Workshop Series – Furniture Painting & Refinishing Part 1

by | Mar 16, 2010 | Painting & Refinishing, Tutorials | 43 comments

Welcome to the workshop series brought to you by Mustard Seed Creations and Funky Junky Interiors!  A quick reminder: the voting for the  So You Think You Can Decorate competition is open through Friday, so make sure you vote for your two favorite “old” entries this week.  We are now going on a journey together to the wonderful world of painting and refinishing furniture.  For those of you who are familiar with my blog, you know that I love, love, love furniture makeovers.  I’m going to share some of my techniques, tips, tricks, short-cuts, ideas and favorite makeovers with you over the next few weeks.  Let me know if you have any questions and I’ll try to address them along the way.

Donna is sharing a how-to on board and baton, so if you’ve been waiting to do this in your home, you’ll want to bookmark her page.  I love the architecture interest and character it gives to a space.  This treatment is relatively easy and inexpensive, so check it out when you’re done here. 

So, this week I’m going to give you some tips about looking for and buying furniture to paint and refinish.  This is definitely an “opinion piece”, because people will tackle all sorts of pieces I wouldn’t touch and I’m sure the opposite is true.  So, take all of this with a grain of salt. 
1.) It’s a bit of a no brainer, but buy pieces you really like.  If you buy a piece you are “eh” about, you won’t give it the time and attention it needs.  It will most likely sit in your garage or basement for a long time until you dump it at a yard sale.  I can’t tell you how often I buy pieces that others just “didn’t get to.”  Buy smart and don’t be one of those people.  I love French provincial style, so this dresser was calling my name.  It was $30 on Craig’s List. 
2.) Buy quality furniture. The three things I look for – dovetailed drawers, solid wood and good lines.  I don’t buy anything that’s laminate, stapled, or poorly made.  Your makeover will be much easier if you start off with a good piece. 
3.) Know what’s a cheap fix and what’s not.  This may seem like an odd tip, but I’ve learned the hard way.  The hutch shown below was $35 on Craig’s List.  It was missing the large pane of glass and the hardware, but I knew those were cheap fixes.  The glass was $11.00 and the knobs were $6.00.  The French dresser above was a different story.  It was missing hardware and it cost $70 to get vintage hardware that would look right on the piece. 

4.) Don’t buy beyond your skill.  If you’re in love with a piece, but it’s falling apart or has a wicked wobble, don’t buy it unless you or a hubby/friend/dad knows how to fix it. 

I’m fortunate to have a husband who’s a woodworker and I love it when he comes hunting with me.  I’m always very optimistic about a piece and he brings me to the reality of fixing the piece.  Sometimes it’s doable and sometimes it’s not. 
Just know what you’re getting into and make sure you’re up to the task.
5.) Avoid pieces that are water damaged or have chipping veneer.  When wood is warped or bubbled due to water damage, it’s going to have to be replaced.  Chipped, bubbled, and cracked veneer needs to be either repaired, replaced, or removed.  I’ll cover some ways to deal with this in the series, but I generally avoid it unless I know I can work around it or the piece is really special and worth the extra work. 
These split vanity side tables were missing half of their veneer on the tops.  So, my husband made new tops for me. 
6.) Make sure the piece works properly.  Does the chair sit on all four legs?  Is the table level?  Do the drawers open and close the way they should?  Do the latches on the doors work?  If not, can they be easily repaired?  Fixing a warped drawer or gluing up a wobbly chair can be very tricky, so buyer beware.  Also, check for any past repair work, especially on table and chair legs.  If something’s been cracked and glued, watch out.   

The bottom line of buying furniture is go with your gut, but be realistic.  It’s so easy to fall in love with a piece and be blinded to the challenges.  It’s always good to shop with someone who can counter your enthusiasm.  Be patient and wait for the perfect pieces. 

So, Donna, do you have anything to add?

Donna: “Unfortunately, the places I normally frequent when looking for furniture (thrift stores) don’t have the best quality. And when they do, the prices seem riduculously high. Because of that, the better stuff is very hit and miss. Before buying something, I know I should always try and wiggle it, look under it, take out drawers and look behind it but I admit I sidestep alot of those points and tend to be disappointed after I bring it home.
Anything upholstered can fool you too. Sit in it but don’t rush. Move around, get up and sit again. You’ll generally find the springs relax more the 2nd time and what you thought was an ‘ok’ sit now sags a bit more. Do NOT get it if it isn’t perfect, or it will turn into a cat/laundry holder! (ask me how I know)
You also gave me the best advice that you also included in today’s post. “Don’t get it if YOU don’t like it.” Couldn’t be more truthful! Even if you plan to sell it, the object may sit in your home for awhile before it goes, so you then have to look at and live with a piece that isn’t ‘you.’ I’m currently doing that now. I can’t wait to have a garage sale this summer. 🙂
I’m really looking forward to all the steps you’ll be covering in this run!”

Buying and reworking upholstered pieces is a totally different animal, so I’ll do a separate Workshop Series on that, but here a few tips:

1.) I’ll stress it again, make sure you love it and know your capabilities.  If you’ve never done upholstery or slipcovering before, don’t start with a complicated piece.  Start on a simple chair or ottoman. 
2.) Like Donna said, make sure it’s comfy.  Unless you want to have chairs that are only for decoration in your home, sit in it and make sure other people will want to sit in it.
3.) Give it the sniff test.  If something stinks, don’t buy it.  Musty and some mild pet smells will come out, though.  If it smells like smoke, run away.  You can try baking soda, four bottles of Febreeze, Odor-away, stink-b-gone, carpet cleaner, airing it out… It won’t come out.  Trust me on this one. 

Once you find those diamonds in the rough, there is a lot to do to turn it into a stunner.  We’ll cover all aspects of that process, including stripping, sanding, painting, staining, distressing, antiquing, protective coats, equipment…all of that and more!  Stay tuned!

Miss Mustard Seed


  1. Teri

    Thanks for the tips! I'm definitely looking forward to this ongoing series…I know that I've probably got in over my head with at least one piece, so hopefully, I'll be able to pull myself out! 🙂

  2. The Little Red Shop

    I kind of grin and look around before I smell stuff to check for funky odors when I'm treasure hunting. Not everyone gets it…but it is such a must! hee hee. I've finally posted about one of my furniture revamps…but alas, I didn't get it ready in time for your party last Friday.

    Have a beautiful St. Patrick's Day!

    : )

    Julie M.

  3. marty (A Stroll Thru Life)

    Great advice. I love your attention to detail and honesty. It is so easy to be fooled and to be way to optomestic about your abilities. That seems to be me. Great post. Hugs, Marty

  4. Heather

    Those are all great tips and very helpful, thanks!

  5. Holly Lefevre

    Great tips! I have almost succumbed to #4 once or twice…the price was so tempting. I find I can get better made, better quality furniture at thrift shops…of course it takes looking and waiting…but everything new seems to be partially wood or not wood a all these days.

    504 Main

  6. Tina

    Loved this post! thank you so much for sharing these tips!! I will be thinking of them when I go thrifting tomorrow:) Hope you have a lovely week ~ Tina x

  7. Kathy @ Creative Home Expressions

    Great tips! I pretty much avoid upholstered furniture {it's just a thing with me}. I like your tip of making sure you love a piece so you give it the proper attention. That's me ~ if I just feel "eh" about it, it will just sit and not get done.

  8. Tammy@InStitches

    Love this series, I look forward to learning a lot.

  9. Paddywack Designs

    Great advice. Love your blog and your sharing of knowledge.

  10. Lamp Tramp

    Great post, so true about water damaged furniture. Being a pro at this (KATRINA, we had to let go of som much water damaged beloved furniture.
    I can't wait fot your series on upholstered furniture…as I stuggled with my shabby french chair. Ha!

  11. Lamp Tramp

    Great post, so true about water damaged furniture. Being a pro at this (KATRINA, we had to let go of som much water damaged beloved furniture.
    I can't wait fot your series on upholstered furniture…as I stuggled with my shabby french chair. Ha!

  12. Grace @ Ruby Moon Designs


    I love this series that y'all are doing. I haven't ventured out into the world of buying furniture yet…though I will when hubby and I move into our next home I am sure. We are a bit crowded now, but hope to be able to expand our living space in our next place…so we'll need furniture to help fill it up! I will refer back to your series for sure when I do! Thanks for sharing all your helpful tips!

    Blessings, Grace

  13. Courtney Price

    The sniff test is actually the very first thing on my list. I can't bear icky smells!

  14. Anna

    great tips on this post. It is good to know all these things from a professional like you, so far I've only done some small pieces of furniture, but I want to try a dresser or hutch or some bigger piece

  15. Its So Very Cheri

    I am letting everyone know that I have moved my blog to my new site
    I need to ask you, to please go over and RE-SIGN up to follow me over there. Google won't let you take your Followers with you so you are no longer getting my info in your reader, unless you have gone over and signed up. Sorry if you have already done so, I am trying to go back and forth between both blogs as well as my new e-mail and my old e-mail.
    I have lots of fun things going on over at the new blog, so I hope you will hop on over and check it all out.

    I also have a new give-a-way going on.

  16. Shel at Dreamy Nest

    Excellent points and definitely thank you for the reminder to buy it if you love it. Even if you're going to sell it. I tend to get ahead of myself at times, so I'm writing this down in my notebook. Thank you!

  17. becolorful

    What a great post. i also work with painted furniture and i have been lucky that I have had some pieces of my own that I have updated or friends have given me some pieces but now I am starting to venture out and purchase some for makeovers. These tips will be in my head the next time I'm out there searching for my next artistic conversion. 🙂
    Pam @ Becolorful

  18. Kacey

    WOW! I just found you via Maria @Dreamy Whites and am so glad I did. This post is right up my alley – I LOVE this kind of stuff. Thanks for the great tips – can't wait to see what comes next!

  19. Richella

    There's no one better than you to give tips about furniture to re-invent. Your creations are just. . . amazing. Beautiful. Creative. I think your creations look as if the pieces of furniture are the way they were always meant to be. Thank you for sharing your expertise!

  20. Erin

    Excellent advice. I recently found your blog & love it! Thanks for the tips – keep 'em coming!

  21. Rustique Gal

    Great tips! I don't know how many things I've brought home to fix only to lose interest cause it was too complicated or energetic for me!

  22. Nicole

    Thanks for the great tips! That dresser turned out AMAZING! Well worth the expensive hardware.

  23. Alicia ~ time worn style

    Advice to live by I am sure!! Too right about how you have to love the piece, I have fallen into that trap a few times now and still have bits of furniture here I dont want.

  24. Jean

    I like this set up of your provicial buffet much better. Everyone should have a set of lamps they can spray paint every few days! I am so in the middle of a bunch of decorating that it just makes me laugh. I like the layering of the dishes and empty frames, I did something similar recently. I've really been enjoying your blog the past few weeks! keep up the good work.

  25. tracylynne

    I'd love to learn how to rework bad veneer. I have a set of chairs that have veneer backing that is all chipping away and I am desperate to figure out how to fix it. ps I love your blog its one of my new favs

  26. tracylynne

    I'd love to learn how to rework bad veneer. I have a set of chairs that have veneer backing that is all chipping away and I am desperate to figure out how to fix it. ps I love your blog its one of my new favs

  27. Anonymous

    i without a doubt enjoy your own posting type, very unique,
    don't quit and also keep creating for the reason that it simply nicely to read it.
    looking forward to look into far more of your own article content, have a good one!

  28. Shannon

    Love all these tips. I recently got a piece of furniture that is made of a plywood, or something similar, and it has a laminate on top. I didn't realize this when I got it, just after I started removing the 100 layers of paint. I have debated finishing it, because it is so cheaply made. What do you think? Is it even worth finishing, or should I just toss it? It was free, so I am in it 0$ so far.

  29. Jennifer Rizzo

    I love that little green nightstand! Gorgeous! You are so talented! It's the perfect shade!

  30. A.S.A.P. ~ As Southern As Possible

    Just found your blog a month ago & have truly enjoyed your helpful and gorgeous posts! Thanks for the tips to narrow down which pieces are worth buying & refinishing… I must keep them in the forefront of my mind when thrifting! Keep up the lovely projects 🙂

  31. Stephanie

    hi! first of all, i absolutely love your blog. i found it through allthingsthrifty blog. I love to pick up pieces of furniture or anything really that looks like it needs some loving.

    my main problem is that my garage is about 1/2 full right now with things that need to be worked on. however, i live in texas and since it's a million degrees outside, i can't do any painting. do you have any suggestions about where I can work that is comfortable yet allows me to use tools, paint, sewing machine etc.?

    i would love to hear your opinion! thank so much!

    stephanie (

  32. kristen

    Love all the suggestions and tutorials- I have a trick for cigarette smoke smell-It works everytime-Take a bottle of vinegar and pour it into a glass bowl/dish -place it inside the piece or very close to it. Now try to place your small piece of furniture into a very warm confined area for several hours. For example cover your piece with a large tarp and let it sit in the direct sun. After several hours of creating a baking like temperature the smell will be gone.

  33. Debra Matcovich

    I wish I had the courage to paint my dining room. I started with my hutch. I changed the dated glass and brass panes to chicken wire and painted the knobs rubbed oil bronze. I just have to commit to a color. With my table, I can’t seem to get the motivation, because I know how much work it is.I just have to keep on following your blg, and maybe I’ll start it. I have noticed that alot of the blgs I follow they live more in the southern states and seem to find the best places to shop. I live more north, and there isn’t the availability that you talented decor gals have.

  34. Dorothee

    What is the best way to get that old smell out of old furniture? Do you need to seal everything inside the piece?

  35. Julie Ann

    I love the first part of your furniture painting and refinishing with Funky Junk Interiors but I can’t find part II. Could you direct me to this post please? Thanks!

    -Julie Ann

  36. Pam Smith

    I just got done refinishing an old buffet using your red tricycle milk paint. I am not happy with the shade of red. What can I do to deepen the color?

  37. Angela Marie

    I have a bench that I first lightly sanded then painted it with Typewriter black and then painted it red tricycle. First it has started to chip away on parts of the bench and the red is sort of a pinkish color. What are your suggestions about the chipping of paint on different parts of the bench and how do I deepen the red color?


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Marian Parsons - Miss Mustard Seed

I’m Marian, aka Miss Mustard Seed, a wife, mother, paint enthusiast, lover of all things home and an entrepreneur, author, artist, designer, freelance writer & photographer.  READ MORE to learn more about me, my blog and my business…


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