When to Paint Antique Wood Furniture

Painting Antique Furniture by sheholdsdearly.com

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Which camp are you in? Do you paint antique furniture, or are you completely opposed?

This is a highly contested topic in the design world, and even here in this She Holds Dearly corner of that world I get quite a few comments whenever I decide to paint antique furniture. Some people love it, some people are not fans. It seems to be one of those more polarizing issues.

Today I’m hoping to convince a few of you who might be on the fence about painting those antique pieces – that it really is OK under certain circumstances!

I feel like it’s worth noting that I DO absolutely love family heirlooms and antique pieces with family history.

I was a really happy camper when we met the Original Family of our Historic 1906 Farmhouse, and somehow even happier when they gifted me the desk chair that belonged to the owner and builder of our home which I (you guessed it) painted and turned into a rocking chair for our front porch!

I don’t take it lightly to modify antiques, and don’t ever do it with a flippant attitude toward ruining history! I am just a big proponent of loving your space.

Painting Antique Furniture by sheholdsdearly.com

I talk about it in my Behind the Scenes Design Group, but when we can do things like decluttering and modifying pieces to make our homes a place we love and enjoy, it’s totally worth it!

|My design group will be opening for new members in September 2020, join the wait list here if you’d like to see what we’re all about behind the scenes! |

And that segues nicely into the three times I think it’s not only OK, but recommended to paint antique furniture!

You Should Paint your Antique Furniture Piece When…

Number One |Updating the Piece helps it fit your lifestyle and ensures an extended useful life.

I’m the person, on both our sides of the family, that gets “the call” to rescue furniture pieces whenever there’s something vintage that isn’t wanted or needed anymore.

A lot of times, it’s just me that stands between that piece being sent to a thrift store and or the dump!

That really helps solidify in my mind that by painting something, and giving it a place in my home, I’m giving the piece the opportunity to go on being functional and enjoyed for years to come.

In that same vein, I’m currently really loving the look of raw wood tones, but along with that, I’m realizing more and more that the darker stained, and especially orange toned woods just aren’t for me or for our home at this time!

It’s perfectly OK if you do currently like pieces like that, but for me, to enjoy a piece in my home and not let it become a design “bully” that I have to work around, I know that either taking a piece back to raw wood, or painting it are my two best options.

Painting Antique Furniture by sheholdsdearly.com

And I don’t take the decision lightly! There have been times where I’ve contemplated changing a piece for around 2 years before finally making it happen.

My trick about that though, is to live with a piece for 1 week before making a decision about it. That can be a new piece you are adding to your home, or the 1 week waiting period after you change the color or update it in some way and aren’t sure yet if you love it.

If after a week you love it, you’re set! If after a week you’re still not on board – it’s pretty likely that your mind will not change based on time alone – it might be time to head back to the drawing board for that item.

Number Two | There’s any Kind of Smell Issue

I think we’ve probably all been on the bad end of an old item with a really un-friendly aroma. Whether it’s musty or possibly smoke saturated or perhaps used near pets.

There are times when certain smells just won’t release from a piece, and covering over it is your best option.

Sometimes paint alone is enough to cover a bad smell. If you’re really concerned, I’d recommend a layer of Kilz primer before you paint!

Painting Antique Furniture by sheholdsdearly.com

Number Three | There is Structural or Cosmetic Damage

Sometimes older pieces can have issues with wear and tear on their finishes, or there could be a broken leg that needs to be repaired and caulked, etc…

These are the kind of things I’d have zero issue painting after. If by correcting the problem and covering the repair with paint, you’re able to make the piece “good as new” – Go for it!

Painting Antique Furniture by sheholdsdearly.com

What Qualifies as an Antique?

The general rule is that anything 50 years old or older is considered vintage, and things older than 100 years are considered antique!

As it stands now, most of the time, if you’re finding a piece of furniture that is solid wood, it’s probably at least vintage if not antique. Most furniture pieces created after the 1950s started incorporating particle board and veneers.

Some of my Previous Painted Antique Pieces:

Black Washed Desk | This one was a craiglist find, so no family history – but I am pretty sure it is old. I wanted it to fit into our master bedroom well, though – so it got an upgrade! I used a new to me technique called “black washing” (similar to “white washing” a brick wall).

After living with it for a few weeks, now, though, I’m convinced that my black paint might have been a bit old/bad. The desk has kept some of the navy undertones I was not excited about, and so this desk will be going full black in the near future. I have some “Typewriter” black milk paint on the way from Miss Mustard Seed.

Upcycled Armoire | This piece was handed down from my Husband’s Grandma, and after updating the color to match our master bedroom, now houses his clothes! It’s been the perfect piece for the space and function we were looking for.

The two-tone look I chose for the armoire is one that has been really intriguing me recently.

As you can see from some of my inspiration pictures that also inspired my most recent project (which you’ll see more about down below!)

There are so many ways to do the 2-tone look well. Choosing just aspects of the piece to highlight in the 2nd color like this french dresser:

Or this black & stained wood dresser:

This built in china cabinet:

Or leaving just portions of the item in raw wood and accenting with a second color like this dressing table:

*This post contains affiliate links to products I know &/or love.

Still on the Fence?

This week’s project has been really special to me. I was gifted this china cabinet from my Uncle and Aunt who have since passed away. Having this piece as a reminder of them for years to come is a special treasure.

When they offered it to me months ago, I loved it right away, but knew that I didn’t really have a place for it inside the house.

But I did realize it would be really cute on our covered front porch, and I had just the idea in mind to turn it into a cottage-esque green and white garden cabinet.

One more inspiration Picture:

I love that it’s only about 15″ deep, which means I could someday make room for it in the house, even in something like a hallway.

It also has beautiful original wavy glass – another true sign of an antique!

If you haven’t heard of wavy glass before, it happens when the liquid properties of glass settle in a vertical piece over long periods of time. It creates a true “wavy” look when you view it from the right angles, and it’s really pretty!

The Plan:

I decided on “Celery Seed” green – part of the Magnolia paint line – for the inside of the cabinet.

For the outside I chose a plain flat matte white – it’s actually the cheapest base paint you can find at Walmart with no tint added!

Painting Antique Furniture by sheholdsdearly.com

I used my DIY chalk paint recipe to turn that white into something with a bit more vintage charm.

DIY Chalk Paint Recipe

Painting Antique Furniture by sheholdsdearly.com

Here's my recipe for DIY chalk paint that works with any store bought paint that has either flat or matte finish.

Prep Time 5 minutes
Active Time 5 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes

Materials

  • 1 Quart Flat or Matte Finish Paint
  • 3/4 Cup Calcium Carbonate
  • Warm Water

Tools

  • Bucket - approximately 1/2 = 1 gallon size
  • Stirring Stick (Or a dedicated immersion blender, or a drill with a mixer attachment)
  • Dedicated measuring spoons/cups for your painting supplies.

Instructions

  1. Pour your quart of paint into your bucket
  2. Add your measured calcium carbonate into your bucket
  3. Mix thoroughly
  4. Add warm water if needed to reach the consistency of pancake batter.
  5. Pour your mixture back into your quart container for storage.

Notes

If you find that your paint consistency is thickening up or getting lumpy, you can add a little bit of warm water during your paint project and give it a mix.

This paint may settle if you do not use it all for one project, so you'll need to mix well (and add more warm water) when you're ready to use it again.

*This post contains affiliate links to products I know &/or love.

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Then I decided on some new replacement knobs for the piece. I tried a few that I had on hand, (these green knobs, and these large green glass knobs), and even thought about using some rub-n-buff to update the look of the metal on some, but realized they weren’t exactly what I was looking for.

I ended up finding these glass tear drop pulls from Hobby Lobby and knew they would look beautiful. Unfortunately, they’re currently out of stock, so I’ll just wait patiently until I’m able to get 6 of them.

Hobby lobby Glass Tear Drop Knob

When thinking about knobs I knew I wanted something that had some size to it so it wasn’t lost in the space of the doors, but I also wanted something exciting and surprising! Because the total distance of the pull adds to the size – even though some of the space is negative space, I think it’s going to be just right.

I also love that Hobby Lobby’s items go on 50% sale so often – if you know what you want, be sure to wait it off and take advantage of their sale prices. I’ve heard some of their items go on sale every other week!

The Process:

The first thing I did was wipe the entire surface down with my favorite degreaser by Mrs. Meyers to give myself a clean slate to work from.

Painting Antique Furniture by sheholdsdearly.com

Then I used frog tape to tape off all the glass to protect it from paint.

I didn’t sand, but I used a simple white primer, and then quickly realized that the old stain was bleeding through pretty badly.

I used this stain covering primer and it worked wonderfully to prevent the bleed through.

It was really hot for us in Washington this week (96 degrees some days, or as I like to call it, “stupid hot”), so painting this cabinet was tricky with the heat and much faster dry times. I quickly learned that painting in the morning was the best bet!

The final step was adding some tough coat sealer to the entire exterior of the piece to help protect from the elements, since it will be on our covered porch for most of the year.

Painting Antique Furniture by sheholdsdearly.com

I hope you enjoyed these thoughts on when to paint antique furniture, and seeing some pictures of our repainted cabinet!

Let me know your thoughts on painting antique wood! Have you ever done it? Have you ever decided to strip something back to wood? I’d love to hear your experiences!

Painting Antique Furniture by sheholdsdearly.com

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14 Comments

  1. Victoria
    August 20, 2020 / 2:10 PM

    100 years is the standard for antique; 100-20 years old is vintage. Less than 20 years is just second hand 😉
    I do love the green inside of that cabinet, although I think I liked the darker wood outside more. I do think painting a piece is worthwhile sometimes and have done it. Sometimes it’s hard to see someone paint a beautiful piece because it suits them, when it would fit someone else without being painted.

    • Sarah | She Holds Dearly
      Author
      August 22, 2020 / 3:37 PM

      I can understand that, for sure.
      However, because this piece has special family history, I’m glad to paint it and keep it in the family!

  2. Georjana Mauldin
    August 22, 2020 / 8:56 PM

    You mentioned veneers, like it is bad … veneering was an antique method for putting expensive wood over other wood. See below:

    “At first antique furniture was made from solid wood, but as cabinet making improved, the technique of decorating furniture by applying veneers (thin sheets of wood which can be cut from the tree in several ways) developed. … This secondary wood, as it’s known, is most commonly pine or oak.”

    https://antiquewarehouse.ca/2011/09/solid-wood-vs-veneer-is-one-better-than-the-other/

    • Sarah | She Holds Dearly
      Author
      August 23, 2020 / 9:10 PM

      I didn’t mean to imply that veneers were bad – but they are just a whole different story when it comes to up-cycling and repainting, etc! 😀

    • Sarah | She Holds Dearly
      Author
      August 24, 2020 / 11:59 PM

      Thank you for sharing, the cracking and bubbling is what I don’t care for. Sometimes, the veneer is covering particle board, too and then it’s a real mess to fix.

  3. Georjana Mauldin
    August 22, 2020 / 9:17 PM

    Also the paint can should mbv mention what temp to paint… 90° probably too hot.

    “The maximum and minimum recommended temperatures for exterior paint vary depending on the type (oil or latex) and specific brand of paint used, but a general rule of thumb is that oil-based paint can be applied when the temperatures are between 40°- 90° F and latex between 50°- 85° F. The best drying will occur when the relative humidity is 40% to 70%.

    • Sarah | She Holds Dearly
      Author
      August 25, 2020 / 12:00 AM

      Oh yes, both very good points, I’m sure that is what happened.

  4. Barbara Potter
    August 23, 2020 / 7:11 AM

    I love what you’ve done with your old pieces, but you’ve only shown us ones that you painted. Do you have examples of ones that were better left as is???

    • Sarah | She Holds Dearly
      Author
      August 25, 2020 / 12:00 AM

      Haha, yes! Check out both of my bathroom reveals and the lego dresser in my living room.

  5. August 23, 2020 / 10:26 AM

    Hi Sarah, what people do with antiques they own is their business, but since we are discussing this I will chime in. I live in a house in Wa state very similar to yours! It was built in 1895 and I am the exact opposite to you in decorating, where you like a lot of white and black, I am very colorful with lots of Arts and Crafts era style. So, to me, that tiger oak cabinet was incredibly beautiful as it was and very rich and expensive looking. I feel the paint job looks nice, and I totally get why you decided to paint it. It made it fade into the house as you can see in the photos. I understand that for outdoors, that is a better look and in my opinion it did take away the beautiful antique vibe and instead it’s now not as special and unique, if that makes sense. On the other hand, it was such a stand out piece on your porch that it was out of place in it’s original state. Sort of like super high end appliances in a farm house kitchen would be. So, painting it allows you to enjoy it but not overpower the porch with it’s grandiosity perhaps. Overall I am very reluctant to paint such beautiful wood but we get to choose for ourselves our design. I am new to your blog and youtube and love it! Thank you for sharing your beautiful home with us and all the useful ideas. I just found some white sheets at the Value Village and did your method. They are on the line drying now!

    • Sarah | She Holds Dearly
      Author
      August 23, 2020 / 9:05 PM

      Hi Julia, Welcome! Glad you’re here, and I appreciate your thoughts!

    • Sarah | She Holds Dearly
      Author
      August 25, 2020 / 12:02 AM

      Julia, I really love that people have different styles in their homes. I can’t do them all at once, so I get to live vicariously through other homeowners like yourself! And congrats on the sheet find!! I’m so excited for you!

      • August 26, 2020 / 10:45 AM

        I know; I love the serine white style you do so much! I would literally have to redecorate and redo my entire house to get that look, Haha! My house is even the same architecture as yours from the one side. I kept the burgundy exterior you had but added a light green trim the color of the avocado fruit. I don’t have a wrap porch though and mine is smaller, but I raised two daughters in this house and love it so much despite all her funkiness. Old houses are rare and those of us who love and care for them are special!

        • Sarah | She Holds Dearly
          Author
          August 26, 2020 / 10:42 PM

          I think your house sounds super fun!! I love that we both love old houses.

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