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?
(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 :).
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.
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.
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:
- FolkArt Chalky Paint
- Amy Howard at Home
- Annie Sloan Chalk Paint
- Miss Mustardseed Milk Paint
- General Finishes Milk Paint
- Beyond Paint
- Shabby Paints
- 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Now, I can appreciate the grain and it looks great in my garage!
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. 😉
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!
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…
But the “after” was too pretty and updated.
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.
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.
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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