Lazy person’s guide to painting furniture

One of the great inventions of the 20th (yes, it really was the 20th century. 1998 to be exact) century is Craiglist for the acquisition or relinquishing of household goods. I have used it personally for both and highly recommend it to family, friends, and clients. Whatever you are looking for someone else is trying to get rid of, which further reinforces my belief that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

I was in the market for a dresser and didn’t want to pay a fortune for it, nor have it be some generic, mass produced piece that didn’t have any charm. I believe that there is so much “stuff” already out there in the world and we should try to find a way to use what’s out there instead of creating more clutter. I like things that are unique, well made and I don’t want to have matching suites of furniture. My whole life has been devoted to  standing out in the crowd (in a good way) and since your home is a reflection of you, furniture selection and customization is right up my alley. Lastly, I get to participate in one of my passions which is painting. I started off looking at a couple of Goodwill stores but didn’t see what I wanted, which was a dresser that was long and low, hopefully with a chinoiserie look to it. I searched on Craiglist for while and ultimately found what I wanted. This is not an endeavor for those looking for instant gratification. You will not necessarily find what you want when you want it; patience, my friend. The blogosphere has a million pages devoted to painting and up-cycling furniture but I will share my version as well since I took a few shortcuts. It has been in use for a week and seems to be holding up well and I promise to report if these shortcuts are proved to be disastrous. I’ll leave out the part about search terms, negotiating the price, and picking up the furniture but I’m open to writing about that as well if you message me.

sorry it’s dark but there were a lot of shadows when I took this

So here is the dresser before its makeover. Make sure you clean it well and remove anything sticky or waxy. There was some candle wax I had to scrape off and clean that I had not seen originally. Simple Green is a great cleaner and can be used on a variety of surfaces. This one had a laminate top and the wood was painted so I didn’t use an oil soap which I would for a stained wood project. Remove the hardware. Fortunately, there were no repairs required which would need to be done now.

Pull out the drawers and lay them facing up on the floor. Sand the laminate top with coarse sandpaper; I used 220 grit for the first round. I also like to take a sanding sponge and wrap the paper around it so there is a flexible surface to work with.  You can also move the sandpaper around the sponge as it gets worn to refresh the surface.

Pretty drawers, lined up in a row, ready to be primed and painted

This is where I am lazy: I didn’t sand the whole piece, just the top because I knew the laminate would be hard to get the paint to stick. However, I did use a really good primer, Zinsser Cover Stain Oil Based Primer, and I highly recommend it. You can use it as a primer for oil or latex paints and it gives the paint something to grab on to. Since the top is laminate, I sanded with a 60 grit sandpaper, put another coat on, and then sanded with 220 grit. I also wiped and dusted along the way. The container says you don’t have to sand between coats but I had let some blobs and drips accumulate so I had to clean those up.

Then came the time for the true transformation with paint. I selected a satin finish black but I’ve seen some bright colors used and it looks great. Let’s just say the primary user of this piece wanted something on the masculine side and not as brightly hued as I would have selected. I can accommodate. I used a foam roller for the large, flat surfaces, and an angled brush for the smaller, detailed sections. If you don’t want any brush marks, you’ll probably want to try spraying which is beyond my expertise. Or you’ll want to hire a professional. The sealer covers some of this but there are still some stray marks that you can see. Watch out for drips as you’re going. They are hard to get rid of once it dries. It took 2 really good coverings and then a little touch up at the end. The top got the same treatment as when I was priming but I just used the 220 grit between the coats. I really wanted this to adhere plus the top gets all of the abuse.

Dresser mid-makeover

As you can probably guess, this is not a project that gets done in one day which is great for me. I like breaking it down into bite sized pieces and I get a great sense of accomplishment along the way. Even though I didn’t have to do any repairs and I wasn’t militant about brush strokes, it does take time and patience to get through this. There is no instant gratification but it is so worth it in the end.

nice and shiny!

The handles got special treatment, too. I did strip most of the paint off but wanted a shinier gold color to go with the black. Spray paint to the rescue! A couple of light coats with good, gold spray paint and they were done. I let the pieces dry overnight before touching and manhandling, though.

I love a box top for holding items to be spray painted–very handy!

So once everything had a chance to dry overnight, I moved to the final step which was applying a sealer. Think of this as the top coat in your manicure–it protects the surface and gives a nice finish. You can go with any type of finish but I am a semi gloss kind of person. It’s pretty shiny which you’ll see in the photos below. I should have turned off the flash but it was a little too dark. I used a Varathane semi gloss which goes on milky white and then dries clear. You have to be really careful here not to have drips so keep checking your work. I just used a sponge brush for this.

Lovely side angle of finished dresser

Once this is dry and cured you can put the hardware on, stand back, and admire your hard work. I am quite please with how this turned out and how it was not only an economical way to go but also one that used existing resources. Yes, I had to buy some supplies but they are already being used on other projects (stay tuned!) and it is rewarding to get what you really want and to create something unique.

Dresser post makeover. The rug that is shown on the edge is another Craiglist acquisition

So that is how lazy people paint furniture: have patience, look at what is already out there, don’t sweat the brush marks, and enjoy the process. Please contact Neatsmart with any questions about this project or if you’d like advice for your own furniture renewal project.

Happy organizing!


5 thoughts on “Lazy person’s guide to painting furniture

  1. Beautiful job. The striking black finish is much richer looking than the original. You almost inspire me to paint a drop-leaf table in the hall.

  2. Pingback: Say “hello” to my little friend « Neatsmart

  3. I love what you’ve done with this piece. It looks fantastic! Patience indeed. “Good things come to those who wait.” And paint! 🙂

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