Saving “brown furniture”

Don’t hold back–color it bright!

Susan Caba
Resale Evangelista

painted furniture, red paintA formerly ugly wooden dresser, now glitzy red

Thrift shops and resale stores are filled with solid wood furniture, most of it brown.

Brown as in natural wood, often with fairly glossy finishes. I’ve never looked at the potential for painting this furniture and therefore bringing it up to date, for two reasons.

painted wood furnitureFirst, I started buying furniture in the Eighties, a time when original finishes were sacrosanct. You just didn’t paint golden oak or walnut or mahogany. Second, I thought painting these finished pieces would be a pain–that they had to be sanded or scuffed up in order to take the paint.

Well, I was wrong. I still wouldn’t paint a beautiful piece of golden oak or walnut or cherry. But you know, a lot of the furniture from the second half of the last century is so boring, not to mention ugly. And any life to the wood is buried beneath the finish–it’s depressing.

Recently, I’ve seen several pieces of this type of furniture painted in rich colors. It looks great. And I’ve learned it’s not that big a deal to prepare the surfaces for painting, even if they are somewhat glossy.

That brown dresser in the photo? It’s the same one pictured at the top of this post, painted a glamorous, glossy red. I found it on TheResplendentCrow.com, where Sucheta gives tips on turning ugly, boring brown furniture into pieces to be proud of. For example, she used Tulip Red by Fine Paints of Europe to get this gorgeous, rich red with a high shine. Generally, she said, “it takes 13 million coats of red paint” to achieve that finish. This job took only two coats of the Tulip Red.

“Red pigment is very transparent. Not only that, red also tends to be very dull, lackluster, meh…you get my point,” she says. “I won’t be exaggerating if I said this is the most vibrant red I have gotten my hands on.”

painted wood furnitureAs for sanding and other preparation for painting previously unpainted furniture, there are plenty of websites offering advice. They tend to be of two schools.

Traditionalists argue for thoroughly sanding the furniture before painting. Modernists (in my view) say that isn’t necessary–a coat of Kilz or primer should make the finish coat adhere just fine. If you want a flat finish, you can either use “chalk” paint, or just regular flat paint.

Ipainted desk‘m not going to offer any particular advice, since I don’t have much experience. Check out these sites or others. LiveLoveDIY.com or CentsationalGirl.com.

What I will say is: Go for it! Glamorize a desk, a dresser or a bookshelf. Change the hardware, add legs or take ’em off. Follow Sucheta’s lead: Transform that ugly brown furniture and make it yours. The world will thank you.

The Resale Evangelista is dedicated to simplifying, clarifying and creating a more artful life by getting rid of stuff she doesn’t need and making the rest more useful and beautiful.

2 thoughts on “Saving “brown furniture”

  1. melaniewriting

    I remember it was fun to find small pieces of furniture, little tables or footstools, and repaint them in fun colors for my boys. Pick colors that are not wood colors in nature, put on fun hardware, make them personal and it’s a wonderful way to spend a weekend. I know there was a reason I never tackled a large piece like a dresser or dining room table, but I should have! Thanks for reminding me of how much fun it is!

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    1. Susan at Resale Evangelista Post author

      Hi Melanie,
      First sorry about your IPhone in the pasta pot!

      I’m in the midst of little projects right now, just as you described. I had a little shopping relapse at Goodwill the other day. It was gray and rainy, so I popped over the thrift store to look for just one thing–and of course came out with several. I’ll be posting them as I finish each; that’s going to be my rationale for the purchases. One I’m looking forward to is a painting. I bought a blank canvas for $1.50 and two really brightly striped carpet tiles. So tonight I went to Wal-mart and spent $3.50 on acrylic paints and some brushes to copy the stripes onto the canvas. I’m such a clever girl!

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