From Old To New

By Chandra Orr

June 19, 2009 5 min read


Transform secondhand furniture to spice up your home

Chandra Orr

Creators News Service

With a little creativity, you can save big money on your next room redo by transforming flea market finds and garage sale steals into one-of-a-kind gems that make a statement. All it takes is a little patience, a bit of preparation and a whole lot of paint.

"Paint can totally transform the look of a piece. It's relatively inexpensive, it comes in thousands of colors, textures and applications and anyone can do it," said interior designer Ceil Petrucelli, owner of Ceil Petrucelli Interiors in Bennington, Vt.

"You can pick up an old bureau, repaint it, add some different pulls and voila! You have what looks like a brand new piece at a fraction of the price," Petrucelli said.

Want to tackle the project like a pro? Start simple. Look for solid wood furniture with clean lines and minimal structural defects. Skip the pressed particleboard -- go for quality and pass on pieces that require extensive repairs. A few quick coats will dress up those inexpensive assemble-at-home pieces, but over time the paint may peel and the construction may fail.

"Lesser quality pieces of furniture can still be worked on. They just might not last as long after your efforts as a solid wood or quality-made piece," said certified re-designer Jennifer M. Schweikert, owner of Just My Style by JMS, an interior design and staging firm in Burke, Va.

Be careful with the pieces you choose. It's easy enough to dab wood glue on loose dovetail drawers, but finding substitutes for the missing spindles on an antique rocking chair may prove quite a challenge. Likewise, pieces with elaborate accents can test the patience of even the craftiest do-it-yourselfers.

"Excessive ornamentation can be tedious and frustrating until you're used to working with sandpaper and strippers," Schweikert said. "A flat drawer front can be easily sanded, whereas one with dentil molding has intricate recesses and edges that needs to be worked around."


Before you pop open the paint cans, clean the piece thoroughly -- and put some elbow grease into it.

Give the piece a once-over with mild detergent and a soft cloth. Tackle tough grime with a soft brush and use liquid adhesive remover to peel away old labels and tags.

You might be surprised.

"Some pieces just need some thorough cleaning, polishing or scrubbing to look good again," Petrucelli said. "Great finds have been buried under layers of grime. It just takes a little time, effort and the right cleaning tools to uncover a treasure."

Once it's clean, make any necessary repairs. Tighten loose nails, reinforce shaky joints with wood glue and use wood putty to fill small holes and minor scratches -- unless you're going for the rustic look. In that case, the extra wear adds character.

Take time to sand before you paint. You won't regret the added effort. Sanding takes the gloss off, helps paint adhere to the wood and ensures a smooth finish. Be sure to use a tack cloth to remove any dust before painting.

"You'll spend more time in preparation in refurbishing the piece than will actually be involved in the final step," Schweikert said. "You'll love the piece when you're finished, though, because you personally have a hand in its look and style."


For the perfect paint job, apply at least two coats of paint. Start with a high-quality primer, followed by two coats of latex paint. Let the paint dry thoroughly between each coat. For pieces that will see a lot of wear -- like kitchen tables -- use an oil-based, enamel-style paint, which blends high gloss with high durability.

For an antique distressed look, lightly sand the edges of the new paint, allowing the raw wood to show through. Antique glazing creates a more dramatic look. Simply apply then rub off to give the piece an aged patina.

Add decorative details with stencils, wallpaper cutouts or rub-on embellishments -- or go bold with dimensional accents like molding painted in a contrasting color.

"Have fun with it. Enjoy the creative process," Petrucelli said. "It doesn't have to be perfect. Sometimes it's all the little quirks and imperfections that give a piece its unique character."

To protect the finished surface, apply two coats of sealant and allow ample drying time. For a deep shine, apply several coats of butcher's wax and buff with a soft cloth. Finish the project with reclaimed antique hardware or go contemporary with more modern accessories.

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