Rehab Diary: How to Paint Furniture Like an Expert

My husband and I were driving to Cape Cod this summer when I saw two mid-century modern chairs in front of a thrift store. “Stop!” I shouted – we needed chairs. When I asked the owner for the price, he informed me that there were four more at the back. “How much for the six?” I asked. “Thirty dollars for the whole,” he replied. I gave her $ 35. Goal!

Only problem, someone had painted the chairs a pale fluff green. But for $ 35, I was ready to put the work to paint them. Here’s how I did it.



  • Latex paint
  • Primer
  • Polycrylic or water-based finishing wax
  • Brush
  • Foam paint roller and tray
  • Fine and medium sandpaper
  • Sticky fabric
  • Protective tablecloth
  • Band (if necessary)


Above: My original chairs. In fact, the color looks almost correct in this photo. In reality, it’s pretty deadly.

Step 1: Get your inner Zen / Chill Out

Of course, when the deadlines are looming, I am known to slap a quick coat of paint worthy of the photos. The results should never be looked at closely.

The key to smooth, long-lasting paint work is to slow down. So download the TED talks you wanted to listen to, or the audiobook version of War and peaceand settle in. If you don’t rush, painting can be a very Zen process.


Step 2: sand, sand, sand

We all know this real estate adage: “Location, location, location”. With paint, it’s “Prepare, prepare, prepare.” To get a uniform finish, you will need to do a thorough sanding job. Use a medium grain to remove old paint, stains and debris. This process helps smooth the surface and will give your painting something to remember. If you are working with a relatively flat area, you can use an orbital sander. For something with many round parts, like my chair, you will have to do most of the work by hand.


Step 3: clean and stick

Once you have sanded your furniture, you will need to thoroughly clean all the sawdust. Hands down, a sticky cloth is best to remove particles that can negatively affect your paint job. Make sure to wipe every inch of your furniture. Be sure to repeat this process each time you sand.

If necessary, glue the areas that you will not paint.


Step 4: Priming

If your furniture has already been painted or stained, I recommend an anti-stain primer such as Kilz or the Zinsser Bulls-Eye 1-2-3 primer. Otherwise, a regular primer will do the trick.

Using a paintbrush or roller, apply a thin coat of primer to the entire surface of your room. Let it dry overnight. Then sand lightly and clean again. If necessary, prime again.


Step 5: Painting

Finally, you are ready to paint. Again, patience is the key.

For projects like a table or dresser that have a lot of flat surfaces, a roller is faster and creates a streak-free finish. For round rung chairs or furniture with hard to reach corners, you will need a brush. Whichever method you use (or, if you alternate them), apply a thin coat of paint in the direction of the grain. To avoid drips or build-up, always go back to what you just painted with the tip of a brush, especially around the edges and joints, where the paint can build up. Let this layer dry overnight to make sure the surface has hardened enough to withstand complete sanding.


Step 6: repeat

Once your first coat is dry, sand, wipe and repaint with another thin coat. Repeat: paint, dry, sand, clean. To properly paint a piece of furniture, it can take up to four or five coats.


Step 7: Seal and protect

Once you have achieved full coverage, you need to protect the finish with a top coat. Using a paintbrush, apply one or two coats of polycrylic, always sanding and cleaning in between. You can also use a transparent finishing wax. (Avoid varnish, as it may turn yellow.)


Above: My finished chairs ready for the table. (They look like Canvas’s Georgica chairs, right?)

How-to-paint-furniture-final remodelista

Above: my new suite of dining chairs. Total cost? Less than $ 200 all inclusive.

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