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Retrocraft Design

DIY: Refurbishing A Piece with Paint

DIY Refurbishing A Piece with Paint
(“A New Lease on Life,” originially published in Fall Home Improvement supplement to GateHouse Media’s Northwest Group of local newspapers, September 20, 2012)

How do you evaluate whether a piece of furniture is a good candidate for refurbishing? In our business, we consider whether the piece is well made, structurally sound, has good lines, and a paint job or finish that is stable or easily removed. Another important factor to consider is whether you might be hurting the worth or integrity of a valuable antique- -if this is a question, have your piece appraised!  One of the most straightforward projects with transformative results is painting a piece of furniture--or part of a piece such as the frame-- a great color.  Here are some tips to help you get started.
  • *The first step in a good paint job is proper sanding. It is important to remove any loose paint or old finish and to provide a scuffed up surface for adherence of your fresh paint. We recommend #320 or #400 sand paper. If the underlying paint is very unstable, (i.e., flaking continuously as you are sanding) or is too thick and bumpy, we recommend removing the old paint completely. There are new, green and very effective products such as a soy stripper, available at specialty woodworking and paint stores.
  • Prime with a good all around basic primer available at your local hardware or paint store. We recommend water-based products for easy clean up and low odor. It is advisable to have the paint store tint your primer close to the color of your finish coat – this cuts down the number of coats of paint required for good coverage.  Some wood finishes may bleed through regular primer. If so, use a primer specially designed to block bleed.  And if you are painting Formica or other high gloss surface, use a super gripping primer. Allow the primer to dry a good 24 hours before applying your finish coat.
  • *For your topcoat, use any quality latex household paint. Paints come in different sheens, from flat to gloss.  Higher sheens give greater protection against dirt and scuffing than low sheen paints, but we prefer to use low sheen and seal with a clear water-based sealer coat.  It is important to use a good quality brush for both painting and sealing. We generally work with a 2” or 1” angle brush to get in hard to reach areas. A small roller with low nap works well for flat areas. For a more professional look, use painters tape (blue or green at your hardware or paint store) to tape off areas such as the insides of drawers.  

For sealing, there are a number of water-based polyurethanes on the market (see “Vermont Naturals” in May 2012). As with all water-based products, the sealer dries fast, making it important that you work fairly quickly. There are products available called “latex extenders” that slow down the drying process and result in a smoother finish.

Many pieces of furniture produced in the fifties in Massachusetts and North Carolina, while extremely well built, often have dreary, tired finishes which can be transformed with a coat of white or black paint. A small accent piece in a bright sunflower yellow can make a bold statement. Stencils (widely available on line) can add another fun element. Painting a reproduction Chippendale mirror a bright color can be an easy first project.

And if you are not feeling up to the task of such a project yourself, there are businesses such as our own that do custom work and also create one-of-a-kind pieces for sale.