To Paint or Not to Paint?

 A few weeks ago I was asked by a friend to help her refresh an old piece she’d scored on Craigslist. It was a beautiful Duncan Phyfe style library table (higher than a coffee table, lower than a usual dining table) in bad shape but with lots of potential, and at that time I had mixed feelings about what to do with it. To paint or not to paint? A question I’m sure many of us have asked at one point or another… My friend has since changed her mind and found something more suitable for her decor so I was left with a pretty table and total freedom to restore it/throw it out.

The thin leather top was terribly scratched (a crime, a crime!) and I had no idea if an easy fix can restore it. Whenever I come across an older piece that I like and could make a beautiful addition to our home, I try to figure out the best approach. I like to be respectful of  its past and so have a hard time painting it (which is why I’ve only done it once before). But when is it OK to paint furniture? Well, as I was thinking about this and trying to find logic in my processes, I realized there are only a few possible instances.

With an old furniture piece, whether a thrift shop find or family heirloom, you either: love the piece and the finish, but it needs a few minor fixes; love the shape and style but the finish doesn’t work for your space; or, in the case of many inherited pieces, you don’t really like it, it doesn’t go with your stuff but feel guilty throwing it out.

Cafe Design | Paint 1

Best case scenario, it is a lovely finish that looks great in your home as is. Great, keep it and enjoy it! Any room can use something old that brings patina and character. Your home will feel more layered and collected that way, as opposed to a one-stop-shop collection of furnishings where everything matches. Now, what if you find a piece that you love but needs either professional restoration or a different finish? If the piece is beautiful enough, it is best to have it professionally restored. A skilled carpenter can transform it into a dream piece.

If the style is beautiful but the finish is not to your liking, there’s only one way to go, and that is painting it! Same goes for any old piece you think you don’t like because it looks too dark and dated. Fresh coats of paint can do wonders! Just make sure you know what you’re doing if you’re planning to DIY-it. The results will be even better if you have a professional refinish it.

Now, a word of caution. In case of old furniture, it is possible you’ve stumbled across an antique (U.S Customs labels as antique, anything 100 years or older) so make sure you’re not ruining a precious piece with paint. There’s usually no way back that will preserve its value. Personally, I love the look of painted farmhouse furniture – the soft pastels of Swedish and Early American farmhouse style. So, I gathered a few favorite spaces as examples of rooms that display painted pieces as well as pieces left in their original finish. As for my new table, I’ve decided that I’m going to have it  refinished in a high-gloss black and preserve the original antiqued brass hardware. I’ll show you the before and afters when it will be done. Have a great week!

beach house

Bee Stair

Cafe Design | Breakfast Nook

Cafe Design | Paint 3

Cafe Design | Paint 4

Cafe Design | Paint 9

Cafe Design | Paint 11

Cafe Design | Paint 23

Cafe Design | Paint 6

Bee Breakfast Nook




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  1. September 27, 2017 / 9:00 am

    I love to paint furniture! As my style has evolved, painting has allowed me to change pieces of my furniture inexpensively. My family room was heavy on pine furniture for a while and it was beginning to look a bit too country for my taste. A few coats of pale grey paint on my pine armoire turned the look of the room from country to Gustavian and I love it. Paint is inexpensive, and relatively easy to use and change if you don’t like it. High gloss black is a favorite paint choice of mine as well and I can’t wait to see your table when you are done with it!

    • Eva Contreras
      September 27, 2017 / 9:41 am

      My thoughts exactly, Elizabeth! Thanks for your kind words, I’ll be sure to post the results!