design ramblings | the painted furniture trend

Marian ParsonsDecorating, Design Ramblings, Hand Painted Furniture47 Comments

Several readers commented on the fact that I didn’t paint the frame of the checked chair and the chair with the toile back.  I was planning to write about that earlier in the week, but I realized that much of what I was going to say (write), I had already said in this episode of Design Ramblings (that we filmed a couple of weeks ago.)

The first time Kriste and I had a brain storming session about topics for Design Ramblings, I immediately said “painted furniture.”  As you know, I love paint in general and furniture is my favorite canvas.

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I’ve always found it interesting how passionate some people can react to a wood piece being painted and how nervous/guilty some people can feel about wanting to paint a wood piece.

That’s what we’re rambling about today…

So, to answer the questions of the chair frames, I didn’t paint them because the wood had a beautiful patina that I didn’t want to cover up and I was able to put my stamp on them without paint.  
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Now, if the frames were really orange or shiny or speckled or something else that I don’t care for, I would’ve painted them.  
While I love painted furniture, in my rooms I like to have a balance of painted pieces and wood.  The warmth of wood plays great with painted finishes and makes the space more interesting.  
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I think if you fill a room with everything painted or everything wood, it can look flat…one note.  That’s one reason why I really like leaving the tops of dressers wood.  The juxtaposition makes the piece more interesting visually and, for practical reasons, I like how a wood top wears better than a painted one.  
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Since I do show a lot of painted pieces, I thought I would highlight some of the wood furniture in our house that has remained unpainted (and most likely always will)…
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What are your thoughts on this topic?  Is painted furniture a fad or do you agree with Kriste & I?  Do you find it hard to paint over wood?  

design ramblings | the painted furniture trend

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47 Comments on “design ramblings | the painted furniture trend”

  1. I think painting older furniture when it’s an eyesore is great. I believe it actually helps the environment in some levels too, because instead of it being thrown away, it’s given new life for at least another 10 – 20 yrs. Also, if you’ve checked out the furniture in Walmart or any other store like that, you will notice you are buying particle board that you have to assemble, for not cheap. I would much rather get real wooden dresser, at a thrift store or craigslist, for way less than one at Walmart, that is unique and a one of a kind piece, especially after I’ve added paint!

  2. Having grown up in construction and with a dad who built and restored furniture, it has taken me several years to come to terms with painting “real” wood furniture. Now, I am fine with it. I am still very choosey, but I believe some pieces can definitely be ENHANCED by painting. Because of the use (and sadly, abuse) of veneers, some antique furniture can not be restored WITHOUT paint…there is just no way to hide the repairs. I have even come to terms with painting SOME mid century furniture. I have spent years learning the proper way to restore wood furniture, but style, condition and use often dictate a need for paint. And again, the final determinant for me is always the answer to one question…can the piece be ENHANCED with paint. Occasionally you will feature a piece you intend to paint and I too have a mini-stroke…but you have a good eye and use good judgment!

  3. BTW, the empire dresser? Two years ago I would have said NOOOOOO! Now, I say go for it! Maybe leave the top and drawers natural wood (strip the old finish and apply a clear oil finish) but paint the cabinet. I just did that with a mid century dresser and I LOVE IT!!! You can always go back and paint the drawers and tops later….

  4. I have a super hard time painting wood- sometimes. I really think it depends on the piece. My mom flips everytime I paint something but I try to only paint the pieces that really only benefit from the paint and not the ones that are beautiful all on their own!

  5. My Mom painted furniture in the orange and turquoise in the 70’s.
    I painted a pineapple bed (that was probably cherry or mahogany) white for my daughter’s bedroom and an old armoire in blue and white for my son. Got the pieces dirt cheap and wanted them to fit in a children’s theme in their room. So the items did get new life!

  6. To decide to paint wood furniture based solely on whether the piece would “benefit” or be “enhanced” is a subjective decision. My idea of enhancing may differ from yours. If the furniture is yours, then do whatever you like to it. It’s highly unlikely that the highboy you paint is a priceless Chippendale original—or that you are slapping purple paint on Abe Lincoln’s cradle. Most of what we see today was mass produced 100 years ago, just as it is now. Better quality possibly, but not doing anyone any good sitting in the basement or garage. Never have understood the ethical or ecological stance some take about painting wood. Paint it or polish it—just enjoy it and use it.

  7. I agree with the others………..the wood of some furniture is just too beautiful to paint. Paint makes some pieces “happy”!

  8. I’m afraid to paint furniture because I’m scared it will look worse after I’m done with it. I’ve had that happen more than once, so now I’m paintbrush shy! 😉 I love colorful, painted wood furniture, though, so I need to figure it out. I’m bad about buying supplies and then never actually doing it. I have a package of milk paint, a can of MMS clear wax, and even a bottle of hemp oil that I bought months and months ago with the intention of painting a chair, and I have just never been able to get up the courage to do it. Sigh. Plus, now I’m pregnant, and I don’t think it’s ok to use the wax while pregnant, right? Anyway… Even if I wasn’t afraid I would make it look worse, I still agree that some wood pieces just don’t want to be painted. It depends on the piece. 🙂

    1. Jenny, If you’re pregnant, I would suggest using the milk paint and hemp oil, since both are all natural. You can use the wax, but wear a respirator mask just to be safe. I can understand being nervous about painting if pieces haven’t turned out like you want them to in the past. I would suggest getting a free or super cheap piece or even one you dislike anyway, and practice on that. You can experiment and refine your skills without the fear of “ruining” something. You can then build up confidence to paint something else.

  9. I have no problem painting over wood!! But I know I do have to watch myself because my husband does prefer wood. I painted the pine wainscotting in our kitchen without a thought and then he walked in…..oops!!!! We do have some nice pieces in our home that will remain wood for that very reason. And I’m okay with it…..mostly!! 😉

  10. Perfect choices, I love the warm patina mixed with the painted pieces. The combination creates so much more depth….more interest. Thanks for sharing.

  11. I remember going into a furniture store about 15 years ago and they had a “Coastal” line which was all painted furniture. I loved it! Not the price though. I went home and painted the whole set of bedroom furniture that was given to me from what my brothers grew up with. Did the bed and a dresser in cream and another dresser in blue and have enjoyed the look so much!! And I too have pieces I would never paint. Great video on the subject :

  12. Slightly off-topic, but can you tell me about the unpainted dresser in that bedroom shot? I have the same one! Do you know what type of wood it is and/or how old it is? The top of mine is in terrible shape, but I use it anyway because the rest of it is so beautiful. A someday refinishing project …

    1. That style of dresser was typically made in the mid-to-late 1800’s. You can usually get an idea of the age by the joinery used on the drawers and, if you’re lucky, there will be a carpenter’s signature and a date. I picked up my dresser off of Craig’s List for $100.

  13. I don’t have a set of rules per se, I truly go by what I feel the piece needs or wants. I guess one would call that a gut instinct. The only time I do t have that freedom is when I’m working for clients. My aim is to make them happy, not to say that I won’t give my professional advice, but it’s their home and I ultimately work for them. Yours is one of the very first blogs I found, and have remained loyal, it has been so wonderful to go along your journey. Nice to have a place to come where the joy of endlessly ruminating over furniture, painted or not is shared!

    NELOF, (never ending love of furniture)
    Cathy Chapman
    CHAPMAN DESIGNS

  14. I live vicariously through you. ..I would never paint wood. I love it so much. I have an upright piano I inherited from my grandma that was painted white long before I was born. Painting it a more exciting color might be fun.

    Can you ever bring wood back after it has been painted? So…Scared.

  15. I have an old pie safe that I want to paint. I stripped the wood, but it still has some white chippy paint on the punched tin panels. The tin is very old and discolored, and it is hard to get all the old paint off. Do you have any ideas about how I should paint it? I was going to paint the wood and the tin the same color. Now I am wondering if I should paint the punched tin panels a slightly different color that the rest of the piece. What would you do?

  16. I had to laugh when I watched the two of you today! Trend? Painted furniture? Hmm, I began painting furniture in the 60’s when antiquing was popular. Believe it or not, I have a piece that I painted for my mom, then inherited, then stripped and refinished, and am about to paint again. I have stripped, whitewashed, (pickled), refinished, stenciled and painted for what seems like an eternity! I have pieces that I would never paint, and some that are just waiting to be painted. What a person does with furniture is all a matter of taste- and yes, my taste changes every few years! However, I have always had a few painted pieces; they just beg for a brush now and then!

    1. I’m with you Margie – I’ve been painting furniture since the 60’s too. My Dad was a french polisher and did up antiques and I’ve done that too, restoring furniture. I’ve also stripped, pickled, stenciled, decoupaged (furniture and accessories) for what seems like forever. However, I love reading Marian’s blog and those of others who are able to spread the word that this is fun! It’s also great – but also a little sad for me – that this is all so popular now and there is recognition. “In my day” (never thought I’d say those words!) we did it quietly and just among our family and friends as furniture was mostly all timber finished. I’ve just repainted two occasional tables painted 10 years ago and reupholstered a chair I painted about 15 years ago with milk paint. My daughter didn’t want the woodwork touched as the milk paint has rubbed/layered off beautifully. Keep on blogging Marion – love seeing it in my emails each day.

    2. Thanks for the memory! I had completely forgotten about the “antiquing” phase back in the day. Such an interesting 2-step technique.

  17. I have begun painting furniture as a business so I get it. But what I don’t think you addressed is the 30’s dresser that appeared to be in great shape but was “just fine” to paint b/c it isn’t that old to be devaluing it. But the value doesn’t come in to play until it’s over 100 yrs. old. By then it’s been already painted & therefore devalued in the eyes of appraiser & experts. How will their be any true antiques left by then if they are painted now?
    I still have a hard time painting something that is in good condition & a potential antique within the next 70 yrs or so.

    1. Yes, I see what you’re saying. I think I’m just not the kind of person who feels that something needs to be saved in case one day it might be valuable. And, antique painted pieces can fetch a really high price, too! 🙂

  18. I have no restraints when it comes to painting furniture or not. I used to do art shows, and I painted the furniture and painted on it…it was beautiful I must say. You know when you look at something that if you paint it, it will bring out a new look for the piece. And if you don’t like it paint it again. Its just paint.

  19. I can understand some painted furniture … especially if refinishing it would still not make it pleasant to the eye. I like painted furniture on my enclosed porch. I do believe there is a market for all the painted pieces and there is also a market for nicely refinished pieces. I tend to take notice of the refinished pieces before the painted ones. The bottom line is I feel the market is really the trend … young minded people who want something different than their parents. They too will grow up while the rest of us are waiting for the market to change. JC

  20. Would you please consider doing a blog on tools you use (other than paintbrushes) in the repairs of furniture you refinish (such as sanders etc). Also could you do a video on how to stabilize chairs that are wobbly? Thanks! Holly

  21. I’m all for painting furniture if thats what you want to do but I admit I would have a mini stroke if I saw someone painting a really beautiful antique piece of furniture. I would pick an old piece of furniture anyday over something new.

  22. My late husband would not hear of painting wood. We many of his mother’s French provincial pieces which I was not fond of. Years later, when people began painting pieces, like the ones I once owned and disliked, I would have LOVED them…I wish I had them now. So, while I understand where he was coming from, I lived with pieces that I didn’t care for and would have enjoyed more but in retrospect, perhaps he would have hated them. Oh, well….

  23. You really hit on it when you and Kriste were talking about putting one’s own sense of history on a piece. I love that there are no rules and that with paint a piece that might have been passed over has a possibility…

  24. I love a mix of both. My 21 year old son is an apprentice carpenter and can’t believe I would paint the precious timber. I think that most people who paint furniture assess each piece and do what they believe is best for ‘Their’ piece.

    I have a couple of old chairs that belonged to my Great Grandfather. They are not particularly attractive, but are true antiques in pretty good original condition. I have moved from one room to another over the years and no one really likes them, but the one that sat in my bedroom as a child is important to me. I honestly think that it they were painted and given a little love, they would look gorgeous and I would use them. So what’s the better choice – enjoy or hide.

    Conclusion: Where’s the paint……

  25. I have a maple dresser from the 1950’s. My mom painted it in the 1970’s with a “faux” wood grain, using a graining tool. Yep I am in the process of taking the painted finish off and I’m looking forward to seeing if a natural finish will look okay. I love painted pieces if they are done well and if they bring new life to the piece.

    I love MMS pait but tend not to go for a sanded/distressed look. I love a clean coastal idea best.

  26. When we were first married,we inherited an 18th century primitive back to the wall cupboard that was painted in what I thought was the ugliest grey. We spent hours stripping it back to the wood. To this day, 28 years later, it is still not painted. However, we have since discovered that we devalued this piece by several thousand dollars. It is now recommended that if you hate the colour to paint directly over it rather than strip it to maintain the original paint layers.

    I love primitive painted Canadiana furniture but cannot afford it. If a piece is painted it is worth a lot of money. Unpainted furniture seems to be relatively inexpensive these days.

    I love colour. Thanks for promoting the love of painted furniture.

  27. But look at the high prices that antique painted furniture with original surface go for now. If you took the paint off them, it would certainly devalue the piece. In some instances, those antiques had an unpainted surface that was enjoyed for a while, then painted. It’s all relative.

  28. All my furniture is pre-1900 (lucky flea market finds, over years). One burled walnut dresser ($5), painted green, was split in two and the veneer on top ruined. We glued it together, re-veneered the top (not as difficult as you’d imagine), put on new legs (old ones missing), stripped/refinished it (French polish) and I treasure it today. I stripped down an 1890’s armoire, intending to paint it, but loved the raw old pine so much I finished it natural. I “antiqued” an old pie safe (glass doors) back in the day (still love that shaded finish) and left one (punched tin panels) natural. I tend to value the original finish the piece had >100 years ago. Still, if a piece was never very good wood to begin with or has no value as an antique, why not give it some new life with some paint and perhaps even some decorative painting? “Fun furniture.” I have a Victorian-era “center” table, pretty, but not good wood, and I’m thinking of painting IT, perhaps even adding a faux-painted “marble” top. Chacun à son goût. A warning however: the painted furniture fad will ALSO pass.

  29. I really appreciate the balanced approach you’ve taken in this post. Sometimes a piece of wood has such lovely color and/or grain that it would be awful to cover it. Then again, sometimes a piece of wood is ugly and really needs to be covered! Of course, there’s a big gray area between those extremes, so painting is a really subjective decision.

    I am seeing a lot of the “every piece must be painted!” attitude in blog land these days, which is a real pity. I guess that’s what happens with a fad. Years back, there was just as much silliness about not painting. If it’s your furniture, it’s your choice. (Unless it’s a museum-quality piece, in which case I will rant! Yes, I feel some animosity toward Syrie Maugham, and she’s been dead for 60 years.)

    I would like to add that even though paint can be stripped later, the wood will not necessarily be returned to its previous condition. Many woods continue to develop their color as they age, and chemical strippers can really ruin that. If I have 150-year-old oak or curly maple, for example, I usually hand scrape the items, just to be sure I don’t mess up wood that took that long to become that beautiful.

  30. Hi Marion. Have you ever had to repair a piece with major veneer damage? I wonder what to do with a dresser I have that has major chucks of the veneer missing. I would love to see a video on furniture repairs such as this.

  31. As an antique dealer, I’ve learned a lot about the value of original painted furniture and unpainted furniture. If it has old paint on it, I leave it just as it is. If it is solid wood like walnut, mahogany or cherry, I wouldn’t dream of painting it. Some of the fabulous veneered furniture would be a shame to paint. If the piece is so damaged that it has lost its value or if the piece has been refinished at an earlier date and has lost its old patina of time, then I paint it. If a piece has a decal or any name on it, you can always look it up and see if it is something people are looking for because the work is venerated. I have some olive ash furniture in the shop right now that I don’t like the look of (at all), but some people oow and aah over it. I didn’t paint it because I researched the name of the maker. The thing is…we will never see furniture of that quality, construction and type of wood being made in America again. Some people revere that. Marion, I can see from what you’ve left unpainted, that you get that. ~Ginene

  32. I painted my great grandmothers dresser and chest white to use in my room when I was about 12 years old. Then around 40 years later I stripped off the white paint and refinished both pieces. I have enjoyed the finished pieces for about 16 years now. I also enjoyed them when they were white. I love painted wood, finished wood and combinations of both, but I do have some pieces I could never bring my self to paint. I am 68 and still enjoy refinishing and painting wood furniture.

  33. Great topic! I don’t believe that painted furniture is a passing fad or trend. I do think it’s maybe getting over exposed, everyone is doing it, and not everyone is doing it well ; ) But I think those people not doing it well will fall off the bandwagon and people that do quality work with great style (like Marion) will endure. I think you are giving new life to pieces that most people wouldn’t want because of their condition. I think people like Marion have elevated it to an art form. Keep up the great work!

  34. I’m in the blend of both camps. I love the effect of paint with natural wood. I think that character, not just condition, can help determine whether to paint or not. My living room console table was pretty new and in great condition, but boring-it got painted. I have an old (antique is too noble a term!) dropleaf pine table, that I stripped and refinished with oil to better reveal all its dings, dents, and aged character. A recent book called The Furniture Bible is a great resource for anyone wanting to learn more about refinishing.

  35. First of all, I so love your blog, and I visit every day. That said, what I honestly do not understand, and think is a fad, or trend, is the distressed look. I really don’t get it. I just cannot ever see myself being excited to see a lot of the paint I put on a piece flaking off.

    Just my 2 cents.

  36. I totally agree Marian! I think mixing painted and stained creates an eclectic, collected look. And I like to remind myself and others that paint is just paint . . . it can always be taken off real wood if you change your mind and want to see the wood again.

  37. I always want to laugh when painted furniture is called a trend, furniture had been painted for hundreds of years, it’s not new!!!!!! I think both wood and painted furniture will work in a lovely blend forever, sure things will date (certain colors will definitely be of an era) but the idea of reworking things and making over things has been, and will be around forever!

    My mom used to get quite upset with me every time I would paint a piece of furniture, and I would always repeat to her “all wood is not good” 🙂 she has started to come around and realize that painted wood is frequently more timeless than early 2000’s espresso finish, or 80’s pinkish bleached finish, etc. that wood can be just as of an era.

    The price I have paid for some furniture, and then once painted, the price furniture sold for, is proof positive that painting furniture can ADD value, not take value away. Unless something is a museum piece, furniture is worth what someone will pay for it, and made over, lovely furniture, will always sell for more than a nicked up shabby looking wood piece.

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