5 Ways to Make Your Old Furniture Look New Again

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5 Ways to Make Your Old Furniture Look New Again

Teresa Bergen · Mar 22, 2022
Close-up of a paint brush applying a fresh coat of paint to an old piece of wooden furniture.

One of the most cost-effective ways to redecorate is to start with what you already have – or what you can acquire for cheap or for free. If you’re even a little bit crafty and handy, you can revive things like your coffee table, chairs, and nightstand and give them a nice new look.

Then again, maybe you’re more of a thrifter or garage sale enthusiast, or live in a town where people regularly leave free stuff at the curb. These are other good sources for your apartment remodel.

If you’re looking to pick up a little DIY work this spring, check out these easy and affordable ways to refurbish your old furniture:

Repaint It

For the most professional look, you’ll want to strip the old paint off your furniture before repainting it. This is best done outside. Once you move your furniture to an outside location, brush on a chemical stripper. The old paint will bubble up. You can then scrape off the old paint, using mineral spirits to help clear away all the former color. Chemical-resistant gloves and safety goggles are a must here, as the chemical stripper is nasty stuff.

If you’re not quite that industrious, you can lightly sand the old paint so the surface is rough. Then slop on a coat of KILZ primer, which covers old paint, stains, mold, and mildew. You should also do this outside or in a well-ventilated area. If you’re doing this in your apartment, open the windows and put down a drop cloth. And of course, remember to keep the area clear of small children and curious pets whenever you’re dealing with chemicals.

Once the furniture is prepped, you’re ready to repaint. Depending on your desired look (and your painting prowess), you could paint a couple of coats of one solid color. More daring looks include painting the table legs or drawer faces a contrasting color — say, a blue tabletop with orange legs — or getting even more creative. Semigloss paint is a good choice because it makes for an easy surface to clean. Alternatively, you could spray paint (again, outside) or wield a brush.

Simplify

Hand stains the surface of an old tabletop.

If you’re a less is more type of person, you’ll never be happy with a purple polka-dot bedroom set. Instead, you can go for a more natural look after stripping off the old paint. Consider staining your furniture. Use sandpaper to lightly sand your stripped wood. Clean away any dust before using a soft cloth to apply stain. You can get stain in just about any color now, but if you’re going for understated, you should probably pick something like weathered oak or golden pecan.

Even simpler tastes? Strip the wood and wax it. This will protect your wood furniture and show off its natural color, whatever that might be.

Recover Old Dining Chairs

While teaching upholstery is outside the scope of this humble article, old dining chairs are usually pretty easy to recover. It’s often a matter of unscrewing the seat cushions and separating the old fabric from the inner foam. But don’t throw the old fabric away yet. Instead, use it to size your replacement fabric. You can use a staple gun to attach the new fabric to the old foam. Or, if the foam is stained, misshapen, and generally worn out, replace that, too. Then screw the cushion back into the chair.

Where do you get fabric? A fabric store is an obvious answer, but thriftier types might source fabric from yard sales or thrift stores. Want something even more outside the box? You can cut up used curtains to recover your seats. Drop cloths are made from durable fabric that looks like linen or can easily be dyed and turned into cushion covers, as well.

Add Some Stenciling or a Transfer

Giant roses painted onto an old dresser via stencil.

Maybe you’d like more decorative-looking furniture but you’re not that good of a painter. That’s what stencils are for! A stencil is a thin sheet of plastic, metal, or cardboard with a decorative design cut out of it. You stick it on the back of your chair or tabletop and apply paint through the holes.

Stencils come in just about every style. You could choose something baroque and ornamental, reminiscent of Versailles. Or choose something fun, inexpensive, and appealing to kids of all ages, like a ring of pterodactyls circling a tabletop out of a two-dollar Fun with Dinosaurs Stencils book.

Rub-on furniture transfers are another bold and easy way to give your furniture an entirely new look. These giant roses instantly turn a shabby old dresser into something romantic and eye-catching.

Change Out the Hardware

Did you find an old dresser with potential in the street, but it has three rusty drawer pulls and the fourth is missing? No problem. All you need is some replacement hardware to breathe new life into your find. Depending on your aesthetic preference, buy shiny new hardware at a big-box store or scour salvage spots for vintage drawer pulls and cabinet knobs. Just make sure to measure the inside dimension between the two screws before you go shopping. Nowadays you can buy the coolest vintage hardware online from places like Hippo Hardware.

Furniture makeovers don’t have to be expensive or hard. And who knows? You might even like the results of your work so much that that piece you almost threw out becomes a precious family heirloom.

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