How to Paint Furniture

I never thought I'd be the girl that picks furniture up off the street, but in NYC it's almost impossible to walk by without taking a second glance. I'm a firm believer that a little TLC can do wonders, all it takes is some time and patience.

I'm fairly certain that my roommates thought I was nuts when I brought this cabinet in. I had called a friend from around the block to help me drag it into my apartment. There was a pause on the other end of the line, "Ok" she replied, "My first question is...are you sure you want to do that?" Yep, I was already dreaming of possibilities.

I found these instructions on Young House Love to be incredibly helpful. I was able to borrow a bunch of supplies from my parents, and for anything I didn't have, Home Depot became my second home. Some interior design help from my talented friend Kelcey McLaughlin, and there was no stopping me. From start to finish, it was a long weekend's worth of work. It's totally doable, and you have nothing to lose. Worst case, you drag it back out to the curb.

Face mask
Disposable gloves
Drop cloth
Sand paper or electric sander
Wood filler
Tack cloth
Small foam roller
Extra rollers
1" paint brush suitable for oil based paint
1" paintbrush for water-based paint
Disposable paint trays
Paint stirrers
Oil based primer
2 quarts of paint
Clear top coat
Updated hardware

1. Put down your drop cloth, covering anything you don't want paint on. Remove hardware and any cabinet doors with a screwdriver. This will keep it from getting paint on it or wasting time trying to paint around it. Pull out drawers.

2. Fill any holes or dents with wood filler (optional). My cabinet had some wooden detailing on the doors. Kelcey suggested I remove these to give the cabinet a cleaner look and modernize the piece. Unfortunately, they didn't come off cleanly so I was able to fill the holes with wood filler and sand down.

3. Sand everything. Wear your face mask for this — it isn't good to breath this stuff in. Start with a coarser grit sandpaper and then move to a finer grit. It should feel smooth and chalky. Don't skip this step, it allows the primer and paint to stick to your piece more easily. Believe me, you don't want to go through all this effort just to find your paint chipping off a few weeks later.

4. Go over the entire thing with a tack cloth. This is a sticky mesh cloth that picks up the dust.

5. Now for the fun part. Put your gloves on. Stir and pour your primer into the paint tray. Coat your roller so that it's wet but not dripping. Remember the key to this is thin, even coats. Work from the center of the piece out toward the sides.

Note: I used Kilz Original Oil Based Primer. An oil-based primer is key because it covers any stains on the piece. I had Home Depot tint my primer a light green so that I wasn't trying to cover white when I went to paint. Unfortunately they can't tint oil based primers 100% of the color because it messes with its composition and never dries. If you're piece is in pretty good condition, you might want to consider a water based primer or a paint/primer combo.

6. Use your paintbrush to fill any corners and crevices that can't be reached with your roller. The same rule applies here — thin is better. Allow to dry according to the manufacturer's instructions.

7. Repeat, this time using your paint. My project required two coats, allowing 2 hours to dry in between each. Every paint is different so go by what it says on your paint can. Three super thin, even coats are better than one wet, drippy, sloppy one. Take your time and do it right — if you rush you're going to be able to tell. Also try to avoid over-brushing the paint.

Note: I was doing this project in the living room of my apartment so I opted for low VOC paint (less smelly). I was happy with Behr Semi-gloss Enamel in Emerald Green.

8. Allow to dry completely. Overnight is great.

9. Finish off with a clear top coat. This has a thinner consistency than the paint and primer so it may take some getting used to. Use your brush and roller to cover the piece completely. Again, avoid over-brushing. Allow to dry before applying a second coat.

Note: I used Safecoat Acrylacq because the other option, Minwax Water-Based Polycrylic wreaks. I was really nervous when it was applied and appeared a milky white color. Rest assured, it does in fact dry a clear semigloss. It just takes some patience.

10. Reattach your cabinet doors and hardware. Swap out any old hardware for updated versions if desired. I found these beauties at Anthropolgie.

P.S. My favorite part of this is the infrared remote extender that allows me to put my cable box inside the cabinet, so we don't have to look at the stack of electronics every day. (Yes, I realize that's a little nerdy.)


images by Amanda Dennelly