How to paint furniture

Want pretty, painted furniture like these pieces I worked on over the summer? Painting your own furniture is an easy, eco-friendly (and wallet-friendly) way to put life into an old piece you would have otherwise got rid of.

Before you start, ask yourself these questions:

♥ Is the piece of furniture valuable in its own right? You might not like a brown piece of furniture, but if you’re sitting on an important antique, painting it might be a mistake. Make sure you’re using an old piece of furniture that would have otherwise been destined for a cheap resale or the rubbish tip.

wardrobe before

This was a valuable piece but not an antique or a family heirloom. Keep reading to see what we did with it!

♥ What is my vision and how does it fit with the rest of my décor? It’s all very well painting something a lovely pastel colour, but if the rest of your house is red and orange (for example) then you’ll be hard pushed to find a place for it later. Take into account your overall decoration scheme and any changes you might be making to that and think it through from there. If your house is very modern and you want a distressed piece of furniture, again think about how this fits in with the rest of the room it will live in.


My house is filled with pastel colours and rose motifs, it was an easy choice to paint the furniture to fit with the colour scheme

♥ Are there any potential pitfalls? A crack in the foot of a desk? A door knob that’s attached to the mechanism of the whole piece? An unwanted shelf that’s important for the structural integrity of a wardrobe? Small and fiddly details that are hard to paint? Make sure you take into account any troubleshooting before you pick up a paintbrush.

What you need


♥ An old, unwanted piece of furniture with potential. If you don’t have something like this at home but would still like to make your own piece of painted furniture then search eBay, charity shops and car boot sales for hidden gems.

♥ Wire wool and turpentine if your furniture is finished with wax, sandpaper (and a hand sander for larger pieces) if your furniture is varnished.

♥ Rubber gloves

♥ An acrylic-based primer.

♥ A knotting solution (if necessary)

♥ A small paintbrush and a roller.

♥  Enough paint for two thin coats (perhaps a third if necessary)

♥ Lacquer or sealant if you want a high-gloss finish.

♥ Any accessories you would like to add to your finished piece, wallpaper, replacement handles, appliques, decoupage paper printouts and decoupage glue, for example.

Preparing the furniture

♥ Remove any knobs or handles that you don’t want to paint or that you want to replace (unless you can’t).

♥ Start by cleaning the surface either with sandpaper for varnished furniture or wire wool and turpentine for waxed furniture. This is important as otherwise your paint won’t stick. If your furniture is not heavily finished, you still need to sand it down just to make the surface of the wood slightly rougher. If you are using turpentine, wear rubber gloves.


♥ Wipe down the wood with water and a cloth or a mild detergent to get rid of any sand or residue.

♥ Tape up any parts of the piece that you don’t want to paint, for example door handles or glass windows.

♥ Keeping your rubber gloves on, put on your first layer of primer (if you need to, use a knotting solution first and wait for it to dry). Use a roller for wider areas and a brush for smaller, more fiddly areas. Most tutorials will tell you that it doesn’t matter if your primer is even. I agree to an extent, but beware of the dreaded drips! Believe me, it will matter later on when it looks like your furniture is crying. Drips are particularly prevalent around small details or grooves in the furniture. If you want to distress your furniture and don’t mind the shabby look, you can skip the primer altogether.


♥ Wait for the primer to dry completely and go over it once with fine sandpaper to help your second layer of paint to bond (I could show you some pieces where I haven’t done this and trust me, it’s worth the extra half hour of effort).

♥ Again, wipe down the sanded and primed wood to get rid of any excess dirt or dust.

Now you’re ready to paint

♥ Once your furniture has completely dried and has been taped and prepared, it’s time to paint. Using a roller, paint as much of the piece as you can. Some people prefer to only paint the parts that can be seen, others like to be thorough in case they ever sell the piece. For example, we never painted the back of our Welsh dresser as it will always be against a wall, but selling it on in that condition wouldn’t be easy.

♥ Go from left to right or top to bottom (or both) and find every area that the roller has missed. Fill it in with a paintbrush. Beware of drips, I would suggest coming back five minutes later before the paint has dried but after enough time has passed for new drips to form and ensuring, with a wiped down brush, that your piece is drip free.

♥ Wait six hours (or overnight – even better) until your paint is fully dry and put on a second coat. Consider any areas you may have missed, such as the sides or insides of drawers or the tops of doors. It can be tempting to paint too early, but trust me the paint congeals and looks really messy when you do that.

♥ Apply any finishing touches, for example we put wallpaper on the back of this Welsh dresser to really make it pop. We also changed the knobs to match the overall scheme of the room and the piece.

welsh dresser

♥ If you want a shiny finish, use a lacquer or a sealant (I’d particularly advise this if you’re going to be using the surface a lot for eating or writing).



♥ Why stop at one piece? Make a matching set, or a mismatched set (like my kitchen set) with colours that complement each other.

♥ Design your own motif or find one that’s royalty free and decoupage your furniture! We’ll be posting a tutorial on that very soon…

♥ Protect your furniture from over-zealous pets by using a scratch prevention spray and making scratching posts readily available around your house.

4 Comments on How to paint furniture

  1. Diana Evans
    November 8, 2013 at 4:17 pm (5 years ago)

    I love this, I am just the same, I paint everything, change knobs, nothing pine is safe.. it’s a great feeling to personalise a piece of furniture to your own taste :)
    I’ve just bought a second hand pine dresser and can’t wait to give it a makeover :)

    • Sara - Darling Lovely Life editor
      November 8, 2013 at 4:18 pm (5 years ago)

      Hehe it’s the best! Rather than looking for a piece of furniture that’s really “you”, you can make sure it’s exactly right for you by making it yourself! Keep up the great DIY work :) I’d love to see some pictures xxx

  2. Aimee
    January 6, 2014 at 11:03 am (5 years ago)

    WOW! We have excatly the same Welsh dresser that I’ve done the same to but painted the back a sage green. The wall paper is also the same as what I have on my wall in my kitchen. Love it soo cheery.


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