Don’t Paint That! + Other Furniture Painting Advice to Ignore

Don’t Paint That! + Other Furniture Painting Advice to Ignore

If you have ever been told, “Don’t Paint That”, this post is for you.

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!

I also want to give you the confidence and enthusiasm for this art form and I don’t want you to be discouraged by people who don’t have all the facts. I love painted furniture and so do your future fans.

don't paint that, chair upcycle


Don’t Paint That Introduction

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 chalk paint onto furniture literally blows my mind.

I keep saying “It’s Just Paint!” No one is gonna die because you chalk painted Gramma’s Cupboard. Now, She might roll over in her grave depending on the paint color, or if you used regular latex paint, or if you didn’t prep first, but if she really loved you she’d want you to enjoy what she has passed down to you, not to have you imprisoned by all that brown furniture or its implied sentimental value.

I think the other fear of painting wood furniture stems from the judgment and shame so many internet trolls throw at furniture painters. When did furniture painting become such a vile pastime?

don't paint that, chair upcycle

I personally left every single FaceBook chalk paint group because I just couldn’t take the hate anymore, or the ignorance.

Side note: 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 bony finger at you?!!

Well, listen up people. Just because GOOGLE or EBAY or that TROLL say the piece that you found, inherited, or got at the thrift store, is worth big bucks, you don’t necessarily need to put down the paintbrush.

The trolls are wrong and I’m gonna tell you why.

Here’s why your brown furniture is not worth what you think it is and why you can ignore “Don’t Paint That!”

Don't paint that, upcycled trunk, painted furniture

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 finish, is intense. You will need to account for the time it takes to clean the dust, prep. the wood, sand the old finish, stain the wood, and add an appropriate sealer. 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” is easy breezy. It is not and we need to account for this time.

3. Don’t look at 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 First dibs, that will MAYBE sell it for you but they will take a significant percentage and you will have to transport it safely and most likely, pay any credit card fees. This is once you find an approved seller by the way.

Don't paint that, upcycled furniture, painted furniture

5. This is also the case with a consignment shop. If you do find a place that specializes in antique or vintage furniture, you will have to have your piece in tip-top shape, and provide transportation. The Consignor will 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 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 you guys do want some good ol’ brown antiques you can scour FB marketplace till you find it for cheap, Cause no one values it right NOW!

Don't paint that, upcycled wardrobe, painted furniture

“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 dusting and polishing furniture anymore!

We don’t use china, and even if we do have a china cabinet, its not holding any china. It’s holding 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 its fine to paint it. Let’s talk about why it’s GOOD to paint it. I’ll also sneak in a few do’s and dont’s of furniture painting. For more on choosing a good piece of furniture to paint check out this video.

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. 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!

It 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 both an act of creation and creativity 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. Panting 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.

Don't paint that, upcycled wardrobe, painted furniture

7. Furniture painting is a gateway to canvas painting. All the great furniture artists I know have jumped from furniture to canvas but it was the furniture skills they learned that gave them the skills and the confidence to face a blank canvas.

8. Yes I saved the best for last.

Painting furniture is SAVING furniture.

I know you are not painting a piece you bought at an antique roadshow. you are painting a piece that was about to be thrown out. It’s your paintbrush or the landfill. The difference is that the next generation can always remove the paint once brown furniture comes back in vogue (which it will so gen z better be ready to strip paint in 20 years), but that piece by the dumpster is gone baby gone. Worm food. All that craftsmanship is never to be seen again. You can’t convince furniture painter haters of this but don’t bother. They are as ensconced in their negativity as your local neighborhood conspiracy theorist so just walk away slowly, don’t engage, block, delete and move on baby. You’ve got some painting to do!

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 you probably shouldn’t paint.

1. Primitive furniture, which was made popular by farmhouse-style home décor. Isn’t Primitive furniture the “look” we are all trying to achieve without 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 back 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 detailed areas. A pop of orange or turquoise on a mid-century dresser can look extremely cool.

That being said, this window is narrowing by the day. There is just NOT a high demand for antique wood furniture in modern homes.

In my experience, there is a very short list of criteria for tossing furniture to the curb.

  1. It’s broken and the owners don’t know how to fix it
  2. It smells bad
  3. It brings back bad memories
  4. It’s seen as inferior to new furniture (which is a crock by the way. Watch my video to learn why)
  5. It just does not fit decor needs

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.

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. Its like you’ve cryogenically saved history.

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. I enjoy painting furniture and the look of well-painted furniture, and your future fans will too.


Tanglewood Sue

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One Comment

  1. I have several of those “antique” brown pieces you reference, and they just aren’t me. I like wild and bright colors! You have inspired me to make them into something I love, instead of tolerate. I love that green shown in the before-and-after picture of what looks like a fold down desk (a secretary? Is that what it’s called?) It would work nicely on a china cabinet (which holds books and games) in a room where I’m putting up some funky wallpaper. Could you tell me what you used on that piece? Thanks for the inspiration!

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