Step by step guide to painting old furniture

A good friend of mine is always laughing at us about our obsession with buying up old furniture to renovate, ‘Why don’t you just save yourself some hassle and buy new’ she often says. But where’s the fun in that?! Not only is up cycling a great way to save money, I love old things, imagining the stories behind them and giving a new lease of life to something with a bit of history.

I shared some images a while ago of my latest find, an absolute steal at £27 it was an old drinks cabinet (very retro, it even had a light inside to highlight your Baby Shams no doubt!).



I wanted something for our revamped dining room to replace some awful shelving I’d had enough of and took a hammer to and this looked perfect for storage. I took some pictures as we went along with a view to doing this step by step guide (and to prove to my friend how easy it is!)

I’m by no means an expert but hopefully this will show how easy it is to do and encourage you to have a go.

What you’ll need…

  • Sand paper (a hand held sander ‘mouse’ is even better if you have one, although not essential)
  • Sugar soap
  • Paint brushes (including a really small one for any tricky details)
  • Good quality primer (we buy all our paint from Johnstones in Cambridge, if you’re local check them out)
  • Paint of your choice (we always use eggshell as I’m not a fan of anything glossy. But chalk paint is really fashionable at the moment)
  • Matt varnish (not essential but it does protect the finish. You can also use a wax, especially if you are going for a more distressed finish)

Step by step…

  1. Good preperation is absolutely key to getting a good finish. You’ll find that lots of older furniture will have layers of varish, polish or wax which you’ll need to rough up in order to get a good finish with the paint. Start off by giving the piece a good sand all over.
  2. Once you’ve sanded it, brush off the worst of the dust and then make up a sugar solution and give it a good wipe. This stuff is brilliant and picks up all the annoying little bits of sanded mess.
  3. A tip we’ve learnt as we’ve gone along is to make sure you tape up any edges you don’t want to paint. We’ve found that when painting furniture with doors, it’s best to leave the edges as it can affect how they open and close. Spend a bit of time properly masking taping edges and you’ll be glad in the long run!
  4. You’re ready to paint! Start by putting a coat of primer all over. Don’t forget the backs of legs and underneath. If you are painting a chair it’s a good idea to turn it upside down first and start there.DSC_0425
  5. Once the primer has dried, check it all over to make sure you don’t need to lightly sand again. If you do repeat step 2 again.
  6. Time to paint with your chosen colour. Most pieces will need two coats – allow enough time for drying in between and try not to be impatient. Try to keep your brush strokes going in the same direction.
  7. The next step is option – if you want a distressed look, use a piece of sandpaper (wrapped around a small block of wood usually helps) and sand any edges to give that vintage feel. Focus on areas where chips and scrapes would naturally appear to make it look authentic. This looks is usually more effective when you use a colour and then take it back to either the primer coat or the bare wood.
  8. Once you are happy with your finish, give it a coat of the varnish. This is especially important for pieces like dressing tables – make up will then easily wipe off!
  9. That’s it. Wait for it all to dry before putting it back together and then step back and enjoy your master piece!





Mirror mirror on the wall…

For some reason, we’ve a shortage of mirrors in our home, but a recent haul at a northern auction has helped. Both had seen better days but a bit of TLC and a lick of (Farrow & Ball) paint has soon sorted them out.

This one was a dark wood one and I’ve painted it in Farrow & Ball’s Blackened.

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For this one I chose Farrow & Ball’s Shaded White and it’s really brought out the detailing around the edges.


Whenever you paint furniture, preparation is key – make sure the surface has had a light sand and I find using a weak sugar soap solution helps make the surface as clean and smooth as possible. A good quality primer should be used too before you apply your paint, I always tend to use eggshell as I love the finish.



How hard can it be to find a lampshade?

Painted standard lamp

This was one of those projects that half way through I really wish I hadn’t started. After painstakingly making sure this old wooden standard lamp was painted without drips then came the task of trying to find the right sort of lampshade. I’ve never realised how limited the choice on the high street is for lampshades, and I can’t be the only one who thinks this? At one point I thought about just making my own – anyone who has any tips on this please let me know! I needed it to be big, and I didn’t realise just how big till I started trying some out. I wanted something a bit different, with a print or pattern, not too quirky but not a boring one colour shade that would blend into the background. This was to be a statement lamp, and on the practical side offer a different level of lighting in our newly decorated living room. In the end all was not lost and I found a rather fabulous drum shade by Voyage in John Lewis which compliments the Charleston Grey (Farrow & Ball) that I’ve painted the base (which I acquired for free, even better!).

Somewhere for all things pretty…

I thought I’d kick off with a blog about our ‘new’ glass display cabinet, which I have fallen a little bit in love with. I had a vision for this piece as soon as I saw a photo of it. On my wedding day my Grandparents passed onto me a china tea set which has been in the family for over 100 years, I’m the fourth owner (albeit a nervous one as it’s been passed on to me minus only two cups) and I really wanted to make sure it was somewhere it could be seen – not hidden in a cupboard or sat somewhere gathering dust.

My honorary auntie regularly visits an auction house close to where she lives and I always take a little look at the catalogue in case there’s something that catches my eye that she can bid on for me. This cabinet jumped out at me.  Looking at the elegant shape of the feet and detail on the doors I knew with a bit of TLC it could be the perfect piece for our dining room and to display all those pretty things I have (and continue to collect, you can never have enough right?!).

I started out by taking it to pieces, the back still had what looked to be original fabric on it, which thankfully peeled off in one piece. Once sanded right back and wiped over with sugar soap it was just a case of being patient and layering on the paint. I’ve tried to keep the colours in our home Farrow & Ball throughout so that each colour scheme for every room still works with the rest of the house, I chose ‘shaded white’ for this, with a piece of wallpaper from Laura Ashley. I’m really pleased with the result, as with every piece I’ve done I’ve learnt something new (like not hanging the door back on upside down!) that I’ll remember for the next piece I source.

IMG_1791cupboard unit full