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.

centsational girl favorite furniture paints


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!  

* * * * *

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.


dresser before



turquoise blue bureau dresser


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.

remove hardware


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.

light scuffing


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. 

broken top

wood filler wood glue

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!

cover stain primer


primed dresser


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.

paint dresser

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.

finishing products

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.

brass plated pulls


Reattach your hardware once you’re paint is completely cured. With enamel based paints it usually takes 3 to 5 days, so be patient.

brass hardware up close cg


dresser crop left side cg


turquoise blue bureau dresser

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!




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116 Responses to “A Blue Bureau + My Favorite Paints for Furniture”

  1. Sarah K. says:

    So I’m assuming, since you don’t mention it on this page, that you don’t use Floetrol when using water based alkyd enamel paints???

  2. CentsationalGirl says:

    Yes Sarah, the Floetrol isn’t necessary for enamel paints, they have enough flow if you work in the ideal temperatures (55 – 70 degrees)

  3. CentsationalGirl says:

    Not dangerious Denise, I think they just perfected the formula with their new line of Advance paint, speculating but that’s my thought.

  4. I just wanted to let you know I am linking this makeover in an upcoming post about my dresser makeover! http://2brokelagirls.blogspot.com – I credited your photo obviously :]

    It will post on Monday xxoo

  5. Whitney says:

    I’m totally being lazy and didn’t read through all of the comments, but which paint would you suggest for a “whitewashed” look. Online it seems that most people just say to water down your paint and wipe it back off as you go, but they never say which type of paint is best for this. Any advice?

  6. CentsationalGirl says:

    Hi Whitney, you can use any latex or enamel paint that is water based, or the AS Chalk Paint watered down a bit, either will work!

  7. Megan Denne says:

    I just wanted to clarify before I start painting. Is it ok to use a oil based primer, like the Zinsser cover stain oil based primer + a water based alkyd enamel paint, such as BM Advance or SW ProClassic…together? They are both recommended above I just want to make sure that they are can be used together. Thank you! :)

  8. CentsationalGirl says:

    Yep! They can be used together Megan!

  9. kathy p says:

    Hi…I always use the Ben Moore metal and wood enamel. Our BM store still carries it. It is in a different label…it is now Super Spec D.T.M. just thought you might try that.

  10. Gail says:

    I’m painting my kitchen cabinets. I started with bare maple and am using BM Advance. Because I wanted as smooth a finish as possible, I added Floetrol.
    So, after priming, also with BM Advance Primer, I painted my first coat with a brush… ugh, brush strokes! After sanding and more painting, more brush strokes!!!
    so, then I tried the foam rollers that are recommed=nded for cabinets, so now instead of brush marks, I have dimples and orange peel effect everywhere!
    I thought that Advance was superior for leveling, and now with the Floetrol added, I thought for sure it would give me a silky smooth finish!!! I am so discouraged at this point!
    My first brush I used was a Purdy but i didn’t realize that it was medium stiff. I tried another Purdy, this time a soft one… the painted finish seems to be a bit better.
    So do i just add more Floetrol? At this point, I think I like the brush marks better than the dimples. I’m noticing that after painting ever-so-carefully each door, there always seems to be areas where it looks like the paint just dries up (when using the rollers).
    Okay, so can you tell that I’m going out of my mind already?????
    Please, any advise would be greatly appreciated!!!

  11. CentsationalGirl says:

    Hi Gail, don’t be discouraged! I don’t use Floetrol with the Advance paint, it’s an enamel paint and it levels really well on its own, especially the semi gloss and gloss formulas. Right now you need to sand away those brush strokes and dimples with a medium and then fine grit sanding wedge. Next time use really thin coats, don’t add the Floetrol to the BM Advance and paint in ideal temperatures between 55 and 70 degrees. Hope this helps!

  12. alisa meier says:

    FYI – I have used Annie Sloan chalk paint on 4 pieces of furniture now — it DID REQUIRE PRIMER on 3 pieces –2 of the end tables I did had lots of bleed through, as well as a pine pantry I painted, where all of the small knots in the pine wood kept drying much darker than the other flat areas. (After much research online, I see this is a common complaint.) I think that there is too much talk about not needing primer with ASCP. It is paint – and all paints need to be tested on an area first. I think I will always use Primer with ASCP now. And I really don’t anticipate using it much more. I prefer the smoother paint feel rather than the icky, rough chalky feel of this paint. AND, I don’t see how someone could pass up using the wax (a laborious process, if you ask me.) All kinds of fingerprints will get absorbed into that surface and show like crazy if you don’t finish it with something. Well — enough with my rant, I was wondering if you can recommend your best success with a clear-coat/finish that will not yellow? I want to paint my dining room set white/ivory. Any tips would be greatly appreciated. (PS – I am re-staining the tops, just painting the sides/ legs/etc.)

  13. CentsationalGirl says:

    Hi Alisa, great timing for this comment, yes I had to prime an oak cabinet this past weekend even when using AS Chalk Paint to prevent bleeding, I recommend primer underneath with any pine or heavily stained piece first.
    It’s hard to find anything other than wax for white surfaces, I always worry about yellowing or changing the shade of the white, so I use wax with white surfaces but the Polycrylics and Varathanes work fine with colored paints. I also love the BM Enamel paints, if you use the semi gloss or gloss they don’t need a protective coat.

  14. Loris Blue says:


    I am painting my kitchen cabinets with the Benjamin Moore Advance formula in a dark grey. The paint went on very smooth. However, I used the satin formula and it appears more matte than I desire. I also want to use a protectant but I am nervous about the Miniwax polycrylic (bubbles). So I think I will use the wax. How long after painting did you wait to apply the Briwax? And, do you think the wax will give me the soft lustre that I want?

    Thanks so much for your help. I am sweating bullets over this project, fearing that I will invest so much effort and then take one wrong step.

  15. CentsationalGirl says:

    yes it will Loris, if you buff it enough. You might consider instead doing one more coat of BM Advance but in the gloss formula, that one hardens to a tough finish and wouldn’t require a protective coat.

  16. Josée says:

    Hi! Thanks for all the tips :)
    I have a quick question… Do you sand in between coats of paint or is it just necessary after the primer step?
    Thanks again :)

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