Don’t Paint That! and other furniture painting advice you can just ignore
-In this article, I want to give beginner furniture painters the answer to “Is it OK to paint old furniture?” The short answer is YES! Not only that, but you are saving the planet, and maybe even yourself.
I want to provide you with the confidence and enthusiasm for this art form, as well as the knowledge that individuals who don’t have all of the information shouldn’t stop you from painting wood furniture. I love the look of painted furniture, and your future fans will too.
So What's scarier than public speaking? Or Childbirth? Or even cliff diving?
Well, evidently it’s furniture painting!
The number of comments establishing a relentless fear of putting paint onto furniture literally blows my mind.
I think the other fear of painting wood furniture stems from the judgment and shame so many internet trolls throw at furniture painters. Here’s my own reenactment for your endless amusement!
I personally left every single FB chalk paint group because I just couldn’t take the hate anymore, or the ignorance.
(sidenote-why would you join a furniture painting group in the first place just to bitch about all the furniture painting going on?!?! I mean, would I join a BBQ group and rant about how cruel the meat industry is and post my vegan recipe? It seems pointless to me. But I digress…and now I’m hungry.)
Most of the online painted furniture bullies out there just LOVE to say “You could have sold that for more if only you hadn’t painted it” or “You just ruined the value of that antique”! Can’t you just see them wagging their Karen finger at you?!!
Well, listen up people. Just because GOOGLE or EBAY or that TROLL say that the piece you found, inherited, or got at the thrift store, is worth big bucks, does not mean you need to put down the paintbrush. Not so fast…
Here’s why your brown furniture is not worth what you think it is.
1. Google is not a true appraisal. Even if the wood was once beautiful, you got it cheap for a reason, and it may or may not need to be repaired or refinished to get the price you see online, and therefore think you have been promised.
2. If you do decide to refinish the piece, keep in mind that refinishing takes A LOT more time than painting. Maybe not for a professional refinisher, but I assume I’m talking to painters here, and the care and mastery to refinish wood back to its intended glory, is intense. It takes time and patience. The latter is something I just don’t have.
2. You will need to research, photograph, list online, and negotiate to get a sale. This could take months or even years to get the price you are holding out for. This is also true for painted furniture but I’m referring to people who think just “selling it as-is” easy breezy is a thing. It is not and your time needs to be accounted for.
3. Don’t look what eBay says it’s being SOLD for, change your settings to see what it ACTUALLY sold for. My guess is it didn’t. At least not at that inflated price.
4. You could find an antique consignment shop or online auction like Chairish, or Firstdibs, that will MAYBE sell it for you but they will take a significant percent and you will have to transport it safely and most likely, pay any credit card fees. This is once you are an approved seller by the way.
5. This is also the case with a consignment shop. If you do find a place that specializes in antique or vintage furniture (My shop www.tanglewoodworks.com used to do just this) you will have to have your piece in tip-top shape and provide transportation. The Consignor will also probably not want to do business with a one-off vendor. If they are going to go through the trouble of setting you up as a consignor, you will need to have a steady stream of desirable wood pieces.
To be as clear as I can on this...
MOST vintage or even antique pieces you will come across are just not uber valuable antiques.
Millennials and each generation since have made it very clear that they did not want that dang brown furniture. I’ve seen more on the side of the road on trash day than in a shop.
I mean when is the last time you and your friends said “let’s go to a stuffy overpacked antique store and find something FUN for the entryway! Even if these guys do want some good ol brown antiques you will scour FB marketplace and Craigslist till you find it for cheap, Cause no one values it right NOW!
“Now” is the operative term. It’s not in fashion NOW. Our homes do not have formal rooms anymore. Modern trends embrace light and airy spaces. Furniture today must be easy to use and not require upkeep. Nobody has time for that anymore!
We don’t use china, and even if we do have a china cabinet, it’s not holding any china. It holds books, or photographs. When is the last time you admired someone’s china cabinet filled with china? If it was recently, then perhaps you and I run with very different crowds.
Enough of why your furniture has no value and therefore it's fine to paint it. Let's talk about why it's GOOD to paint it.
This is Why that furniture IS valuable as painted art
1. You can choose color schemes based on things that you love or you want in your life right now instead of trying to protect what your family has passed down for generations.
2. You can choose the mood of your home instead of working your style around what was handed down to you. Think of it as regifting, but to yourself.
3. If you are selling your furniture, painting it (if done well) adds a whole new value to that brown furniture. That’s what Upcycling is, increasing the value of something by infusing it with an artistic flair. This is where you can take something that is FREE, found, or under 40.00 bucks and give it a whole new kind of value.
4. Painting is an act of creation and creativity is a requirement for a joyful life. Everyone needs to be creative, so even if your work doesn’t sell, it may still offer value simply by allowing you to pick up a paintbrush. It’s therapeutic to choose hues and play with paint on furniture because there is so much room for creativity.
5. I personally know many people who traversed deep grief in their lives by turning to art in the form of furniture painting. To take a piece of furniture and transform it into their own creative expression was satisfying and deeply healing.
6. Painting furniture is easier than a canvas. It does not require a subject (it is the subject), you can paint it all one color (only modern art can really get away with that) and furniture painting connects you to a community that is not as snooty as art groups.
7. Furniture painting is a gateway to canvas painting. All the great furniture artists I know have jumped from furniture to canvas art (you can see some of mine right here) but it was the furniture skills they learned that gave them the skills and the confidence to face a blank canvas.
This is why painting that brown furniture is helping the environment
We don’t even have to get into the fact that good furniture paints like Debis Design Diary Paint, and Daydream Apothecary are NO VOC paints. We need to back up a little bit and think about what happens every time we paint a piece of furniture.
We keep it out of the landfills!!!
This is the primary point that haters don’t and won’t understand. On ANY given trash day anywhere in the United States brown furniture is being hauled to a dumpster. Why? It could be many reasons.
So the more we all learn how to repair, paint, and test even take the smell out of old furniture, the more we bring awareness to Upcycling in general. (I was interviewed by Wiki how on this very subject)
Upcycling is STILL not a household word (well I guess it depends on the household) but that is a sad fact in the face of our changing climate and world.
If none of my other arguments resonate with you and allow you to paint with abandon, just remember that you are saving something. Something huge actually that takes up a lot more toom than some milk jugs. You are also saving this antique for future generations. Someday someone will maybe take off that paint you lovingly put on but who cares? The piece is still around to be loved in the way the new owner wants to love it.
It's like you've cryogenically saved history.
So is my advice an absolute? Do I feel delight in EVERY piece I witness going under the brush? Yeah, no.
I actually think there are some pieces that probably should not be painted
1. Primitive furniture, which was made popular by farmhouse-style home décor. Isn’t Primitive furniture the “look” we are all trying to achieve with chippy tricks and distressing tutorials? Yes, I believe it is, so if you actually do find a primitive, once painted piece, that has a perfectly timeworn look and maybe even some old chipping paint, let’s put down the brush and step slowly away.
2. Mid-century furniture by well-known designers. I’m not talking knock-offs, but genuine, maybe even Scandinavian solid wood furniture should still be in good enough shape to buff up and keep as-is. If you really must paint it, maybe just in some of the detail areas. A pop of orange or turquoise on a mid-century dresser can look extremely cool.
So whadya say? Have I armed you with enough facts to paint with abandon! I sure hope so.
Please let me know if you have any questions or you need me to come fight any online bullies with you who give you unsolicted furniture painting advice. I got you!