Painting Furniture: Felony or Awesome

Anytime you speak about rehabbing, restoring, rewhatevering of furniture, one argument always come up.  There are almost militant members on both sides.  It can become a nasty business. And as with so many things online, people will say things, usually rude things, on the internet they wouldn’t ever say in person.

The issue is whether it is OK to paint wood.

(I can already hear the uproar of everyone yelling like we are debating a bill on the Senate floor.)

To be upfront and clear, here is where I stand on the issue:  I think it depends.

One part of my job that I really love is finding out what the piece of furniture is supposed to be.  Under all the layers of grossness, what should it look like.   It’s ‘After picture’ if you will.  There have been pieces that have hung around the house for months because I just couldn’t figure it out.   I feel it’s important to look at each piece as an individual and not just slap one color of paint on everything.  I think of it as both a challenge and an obligation.

I understand that I have a much bigger love for stripping furniture than most people.  I know it can be a lot of hard work.  But there are those pieces where it is so worth it.  Whatever is under those layers of paint, once freed cannot be covered up again.  I recently worked on a piece that was so beautiful that I didn’t even charge for all the hours it took to get it stripped.  I didn’t want the owner to say that it wasn’t worth the time and expense and have me paint over it.  I felt like it was my duty to the wood gods to bring it back to life.

There are times that I look at makeovers online of beautiful antiques that have been painted over.  I can’t tell you it doesn’t make me cringe, it does.  But you know what?  It’s not in the landfill right?  This is not a perfect world and sometimes painting is the only way to spruce the piece up enough that someone will want it in their home.   And now it has been saved.  And one day maybe someone will come along who has the time/money/energy to bring it back to it’s original greatness.  If this is all true, then painting isn’t such a bad thing.

I am about to say something that you may find crazy, especially from me.  Long, long ago they made crappy things too.   Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s awesome.  If you remember the Green & White Dresser, it was painted wood.  Why?  I originally wanted to stain the drawer fronts but after stripping and staining them I realized the wood was, well, let’s say not exactly stain grade.  It was sturdy and well built but not beautiful.  And by using the paint layers like tree rings, I could tell this dresser was quite old.  If I had stuck to the plan  of staining it just because wood shouldn’t be painted, the dresser would have looked pretty awful.

Moral of the story, different treatments are appropriate for different pieces and that’s what makes it so fun.  Moral of the story 2, if you love it then who the hell cares what I (or any of those nasty people who say mean things online and never sign their name) think.




  1. Pingback: Tall Cabinet Makeover | The Ridiculous Redhead

  2. Janice

    Huh, interesting. I’m an “it depends” person too.

    But someone else ’round here is an anti-painting-anything person.

    Remember that cabinet I asked you about? (You know, the one I called you about from a garage sale at 9 am on a Saturday? That one.) I want to paint it sage green….because I think that particular piece will look nice in that particular color in a particular location. Plus, it’s probably just pine anyway.

    We’ve been in legislative stalemate over that one since the fall.

  3. Steph

    Just found your website and it is fast turning into one of my favorites. I totally agree with you – it depends on the piece and you are absolutely correct when you say just because it is old doesn’t mean it’s a great piece. I’ve come across many not so great pieces that look fantastic with a little work and paint. Besides all of that it depends on the person. Many times I have had someone say if you refinish that it will devalue the piece. Hello!!! Did I say I wanted to sell it? If after I’m gone someone wants to sell it and can’t get much for it too bad they didn’t pay for it in the first place. I say do what makes you happy.

    You do great work!


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