A guide on how to answer the DON’T PAINT THAT FURNITURE crowd.
We’ve all heard it “I can’t believe you painted that piece!”, aghast in horror at our willingness to cover such valuable treasures in a coat of paint. So how do I respond? Let’s take apart this argument piece by piece.
1. Its Not That Valuable After All
Most of the pieces I work on are in salvage condition, fair at best.
Antique value usually arises when the piece is in good ORIGINAL condition. If it requires refinishing, that implies this condition is not met. The bottom has fallen out of the antiques market, how many houses do you know that are full of rare antiques anymore?
A piece is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it, despite what that internet listing says. So chances are, if I bought it for $50, that’s all it was really worth.
This antique piece arrived in ROUGH shape
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2. Its Not An Antique
The definition of antique is 100+ years old. Those pieces are a rarity, and when they are found, they are showing their age, requiring a ton of work (see #1 👆).
Most of the pieces I work on are “vintage” at best (20+ years old).
Used a textured finish to camouflage condition issues on this piece
3. Painted Furniture Has Been Around Just As Long As Furniture Has
Go visit some of the great historic homes throughout the world, one consistency is… painted furniture.
Pigments were historically a luxury item, so having painted pieces was a sign of wealth and opulence. Some homes and furniture even used paint to imitate exotic species of wood, old faux finishes. That rare wood on your piece might be painted on!
The chalk painted looks we are now replicating are inspired by age-old homemade milk paint and chippy vintage finishes from pieces upcycled ages ago.
This was discarded on the curb for free!
4. If Paint Makes It A Show Piece Again, Then So Be It!
I’ve literally pulled pieces out of a barn, covered in dirt. Storage units, garages, even the sidewalk, these pieces were being discarded and considered worthless.
If a coat of paint means a piece will go on display, have a room designed around it, and be the pride of someone’s home again, then I’m all for painted finishes.
This one is a showpiece in my own home, something I enjoy every day
5. Know When To Hold-em
Have there been pieces that I acknowledge are better left unpainted? You better believe it!
Although few and far between. I usually offer these pieces for sale in their original finish for a time and hope they find a home before coming up to paint. They definitely take longer to sell.
The one that comes to mind was a set of Henredon dresser and desk that was in near flawless original condition. I oiled the vintage wood and crossed my fingers. It took forever, I was on the verge of giving up, but a customer saw how gorgeous they were, while she was ordering painted furniture for her own bedroom by the way!
A nod to the past with peeks of vintage wood
6. Beauty Is In The Eye Of The Beholder
I have the utmost respect for well-made, quality, vintage furniture in all different styles, but for my own home, I choose pained pieces. I have very few wood finishes in my home, that’s just my personal taste, and I’m not alone.
There is a huge market for painted furniture pieces because people love it. I see them as functional art pieces in my home.
This piece looked perfect in its new home, full of color
7. Past Meets Present
I love to leave original details of pieces on display while updating them at the same time.
Wood-stained tops are one way to do this, by putting the old wood grain on display and contrast it against a newly painted body. Hardware is another way. I always choose vintage hardware over modern whenever I have the choice. Clean them, shine em up if needed, and use that old hardware, most are like jewelry made just for that piece
8. Mass Production
A lot of vintage furniture was mass-produced. The same pieces can be found over and over again. We all had that bedroom set from the Sears catalog, right??
Mass production usually means cost-cutting, plastic fronts, thin veneers, MDF drawer bottoms. Still great furniture, worth saving, but can be found a dime a dozen.
I’ve done this exact set twice now
9. Condition Is Everything
Some finishes are just not feasible on certain pieces. If the condition is poor, wood filler is used, repairs are done, patches made… those can be very hard to hide with a wood stained finish. It’s not uncommon for paint to be needed to hide what’s underneath. It’s putting on your favorite outfit to hide the Spanx underneath.
I pulled this one out of a barn, covered in dirt
10. Refinishing Is Refinishing
A coat of paint does not damage anything if the piece already needed refinishing.
If a restoration requires stripping, whether it’s just the clear coat or clear coat and paint over top, it’s the same process. Usually, the original finish is left intact, so anything over top could be stripped away too if in the future wood looks are all the rage again.
Stripping is stripping, think of it as an extra protective coat over top.
Took this one all the way back to raw wood with a bleached finish
Check out my Top Tips for Beginner Furniture Painters!
So, unless its quality of work we are talking, and that’s a grievance I do take to heart, because I pride myself of doing the job well, and poor quality paint finishes give us all a bad name, then the rest is just a matter of taste and I say “Paint Away!”
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