How To Paint Beautiful Pieces of Furniture

At Loretta Cotterell we are firm believers in recycling and in extending the life of good quality furniture. When I’ve read different books about millionaires and the traits that self-made millionaires have; the author always comments on the fact that the millionaire lives below their means, has a moderate sized home in a good neighbourhood and considers their furniture an investment that will pass through the generations. If you ‘buy cheap, you buy twice’ is the theory.

With this in mind, you start to become more careful about the pieces of furniture you buy and introduce into your home. After all, your children are absorbing everything you do, so if you only buy poorly made disposable furniture, that is what you are teaching your children is acceptable.

Anyway, let’s get on to the good stuff. If you have bought in to the idea that you would be happy to own a solid second-hand piece of furniture that you can restore, rather than an expensive piece of laminated MDF, then here’s how you can refurbish the piece of your choice:

  1. Strip or Sand: You need to remove any old polish or varnish treatments before you start painting. If you leave them on, then the paint will come off as soon as the furniture is knocked by the hoover. I am naturally impatient and want to start painting straight away. My brother is always nagging me to slow down and enjoy the preparation process. The longer you spend on preparing your surfaces, the more beautiful the result.

Whether you use paint stripper or sand the item is up to you really. I used to prefer to use a paint stripper on my furniture but when I actually started using the right grain sandpaper, I realised that sanding is a lot quicker than using paint stripper. Also, I now only use an electric sander on large pieces of furniture. You can’t beat hand-sanding for getting into the detail of the furniture. Do wear gloves though as it kills your nails and breaks the skin on your fingertips.

You will find paint stripper, a scraper and sand paper at hardware stores like B&Q and Homebase. If you choose to use paint stripper remember this is flammable and it will burn you if it comes into contact with your bare skin. Always wear goggles and gloves and never touch your face while you are working.

  1. Wipe Clean:  Once you have removed any old varnish and sanded out any scratches or marks, use a damp cloth to wipe off any sawdust or paint stripper.
  1. Add Trim: Add on any appliqués or additional trims before you start painting. Choose trims that match your piece of furniture and the era it is from, not just ones that you like. These can be attached discreetly with wood glue or with nails or tacks, depending on their size.
  1. Under-coat: I always under-coat my furniture as the under-coat paint is at least 40% cheaper than the egg-shell paint, so it makes sense to provide a lower cost base coat. Depending on whether you want a sleek single colour paint job, or if you want a distressed look; you can choose to do one or two coats of under-coat. You will need an under-coat paint that is for Acrylic paint. I prefer the water based acrylic under-coat as that means I can clean the brushes easily in a bit of soap and water.
  1. Paint: I use water based acrylic paint that is suitable for both wood and metal. The most popular brand at the moment is Farrow & Ball. I cheat and take a Farrow & Ball colour chart to the hardware store to choose the same colour from a cheaper brand. If you have used an under-coat paint, you will be surprised at how far a small tin will go. One 750mil tin has lasted me for a large dining table, a coffee table and a small plant stall because I prepared and under-coated them well.  When you paint, use a natural fibre paint brush and paint in the direction of the wood. Leave at least 3 hours between each coat.
  1. Sand or Distress: When the furniture is painted, it’s really hard not to just leave it as is, or to start sanding it. Do not try and sand the piece for at least two or three days as the acrylic paint will simply peel off. If you are creating a distressed or ‘shabby chic’ finish, then sand the areas that you would expect to get knocked or scuffed after many years of use.
  1. Add Accent Colours: Once I have got my piece of furniture to this stage, I’m usually proud of my work. You might find that on some more intricate pieces of furniture the egg-shell paint looks a little flat or dull. If this is the case, you can use another slightly darker colour to highlight the details. Simply choose a darker colour like sienna and dilute a bit of this paint with some water to make a colour wash. Use a rag, rather than a paintbrush, to lightly pull the wash over the detail you would like to highlight.

Again, I would like to point out that patience is the key to your success. I once painted a beautiful little white table and sold it quickly. I thought I would take some posed photographs for my records and I placed a little glass trinket holder and a glass vase on the top for about five minutes while taking the photos. When I removed them, I nearly died because they had both sunk into the paint that was touch dry, but not fully dry. Needless to say I had to repair the marks before the client turned up to pay!

by Loretta Cotterell

Leave a Reply