From Secretary to Dinning Room China Hutch: How to Paint Your Grandmother’s Furniture & Make It Your Own

If you have a hand-me-down piece of furniture that isn’t quite an antique, but has some sentimental value, it’s okay to paint it.  Find another use for it completely.  Reinvent it and make it your own.  That way you can keep that piece of furniture your grandmother gave you, but you don’t have to live with something you don’t love.

I had a secretary that my grandmother bought about 25-30 years ago. 011 Anyone know what a secretary is?  Well, she used it to keep her bills and stamps in.  I inherited it about 13 years ago.  It was extremely dark wood.  For a long time I just used it as sort of a book shelf.  I always thought about getting rid of it because it really wasn’t my style.  I never could, though.

So, finally, I painted it.  What did you use to paint it and what was your process, you ask?  What should you do if you want to paint your grandmother’s furniture?  Well, let me walk you through it.

  1. Pick a color scheme that compliments your room and the piece.  IMG_8328With this piece I knew I wanted to store my red dishes I got when I got married and my great-grand mother’s china which is white.  I wanted a predominately red piece to go with my current color scheme, but I did not want red on the inside where I planned to store my red dishes.  The red I chose was actually a color match from a cabinet I had painted in another room, but it is very similar to Roycroft Copper Red from Sherwin Williams.  I chose to put gray on the inside where the dishes were going and I chose to use the same gray I had on my walls in the rest of the front of the house, requisite gray.
  2. Determine whether you are going to use oil or latex.  IMG_8327When making this determination, you have to consider the surface of the piece you will be painting.  If your piece doesn’t already have paint on it, you can go with latex.  Latex is easier to work with in my opinion.  I painted this piece in my house with no problems with fumes.  It’s also easier to clean off your hands and brushes.  This piece had never been painted, but did have a shiny finish which is why I sanded it.  If your piece has already been painted, you have to be sure you don’t try to paint oil over latex.  If you decide to paint latex over oil, you will need to be sure you take proper steps to prepare your surface.  You may need to strip off old paint.
  3. Set it up off the floor.  To make sure you can sand and paint all the way to the tip of the feet, set your piece up on wooden blocks or risers or in my case, sliders.  You could even put paper plates under your piece to catch any drips.  Also, don’t forget a drop cloth.  Actually, I used an old sheet as a drop cloth.
  4. Sand it.  I know this is a pain and you just want to dive into your paint bucket, but you should sand it.  Don’t pay attention to all those blog posts or Pinterest pins that tell you you can skip this step.  If you don’t want your paint to peel off, sand it.  I should have sanded this piece even more, in fact.  I just used a sanding block and roughed up the surface the best I could.  You want to give the paint something to hold on to.
  5. Clean it.  After you have sanded you piece and created a layer of dust, you will want to clean your piece with a cleaner that isn’t oily.  You will also want to wipe it down with a tack cloth if you can find one.  This just collects all the dust and ensures you have a nice clean surface to paint.
  6. Prime it.  Depending on how dark your wood is, you probably will want at least two coats of primer.  I used a roller on my first coat of primer and regretted it.  I liked the much smoother finish I got with a brush.  Make sure you follow the suggested dry time in your primer’s instructions and allow your piece to dry in between coats.
  7. Paint it.

    Use a good brush and long smooth brush strokes.  Paint at least two coats and let it dry in between.

  8. Coat it with Poly-urethane.  After you have allowed the paint to cure or dry for an extended period of time,  (I waited several weeks to a month) paint on two coats of poly-urethane.  This should really harden your paint surface and make it less likely to scratch off.  Again, use long and smooth brush strokes.
  9. Get creative with new hardware or use the original hardware.  I didn’t say it before, but you should remove the hardware before you sand.  I had thought I would add some fun hardware when I was done, but I decided the original hardware was fine for now.  I thought about painting it and maybe a Rub-n-Buff treatment might be fun, but right now, its just the original hardware.
  10. Change the use or function of your piece.  I also changed the use of this piece.  It went from holding bills and stamps to holding dishes.  It is now in my dinning room as a china hutch.  I mixed old dishes with new dishes just as I mixed old furniture with new.  It finally fits with my style and I think my grandmother would approve.  What do you think?

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