Is your heirloom piece or thrift shop find in desperate need of a makeover? If you want to learn how to update old furniture with paint, you need to know how to avoid amateur mistakes that will ruin all your hard work. Learn from my goof-ups and get valuable tips to revamp your old furniture the right way!
I come from a family that loves to DIY, and I’m unafraid to pull over to snag a free item on the side of the road, or “shop” for free and gently used stuff at the town dump’s “put and take.”
And I love leisurely browsing through our local Habitat for Humanity store while my son’s at a birthday party next door at Laser Quest.
If you love revamping old furniture – or are just as cheap as I am – then you know how easy it is to fall in love with a dilapidated piece and spend valuable time spiffing it up, only to have it look like crap.
Or, have the finish wear off a few months (or weeks!) later.
Why do our painted furniture projects fail?
The newbie mistakes we make when updating old furniture with paint are usually a result of:
- Not having enough time
- Poor preparation
- Lack of patience
- Using the wrong products
Or, in the worst case, all four!
Learn from my mistakes.
I learn something new every time I paint old furniture, and I’ve painted quite a few pieces!
How to Update Old Furniture With Paint: 5 Mistakes to Avoid for Great Results
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1. Using a latex paint + primer combo.
This Martha Washington sewing table, now the nightstand in my daughter’s bedroom, was a $50 Craigslist find, and the giant water stain on top combined with the smell of mothballs made it quite hideous. This was my first furniture makeover project (without my dad’s expert help), and I had no idea what I was doing.
Thinking I’d save myself some time (and not knowing any better), I bought a latex paint + primer combo and got to work.
That stuff is meant for walls, folks. Most furniture, especially stuff that has a glossy surface that’s tough to rough out with sandpaper, needs at least one coat of high-quality primer for the paint to adhere properly.
The paint didn’t provide the right coverage and the dark stained wood bled through despite my sanding efforts and multiple coats of paint.
2. Painting in an air-tight room.
Unless you enjoy passing out from noxious fumes, open a window or two. When you live in a cold climate with limited time to work outdoors, it can be tempting to paint in your closed-up garage or basement, but don’t do it!
For this dresser makeover, I used oil-based paint for the first time to achieve a glossy finish. But I foolishly painted in our closed-up garage in winter. Oil paints are particularly pungent and I nearly passed out from the fumes!
Make sure your work area is properly ventilated for the type of paint you’re working with.Put down that brush! Find out which furniture painting mistakes to avoid before your next project.
3. White primer under dark paint.
My favorite furniture makeover to date is my childhood dresser, but it was also the most work. My parents found it on the side of the road or at the dump, and for my whole life it was known as “the little blue dresser.”
After stripping layers of decades-old paint (after checking it for lead) and learning from my mistake with the sewing table, I brushed it with a coat of white primer prior to adding dark teal paint (Glidden’s “Totally Teal”).
And promptly added a third coat of paint to my to-do list.
You see, if you’re revamping old furniture with dark paint, then you should use dark primer – either gray or primer tinted to match your paint. You’ll save yourself extra drying and painting time!
Bonus Tip! If the piece was first painted prior to 1978 (when the U.S. implemented laws to ban lead in household paints), test the furniture with a lead check kit before you strip the old paint!
4. Putting stuff on painted furniture after the paint’s “dry.”
There’s dry paint, and then there’s cured paint.
According to the experts at Glidden,
Once your paint dries, your project may still not be ready for everyday use. For a paint to be considered dry, enough solvents must evaporate so it feels dry to the touch.
Paint doesn’t cure, or reach maximum hardness, until days after the paint is dry.
Oil-based paints cure faster (in about 7 days) than latex paints (in about 30 days). So, don’t put your newly painted dining room table into heavy rotation until the paint has fully cured and will withstand everyday use.
This is where the patience I mentioned earlier comes into play.
Before we could afford built-ins in our previous home’s living room, my husband and I made over his mismatched bachelor pad bookcases.
In my excitement to color-code our book collection, I filled the shelves a few days after applying the final coat of paint.
The books, especially the ones I artfully laid flat, stuck to the shelves!
Let the paint cure before actively using your refinished furniture, especially if it’ll be used daily.
5. Spray painting on a windy day.
Since spray paint requires lots of ventilation (see point #2) and gets all over everything, most of us paint outside when the weather’s nice.
Which, if you live in New England, means you have 90 days out of the year to finish your projects.
Some of those days are windy.
Foolishly, while painting an old filing cabinet for our craft area makeover, I thought the (open) garage would protect my project from the swirling leaves outside.
As you can see in the “before” photo, leaves and dust covered the garage floor and ultimately got on the filing cabinet.
So what should you do instead?
I plan to purchase a spray paint tent to protect everything around my project from the excess paint and protect my project from the debris in the garage.
How to Update Old Furniture with Paint: The Easiest Way I’ve Found (So Far!)
After all these mistakes, what’s the best way to update old furniture with paint? Have I finally learned how to do it the right way?
While I still have a lot to learn about rehabbing furniture, there’s one painting method I finally tried on a thrift store desk that didn’t take too much time:
It’s not a mistake. It’s a lesson.
Updating furniture with paint is a great DIY project for any skill level. Even if the results aren’t what you expect the first time, you can always paint over them!
What’s been your biggest painting mistake so far? What are your best tips to get the best finish every time?