Jenny: Liquid Courage, aka Painting Stuff

Mary Kay Andrews’ cottage reminded me of how much I love painted furniture.  I always drool over the Mackenzie-Childs furniture which is freakishly expensive but still lust-able (I love checks so that’s a part of that, too).  And I’ve always loved painted cottage furniture and painted cottage floors.  Well, basically, I love paint.

But when it comes time to actually slap the stuff on, I hesitate, sometimes for years.  I have a mission settle that I adore and that has seen better days as far as its finished oak surface goes.  It would look wonderful if it were painted, but I keep looking at it and thinking, Don’t paint beautiful wood.  There are two end tables and couch table that go with it.  They’d look great painted, too.  (Don’t paint beautiful wood.)  Then there’s the pie safe which I can paint because my mother did it before me, and the old mirror frame somebody left in my barn which I can paint because the moisture in there destroyed the veneer long ago, and the ugly bureau with the beautiful mirror that I’ve never liked anyway, plus the two vanities with the great mirrors that I need to repurpose because they’re totally useless as they are (too short).  And that’s before we get to the little gothic chair that wobbles (don’t paint beautiful wood) and the little side table from my grandfather’s house (don’t paint antiques unless your mother already ruined their value, thus setting you free to do whatever you want), and the little upholstered chair I got at Goodwill for fifteen dollars (don’t paint upholstery).

But the thing is, this is MY furniture.  And none of it is a valuable antique.  I can do anything I want with it.  I’m allowed.  I don’t know who that voice in my head is telling me not to do this stuff, but it should leave.  Because I want things like the Mackenzie Childs Maestro Chair:

But I don’t have $3450 to buy it.  I can paint it, though.  Yes, you can paint upholstery.  It ends up very stiff and plasticy unless you use spray dye which does not come in a lot of colors, but you can definitely paint upholstery.   And you can sure as hell paint the wood on a reproduction Mission settle.

Where was I?  Right.  Liquid courage, the courage to shut out all the voices, look at a piece of furniture, and say, “I’m going to make you FABULOUS.”  I’ve decided that it’s time for me to cowboy up, ignore the inner critic, and partake of liquid courage: during this next year, I’m going to fix and then paint all the furniture that’s too dark, too sad, too beat up to take to the cottage.  I’ll have to pick a color palette that’s north-eastern cottage friendly, not so intense but still vivid like the blue Pottery Barn shelf I’ve always loved and the little yellow-green side cabinet I bought at T. J. Maxx a couple of years ago.  Add the yellow that I painted the house (well, that Pete painted the house) and the cream of the trim.  Maybe a good soft turquoise, too.  And a pink and peach and lavender for detail work and to give me a complete color wheel.  And  of course a good white (I like Porter Paints Cloud White) because sometimes the shape of the furniture you’re painting is so fabulous, you just want it white with a terrific fabric on the cushion, like this codfish chair:


So that’s my plan, a face lift for my tired furniture with two of my favorite things, paint and fabric.  Because I am not the only thing in this house that needs freshened up.

47 thoughts on “Jenny: Liquid Courage, aka Painting Stuff

  1. When I redid my master bedroom, choosing colors made me so happy. The walls are pure periwinkle. The bed is a seashore cottage style wood in a French vanilla paint. The dresser and night table are a sea mist aqua. I love my room!

    I can’t wait to see how you do your furniture. It’s going to be fabulous!

  2. My feature wall in the bedroom is dusky red. I love the cottage style, but if I had the energy and money I’d go Moroccon. Love their lights and rich colours, the tiles, the cushions. Let me loose in a shop and a blank cheque. 🙂

  3. Kieran says:

    Jenny, have you ever played around with upholstering furniture? It’s a blast. You could re-create that chair by upholstering it. It’s not hard. You need tacks, a hammer, a good electric stapler, some cardboard strips, and some padding. If you can get a pneumatic stapler, then you’re golden. You’d have to sew the cushion, but that wouldn’t be hard. I always pipe the edges to dress up the cushions. Reupholstering is so much easier than making slip covers. I’ve done couches, wingback chairs, you name it. Of course, you could paint–that sounds fun, too!

  4. Oh, yes. I have done everything to furniture that could possibly be done to it. In fact, I’ve been up all night–rough week and it’s only Tuesday–and since I couldn’t sleep, I started to reupholster my old Goodwill chair while I did a mega-ton of laundry. I’m crashing now–FINALLY I’m tired–but tomorrow I’ll have to go look at it in the sunlight to see what it really looks like.

  5. Ylva Hedin says:

    Great! I always wonderd why in Godsname one have to follow certen rules when it comes to funiture. “ohhh you can not paint beutiful mossgreen bureu it will loose all its value”

    Thas said abour a horrible pece of funiture that looks like it been attaced by the moldmonster…

    The value will not go away becouse a furniture true value is to be used not that someone with too much money and too much space shall have it and look at it! You go ahead and Im sure would like to se som pictures when you are done! 🙂

  6. I love colors. And painted things. But alas, I’m still a coward (oh, God, how will it look?) and my roommate, bless his heart, is just extremely conservative. As in, don’t try anything different.

  7. I tend toward soothing, but in a bland, neutral way. Maybe it’s because my life is so crazy I think extra color would be aggravating? Then again, if I made everything bright and pretty, maybe life would be more fun!

    I know the hesitation about the antiques. The funny thing is, I’m never going to sell them, so the value doesn’t matter. I love painted dressers, and can’t wait to see what you do!

  8. I have an ugly maple wood dresser. It’s just ugly as sin and every time I think about painting it I hear that same thing – don’t paint wood.

    But you know what? Who gives a flying fig? It’s my dresser. It doesn’t matter what it’s worth if it doesn’t make me happy. I say brava that you are ignoring that inner voice. Go for it. Make the furniture happy.

  9. I remember the orgasmic painting scene in Dogs and Goddesses — it’s no surprise you love paint. And you’ve done some fabulous things in the house already. You just need to cowboy up.
    I think it’s project time. Pick a piece and go for it!

  10. Kieran says:

    I wonder what you’ll think of this painting furniture story. I went so crazy painting furniture that I was researching like mad and fell in love with an old colonial technique for glazing that I read about in a magazine…the modern “recipe” for this paint involves corn syrup, of all things. So I decided to paint an unfinished natural wood TV cabinet with it. It turned out beautifully.

    And then one day I noticed a dead fly on the side. And it wasn’t sliding off. I touched the side, and my finger tip came back all sticky.

    It turns out this corn syrup glaze never permanently hardens…the humidity had made it sticky again. We’d have smooth days and sticky days, depending on the weather. It was such a disaster, we had to put the TV cabinet out by the road–it killed a lot of flies out there, I can say that much for it.

    So don’t add Karo syrup to any of your glazes. That’s the lesson. Seems extremely obvious, but in my world, things just work a little differently & I usually have to learn the hard way. :>)

  11. Jenny,
    What fun! I bet you have a blast. And if the mean “you can’t paint wood” voice keeps hounding you, you could always head for Goodwill or the stores that are more junk than antiques (love those stores) and buy cheap wood furniture to paint. Surely we can paint cheap, scarred wood furniture guiltlessly.

  12. My furniture is all dark wood with a few antiques. I like that. It makes it warm and homey to me. Most everyone in the desert decorates with white or white washed or beige. They come to my house and do a double-take. I don’t care. It’s my place and it should make me happy just as your place should make you happy. So I say get out the paints. BTW I love the maestro chair and it would look good in my house.

  13. I’ve always loved a mix – if the wood is really gorgeous then no matter what I won’t paint. Aside from that, which is rarer than I’d like, I’d as soon paint everything. Again, moar color moar bettah. Anything you paint is going to be gorgeous – show us pictures?

  14. Goodwill and I are extremely close. I just spent nine bucks on two lamps. I had to rewire one, but they’re gorgeous.
    The furniture that was there this time sucked, but believe me, half my furniture is from Goodwill, off the street, or somebody’s attic. The rest is ton of reproduction Mission. Gallons of white paint in my future.

  15. Robin S. says:

    How about cream instead of straight white on the walls? It will bounce light and blends with colors. I have a small house we painted all white and I have never gotten used to the glare. When I can finally repaint, my husband will just have to suck it up. Colors are coming. Small house or no.

    I personally wouldn’t paint the upholstery. I’ve never seen it work long term. It cracks and then it feels like you’re getting stung or pinched anytime you sit on it.

    As for painting ‘good wood’, seal it first. Yeah, I know, extra work. But I painted my bedroom dresser black (hey, it was the 70’s), and was able to strip it back down to the ‘wood’ with no nasty leftovers. Get out to the paint store and indulge yourself!

  16. Megan,
    Have you tried some really light colors. Not white, but a color that’s really light?
    I’ve been so happy with a number of those. You get color, but you don’t darken a room. And light colors can be really bright.

  17. Jenny,
    My daughter has been on this kick buying nearly all her clothes from Goodwill. She has quirky tastes to begin with, and now she’s into 70s-ish floral prints, and I guess someone in our town was into them and keeps donating them to Goodwill. She’s looking great.
    We also found her a man’s vest to a suit the other day at Goodwill. She needed it for work. How else could you possibly buy just a man’s vest than Goodwill?

  18. Jessie says:

    Jenny. You have said this stuff isn’t valuable as antiques so you don’t have to worry about changing the original finish and destroying the value. What you probably should consider is that if you have too many epiphanies and repaint several times, it starts chipping right away and looks icky again within a few months if not weeks. And it is likely the original paint was lacquer and your new paints might not adhere well.

    So what you do first is you paint the wood with shellac. It will bond to and cover almost anything. It fills the wood pores so the new paint can’t and the new paint will go on over shellac without wanting to peal off. Plus shellac dries really fast so it doesn’t delay the project. And If someday you want to go back to natural wood and strip that sucker, you have first filled the pores with shellac so it doesn’t have opaque paint remains that you can’t sand out.

  19. Maria says:

    Okay, I am not sure why a color palette is limited by where you live? Maybe in a planned community where they only give your the choice of brown or brown, and even then you get to do whatever you want on the inside. If you want your cottage to remind you of the Caribbean but it is in the northeast, I say go for it. It’s your house, you live there who cares what it “should be” unless you like the should, then do that. I found a link for Cottage Home furnishings and I love that dark brown with the turquoise and green. Then there was an orange side table – delicious.

    I painted a wooden table black and I am going to do the hutch too. There is a store on Balboa Island that carries the hand painted furniture that I love. It is black with brightly painted designs and words of wisdom painted on the edges. I have yet to figure out how to paint it easily and I am not paying 10,000 plus for a dining room table at least not until I win the lottery. The day I do, I am going to own some of that furniture. It is mine.

  20. It wasn’t so much what I was allowed to do, as what would work with the style of the cottage. I live in an 80s modern house, and I’ve been fighting the style for years when I should have just accepted that it was modern and gone with that. You have to listen to the house to a certain extent.

    But I like the color palette for the upstairs, and the downstairs which is my work areas is going to be insanely bright, so that’s good.

  21. It’s a gray rainy day here, and I overdid my exercise a little bit yesterday and my foot is hurting. This post reminded me of Faking It – Min’s painted furniture with snakes and creatures hiding in the foliage. Thanks for the smile.

  22. Maine Betty says:

    There is a really upscale house painted a kind of minty pastel green on a corner in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and it just does not look right. Those kinds of pastels on exteriors do not work with the quality of light up here, especially in the winter months. It bugged me for years.

  23. Tracey says:

    Completely agree about listening to the house. I live in a 1958 split level. For years I was frustrated that every new piece of furniture I brought it didn’t look right. Finally it occurred to me that current furniture styles are suited to wider-bummed people than my house was designed for, so I started collecting mid century modern. My house is still over crowded with stuff, but at least the furniture proportions aren’t off!

  24. Tracey says:

    In general, I would say you should let your inner Scarlett (and Homer, and Gwen) range free! But perhaps not with so many teeth…

  25. laverne says:

    paint immediately…100 years from now your great great grandchildren will get such pleasure from restoring it all to its “original beauty.”

  26. Sounds like something is talking to you. I’d listen and go for it. No guts, no glory.

    BTW: day 4 of vaseline on my heels. I think it’s workig.

  27. There is something extremely therapeutic about painting stuff. Whenever I’m going through an upheaval, I paint. I’ve painted loads of furniture, faux finishes on walls.

    One year, I painted every wall in the house, and every piece of trim. A couple of rooms had multi-layered painting techniques.

    It was a rough year.

  28. Lynda says:

    As a carpenter’s daughter, I truly love the look of good wood and can’t stand painting over something with a beautiful grain. But nowadays there’s precious little really good wood furniture available, except at exorbitant prices. So unless something is a valuable antique or handcrafted whatever, I say go ahead and paint it. An artist with your skills can only improve the piece by decorating it.

  29. We are having three gates built for our two newly walled enclosures, and the big debate is paint or clear preservative. Given the wood, we’ll go with the clear. Doesn’t look good, whoosh, they’re mossy green.

    Now, in our bedroom there resides a belly-billowing bureau of German extraction via Texas hill country. Nice dark wood, smooth. Bleh. I’m eyeing it, thinking float on squares of silver paper, cover it. Then maybe do the other bleh bureau gold, maybe the armoire copper — and stop me, please, before I go on to pewter and bronze.

  30. Micki says:

    But if it’s kind of crappy upholstery, you could paint it, and when it cracks, then you could just re-upholster.

    Or slipcases — could always paint slipcases! I may have to try this . . . I have a cheap couch that is showing its innards, and this may be the way to go.

  31. Micki says:

    (-: It would be fun to have some sort of contest, or Group Paint-In or something. Not only do I have a crappy couch, but I have this 4-ft wide piece of wall that is currently plywood. I have had a vision for it for about three years (and have bought the paint and everything), but I can’t get up the “liquid courage.” I think it’s because my mom yelled at me for drawing on a doll when I was very young (and she was absolutely right; I still look at that doll’s body and cringe a little; it used to be my mom’s doll, too).

    I want to overcome this fear of paint. (-: Without therapy, if possible.

  32. Briana says:

    Yeah. When my mom was diagnosed with stomach cancer, I painted the whole interior of the house in a week. ~shrug~ I needed to do SOMETHING.

  33. Caryn says:

    (Adorable chair! It’s getting printed out and going in my wish file.)

    I want to be like your Daisy and paint and make things (more) beautiful. Enjoy!

  34. Reb says:

    Those are great chairs! I want them both. They wouldn’t work in my house but I want them anyway.

    About your beautiful wood … it’s not beautiful if you keep looking at it and wishing it was painted. And if you change your mind in a few years, you can strip the paint. Nothing but good times ahead.

  35. German Chocolate Betty says:

    Briana, I can soooo relate. When my first husband was sick and dying, I wallpapered, once for 13 hours straight in 90+ degree heat (no AC), wearing, by the end of it, only underpants…

  36. Maria says:

    Ah! That I can totally see. Thanks for the explanation. The white walls should look great then and the colors of the furniture should totally play off of it.

  37. Steff M says:

    Jenny, have you tried Golden GAC 900 fabric medium? You can turn any acrylic paint into a fabric paint.

  38. Carrie Trimble says:

    Oh, if it’s still, it’s getting paint around here. 😉

    My parents have a beautiful old house with beautiful old, dark woodwork. THAT I will never paint. Everything else is up for grabs. 🙂

  39. I love color. I love paint. I love painting. In storage are some pieces that belonged to or were made by family, specifically my Gram’s old cedar chest; plus a hutch, a record cabinet, a chess/checkers table, a child-sized hutch, and my old check of drawers he also made. The last two are painted white and almost always have been. The other pieces are natural and/or stained and they don’t go with what I want. I have also been innoculated with the “you don’t paint good wood” voice, but I think I will overcome it when I finally get those pieces here with me. The cedar chest was damaged by moisture and the rest of it was made from very high-grade plywood with nice veneers, but I’ll do that shellac thing so someone can always take them back to wood if they like. Me? I just love color.

  40. You know the good thing about paint? One day, if someone else wants to see the wood, paint comes off. I just bought an old dresser at a yard sale that had a painted top and once I’d stripped and sanded it, the wood looks as good as it ever did.

  41. I spray painted the LaZBoys we use for TV using Krylon plastic paint. Lots cheaper. And there are bigger cans of spray dye for vinyl and fabric on Amazon, because I’m slowly spraying the inside of my car (covers up all the spilt stuff on the upholstery).

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