When Should You NOT Paint Wood Furniture?

Filed in Articles, Posts by on February 7, 2014 22 Comments


Painting “perfectly good wood” is controversial. Don’t believe me? If you’re a DIY’er that paints furniture for any length of time, I’m certain someone will open their mouth and gasped, “OMG, you paint wood?! Why would you do that?” After all, solid wood is the almighty indication of quality furniture, and to slather on a superficial coat of paint??

Well–that’s just not right, in their opinions. 

Recently a website featured my vintage chair makeover on their Facebook page. Remember the pretty little before and after?

Vintage Chair_BEFORE AFTER.jpg

It got tons of positive feedback (yay!!), but there were a couple nay-sayers in the bunch that just had to add to the convo, like this one:

“While it looks lovely and she [me] did a very good job, I just don’t understand why anyone would paint that beautiful wood. It was in perfect condition! I have a slightly similar chair that was my grandmother’s. Last year, I reupholstered it, but left the original wood as is – gives it so much more character that way.”

I wasn’t offended by her comment. After all, she said she liked the chair, right? :)

Actually, her comment got me thinking, though….


Is there a time when you should not paint wood? 

And if so, when are the times when we should just leave a piece of wood furniture alone? I realized that there really are a few times when you should not paint wood furniture:

STOP If: Grandma is Rolling Over In Her Grave

Grandma would be P.O.’ed if she knew you were painting over her antique hutch. She adored it. And every time you think you might take a paint brush to it, you cringe at the thought of Grandma smacking the brush out of your hand.

If you can’t bring yourself to do it because of guilt, then just leave it alone. Maybe pay someone to strip it and re-stain it back to its original beauty. Or, if you want to try to strip and stain it yourself, check out my YouTube video tutorial on how to strip furniture and stain it. At least this way, Grandma will be smiling down at you instead of waiting to lecture you at the gates of Heaven :).


STOP If: You Just Bought a Can of Rustoleum

Yikes! Hold it right there! Some paint is just not made for furniture. That includes a can of tar-like Rustoleum paint. That’s what happened to a friend who had the great idea to paint this beautiful, expensive chair with black Rustoleum paint (see below).

The result?

Horrible black, chipped paint that destroyed the wood. She ended up hiring me to see if I could strip it. WHEW! Tough job of getting black paint out of nitty-gritty cracks. Just don’t paint wood if you’re going to use the wrong paint. My favorite is Annie Sloan Chalk Paint, which is made for furniture and looks amazing on wood.

Stripped Chair Collage

STOP If: You Haven’t Consulted Papa Google (or Mama eBay)

One splash of paint and you’ve just ruined something you could sell on eBay for three or four figures. Do your research first and find out how much your piece of furniture is worth before you paint it, especially if it just looks like something so rare and special.

This almost happened to me! Remember this amazing Anco Bilt vintage drafting table I found at a thrift store for $30? I had no idea it was valuable! I almost painted it!!!! Until I searched Google and found that one has sold for $325 on eBay! Now, it’s in my thrifted crafting room, “AS IS.” And I love it, flaws and all :).

If it looks really valuable, it probably is. Don’t paint it if you’ve got a real gem on your hands!

Drafting Table

STOP If: You’re Just Trying to Be Cool and Trendy

Painted furniture is hot right now. But trends go in and out of style. Painting chevron stripes all over a perfectly good wooden buffet that had not one scratch on it may seem like a good idea. But in 5 years, it may be outdated. Then you may want to strip it, creating more work for yourself.

Only paint furniture because you love the look of it, not because you’re trying to emulate someone else’s look. Be true to your own decorating style.

With That Being Said……

Don’t just listen to me. Use your own gut to determine what you want to paint and not paint. These are merely guidelines for when you take on your next furniture painting project. It’s your house that you will be decorating, and you’ve got to live in it. Just throwin’ some tips out there for ya :)

My Next Project

So here’s what I am going to be painting next! It’s not my Grandma’s…..and it’s not an antique…..It’s just a lovely vanity begging for some TLC. It’s such a beauty!

UPDATE! UPDATE!  The vanity is painted!!! Come check out the BEFORE and AFTER right here!


I picked it up from the thrift store some time ago. If you remember, I posted it on my Facebook page, asking if I should sell it on Craigslist “as-is” or should I keep it and refinish it first. You guys voted for keeping it, so I did!



For those of you that live locally here in Maryland, I am in the midst of getting booth space at Sweet Clover Barn in Frederick, Maryland! This vanity will be available there at the February 21 – 23 barn sale! Anyone that wants to come out and check it out, I’d love to have you! STAY TUNED because I’ll be posting the “AFTER” this weekend, hopefully!

Before You Leave

If people get a little sassy with you, here are a few articles you can read to throw things right back at ‘em. :) Enjoy!

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Your 2 Cents

Okay, now I want to hear from you. Do you ever think there are times when you should NOT paint a piece of wood furniture? Leave a comment below! :)



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About the Author ()

LIFE shouldn't be financial suicide! Thrift Diving is about finding cheap solutions to life's expenses, via thrift stores and second-hand goods: I paint used furniture and decorate my house with it....my family rocks cute thrift store clothing.....and I invest tons of DIY (do-it-yourself) home improvement hours into fixing up our old 1973 single-family home. Thrift Diving is about turning the "expensive" into the "affordable." Thanks for joining me! Happy Thrift Diving!

Comments (22)

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  1. Jodi Jackson says:

    Great article, you shouldn’t follow trends! I love painted furniture but I love wood too. I always say if it’s going I. Your home and it yours, do what’s going to make you happy and fit into your style.

  2. Sharon says:

    Great article. I don’t paint furniture, but have considered it. I think I will stick with just cleaning up the good pieces and calling it a day. Some of your creations just make me hyperventilate, they are so wonderful. You are so talented.

    • Awww…Sharon, that is so sweet of you! I’m glad you like my work. I think you should definitely try it out. Go to the thrift store and find a cheapie wood end table or something that, if you don’t like it, you could always just donate back to the thrift store if it doesn’t turn out how you like it. And see what you can come up with! You may find that you really enjoy it! :) Thank you so much for leaving a comment! I really appreciate it! :)
      Serena Appiah recently posted…When Should You NOT Paint Wood Furniture?My Profile

  3. Blondie says:

    Great post Serena. I agree with you 100%. Have an awesome weekend and I can’t wait to see the vanity after pictures.
    Blondie recently posted…Blondie’s Boutique Opening for BusinessMy Profile

  4. I love how you broke this down. I completely agree with all of your points. I’ve definitely had those debates myself!
    Megan @ Rappsody in Rooms recently posted…Hometalk and Me on TV!My Profile

  5. Sheri says:

    Question: how did you find out about what you had on eBay with that plan table? That’s awesome!

  6. Linda says:

    If the piece of furniture is very high quality worth thousands may be hold off the paint. But most of us don’t have that kind of pieces. Painting a piece of furniture gives it own identity. The person painting it can put their own foot print on this special piece. I’m all for painting be creative and have most of all have fun.

    • Yeah, I know I don’t have any piece worth thousands! But even with my drafting table, just knowing I paid $30 for it, but it’s worth over $300, would deter me from painting it! Plus, I love the uniqueness of the wood. Oh, but get this–!! My 7-year old carved his name into it!!! EEEEKKK! I had no idea until I looked down when he said, “Look, Mommy!” Umm…..I guess it’s probably worthless now. HAHAHA
      Serena Appiah recently posted…When Should You NOT Paint Wood Furniture?My Profile

  7. Teresa @tessiescreations.wordpress.com says:

    I received a beautiful 1900′s dining set and I was so excited because I really wanted to paint the sideboard. Then my Dad said if I painted it “May the wood Gods curse you” That was enough of a reason not to paint it. Now I am on the hunt for another sideboard that is free or really, really inexpensive.

    • OMG, too funny!!!! I think a lot of time men are the ones that don’t understand painting wood. My husband used to say to me all the time, “WHY are you painting that?!” And it could be some funky old wooden thing that nobody would care about. But in your case, yeah, 1900′s seems like such a real treasure. You wouldn’t wan to destroy it! THEN AGAIN…..if a piece doesn’t gel with your home decor, but it’s antique, I guess you could still paint it so that you can actually USE it rather than collect dust on it in the garage. I guess you would just have to fight some big-bad wood Gods. HA! Thanks for sharing that!!!
      Serena Appiah recently posted…When Should You NOT Paint Wood Furniture?My Profile

  8. Kelly T says:

    Good post!
    I grew up with my Grandma and Mother, when Grandma wanted to change something she either painted it or wallpapered it! There were only a few pieces that she left alone and they are in my house now, an entry table with inlayed wood and her bedroom suite. I had the table redone several years ago and she said it was more beautiful than when she got it. The bedroom suite is still as beautiful as it was in the 1950′s although she did wallpaper the inside of the drawers lol Like you said, you have to go by your gut and do what you think is best but there is nothing wrong with changing things, even if they are worth a lot of money…do what makes you happy!

  9. Dorothy says:

    I must admit, that I would have a really hard time painting a piece of solid wood furniture. I would not judge anyone who did because I have seen some lovely results,

  10. Kandi says:

    Great post! I love the old antique look but sometimes some paint is ok. There are things that I cringe and think why on earth would you paint that. But other’s were I think wow that would be pretty if it was a certain color.
    Kandi recently posted…Tuesday Good Eatin Recipe Hop- Febraury 11thMy Profile

  11. Daniel Lloyd says:

    There are several woods are use to make furniture they all have there special appearance it self without any paint just polishing is enough to make them shiny . The painting tips and painted pieces you showed above are good job and it is easy to give your wishing color to wooden furniture .

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