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the great debate | to paint or not to paint


Right off the bat, let me say that I don’t ever mind my readers sharing their opinions here.  Unless someone is being downright nasty on a personal level, which is rare, it doesn’t bother me if someone disagrees with a decorating decision I make or they don’t like something I made, bought, etc.  If ever I do feel ruffled, I figure that I probably wouldn’t like every single decorating decision they make, either, and that makes me smile.  We’re all different and that’s okay.

I’ve grown a relatively thick skin over the years and sometimes even find the constructive critiques to be very helpful and thought provoking.  Sometimes they change my mind and sometimes they make me even more certain of my decision.

All of the varying opinions shared on my newly acquired art cabinet made me think about the process of deciding if a piece should be painted.  Well, maybe not that it should be painted, but the process I use to decide where I want to paint it or not.

As a general rule, I look for pieces that could at least benefit from painting.  They have watermarks, deep scratches, a dull finish, etc.  But, I do buy some pieces that could go either way as well as ones that I would never want to paint.


It is totally subjective, though, and you might put different pieces in different categories than I would.

I put this art cabinet in the second category.  It could go either way.  Those of you who love it as is, I agree with you!  It’s a very cool piece and I love all of the dents, dings, and quirks.


And, if someone wanted to leave it unpainted, I wouldn’t disagree with them.  It’s very cool as is.

But, I have a vision for it and I can see in my mind’s eye that I will like it better painted.

So, I thought I would share how I arrive at the decision to paint a piece that could go either way.  I’m actually e-mailed pictures of pieces quite often, asking for my opinion on whether or not it should be painted.  I have learned over the years that usually people don’t ask the question unless they want to paint the piece and they just need someone to tell them to go for it.

I usually give my opinion, but encourage them to follow their gut and be 100% sure they want to paint the piece.

Here are some things I do to help decide if I’m waffling over something I own…

No. 1

I look for inspiration pieces that have a similar feel to mine to see if I like them painted.

This piece belonging to Liz Marie of Liz Marie Blog was one of the pieces that helped me decide to paint my art cabinet…


…and this one came to mind as well…


photo via

And I’ve always loved this one I spotted in a magazine…


Having a visual helps me with imaging how my piece will look painted.  I love all three of those pieces, so I feel more confident that I will love my art cabinet painted as well.


No. 2

I “try things on” the piece.

Again, it’s nice to get a visual, so I’ll lay out paint swatches, hold up different hardware options.


As soon as I tried on this hardware from my stash, I knew I wanted something similar for this cabinet.  The wooden knobs and label slots were great, but I think rows of apothecary-style pulls would take it to the next level.

 I found some that I liked from this seller on Etsy…



No 3. 

I wait.

Sometimes it can take me months, even years, to make the decision to paint a piece.  Yes, paint can always be stripped or sanded off, but I would rather not go through that process if I can avoid it.  And I can easily avoid it.  So, I wait until I’m confident and I might continue to hit 1 & 2 to help me make up my mind.

There’s no need to rush into painting something I’m not sure about.



I feel like going through these steps helps me make better decisions about how to finish a furniture piece.  Or, at least, if I’m making a bad decision I’m doing it with confidence!

It may seem like I take a brush to everything, but I’m much more strategic and intentional than that and I hope sharing this with you will help you make some of your own furniture painting (or not painting) decisions…

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  1. Celeste says:

    I rarely feel like suggesting whether you should or shouldn’t paint a piece, but a funny thing happened when I read this post. For a moment I thought you wanted to paint the dresser with the gorgeous burled wood and leaf pulls. For the first time I wanted to scream NO!. Well I re-read carefully and since you haven’t painted it, you probably don’t intend to. I was just surprised by my visceral reaction to the thought you were going to paint that dresser and I now understand better why people feel so passionately about a piece. Having said that, if you are waiting to decide on painting that dresser, contact me 😉

  2. marylisa noyes says:

    If it were mine I would paint it. It’s not an heirloom piece, it’s quite worn. The reference pieces you posted cements it for me. Whatever you decide will be the right thing. Thanks for allowing us to weigh in….

  3. Beverley Leonie says:

    I have been wavering about a few pieces. I like your decision process and will apply it. I will check my Pinterest boards for inspiration. Thanks for another informative post.

  4. Love this post!!

  5. Naomi S. says:

    Yes, I vote for painting it, too. The examples of similar pieces I found very attractive and more distinctive somehow than yours looks unpainted. And those drawer pulls are gorgeous. I can just imagine how much more personality it will have when you are done with it. I think a nice mid-tone grey color, maybe. I know you have something similar in your milk paint collection.

  6. Ruth Fitzwater says:

    Be still, my heart! I love cabinets with lots of drawers! I think painting would help unite the different colors of wood in that fab dresser. The first one with the burled wood is stunning!

    What great pieces.

  7. “If I make a bad decision, I do it with confidence”, LOL. That cracked me up.

    Part of the artistic process is having courage—even if it is unfounded courage…So, have at it…but if you are going to paint such a fabulous piece, make it count—I think white would be a cop-out. Just my two cents worth, Grins, Sandi

  8. Sue Pagels says:

    I am always amazed at your vision – I see a wood piece (before) and think Oh that’s beautiful! and then when I see the after, I think Oh, that’s even more beautiful! (well, MOST of the time LOL) Most everything you do, I love – thanks for sharing it all with us!

  9. What looks up to date painted today, will be out of fashion in a little while. I try to take the long term view and know that once it’s painted, it’s usually lost value (financially and aesthetically) compared to the unpainted stat…… and i dread removing paint from a piece…… But we all do what we have to do and others don’t have to live with it.

    To change the hardware, IMO, would make it look more like today’s style, but take away much of the charm…….one might as well go out and buy a decent undamaged cabinet with matching hardware and be happy with that…. and pass on the old cabinet to someone whose tastes run in a different direction.

    All this pondering for your readers at a time when people are deliberately making wooden items look old….amusing , really!!!!!

  10. Samantha says:

    The joy in this process is finding a piece you love (or not) and making it your own- weather it’s changing hardware, painting, or leaving it as is…It becomes ‘yours’; your vision, your taste, your style!
    People have an opinion about everything, you are not going to please everyone, do what makes you happy.

  11. Although I love some painted furniture, I only want it painted if A) it was meant to be painted in the first place, or B) the surface is too damaged to leave unpainted, or C) it’s just a cheap piece with no history and who cares?

    The patina on that chest of drawers is incredible and it breaks my heart to think of you painting it. Even if the paint were later removed, the patina would be gone. I love the sense of time and history that comes with it. If you paint it, it becomes indistinguishable from the new-made-to-look-old pieces like the one I saw in a furniture store yesterday.

    I am going to admit my own hypocrisy and tell you that I heartily dislike old painted furniture that is “chippy.” I know it’s the thing today, but all I can think is that my grandmother would never have let a piece get so worn – she’d have slapped a new coat of pain on it! LOL. It really is all about personal preferences.

    Having said all that, I LOVE that hardware and I hope you find just the right piece to use it on!

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