prepping a piece of furniture to paint

Marian ParsonsAll Things Home, Before and Afters, Furniture Makeovers, Miss Mustard Seed's Milk Paint, Painting & Refinishing, Tutorials48 Comments

I intended to get a post up last night and then this morning, but time escaped me.  The mix of work, family, and church stuff has kept me busy.  I still have a few more posts to write about my trip, including our quick stay in Florence, but today I’m going to share a dresser I have been working on…

prepping a piece of furniture

I bought this pretty dresser off craigslist just a few weeks ago.  From the listing photo, I thought it was an empire dresser, but it’s actually a reproduction of an empire dresser.  It’s smaller in scale and it’s machine-made.  It’s still an older piece (probably 1940’s-50’s) and it’s a nice piece.  It had been refinished at some point and whoever did it did a beautiful job.  The finish is smooth and unmarred.  I sort of hate to paint it, but that’s the whole reason I bought it, so it’s getting painted.

Don’t worry, I’ll treat it well.

MISS MUSTARD SEED TV

I think this is a piece that will look good either way, though.  Great as is and great painted.

Painting it will bring out some of the details a little more, which I like.

prepping a piece of furniture

prepping a piece of furniture

While I was working on this dresser, I took the opportunity to make a video sharing how I prep a piece of furniture to paint.  I went over sanding (and the reasons for it, tools used), removing the hardware, and removing contact paper from the inside of drawers…

Prepping a Piece of Furniture for Paint Video

In the video, I use THIS orbital sander and 120 grit sanding discs.  
I didn’t mention it in the video, but another reason I like to sand prior to painting is so there isn’t a glossy finish showing under any distressing or chipping that may happen.  I want any exposed wood to be matte or flat, so it will look more authentic.  A shiny poly finish peeking underneath distressing is a dead giveaway that the piece was recently redone.  The whole point of distressing is to make the paint finish appear as if it has worn over time and the details really matter.  Taking 15 minutes or so to prep a piece creates a good foundation for a beautiful end result.  
prepping a piece of furniture
prepping a piece of furniture

After seeing the some of that pretty wood exposed after sanding, I was tempted to continue removing the finish and just rub it with Hemp Oil…

prepping a piece of furniture

prepping a piece of furniture

…but, I have other plans for it.

prepping a piece of furniture

On another note, I mentioned in yesterday’s post that we got some snow Sunday.  While I was working on this piece yesterday, it cold and breezy and the snow still hadn’t yet melted in the shade.  Leaves were scurrying across the pavement with every gust of wind and it was so cold that my hands were turning pink and my nose started running.  All of that to say that I’m missing my big studio in PA.

However, there is something authentic about working on furniture the way most people do…on my driveway, in my garage, in the house, and just finding a way to make it all work.

prepping a piece of furniture

prepping a piece of furniture

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

prepping a piece of furniture to paint

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48 Comments on “prepping a piece of furniture to paint”

  1. I’m sure you will hear this from lots of peeps, but why would you want to paint that lovely piece of furniture? Thanks for the tips about painting wood furniture, though!

      1. Showing people how to use her Miss Mustard Seed Milk Paint is part of Marian’s business—it’s how she makes a living for her family. We are lucky that she shares her expertise—and her enthusiasm and encouraging attitude—through these videos. I’ve learned so much from her over the years. Each of us can decide how we want to use the paint for our own projects. That’s part the fun!

    1. Another commenter said “money”, which is a simplistic way to put it, but I paint them because “it’s what I do.” I have a paint line, I sell painted furniture, and I write a blog and make tutorials showing how to do things like painting and refinishing furniture. I try to find pieces that are rough, but antique furniture isn’t as plentiful in this area (as it was in PA), so I have to take what I can get. This was a well-priced piece on craigslist that I knew would look nice painted (even if it looked nice as is.) Also, people don’t usually want to buy an as-is wood piece from me. They want to buy something I painted.

      All of that being said, I don’t paint everything. If a piece is very old, in original condition, has a beautiful patina, etc., then I won’t paint it. As I said in the post, though, this is a reproduction piece that has been refinished, so I don’t feel bad about painting it. I completely understand people who would love it as is, though! 🙂

  2. Ah, the joys of being a furniture painter in Minnesota! I always envied your beautiful studio, especially in the winter months. I go through a lot of tissues (the runny nose just can’t be avoided) prepping my furniture outside in this weather too 🙂 Am really looking forward to your reveal of the ‘after’!

  3. I agree. I love your work, but this one hurt my heart. It was so beautifully finished already. We love it when you take something misused and neglected and give it a new life.

    1. Well, the pickings are slim in my area, so I have to buy the well-priced pieces I can find that have the lines I like. I agree that this finish is really pretty, but the fact that it’s not original or very old made me okay with it.

  4. So glad we’re not through with your trip! You need a stool/chair with wheels so you can skooch around! LOL!

  5. OUCH. I liked it in it’s natural finish. Now how ’bout more on that fabulous trip, especially my favorite city, Florence.
    Your new home (not house) there’s a difference, is lovely. Guess I’d call it “My Big Girl House”.

    1. Thanks for the comment about the house. I agree…this is a “big girl house”. 🙂 Yes, posts about Florence are coming!

  6. I’m in with the majority of people who wrote you about this gorgeous dresser. If you can paint it to show off the details better, I might forgive you. (LOL) No really, I have an antique desk with pretty details that I can’t bring myself to paint. It is really dark wood & would like to lighten it up, but I don’t know if I can bring myself to painting it. So show us what you have up your sleeve!! And yes, more photos of your trip, please!!

    1. Ha, I knew this piece would be controversial! It isn’t very old, though, and it was an inexpensive craigslist purchase without any emotional ties. There are many pieces I own, buy, sell, etc. that I can’t bring myself to paint!

  7. Marian, an easy way to remove old contact paper that is resistant to pulling is to hold a hot iron on the paper for a second or two. You have to experiment how hot to have the iron and how long to hold it.

    1. Oh, interesting! I’ve heard of a heat gun, but not an iron. I’m sure it’s the same principle.

      1. I used my hair dryer to remove the original contact paper used in the cabinets of my 1953 built home! It works. Just don’t do it in summer like I did! Hah!

  8. I can’t wait to see how beautiful you make it. Since it’s just a repro, it’s perfectly fine to paint it if that’s what you want.

  9. Marian, to quote some old song lyrics. “You see, ya can’t please everyone, so ya got to please yourself.” Stay true. If someone has a problem with painting an old dresser, then they don’t have to!

  10. I love painted furniture, and can’t wait to see how you finish it! I also totally get, that you leaving it, as is, means nothing to blog about!!

  11. The old to paint or not to paint debate! It goes on inside all of us who like to redo old furniture.

    I think though the fact we consider whether to paint or not shows we do care about old furniture, and do consider each piece individually.

    Painted furniture has a long history of thousands of years, so it isn’t any less ‘traditional’ an approach.

    I do prefer to find reproduction pieces, previously painted or vintage/antique pieces with damage that lend themselves best to being painted though, and I choose not to paint as often as I choose to paint.

    It’s not always an easy to choice to paint – but sometimes it can be no less the right choice based on the intended use for the piece. Better a painted well loved and used piece of furniture bringing joy to someone, than an unpainted one gathering dust in an attic, or getting damaged by damp in a basement or worse is one way to look at it.

  12. after seeing your photos from your trip, I love painted furniture even more – just think if no one had painted some of those pieces a gazillion years ago we would not be able to enjoy them now in their current state – and that would be a loss I think! I get it though, to each his own, guess that is what makes the world go ’round 🙂

  13. Hello from Sunset Beach, NC where we had a wonderful beach weekend! 😎
    I don’t know if I could stand the cold! I’m so glad to see a furniture painting post again! I would paint the dresser too. It is, after all, what you do! It will be even more BEAUTIFUL when you’re through! Can’t wait to see it!

  14. Hi Marian, I love your work and especially your cheerful attitude and personality. I am unable to find the video of this piece and the process you went through and when it is finally painted. Can you send a link please ?

    1. Those posts haven’t gone live, yet. I did all of the filming, but they haven’t been edited or posted. if you want to get a preview, you can see it on my Instagram Stories.

  15. I’m looking forward to seeing the painted finished product! Completely agree that painting will bring out those pretty details. I’m sure you miss the antiques in the northeast. I visited upstate New York this summer and the amount/availability of antiques was amazing. We don’t have that in Alabama and what we do have is expensive!

    1. Good morning. I’m new here so my question will seem very silly I’m sure. How do I find the posts of the finished dresser? I have a beautiful 80 year old ( give or take) rocker that needs so much attention. I want to follow your lead to the ” finish”. Thanks so much for your interesting and helpful posts

  16. I’m actually a bit jealous of your snow! We live in the heart of wildfire country here in Southern Oregon (15 miles from the Cali border) and it’s supposed to be in the high 70s-80s this next week…ugh.
    We did get a good amount of rain a couple weeks ago but now a couple fires are re-igniting near us and in Redding and I’m just wishing it was more fall/wintery here!
    And the dresser is super cute…I love the way paint highlights all the details and doo-dads!

  17. Marian, you inspire us to rejuvenate & reinvent furniture pieces that would be otherwise unloved, overlooked or worse disguarded. Some pieces do look good both painted & in their original state but I think an advantage of solid wooden furniture is that it can be refinished many times to suit different situations and even returned to its original state! I trust & respect your vision. I can’t wait to see the finished piece.

  18. Hi Marion. I don’t understand why people are so against painting a piece that has already been refinished by someone else. It’s not the original word. I have an old claw and ball drop leaf desk that my grandmother gave me and I was inspired to paint it, thanks to you. People in my family Were against me painting it because it was an antique. But it had been refinished once, in a way I didn’t really like. It was kind of yellowish and pickled. So I painted it, farmhouse white of course, and I love it. And I don’t think my grandmother would mind at all. But the point is, it had been refinished once already, So it was not the original wood, even though it wasn’t painted.. These things are a matter of taste, and hey, it’s only furniture., It’s not like I’m changing out my kid! I love your work. I love how you’ve inspired me. And it bothers me when people make judgments about you and your business. Because IT IS YOUR business. Keep up the great work. Keep inspiring others. Thank you for what you do!

  19. I have loved everything you do! Your tutorials have saved me countless mistakes and time. Thank you for your blog and tutorials.

  20. Thank you for your video. It is informative, and at the same time, fun to watch. It made me smile. Over the years, you have been a huge inspiration to me. Again, thank you.

  21. I would love to know what (if anything) you would do differently – prep-wise – with a piece of furniture that is already painted. I don’t have pieces as pristine as this one and wonder how MMSMP behaves on a trickier surface…

  22. I love this color and I e been wanting to order it . Looking for the last video to see how it turns out !

  23. I love this piece and would have painted it as well! I love the details and can already imagine how they will look with some distressing and wax or oil. Hurry up!

  24. Hello….here’s my 2 cents!!!!
    I have no problem with the painting of this piece. It’s not original and it is a bit “orangey”. When true antiques are ready for the dump and have so many flaws….sometimes the only way, is to paint them. What KILLED me, was when just a little while ago you painted a dresser that had “quartered sawed” wood. You did take a lot of flack for that one and your come back was, “It’s only paint…it can be removed.” Well….not really! After you distressed it you sanded away much of the beauty of the wood. In other words: damaged the piece. Quartered sawed wood will never be around again. It used too many trees to get that affect. The dresser came out fine, for a painted piece. BUT you lost the glory of how it really could have shined.
    Of course, you bought these pieces and you can do what you like with them!!! (how nice of me to mention!!!)
    I also do understand this is your business of selling paint and working for your family. AND I love your blog and you are very talented…in so many ways. Just back away from the quartered sawed!!!!!!

  25. all tho i like it in natural state of antique pieces, since it is a reintroduction it doesn’t hurt, can’t wait to see it painted

  26. These tutorials could not have come at a better time for me! I’m about to embark on my own painting project and am hanging on every word you say. 😩 I must have missed something though, with regard to sandpaper numbers. First you spoke of 80 and later referred to 120. I’m lacking confidence in this, so your help means a lot to me! Thank you!

    1. The numbers identify the grit of the sandpaper and how rough or smooth it is. The lower the number, the rougher it is. I use 80 for sanding the dresser to rough it up and remove the shine. I then used 120 for distressing, so it just removes a little paint without giving it a scratchy look. I hope that helps!

  27. So glad for your tutorials. I appreciate your down-to-earth common sense tips. Love your products and methods. Keep them coming.

  28. Got it! 80 first, but 120 for distressing …😉
    This is such uncharted territory for me! I love your guidance. Another question: I have your hemp oil and love it! Is that the product you would use over chalk paint on a bathroom vanity ( bottom only, top is a different surface)? Do I need a more water resistant product? C’mon Marian, “de-stress” me😆. Thank you!

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