so much for your YouTube channel. Tricia from NJ

    1. Hi Tricia! Oh no, sorry to hear that you’re not happy with the paint you used on your mom’s hutch. It’s possible you could strip the hutch and try to finish it back to its original finish (or another finish that you like). There’s no other way to remove the paint other than chemical strippers or a sander. But it’s not impossible. Or….if you still want it painted, but want a better finish, you can use a better quality paint and go over it with another paint. Don’t feel guilty for painting it. But whether you have it natural or painted, the key it to give this piece of furniture of your mom’s a new life, something that works well in your current decor and something that can be loved for years to come. As for the sleigh bed, if you just want to condition the wood, look into tung oil (look for the variety that dries quickly) or something like danish oil. Hope that helps!!

  5. Thanks for your post. I was actually planning to paint my chest of drawers but now I understnd it was a silly idea. We learn something new every day))))

  6. Am I glad that I read this article! I bought our nightstands at one of the big antique wholesalers in Silicon Valley about 30 years ago. They’re real antiques, made in Hungary before the Hungarian Revolution. When I got them, they had the communist government’s stamp on them. They’re VERY pretty, in a French-ish style. And they’re a little tattered by now.

    I thought of doing a chalk paint thing on them. You see pieces that ornate done up on blogs all the time, But then, I read your suggestion to check on eBay or Google to see what they’re worth. I didn’t find anything exactly like them, but close enough.

    Wowser! French versions like mine are worth up to $3,000, maybe more. They don’t have the history of my nightstands, so mine might be worth more. I would have wrecked them with my chalk painting and glaze.

    So then, I checked John Widdicomb furniture. My mom left me a beautiful bedroom set with a fine painted flower design all over. It’s really got some wear, but I found on eBay that John Widdicomb furniture is pricey even if it looks like an ax had been used on it. That was the end of my “updo” of mom’s furniture. Live and learn!

    Thanks so much!

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