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September 19, 2013

10 Thrift Store Furniture Makeovers

10 Thrift Store Furniture Makeovers! The story of what one blogger has learned after painting over 20 pieces of furniture. Successes, failures, and everything in between! This is a great read!
I'm not the best decorator, designer, or photographer, my socks have probably only matched twice in my life, and my cats are rather plump. I'm far from perfect, but one area I'm getting pretty good at is paint. Jesse has definitely witnessed several 'I JUST RUINED IT!!!!' mini-breakdowns after one of my furniture makeovers has gone awry, but my goal has always been progress over perfection.

After painting probably 20 pieces of furniture in the past few years, I've definitely made some progress in my painting skills. So, today, I thought I would roundup 10 of my favorite painted furniture makeovers, and then afterwards answer some of the FAQ's I get about painting furniture. 
Let's get started with my 10 favorite furniture makeovers, going in chronological order. I'll share some failures, some successes, and what I've ultimately learned along the way. 

#1.  The Flip-Down Desk Makeover
This was the absolute first piece of furniture I ever painted. 
I did an awful job. 
I didn't prime or sand it, and it's basically a giant piece of string cheese now. I'm showing you this for two reasons. One, because I'm about to strip this piece and redo it, and now you can say you knew it back when. Two, because it's a great reminder. A great reminder that if you make a mistake, even on your grandmother's fine antique furniture, you will live to tell the tale. It's not the end of the world. 
Leave it alone for a bit (bit = three years) and circle back around. 
*That being said, I would suggest avoiding the heirlooms until you know what you're doing. Do as I say, not as I do. :)

#2.  Gold Stenciled Vanity Desk
This little vanity table was one of my first furniture makeovers as well. I painted it and stenciled a gold lattice stencil on top. I've since sold it on Craigslist (tips here), but it still holds a special place in my heart. For being one of the first makeovers, I totally think this one came out pretty cool.
High five, little guy. So sorry I sold you.

To see the stenciled vanity before pics go here.

#3. Office Desk Makeover
Oh, the desk. I'm sitting at this desk right now as I write. I love this desk. It's one of my favorites. I love it because it turned out amazing, but only after a lot of heartache. There is some definite truth behind the saying that you learn more from your failures than from success. I painted this table twice, and scraped the paint off twice. Then I cried twice. Then, I finally figured out the most durable solution, which was using an oil based paint and primer. I'll elaborate more on oil based vs. water based at the end of this post.

To see the before pics of the desk, go here.

#4. The Dresser Makeover That Launched It All.
This was the first dresser I ever owned as an 'adult', and I eventually decided to paint it, even after the debacle with the heirloom. As fate would have it, it turned out so great that it sent me into a tailspin of painting everything in sight and eventually starting a blog about my adventures. 
You can see where this dresser recently ended up AND help me with some future flooring decisions here. Seriously, help.

#5.  The French Provincial Dresser Makeover
This is the filet mignon of in, it's my favorite. Also, it was originally $50, so it's just biding its time before I trade it in for a steak. Kidding. I would NEVER.
If you've never seen the before picture go here

#6. Chalkboard File Cabinet Makeover
This little file cabinet was my first ever roadkill transformation, and I'm hoping it won't be my last. I will never be too proud to drag someone else's trash across the street. Even if it's my own neighbor's, and I totally get stuck in the middle of the street because I overestimate my strength. 
Because that happened. Here

#7. Piano bench turned STRIPE.
I'm not including any chairs since I've already listed my top 10 chair makeovers here, but this bench is just begging to make the cut, especially after holding his own in the closet makeover. And I can't argue with that. 
So an exception we shall make.

Full tutorial here.

#8. The Blue Dresser Makeover
I mostly took a break from painting furniture to paint our trim and our cabinetry throughout the house, and when I came back to it, I had really learned so much. My painting skills really started to improve by the time this makeover came around. I started out with an old dresser given to us by a friend. It was in great shape, but needed some updating.

I used my favorite color of aqua blue paint and some fancy new hardware to completely transform this dresser into something that looks amazing in our master bedroom.

See the full tutorial, hardware source, and paint colors here.

#9. The Herringbone Dresser Makeover

This is one of my most recent makeovers. For this makeover, I decided to do something a little different and throw some pattern into the mix. Here's the before picture of Kevin*.
*(who will be forever called that after this post).

And here he is after some fresh new blue paint and gold spray painted hardware.

You can also see Kevin in his early days back when I first painted and stenciled him and made him be our TV console for 2 years. He's since been relieved of his duties.
*Update: Kevin lives on in this post even though we tried desperately to go our separate ways.

#10. The Silver Leaf Vanity Table Makeover
This is my most recent furniture makeover, and although it was difficult, I think it might be my all time favorite. I started out with a $15 thrift store desk that had definitely seen better days...

And after a grueling session with 50 sheets of silver leaf, I ended up with a lovely place to sit and get ready each day. I also learned something cool about plexiglass during this makeover, so I give it an overall thumbs up. It wasn't easy, but I still learned so much.
 Plus, I still find silver leaf floating around my house sometimes...
 so accidental disco = awesome. Or something.

See the entire silver leaf adventure here.

And those are my 10 favorite furniture makeovers so far. I'm sure there will be many more to come.
For instance, this one. 
Now, let's answer some of the frequently asked questions that I get after posting my furniture makeovers. Hopefully this will answer some of your questions, too.

#1. Do I use an oil-based paint or a latex-based paint? 
The answer is that you can use either one. Their are pros and cons of both. Latex dries faster and is easier to clean up, but it's not as durable as an oil-based paint. For something like my desk, I chose an oil based primer and oil based paint because it gives you a really hard, durable glossy finish. 

#2. What paint do you usually use? 
With the exception of my desk and a couple of other small projects, I usually opt for latex. It is durable enough for what I need, it can be cleaned up with water, and it isn't smelly like an oil-based paint. That stuff lingers. Emphasis on the lingers. For most of my furniture, I've simply used a flat interior paint in the color of my choice, usually Behr or Valspar. Then, I use a topcoat of my choice.

#3. Do I use wax or polycrylic or polyurethane as a topcoat?
I always prime first, then I usually paint with flat paint, then seal with a wax or polycrylic. Wax is less durable but gives it a softer/matte look. Polycrylic is more durable and can be bought in satin, semi-gloss, or gloss finish. I only use Polyurethane on furniture I've painted a dark color. It's super durable, but it yellows overtime, so it's not ideal for light colored furniture. My preferred method is polycrylic.

#4. How do I get the smell out of old furniture?
Wiping the insides of drawers out with vinegar can help remove any old smells. If that doesn't help, wipe down the drawers and then paint them. I did that on this dresser, and it smells and looks brand new.

#5. How do I repair small dents or scratches on furniture?
I use wood filler (affiliate link) on any dents or scratches. Just smooth a small amount over the dent, let dry, then sand until the excess is removed. Once painted, you won't see any of the imperfections. I do this to almost every piece I paint. 

#6. How do I get rid of brushstrokes?
I usually use a high quality brush followed by a small foam roller (as mentioned in this tutorial), but I've recently discovered a great new tip that I am loving! When using latex paint, you can use a product called Floetrol (affiliate link). You add a few tablespoons to your paint and it's basically like a conditioner for your paint that leaves barely any brushstrokes behind. It's kinda awesome, and I can already tell that I'll be using it a lot going forward. More on that later.

#7. How do I change the hardware out for a different size?
If you want to swap a knob for a pull, or vice versa, remove with a screwdriver, and just fill in the current holes with wood filler and drill new ones wherever you want your new hardware to go. Once painted, you'll never know the old holes were there. 

#8. Do I have to sand my furniture before painting?
Easy answer. Nope. Sanding a piece first will always give you better adhesion, but these days I usually just prime it using a primer like Zinsser (affiliate link). It holds up really well.

#9. Can you just spray paint a piece of furniture?
 Sure. Spray paint is predominately oil-based, so it clings really well to just about anything. The only con is that it's super smelly and difficult to clean up, so you'll want to do it outdoors in a well-ventilated area. I often have a really hard time getting spray paint to look even on table tops or large flat surfaces, so I usually only spray paint smaller pieces of furniture like chairs or end tables. Plus, it takes a lot of cans of spray paint to cover a large item. All of the above reasons usually mean I end up using a pint of latex paint on my larger pieces. :)

#10. What about using a paint sprayer?
I've never used one before, so I can't give you any advice on that one. However, I can promise you that a paint sprayer is at the top of my list of 'things I want asap', so I promise to share my findings with you once I finally get my hands on one. For those of you seasoned painters who have them, any suggestions? I'm listening! :)

And that, sweet friends, is all for today! 
Thanks so much for stopping by!

For related posts, please check out the following:

10 Thrift Store Furniture Makeovers! The story of what one blogger has learned after painting over 20 pieces of furniture. Successes, failures, and everything in between! This is a great read!
That's all for today! 'Til next time!
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  1. V, all of your mad skills aside, I died laughing when I saw you named the furniture Kevin. That is so something I remember you doing in high school :)

    1. HA! I love it, Heather!!! So funny....and so true! I promise I'm not still carrying dead trees down the street either. Just furniture these days. :)

  2. Hi! Love your site, I'm currently in the whirlwind of finding craigslist stuff and transforming it and can't seem to stop, I just want to keep everything I've done and can't get enough. I've got a question for you on the silver leaf. I've been wanting to do this and am trying to wait until I'm a little more "seasoned" what are your thoughts on silver leaf versus metallic paint? Over all on the finished product, how much difference is there between say, silver leaf and a bright silver metallic paint?

    1. Really not much different in the end. The silver leaf looks really cool, but for how much effort it took, I will just spray paint it silver next time. That being said, I'll probably use silver leaf again, but on a much small maybe a frame or some chair legs! :) And I'm so happy you are enjoying transforming stuff!!! xo

  3. Yayyyy! New post <3 And an amazing one. Thank you Virginia :)

  4. these are incredible. i think my favorites are between the herringbone and blue dressers...

    cheers!(and keep painting!!!)

    1. Thanks Lisa! I love the blue one, too! A total fave! xo

  5. I am in the middle of painting a dresser and my husband convinced me to go the spray paint route. However - it's actually a spray lacquer. pretty neat stuff! Only downside is that so far I've only seen it in white, black and clear. Just thought I'd throw out another option for you to test out one day :)

    1. Oh cool! I've never tried that before. I'll have to look into it! Thanks for sharing! xo

  6. Virgina, I am so glad I found your blog. I was getting so bummed that my husband and I couldn't afford to buy new furniture, but your blog has inspired me (and now him) to re-invent our old, beat up hand me down furniture!!! We have mapped out several projects already! Thanks for sharing our experiences with the world!

    1. Thank you so much Shonda! That truly is so wonderful to hear! I'm so glad I could help inspire you! I think you are really going to love working on your projects!! Keep me posted!

  7. These are all fantastic makeovers but I especially love the aqua blue dresser - it's just darling!


  8. You've done a marvelous job on all the pieces! I love, love the afters and your decor. Thanks for the hints too!


  9. I used to work as a furniture artist for a store who gave makeovers to older or outdated finds! It's definitely all about trail and error. You shared a lot of great tips for everyone!

    1. Thank you Brandi!! Um, and WHAT an awesome job!!! :)

  10. You are so talented! I am so happy I found your blog a few months ago! Keep bringing the good stuff :)

    1. Aw! Thank you, girl!! So happy to have you as a reader! And from one 'state' name to another, nice to meet you!! :)

  11. great tips! I have for sure been there on all your paint mishaps! It takes a few to get it right the way you want it! They all look great to me though! Keep up the great DIY

    House Envy

    1. Thanks so much Laura!! Isn't it funny how it evolves over time? xo

  12. Paint truly is a deco-goddess's best friend. :)
    I have been in love with that blue dresser ever since you posted it!!* It really did turn out beautifully. (I don't even usually gravitate towards blue but it just looks so darn good!!)
    I appreciate every tip you share so much. Have a great weekend!!

    *don't tell Kevin, I don't want him to be jealous-especially since I love him just as much. I think I need my own Kevin to store my extra linens in.

    1. I promise I won't tell. Kevin is better off not knowing. :)

  13. Hi Virginia,
    I just want you to know how much your blog posts make me laugh and inspire me. Thank you sooo much!!! Keep it up girlfriend! Reading about your adventures helps me learn and I truly look forward to reading about them. And your mis-adventures are even more helpful. Most other blogs are hoity-toity and full of too-expensive or impractical advice. Thanks for keeping it real. Amy

    1. Thanks so much Amy! You have no idea how happy it makes me to hear that! I try so hard to keep it real, so thank you!! So happy to have you as a reader! xo

  14. I love, love your blog! So I painted a cedar chest I found on the road a few years ago and made it a coffee table with some new feet and hardware (along with the paint job of course) and we love it but it has some problems. It has a carved part that looks like a seashell/lotus flower and the primer went on really thick which made it hard to paint and so the paint is thick and a little drippy. Also whatever paint I used (I think I used wall paint, I have no idea if it was oil or water based) is sticky when it is humid, which is 12 months of the year in Boston, and magazines leave behind print. I really want to re-do it, as well as a carved headboard I pulled off the roadside, but I don't know how to prevent the above! Any help or tips you have would be awesome!

    1. Hi Jilliane! Thank you so much! It might be worth finding yourself a well ventilated area and trying out an oil based primer and oil based paint. That should give you the much 'harder' finish that you are looking for. I usually avoid the oil based though because of the fumes. If you opt for water-based (which I usually do), I would recommend priming with a water based primer first and then doing a couple light coats of latex paint, allowing them to fully cure in between coats before applying a topcoat. A topcoat of polycrylic will also give you a durable finish. Hope that helps! xo

  15. love you blog! I had to laugh when you said you got the file cabnet from a neighbor maybe trash? When my husband and I bought our first home. We had just moved in and I saw someone had left a bench out for trash. I pulled that thing a block yes a block for all my neighbor's to see. I painted it and it still sits on our pourch 10 years later. Thanks for all your inspiration.

  16. I love love love your blog! I just found it and it is truly an inspiration. Your style is exactly what I would envision for my dream home. I just scored a sweet Craigslist deal on a French provincial dresser almost identical to yours so your blog has given me some great ideas. Keep up the good work!

  17. Hi Virginia, I'm not sure how professional you're wanting to go with the sprayer but I recently bought one myself (LOOOOOOVE IT!!). I had orginially bought some super sleek looking gun that you needed an air compressor for but once it got here I was clueless because you needed all this extra stuff (water separator, all kinds of gauges, etc.) so I sent it back. I immediately turned around and bought the Wagner 518080 Control Spray Max HVLP ( and it is like night and day! I use flat latex for 99% of my projects and it has cut paint time more than in half. I can use it to prime, rinse it out, use it to paint, rinse it out, and even use it for the polycrylic, rinse it out. Clean up is super easy, too. Much better than ringing out a brush or roller for 30 minutes while the neverending paint know what I mean. Anyway, that's my two cents. It's a great starter gun, practically fool proof because before that the most I'd touched was a spray can so...Take a look. It has excellent ratings other than mine. :) You won't regret it!

    1. My husband bought me a spray gun at Harbor Freight for less than $15! Its a pretty purple and easy for me to handle since I have tiny hands. I rinse it out really well then rinse it out & spray some mineral spirits through it and it works like a dream. I would recommend a short air hose though. The one we have is super long and after I've been at it a while I have to stop to let the pressure build back up. I was tired and at the end of a project and decided not to tape or cover the glass that was in my cabinet doors so I sprayed right over all that glass. The next day I was kicking myself until I realized that I could take the glass out. For what ever reason I decided to wipe the painted glass down with my mineral spirits and the thinner painted areas started to come off immediately. I took a razor to the rest and the mineral spirits made the scraping so easy! I could practically peel off the latex paint.

  18. Great blog and AMAZING furniture transformations! Do you use chalk paint for any of your furniture painting projects?

  19. Hi Virginia! You have such great ideas and inspire me to do great things on my own! I just love your blog!
    I need some advice and hoped you'd help me! My family is coming in for the holidays and I'm looking to dress up my home before they get here. However my house is pretty much bland, becuase, as much as i enjoy doing DIYs, tackling my house is definitely intimidating.
    I'm looking to decorate my living room and both guest and my bedroom since the rest of the house isn't so bad.
    I'm thinking of buying a few side tables for the guestroom and maybe a cute little cart that i can paint and put in goodies for them.
    For my room, i want to either buy and re-upholster a chair to put in an area of the room that i know will look great,or just buy a brand spankin new one for $200 (eek!) and i also want to purchase a nice rug and add some color to my room as well since its so serious with the black and white all over.
    The livingroom, its nice, but i want to add color and make it warmer and inviting.
    FINALLY my question is: where would you start in order to get a task done by the holidays? I have short amount of time and what seems like A LOT to do.
    Sorry for the over load of info, kinda freaked out mid-writing. Any advice you have would be great!! I'm all ears!


  20. This is a goldmine. Thanks for addresses laminate furniture-it's so hard to find tips for painting laminate! Any thoughts on repainting laminate furniture? I bought an adorable table and chairs but it was badly painted a color I don't think. I'm guessing it was latex, with no primer or sealer, because it is flaking off, still feels a little tacky and it chipping off. Should I try to lightly sand it before priming? Any help would be greatly appreciated! :)

  21. You crack me up! I love your tips and fresh ideas. This was an awesome post!

  22. OH MY GOODNESS!!! This blog is a little piece of heaven! My husband and I just purchased our first house (closing November 22!!!), and I'm already itching to start DIY'ing! Your tips are fantastic, and make decorating on a budget very appealing! I love your color schemes, it looks so fresh and clean. You have a wonderful eye for color and decor! It made my day when I found your blog a few days ago, and I will be frequenting it throughout decorating our new house!!! So THANK YOU for all of your mistakes and triumphs so you could teach the rest of us what to do and what not to do!!!

    1. Thank YOU, Traci! What a wonderful comment to get today! Totally made my day. Thank you for making me smile. xo

  23. I'm a furniture painting girl too, and I just wanted to say that I love your style!

  24. Where did you get your mirror pictured above the blue dresser. I love the dresser color and the mirror!

  25. Thanks for the tips! super helpful! I love your style and how adventurous you are in your make-overs :)

  26. Virginia, thank you so much for writing this blog and all the awesome inspirations and tips :) We just repainted my daughter's bedroom and was looking for tips on how to tackle the old (inbuilt, sigh) wooden dresser and closet door who look so yucky now in the pretty sparkly blue room. I think I have a clear plan now :) Thanks again!! <3

  27. You're amazing, thank you so much for sharing your DIY knowlede! I'm so impressed and inspired by all your furniture makeovers and decorating! I love that you thrift and really stretch your money.
    I recently decided to makeover my kitchen table and I wish I found your blog first.
    I have a question about your desk-did you end using the Behr black suede or an oil based paint? I'm sanding down my table again (for the fourth time) and could really use some advice!
    Thank you again for sharing all your awesome creations!


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