How to Paint Furniture (The Good Enough Method)

Charlotte@Living Well on the Cheap  —  March 7, 2011 — 10 Comments

This is the first piece of furniture I ever painted. My friend Lauren and I dragged it home from a dumpster to our first college apartment. We did everything right: cleaned it up, sanded it down, used oil-based primer, and waited patiently for each coat to dry completely before moving on. I think it must have taken a week.

After that experience, I swore I’d never work with oil-based anything again. So I didn’t paint anything for about five years.

Then I decided that this dresser and nightstand, which I’d also had since my first apartment, needed to be purple, and I decided to go for it. I did some research, and the internet told me that primer was necessary, and that spray paint makes things easier.

So I used spray primer followed by spray paint, and I regretted it. I needed help carrying the pieces outside to be sprayed and even then it was messy. I couldn’t get a smooth finish over the primer. I struggled to get even and full coverage with the spray paint. I felt that I had no control over what was happening. My trigger finger was about to fall off. The two drawer fronts that didn’t get any primer because I’d run out turned out to have the nicest finish. And ALL of the spots where I’d filled holes showed through. It was frustrating.

Fast forward a few months, to when I procured this lovely lady for $60 from craigslist. That was before we had an SUV, so we tied it to the top of our Camry and hoped for the best. Actually, I hoped for the best while Nick stopped the car every 30 feet to make sure it wasn’t sliding off. It was only three blocks but it must have taken 2o minutes to get home.

I really wanted to paint it, but I was worried about messing up an “antique.” I agonized for weeks. I asked facebook, which yielded a predictably ambivalent response. Finally, I decided that it was mine to paint if I wanted to, I only paid $60, the veneer was chipped, and I wasn’t planning to go on Antiques Roadshow anytime soon. So, armed with this image as inspiration, I moved forward with reckless abandon and was thrilled with the result. Four months and several pieces later this method is still a winner in my book.

How to Paint Furniture, The Good Enough Method

Step 1. Grab a big piece of cardboard or painter’s dropcloth and slide it underneath the legs. Then drag the whole operation out from the wall enough that you can move freely all around

Step 2. If it’s absolutely filthy, wipe it down a bit. Otherwise, don’t stress. A little dirt never hurt anybody.

Step 3. The fun part! Choose your paint! I like flat paint for its forgiving nature and I like to mix my own colors to find a shade that’s just right. To achieve the color on the dresser above, I had Lowe’s match a quart of flat paint to the color of my purse, a nice teal. While I was there I picked up some mistinted sample pots in various shades of taupe for about $1 each. When I got home I poured some teal into a bowl and started adding the taupes as well as various other paints I had lying around (even some craft paint), painting swatches on the back of the dresser until I had the perfect shade. Be sure to mix up a big batch. Your genius won’t be easy to recreate midway through the process. I have learned this the hard way.

Mixing the perfect hue for an armoire upstairs, using the same quart of teal from the first project! This is the one I didn’t make a big enough batch for. If this happens to you, just mix up some more and paint swatches on an inconspicuous spot until you find a close match. Remember that paint usually darkens as it dries!

Step 4. Remove any hardware, secure any extremely curious cats, and make sure you’re not wearing anything you’d be devastated to splatter paint on.

Step 5. Start painting! I use brushes, the cheaper the better because I hate to spend a lot of time washing them out afterwards. Try to avoid slathering it on there. Be sure to get the insides and backs of the legs if you’re into that sort of thing. I sometimes forget.

Step 6. You’ll probably have to do a second coat, but if you kept your first coat thin it will dry in no time at all and you can probably get started on your second coat right away. In a fit of impatience I once started my second coat over a not-completely-dry first coat and only mildly regretted it.

Step 7: As soon as that baby is dry to the touch you can put your hardware back on and call it a day! You can use new hardware if you’re fancy but if it requires drilling new holes or filling old ones I say no way Jose. Too much work for this girl. I sometimes wait a few hours before pushing it back to the wall since that involves applying an awful lot of pressure to paint that probably isn’t completely “cured,” and if you have carpeted floors you will definitely want to wait before removing whatever you used to protect them.

Step 8: Pour your leftover paint into an empty jar or plastic container and save it for touchups or future projects. Step back and admire your brilliance.

The beauty of this method is that it is very low-stress and can be done in an afternoon! So when I tried to paint the armoire above a lovely gray with lavender undertones and it turned out LILAC, I did not at all dread doing it all over again. It’s now a rich and refreshing aqua.

Charlotte@Living Well on the Cheap

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10 responses to How to Paint Furniture (The Good Enough Method)

  1. Sandy Hamrick March 7, 2011 at 9:49 am

    This takes me back to my first furniture paint job. I painted a twin bed headboard and foot board. I used water based paint which did not want to cover in one coat. I painted a stencil on the headboard. I wish now I had a picture of that. It was Karen’s first big girl bed. Water based paint has really improved since then.

  2. livingwellonthecheap March 8, 2011 at 7:41 pm

    How sweet! I wonder what ever happened to it!

  3. Great work!
    So use a water-based paint? And don’t sand it??

    • Charlotte | livingwellonthecheap November 16, 2011 at 11:11 am

      Yup to both! I really like to live on the edge. Unless the surface is really shiny/smooth, in which case you may want to sand a bit so the paint sticks better.

  4. Bridget from Cali October 21, 2012 at 5:44 pm

    Brava! There are far too many naturally gifted and highly skilled DIYers and crafting bloggers out there that make the whole process seem ridiculously easy and effortless. As a result, they end up setting almost impossible standards for the rest of us mere mortals. Not many people are born instinctually knowing what materials and techniques to use to make our surroundings and/or favorite finds more aesthetically pleasing, and few folks are fortunate to have been mentored by a terrifically talented technician either.

    “Good Enough” is ground-breaking. It is also my best friend’s DIY project philosophy. What she lacks in know-how, she makes up for in sheer enthusiasm and dogged determination. She has little fear about making mistakes. As a perfectionist, I marvel at the freedom to flub. Reading your experiences and commentary has been totally delightful. It brings her (and my own creative mishaps) to mind. I also wholeheartedly understand your struggle over whether or not to paint your bargain “antique” dresser, and am glad you found the courage to follow your heart. I share your pain (and your joy). Thanks for being so open about your failures as well as your successes. It might just inspire me to take some risks. God bless you…

  5. Love how the dresser turned out. My husbands grandfather gave us an almost identical dresser when we got married 17 years ago, and for about 10 years now, I have wanted to repaint it, but have always given up on the idea because, it was an antique…After seizing how yours turned out, I am finally ready to bite the bullet and do it! :) I can’t wait to see how it turns out!!! I was wondering…we have a similar wall color, to the color that is in your dining room, in our home, and I like the color in your living room photos. My husband says it is the same color but the sunlight makes it look lighter…but I told him it was a different color. Would you mind telling us who is right, and if you happen to know the color of your living room walls, would you mind sharing? Thanks for the inspiration!!! LS

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