A Blue Bureau + My Favorite Paints for Furniture
March 7, 2012
Hi everyone, a question landed in my inbox last week about my favorite paints for furniture, here it is along with my answer:
Dear Miss Kate, I can tell you like to paint furniture and you have been doing it for a few years, and I’m very thankful for all our tips. I see you use a lot of different paints, but I’m trying to decide which one I should use on a dresser in my house that I want to paint white. Can you tell me which paint really is the best for furniture? ~ Barbara M.
Hello Barbara, thanks for the great question! I love paint, that is clear. I’m happiest with a cup of coffee in one hand and a paintbrush in the other. There are a lot of great paints for your home and I have many favorites from different companies for when it comes to painting your walls.
But if we’re talking furniture, there are three that are my favorite and that I think are the best for this specific kind of makeover. Well actually there are four, but that Low Lustre enamel by Ben Moore in the middle isn’t available anymore, so I’ll go with three that are.
To the left you’ll see my first two favorite paints to work with for furniture – they are Benjamin Moore Advance and Sherwin Williams ProClassic and both are water based alkyd enamel paints. Alkyds are drying resins and are used in oil based paints but now synthetic versions are used in water-based enamel paints as well. What’s important is that the enamel gives you a really hard finish, meaning if you tap on it with your fingernail after a week or two of curing it will feel hard to the touch, and not pliable like other latex paints.
I used the Benjamin Moore Advance formula in High Gloss to paint this desk and in Satin to paint this table. I am also using the Satin formula right now to paint my family room built in cabinets – it is an excellent paint choice for kitchen and bath cabinets as well. I’m also a big fan of Sherwin Williams ProClassic acrylic alkyd which is designed for doors and trim, but is also excellent for furniture. I used it recently on this pedestal table.
The nice thing about the Ben Moore and Sherwin Williams formulas is they are readily available at local distributors in any color you wish. They are slightly more expensive than an ordinary quart of paint at a home improvement store ($18 -20 a quart) but they’re worth it. I prefer both these Benjamin Moore and Sherwin Williams enamel paints for cabinetry and modern furniture styles. Both of these formulas require that you prime your piece of furniture first, but the paints are water-based so clean up is very easy.
I’ve also used Annie Sloan’s Chalk Paint on several occasions, on this console, this end table, and this dresser and each time it has performed very well for me. The nice thing about the AS Chalk paint is you can skip the primer step, but it is only available in limited colors, you must order it from a nearby stockist or online, and is more expensive at $39 a quart. I like this paint for the European or cottage style finishes on furniture, such as hutches, dressers, buffets, etc. – it distresses extremely well.
Hope this answers your question Barbara, for your dresser any of these three choices would be great!
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Here’s a blue bureau I recently finished for a friend’s daughter, in a beautiful shade of pale turquoise (‘Thunderbird’ by Benjamin Moore) and a recap on how to paint furniture – this version with water based enamel paint.
There are a few tools you’ll need to start: a drop cloth, screwdriver, medium (80 – 120 grit) sanding wedge, bonding primer (I prefer Zinsser Cover Stain, especially for wood furniture), enamel paint in color of choice, 2” quality angled brush (Purdy brand is best), furniture wax protectant (optional).
First things first, remove all hardware before you begin.
If your piece is in good condition, you can skip the sanding step or the use of a power sander and go straight to priming your piece. Bonding primers don’t require sanding, even if your piece is heavily varnished, but I do find giving the furniture a good scuffing with a medium (80 grit) sanding wedge not only helps clean off any debris, but also opens the wood’s ‘pores’ and gives your primer a better surface to cling too. No need to sand away all the varnish and get down to the raw wood, just give it a good 5 to 10 minute scuffing with a sanding wedge, then wipe away any debris with a soft cloth.
I bought this particular piece because of its classic lines and solid wood construction, but it was damaged in two places. No worries – a little wood glue to the rescue.
If your piece suffers from holes or dents, you can use wood filler to cover or fill those unsightly blemishes. This is a cosmetic problem easily addressed with wood filler, which allows you to repair scratches, dents, welts and fill holes in your wood furniture before you go about painting it.
If you’ve opted for new knobs, often they will fit right in the old holes, but many modern pulls are sized differently than the old hardware. Wood filler is also your best bet for starting over with new hardware.
If you want a paint job that will last, using a good bonding primer is key. For this dresser, I used spray on Zinsser Cover Stain for a quick application and super smooth finish – it goes on quickly and dries in about 20 minutes. If using the spray version instead of a brush on formula, be sure to work in a well-ventilated area and dispose of your cans according to your local waste regulations. A spray gun nozzle attachment (like shown) available in most paint departments will also assist in more even coverage, plus it prevents finger cramping!
Once you’re primer is fully dry, sand away any drips or residue and wipe your piece down with a soft cloth. Like I mentioned above, two of my favorite water based paints for furniture are the enamel paints by Benjamin Moore and Sherwin Williams, and you can have them tinted to any color. Two thin coasts should work if you’re working with lighter shades of paint, sometimes a third light coat is required if you’re painting your piece navy, dark gray, or black. Allowing 6 to 8 hours of drying time between coats.
A high quality angled paint brush is also essential. The last thing you want to be doing is picking loose paintbrush hairs out of your paint, which happens with cheaper brushes so don’t bother with them. You can apply your paint quicker with a foam roller, but you still will end up with edge marks, so I always follow up a roller with a brush. An angled brush also helps get into grooves and crevices better, plus with a steady hand it cuts in straight lines extremely well. If you take good care of it, a good angled brush like Purdy brand brush will last you for years.
This bureau was painted with Benjamin Moore’s Low Luster enamel paint in ‘Thunderbird’. It’s for an eight year old girl’s room so this shade of pale turquoise with the original brass pulls will be a gorgeous addition to her space.
With enamel paints it’s not always necessary to use a protectant as the enamel paint has a harder finish compared to ordinary latex paints. However, for a high use surface like a coffee table or the top of this dresser and extra coat of protection will help protect the paint.
Look for Minwax water based Polycrylic in satin or gloss or wipe on or brush on Varathane water based protectant in satin or gloss – I’ve learned using a cheap sponge brush with the Polycrylic or Varathane minimizes brush strokes in your protective coat. Do not use an oil based polyurethane, it will amber or yellow over time.
For a hand rubbed matte finish, choose a furniture wax protectant like Briwax, Minwax clear, SC Johnson, or Annie Sloan. For this dresser, I used the Briwax clear paste wax, applied with a cotton rag and buffed to soft glow.
I cleaned up the pulls with the tips I mentioned in this post about polishing brass hardware.
Reattach your hardware once you’re paint is completely cured. With enamel based paints it usually takes 3 to 5 days, so be patient.
It may seem time consuming and labor intensive but remember a quick spray primer and a protectant are the fastest steps, it’s the repair and painting processes that take the most time. With a little patience, you’ll achieve a perfectly painted piece with smooth even coverage that will last for years to come. Enjoy!