Painting Wood: Should You or Shouldn’t You?

September 1, 2011

I think I’m most happy with a paintbrush in my hand.  Painting furniture relaxes me, it’s my strange form of therapy, and I do my best thinking when I’m fixing up something old and turning it into something new.  I get a range of comments when I post about a refurbished piece and they cover the spectrum.  Mostly it’s these kind: “Thank goodness you painted that ugly old thing!”  or “Wow, I love that makeover!  Way to bring that piece into this century and give it new life!”  I love those. 

Then I’ll get one of these from time to time. “Oh my goodness, you girls and your paint cans, you’re going to be stripping off all that paint in five years!”.  If you’ve ever read the comments on Apartment Therapy anytime someone paints a piece of furniture, the wood purists come out of the woodwork (pun intended) and proclaim ruination.  It raises a controversial question, when should you or shouldn’t you paint your {insert old piece here}. 

My answer is always, “It just depends on the piece".  How’s that for vague?  OK, well how about this generality.  For me, anything that is mass produced is fair game, especially if it has laminate or veneers.  Solid wood unique pieces, especially if they are true antiques are where I hesitate.  Unless the wood is damaged, then wood putty plus paint always works in my book.      

Recently, I received and email from Kathryn, she sent me a picture of her dining room set, and asked how could she freshen it up.  Should she paint the chairs, the table, or both? 

My advice?  Pull an Eddie and paint those shield back chairs.  Then restain the table.

shield back chairs painted

Painting the chairs and reupholstering the seats in a modern fabric would go a long way to freshening this set. 

Here’s an example of two old dressers, one I’d paint, one I wouldn’t.  This first version I would paint.  That speckled finish is just too 1970’s for me and I can see it refinished in a classic black or white and it would play nicely in any space. 

paint it


Check out what a bold modern hue can do.  Take it one step further and add new hardware and the dresser is completely reinvented.

pained dressers

Curbly & Four Men and a Lady

Here is an example of a dresser I’d never paint, my own.  It’s a vintage Drexel Heritage piece my hub found ten years ago in an antique shop.  It’s crafted of beautiful solid wood and in excellent condition.  It has real beauty and value in its current state so I’m just not gonna do it. 

dont paint


Quality wood furniture is beautiful and when in excellent condition, has real value so consider selling it on Craigslist or to an antique shop or to someone who will appreciate it in its current state.  I think inherited pieces are much trickier – perhaps you’re “stuck” when them because they’ve always been in the family, but many ladies find they want to freshen a piece with a coat of paint.  If it’s inherited, well honey it’s now yours, so do what you want with it.  Things I’d never hesitate to paint?  Natural oak builder grade cabinets and dark wood wall paneling both come to mind. 

That’s my two cents on the issue.  Do you agree with me?  Or do you feel the need to set me straight?  When “should” you paint wood?  Let’s hear it.



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115 Responses to “Painting Wood: Should You or Shouldn’t You?”

  1. judy h. says:

    Love, love, love those dining room chairs!! What a great color and a great idea!!!

  2. Kaytie says:

    I absolutely agree. All it takes is a little judgement before painting. If it’s gorgeous as is, why paint? But if it needs some help, a little color can do the job.

  3. Jenny says:

    I agree with you 100%! I have found that it does just speak to me. I got a beautiful dresser from Craig’s List. It has feet, real feet (well, more like claws). The lady I bought it from had refinished it in the ’70’s or early ’80’s and it has a weird finish. From a distance it is beautiful, but up close, not so much. My first inclination was to paint it after I stripped it, but now that it has been in my home for a month or so, it has spoken to me and I am going to strip then re-stain it. It is beautiful tiger oak and the longer I look at it, the more details I have noticed. A true antique, like you said.

    Now, onto the ugly ’70’s bedroom set that I inherited from my parents. The hardware is hideous and it is a dark brown stained oak. I see a nice creamy finish it it’s future. Definitely not classic Drexel.

  4. Debbie C says:

    Hi Kate,
    Do you think you could one day post a video tutorial of how to paint furniture? You’ve given great step-by-steps each time you makeover a piece, but I’d love to see all the finer details as well, like when to use a roller and when to use a brush, where to begin, the best way to sand off the old finish, etc. By the way, I love your blog and look forward to it everyday! Thanks for sharing so many great tips and ideas. :)

  5. Centsational Girl says:

    Great idea Debbie! I’ll do my best to make a video for the next refinishing job, I’ll search for a good candidate to answer those questions.


  6. Emma says:

    Love the painted dressers!!! I bought an old china hutch from a second hand store and its screaming for a fresh coat of paint in a fun color. Only thing is I want to keep that distressed look…how do I do that with a new coat of paint?

  7. midwestgirly says:

    Well I have chest pain, from the stess of what color to paint my bathroom vanity this weekend! We just stripped all the old 1989 wallpaper and I have no doubt in my mind the golden oak vanity is getting a paint job. It is also getting a new quartz countertop in a light tan [baja]. Im thinking sivermist on the walls but stuck on the vanity color, love suggestions !

  8. Monique says:

    I agree with you on painting furniture. I feel if it’s an ugly piece that’s not an antique, paint. But one caveat, do research to make sure the piece you’re painting is not an antique of value. I read a few years back where a woman painted a lamp only to find out it had been worth big bucks before painted.

  9. Sherri says:

    I have a piece that I am just so unsure about. I remember it as a gorgeous desk when it belonged to my grandma but my mom, who took it after Grandma passed away, let it be destroyed. Now it is in really rough condition and I just don’t know what to do with it. I am going to strip and see what the condition of the wood is after it is fully stripped. My grandma called it an antique but I don’t know anything about the true age of the piece. Its a small desk with one drawer and some open shelves along the right hand side. My daughter wants it for her room but her furniture is all white so I’m not really sure what to do.

  10. Haley says:

    Loved this post – I’m always debating whether I will regret painting something down the road. On that note, I’d love to see a tutorial on how to re-paint something that is already painted (by you or someone else). Does it always need to be stripped? Or can you just paint right on top of it? Thanks!

  11. Michelle says:

    Painting nesting tables should I do each a different color ??? blue, light brown, white or all white???? Maybe if I am brave I will post pictures of how they come out.

  12. Stephanie says:


    I love your idea to paint the nesting tables different colors. If I had 3 I would do Black, Latte and white because all of those colors are in my house. If I had 4 (which would be great) I would add a pop of color.


  13. Abby says:

    I was just having the paint-it-or-not debate with myself but with woodwork in my house. I just moved into a home that is about 20 years old that has medium-color oak woodwork throughout: all the downstairs floors plus windows (actual wood windows, not vinyl!), window trim, doors, door trim, baseboards. White paint would give it more of the look I’m into, but I it would be a ton of work and I feel it’s a shame to paint perfectly nice wood.

  14. Tammy C says:

    I have an older pine wall unit I’d love to paint a creamy white…just don’t have the nerve or time YET!

  15. Loribeth says:

    I completely agree with you! I have some furniture that I want to paint, specifically our bedroom furniture. It’s not hardwood, it’s veneered. And although it’s nice looking, it’s too heavy for our small bedroom. Painting it would freshen it up and lighten the room. Then I have an antique mahogany library table that my husband I found at an estate sale. It was the first piece of furniture we chose together. My dad refinished it, and it’s beautiful, so I’d never paint it.

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