Picking out a color is the hardest part!
After hundreds of furniture painting projects and teaching furniture painting hands-on at my studio, I've heard lots of questions and hesitation about the process. This post should de-mystify and simplify furniture painting a bit, and if you have a piece in need of a makeover, I hope you can dive in with confidence after you read these steps...
I choose this 2 drawer end table for my daughter's room because it's just the right height for her to play on, plus it has storage for her dress-up clothes.The piece is mostly wood and sturdy. There are no need for repairs, and the drawers slide well.
BUT, the color is all wrong!
Her room is gray and light pink, so I picked out this peek-a-boo bright pink as a fun pop when you open the drawers.
Let's walk through this small table makeover together!
Step 1: Prep your piece
You'll want to use a good soap to remove surface residue and whatever historical layers that may interfere with your painting. All old furniture has history and if we just slap paint on the dirty piece, old baggage may seep through.
Remove the hardware. Throw it in the bucket to soak, then rinse and let dry.
What soap to use? Thieves cleaner by Young Living is always my first recommendation, as it is plant-based, non-toxic, and smells like Christmas! But if all you have available is dish soap, that will work. Use gloves to protect your hands and then wash the piece and rinse with plain water. Let dry completely. If you're doing this outside (highly recommended if possible) it should dry fast.
If there are any structural issues like it needs a nail pounded into place or a screw tightened, now is the time to do it. My piece needed a bit of sanding as it has some sharp areas.
Step 2: Get your Paint ready
My favorite paint for furniture and decor is chalk paint. Not any-ol' paint they just call chalk paint, but paint that actually has CHALK in the ingredients. Not all chalk paint is made with chalk. (WHAT! I know.)
I love working with Debi's DIY Paint and American Paint Company. Their paints are non-toxic and have the ingredients listed on the label! Fantastic transparency. PLUS, they have excellent stickability to the piece you're painting. AND, they're not stinky! They actually smell earthy.
The clay in the paint makes it incredibly thick. It spreads better if you water it down a bit. About a cup of paint to a tablespoon or two of water. Mix with a stir-stick and let sit 5 minutes to settle. Never put water into your original can of paint. Instead, always mix in a cup that you'll work from as you paint. These paints have no preservatives in them and might get yucky in time if you introduce water into the original pot. Trust me.
Step 3: Paint it
Dip and wipe your brush so it's not dripping. Paint in the direction of the wood grain. Use a thin layer of paint so it's not goopy thick. Realize you're going to need a second coat to have an even appearance.
Paint the hardware too if you wish! These chalk/clay paints adhere well to most any surface.
As soon as the first layer is dry, you can begin the second layer! Or you can wait a day or 10 days or a month. I love that.
The paint will lighten up slightly to its actual color as it dries. This makes it really easy to tell where you've painted already as you paint the second coat.
Step 4: Seal it
Since these chalk/clay paints are very porous, you'll probably want to seal the piece to protect it. Unless it's a decor piece that won't get touched/scraped and you like the matte look.
You have two routes to go here... a wax path or a water-based clear coat. Both are good. I chose a combo route of clear coat first, then a white wax final layer to get the look I wanted.
Apply the water-based poly-acrylic with a sponge brush (or a varnishing sponge) in the same direction that you applied the paint. It will make the paint appear darker again while wet, then dry lighter. I like to do 2 or 3 coats, drying between layers.
If you want the look I did here, apply white furniture wax over the piece with a waxing brush. Work in small sections and wipe the wax off as you go. Textured or detailed pieces with lots of nooks & crannies work well for this finish, as the white wax hangs out in the corners and adds dimension. An hour or two later, polish the cured wax well with a rag or paper bag and lots of elbow grease.
The hardware was painted + clear coated + white waxed just like the body of the piece.
Re-attach your hardware and put your transformed piece back together!
Here's what you'll need to do a basic furniture painting project like this.
- a piece of furniture or decor in need of a makeover
- Thieves cleaner + sponge/rag + bucket
- paint color(s) + cup to work from
- paint brush (any that you like should work fine)
- a good workspace
- paint sealer (water-based clear coat) + sponge brush
- white wax + rags (for this look)
Other painting pointers...
• Work on a raised surface so spare your back and knees. I like a table workspace with an old fitted sheet as my drape. Cardboard layers help control the mess too.
• Start with the piece upside-down. Paint all you can see before turning it upright.
• IF you start to see some bleed-through of old polish or some gray haze, it's time to stop painting and apply shellac. It can be applied right over the dried paint area you've already started painting. You can just apply the shellac with a cheap chip brush and then toss it when you're done. Allow a few days for the shellac to cure, unless you don't care if you get a bit of a crackle-finish. If you paint over un-cured shellac, it sometimes creates that look. I embrace it!
• If you can't finish all the painting in one sitting, place your brush in a plastic bag, snuggly wrapped. It should keep the brush wet enough to continue your project, even a day or two later.
• Letting your first layer of paint dry in the sun is excellent! It really bakes the paint into the piece.
• If you want to document the process, remember to take before + during + after pics!
⚜️ Just have fun with it! If you "mess up" you can paint over it again ⚜️