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Furniture Block


You found an awesome piece of furniture on Craig’s List or at a yard sale for a great price.  You bring it home and load it into your garage, maybe adding it to the large pile of other furniture finds.  Maybe you have plans to use the piece in your home, you want to start selling pieces to earn some extra income, or you’re planning to bring it to your established retail space.  Days pass…then weeks.  You’re stumped.  You’re not sure what color to paint it or what style to finish it in.  Should you distress it?  What kind of paint should you use?  Should you test out a new technique you’ve been wanting to try?  You have “furniture block.”

 …and you’re not alone.

I get asked this kind of question a lot and was recently asked something along these lines by one of my readers through my Facebook page, so I thought it was time to write a post about it.

Do you love it?

First of all, there are some pieces that I get totally stuck on.  I have no idea how I want to paint it and I don’t have a “vision” at all.  Most of the time, those pieces end up back at the thrift store, because I don’t want to spend a bunch of time and energy on a piece of furniture I don’t really love.  I’ve become much more careful about only buying pieces I have a vision for and this has saved me a lot of money and unnecessary donation runs to the thrift store.  When I first started my business, though, things were incredibly tight, so I had to work with whatever I could afford and that was usually pieces given to me, found for free, or purchased for less than $20.  I can be a bit more picky now and don’t have furniture block as often.  So, the first thing to ask yourself if you’re stuck is, “Do I really love this piece and have a clear vision for it?”  If the answer is no, perhaps you should cut your losses and get a different piece.  If that’s not possible, try to look for a way you can disguise what you don’t like about the piece.  Sometimes a bright color can distract from a design flaw.  Sometimes a painted pattern can mask damaged areas.


What works with the style of furniture?

Painting furniture is different than a lot of other art forms.  When you’re writing, you have a blank piece of paper.  When you’re painting, you have a blank canvas.  When you’re working on a piece of furniture, you already have a defined style you have to work with.  That doesn’t mean you have to paint a piece of traditional furniture in a traditional way.  My friend Barb Blair is a pro at that.  She’ll take a very traditional piece and give it a quirky modern look.  It can be challenging to do that well,though,  so it looks stylish and not just strange.  Is the piece curvy and feminine?  Is it chunky and bold?  Rustic or formal?  The way you paint the piece, should compliment the style.  For example, a Queen Anne dining set is never going to look like a rustic farm table.  It doesn’t matter how you paint and refinish it.  I have found finished pieces look best when you work with what’s already going on.



How will this piece be used? 

If you’re working on this piece to sell, you might not know, but you can guess.  Is the size and style of the piece something that would likely be used in a kid’s room, master bedroom, living room?  I always try to imagine what kind of room the piece might work in and then paint it in a way that will make sense for that space.

Look for inspiration…

This is sort of an obvious tip, but it’s a great way to break the block.  I do like to look at other pieces of furniture to get ideas, but I mostly look for trends in other areas of design like fashion, home decor, antiques that are popular, etc.  I’m also always on the lookout for beautiful color combinations.  There’s an amazing door in the mini series Little Dorrit and I’m going to use those colors on a piece of furniture as soon as I find the right one.  Keep a notebook or snap a picture when you see something that inspires you.



 What is YOUR style?

Ultimately, the choices you make about the piece are what make it yours.  It’s what sets it apart from all of the other pieces of furniture out there.  The colors, knobs, finishes, techniques and the combination of all of these will make your piece stand out or get lost in the crowd.  For a long time, I painted pieces that I THOUGHT were what other people wanted, not pieces I would have in my own house.  Now, I paint pieces the way I would if I was going to keep them and they sell much better.  I’m also really proud of them and I feel more comfortable putting a higher price on them.

Remember…it’s only paint, so don’t be afraid to try something new or test out ideas.

Now, go tackle those pieces you’ve been stuck on!

And the winner of the Red Shed Antiques’ Giveaway is…

Mary Steward (HEYMUDDA)!  Congrats and enjoy your goodies!

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  1. Kristie says:

    Timing is everything! I was out “hitting” my normal haunts this afternoon looking for pieces that speak to me. Fun stuff but only came home with one very old awesome dining chair. Feeling discouraged I went to craigslist to help things along in my quest. Nothing. Needing some inspiration I stopped by MMS. So glad I did. I feel like I can put my laptop down and enjoy my lonesome little chair and get to work. Feeling inspired. Thanks for the push!

  2. RhondaK says:

    Hi there! You been in my garage lately? lol. I read this blog to my husband and he was laughing so hard! He asked if there was a “pill” for this furniture block disease because I have it BAD!

    I am new to chalk painting furniture and have been second-guessing myself on everything. Finally today I just painted a curbside-find table just to try to get over the jitters. Thanks for all your blogs and tips on getting started.

    Just one quick question, I painted my table with chalk paint and rubbed on a dark wax. Do I need to let this dry and then use a clear wax on top or am I done once I “buff” it up?

    I look forward to hearing from you and am enjoying your blog. Take care, Rhonda

  3. Linda says:

    I laughed when I read “maybe adding it to the large pile of other furniture finds” — I thought for sure you had done a drive by of my house as you were writing! I have joked with a friend that I we are going to start a new tv show called “Hoarders – Furniture Style”. Nonetheless, I agree that the pieces that I acquire need to be those that ‘speak to me’ and not just because it is a great deal. I also use the rule of thumb that if the piece doesn’t sell, will I enjoy living with it in MY home? If the answer is no, then i typically pass on it unless I know a specific person is looking for a specific piece.

    Thanks for the perspective! ~ Paint on!

  4. As I get ready for my first furniture paint class all day tomorrow, this was a perfect post to read. I am even more excited to learn and to tackle the mound of thrifted furniture I have.
    Thanks for sharing! Sue

  5. As I read these posts, I’m glad to know that I’m not the only furniture hoarder, LOL!! I haven’t hit a block yet, but I have decided that when I do I’m going to paint that piece in *whatever* hits me. In other words, it’ll be a crap shoot as to how it comes out. I think that’s what we need at times when we hit a create wall. Make something just totally out of the “norm” that we would usually do. Throw ourselves into the winds of the unknown and see what comes out the other side. I think blocks are our creative sides way of saying “I want to do something different. I don’t want to play it safe anymore.”

  6. Fantastically written, Marian. As a newbie to selling painted furniture, I really enjoyed this one. You are always an inspiration. Thank you for this!

  7. So funny I just saw the link to this post on Facebook. I was actually on the original post looking at the blue handpainted chest trying to muster up enough courage to give it a whirl. Must be fate!
    PS. Can’t wait to meet you next week 😉

  8. Such a good point–to paint what you love. Every now and then I don’t and you are right, I charge less for it. I do sometimes paint colors I don’t have in my home. but could. I know if I love a piece and want to keep it, it will sell quickly! I often feel like the furniture whisperer, pieces talk to me and I know exactly what to paint on them, that is the best.

  9. I am the exact same way with furniture, if I wouldn’t keep it for my house, I don’t do it! (Unfortunately that means half the time I want to keep it, but then I just move something else on and sell what I had previously thought I needed to keep!)

  10. I downloaded my stockpile about 3-4 years ago. I don’t ever want to go back to the place where furniture is stacked on furniture in the garage. Too overwhelming for me! I am much more discriminating now.

  11. ….meant to say ‘downsized’

    • Miss Mustard Seed says:

      I totally agree. I used to think a stash was a good thing, but it just makes me feel overwhelmed! So, now I *try* to bring pieces in, work on them and get them out quickly.

  12. Absolutely brilliant post, Marian. For me, the most important point is loving a piece of furniture, because you are right, why spent all that time and effort on it if you don’t love it? I am getting better at making my raw furniture choices but still pick up the odd doozy, lol!

    xx Karen

    • Miss Mustard Seed says:

      Yep, me too. After so many times of buying a piece I dislike that hogs space in my basement, you think I’d learn not to do that, but I STILL get caught in the moment and make stupid purchases now and then.

  13. nice timing! i just jumped into the pool yesterday – i’ve been buying a couple of little pieces at yard sales and one i even found one at the dump! I’m still looking for super cheap because I don’t actually have any place to sell (yet) and it feels foolish to spend too much – blah, blah, blah, . . . well, the pile is getting bigger and bigger and just yesterday i finally bought some stripper and started stripping! Marian, I can’t wait to post this first redone desk on FFF!! I’m not sure it will be THIS Friday but it’s GOING to get posted! My shoulders are a little sore right now from sanding. . . ahh, the feeling of Empowerment!

  14. Great story…your an expert now…in all of this selling ,finding and what to do…I picked up today off the side of the road .knowing . not wood,not old but thinking -if I can not make it look fun and make 38.00 enought to buy another qtr of asap or if not then use it in my sun room mess whatever….it gets hot in the summer to paint in my little craft….whatever room…but this my room to make stuff look great…Real wood is the trick if you want to sell..stay away from todays…particle board…and let the piece of furniture talk to you…it really does…except for a wardrobe I have that is not telling me what it wants to look like.

  15. all good points Marian. I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one who has furniture block at times. And you are so right about buying smart. I found two pieces I was debating about buying this week. One was a sewing desk that would need lots of carpentry work and one was a large bench with two drawers for storage under the seat.. The bench was 5 times the price of the sewing desk but I would have much more fun painting the bench and could make a larger profit on the bench so it was a no brainer. Although, It took me a while to figure this out, duh. Kathy

  16. i just finished up 2 pcs i wasn’t crazy about and found myself thinking that they’re both someone else’s “style”….i am going to remember to paint more things like they’re for me, thanks for your words of wisdom!!

  17. Katlyn says:

    Just wanted to stop by and thank you for answering all my questions last week. Im so happy to read through your blog and the comments and know that Im not the only one! I have to admit I was really nervous to write to you (your pretty much a celebrity!) but now Im so glad I did. You have helped me to get back on track and start loving what Im doing again! So here is a big cyber hug!

    Thank you so much,

  18. These are wonderful tips. Thanks for the link to Barb Blair too. Just realized who some of my favorite “pinned” pieces are by.

  19. sonny says:

    Thank you for explaining Marion. I have a few pieces out in the storage building I have no idea what to do with.
    I’ve often thought I should post them on my blog , in hopes someone would offer a great idea as to what should be done.. Perhaps I should just sell them and let someone who has a vision enjoy the piece.

  20. I too have the same problem! I’ve either got so many pieces that I don’t know what to do with, or I have a hard time finding them and I’m on a dry spell! I can’t wait to meet you next week! I’m looking forward to even more wonderful advice!

  21. we are so on the same page this week! I wrote a little bit about getting stuck with furniture design in my introduction post yesterday and then today I expounded upon it a little more :} hah! I love how you worded it here, and feel much the same way.

    thank you for the sweet mention…….I appreciate you! ….and I promise I’ll call today:}


  22. Great points Marian! I am determined to whittle down my stash but it is hard to finish a piece and then keep it “safe’ until it can be sold! So, I have pieces piled on top of each other awaiting painting because I have nowhere safe to put them when they’re done! A frustrating circle! I do totally agree that the pieces you finish should be something you would put in your own house…unless it’s a custom order of course.
    Blessings, Lorraine

  23. Great tips Marian! Oh so true. I have a couple pieces of furniture that I bought for our house because we really needed them and I’ve never loved them. I was only buying what was in the price range I could afford at the time. I may try to repaint them and sell them. The lines are good they just aren’t right for the spaces we have them in.
    The ‘no stashing’ is so true for me and my sewing business too. yes, having fabric to work with is a must but too much is just overwhelming and I walk away and don’t accomplish anything. I decluttered my fabric stash recently and it feels SO good!

  24. Thanks for the encouragement. I have several pieces that need to be painted and I haven’t really decided what to do with them. Your words help.

  25. Ingrid says:

    You are so good at encouraging people Marian. Thank you for your words of wisdom.

  26. great post!
    So far I haven’t had the “block”, but I find a lot of times I get really excited about a finished piece, and then when it has to wait in the wings for a spot in my room or a show, I get tired of looking at it and I’m over it. (is that terrible??) There are a couple exceptions to that, but I think I enjoy the process so much of the doing, that when it’s done, I want it out! LOL! Love the inspiration, as always.

  27. Great post I found this very informative and helpful. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this subject.


  28. I have a shop and paint furniture to sell there. Whenever I start to have a “furniture block” I love to cruise on Pinterest and get inspired. Magazines are a great source of ideas- even fashion magazines when it comes to colors and styles!!!! Fashion…Furniture… is all the same! But even still- a piece may sit in my shop waiting to be painted for months – and one day- I walk in and look at it- and I JUST KNOW what I am going to do! Then sometimes- I see an accessory – like a great lamp or a fun painted little picture or tassel- and from that the design develops itself. I guess I will get a lot of practice since I also have a big ole’ barn that is full of “stuff” that will eventually get painted too.

  29. Love this. Furniture Block. More like, I have a block’s worth of furniture in my garage and on the side of my house. I think that is causing my extremely severe furniture block! Sometimes I have to purge and get rid of the things I just don’t “love” so I can concentrate on what I do. I think I am coming to that point. Luckily, I can call Salvation Army and they will pick up right at my home. I definitely need a word or two of inspiration in my work area. Something besides power tools, brushes and scraps of wood! Thanks for sharing. -K

  30. Since I am a newbie, it can seem over whelming to know where to begin. So, I loved this post and am ready to get busy painting some furniture. Thanks for the inspiration and kick in the pants!

  31. Hi Marian – what a great post! Besides hoarding furniture – I hoard wood samples of finishes, wall finishes etc. If an idea comes to me, I put it on a sample board (or a cabinet face or piece of wood) – so when I really need an idea…I have a lot to choose from. I keep a recipe card noting down everything that I did with the paint colors and glazes (waxes) on it – so I can recreate it easily. I also keep a lot of ideas that I find on the web in a folder on my laptop and I have folders and folders of furniture pieces I have loved for years (Habersham and Patina are two of my favorites). I think these things definitely help when trying to figure out what to do with a piece of furniture.

    I am very picky about buying furniture…and i think I have to relax my standards. I love the Union Jack designs that you have done – on fairly plain pieces. i have to learn to pick these up!!

    Love your ideas and your blog. Thanks for giving all of us so much inspiration!


  32. Great post! Glad to know I’m not alone on getting stumped by a piece! I’m at the point where I kinda have to do what I find cheap or free. Although if I love a piece I will splurge a bit. I love pouring through other blogs for inspiration> Yours is at the top of the list! I guess i never really thought about painting furniture as a piece of art but your right it is! Thanks for this wonderful post! Traci


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