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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