Five DIY Project Ideas for Refinishing Used Furniture

Five DIY Project Ideas for Refinishing Used Furniture

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Buy used furniture? Why? Someone else has sat on that chair. Someone else's dishes have been housed in that cabinet. Other children have sat at that table (...and left their gum stuck underneath it). Yes, buying used furniture has its disadvantages, but we have found some great benefits to buying used furniture. For us, the pros have outweighed the cons.

We've done many projects ourselves and took photos in progress. Below, you'll find full descriptions for these project ideas and ideas about how we'd do them better next time:

  1. Child's Table and Chairs
  2. Kitchen Cabinets
  3. Child's Rocking Chair
  4. Upholstered Parsons Chairs
  5. Painted TV Cabinet

Multi-colored garage sale table.

Project #1: Child's Table and Chairs

We found this table and chairs priced for $7 at a local garage sale. Yes, we bargained with the previous owners and ended up buying the set for $5.

Supplies for the project:

  • Sandpaper.
  • Blue paint.
  • Chalk board paint.
  • Paint brushes.

What we did right:

  • We used a high grit sand paper and sanded down the table and chairs. The sanding allows the new coat of paint to adhere better.
  • We used chalk board paint on top of the table. Way fun for kids!

What we did wrong:

  • We did not paint the bottom of the seat of the chairs. The chairs are rarely sitting up right because our little boy continually is pushing them over. We are always looking at the unpainted bottom.
  • We used flat paint on the chairs. Bad idea. We found some leftover paint from the previous owners of our house, and we didn't think twice about using it. You should try scooching around on a chair that is painted with flat paint. It is like moving around on sand paper. Oops. And, flat paint scratches horribly. (Good thing we only paid $5 for our scratched up table and chairs.) We recommend using an eggshell or satin finish.

Project #2: Kitchen Cabinets

We found these kitchen cabinets at a local auction. We paid $55 for both of them. Auctions are a great place to find some low priced items.

Supplies for the project:

  • Sand paper.
  • White paint.
  • Paint brushes.

What we did right:

  • We used a high grit sand paper and sanded down the shelves and lattice work on the front. The sanding allows the new coat of paint to adhere better.
  • We were very careful when sanding down the decorative lattice work on the front of the cabinets. We erred on the safe side and didn't spend too much time sanding every last bit of old paint off for fear of breaking the glass.
  • We painted at least three coats of white paint to cover up the bold pink paint that was on the inside of the cabinets.
  • We took everything apart. Remove the doors, hinges, knobs. It allows for a clean paint job. We could also polish the hinges and knobs using steel wool to remove the paint from previous poor paint jobs.

What we did wrong:

  • I think we did almost everything right on this project.

Project #3: Child's Rocking Chair

Once again, we purchased this little rocking chair at a garage sale for $12. The chair was in great condition and did not need to be painted. Since we are not big fans of a lot of red in our living room, we decided to spray paint the chair a charcoal gray.

Supplies for the project:

  • Sand paper.
  • Charcoal gray spray paint. (We used Rustoleum.)
  • Wind free zone and cardboard for spray paint.

What we did right:

  • Using spray paint takes patience. Spray thin layer after thin layer, and the paint won't glob up or drip. We sprayed around six or seven layers and waited patiently for each layer to dry before heading back out to spray it again.
  • We cleared out the garage and laid down cardboard. We had plenty of room for the spray paint to float around without coating layers on anything precious. Sometimes we don't realize how far the spray paint drifts until we see little gray specks all over our brand new bicycle.

What we did wrong:

  • In our opinion, we messed this project up pretty bad. Some spray paints are really great about adhering to furniture without any sanding required. (Krylon has some great paint like that for spraying onto plastic.) We did not sand the chair before starting this project. Laziness? Didn't think about it? Didn't read the instructions on the paint? Not sure what we were thinking, but we didn't sand. When we finished all the spray paint layers, the chair looked great! We brought it inside and with every ding or tooth mark from our son, the paint is slowly peeling away. Eventually we won't be able to stand looking at the chair any more. We will sand it all down and begin painting it again.

Project #4: Upholstered Parsons Chair

We found a set of purple parsons chairs on Craig's List for $20 each. This chair was one of our first attempts at upholstery.

Supplies for the project:

  • Duck Cloth (canvas type fabric) from Jo Ann's.
  • Fabric scissors.
  • Staple gun with lots and lots of staples.
  • Decorative fabric tacs.
  • Flexible sheet of MDF board (1/4" or thinner).

What we did right:

  • Pictures. We took lots of pictures as we pulled the chair apart. Why? When we were reupholstering the chair, we looked back at the pictures to remember how the chair came apart.
  • Two people. Pulling fabric tight and stapling is much easier with two people.
  • Flexible MDF board. After securing all the fabric to the back of the chair, we covered all the staples with a fabric covered flexible sheet of MDF. We cut it to size and glued the fabric to the back side of the board. We secured the MDF board with decorative fabric tacs. This covered a multitude of inadequacies.

What we did wrong:

  • I think we did almost everything right on this project, and we were completely satisfied with how it turned out.

Project #5: Painted TV Cabinet

We found this TV cabinet at a local Salvation Army. It originally came with a hutch for the top half, but we chose to leave that part at the store. We paid around $30 for it.

Supplies for the project:

  • Sand paper.
  • White paint. (We used Benjamin Moore's 'floral white.')
  • Sample container of dark brown paint.
  • Paint brushes.
  • New knobs.

What we did right:

  • We used a high grit sand paper and lightly sanded down the wood.
  • We replaced the original knobs with some knobs we already had at home from an old dresser we repainted years ago.
  • We painted two coats on everything.

What we did wrong:

  • After sanding the top of the TV stand, we attempted to stain the 'wood.' We quickly found out the top of the stand was not real wood. Needless to say, you cannot stain fake wood. We quickly learned and decided to paint it instead.

#1. Savings

Buying used furniture costs less than buying new furniture. We love Pottery Barn, West Elm, Ethan Allen, Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters, and World Market. The list can go on. And, yes, we buy from each of them every now and then, but you know what? We do not choose to spend a great deal of money on home furnishings. Buying a new sofa and end table can cost a lot of money brand new. Instead, we use their magazines as spring boards for new ideas and inspiration.

Be careful, though, and do not buy furniture that is going to cost so much to fix up that it would be less expensive to buy new.

#2. Kids

We have a one year old at home, and we plan on having a few more kids. Children are not necessarily gentle on furniture. When our freshly renovated TV stand was scratched and dinged by a little one, we didn't fret. We only paid $30 for our TV cabinet. I don't mind a little scratch.

#3. Freedom

Trends change rapidly these days. When you buy a $1000 hutch to house your precious China, you may not be willing to paint it five years later when the color is outdated. When we buy used furniture, we are freed from feeling like we are ruining the original beauty of the piece when time comes for an update.

#4. Character

I have some refinished cabinets in my kitchen that I love (see below.) A few weeks ago a friend texted and asked, 'hey, where did you get those cabinets in your kitchen. We are looking for something just like them.' My response, 'I bought them a year ago at a local auction.'

My kitchen cabinets have some character and I take some satisfaction in the fact that no one can (likely) find something similar. I have something different than others. I like that.

Preston and Kate (author) from the Midwest on January 30, 2014:

Hi cjbehr, sorry the stain didn't come out as expected. As you can see above, we often have projects that aren't turning out quite as anticipated. Any ideas you ask? Well, staining furniture isn't our strength yet. We do a lot of painting right now. We've learned that taking the time to sand and buying high quality paint has helped us immensely. Good luck! I hope your furniture turns out beautiful. Let us know if you learn any great tips.

cjbehr on January 29, 2014:

Beautiful!!! I love seeing older items restored and they are gorgeous. I'm in the midst of doing my bedroom furniture - a little stuck on how to do it right now... any ideas. I started trying to sand and stain over paint for an antique look and it didn't come out quit as I expected.

Preston and Kate (author) from the Midwest on January 25, 2014:

Hi woodworker10. Sometimes the process can be monotonous, but I agree, the end product is almost always satisfying to look at. The effort always pays off.

Preston and Kate (author) from the Midwest on January 25, 2014:

Hi Heather Says. We are excited you liked every piece. The TV hutch is by far the one we use the most. Thanks for pinning and sharing!

Preston and Kate (author) from the Midwest on January 25, 2014:

Wow IntimatEvolution! That is a great compliment. We are honored you would say that. Thanks for stopping by!

Preston and Kate (author) from the Midwest on January 25, 2014:

Hi erinshelby! Yes, completely agree. Recycling these great pieces of furniture is a great way to keep them out of the trash.

Ron White from USA on January 25, 2014:

It is amazing that with a little work you can turn a shabby looking piece into something to be proud of.

Julie Grimes from Columbia, MO USA on January 24, 2014:

best hub of the day article ever!

Heather from Arizona on January 24, 2014:

This is a fantastic hub. Thanks for sharing all of your great tips that you learned along the way. I love every piece you made over, but the TV hutch has to be my favorite. Sharing and pinning :)

erinshelby from United States on January 24, 2014:

It's good for the environment too! Using your creative side keeps things out of landfills when you can breathe new life into them through a DIY project.

Preston and Kate (author) from the Midwest on January 24, 2014:

Hi Becky Katz! Thank you for your valuable insight. You have mentioned a big disadvantage to painting used furniture, and I am sorry you have found yourself removing paint from beautiful antique furniture. I need to do a better job of understanding what constitutes an antique versus just an out of date piece of furniture. Thank you for reminding me to stay educated on the furniture we look at in resale stores.

Preston and Kate (author) from the Midwest on January 24, 2014:

Hi thebiologyofleah! Thanks for your thoughts on the hub. I am glad you enjoyed the article. Great to hear you and your husband have given some new life to some old pieces of furniture too. Thanks for stopping by!

Becky Katz from Hereford, AZ on January 24, 2014:

I enjoyed your HOTD and congratulate you on it. I enjoy buying antique furniture and redoing it. It is much better built and has so much more character. I really dislike it though when people paint antique furniture that was stained. I have had to take too many coats of paint off of detailed woodwork and it is a big pain. I have to take toothpicks dipped in paint remover to get some of it.

I am also really careful when buying padded furniture, now that bedbugs have come back. Check for little black dots and specks of blood when buying and don't get it if you find any. I did buy a beautiful couch, ottoman and club chair used. Much heavier and more expensive than I could have afforded new. Now I can just recover it when it needs it. The frame is very strong.

Leah Kennedy-Jangraw from Massachusetts on January 24, 2014:

This is a perfect article in my opinion! You included great before and after pictures, step-by-step instructions, materials, and even what you would do differently if you did the project again. I find there is most always a little room for improvement in DIY projects like this so hats off for including that information.

Love the projects that you did, my husband and I have lots of hand-me-down furniture that we have done over to our personal taste. We joke that several things are family heirlooms just not our family!

Great hub, look forward to following you and reading more.

Preston and Kate (author) from the Midwest on January 24, 2014:

Hi Dolores Monet! We are glad someone else is benefiting from some of our mistakes. :)

Preston and Kate (author) from the Midwest on January 24, 2014:

Hi Sheri Fay! Thanks! We had fun doing all the projects...despite some of the flops. :)

Preston and Kate (author) from the Midwest on January 24, 2014:

Thanks RTalloni!

Preston and Kate (author) from the Midwest on January 24, 2014:

Hi Wee Cat Creations. It's funny you mention this. I have just started browsing the gold mines at Ikea. I've seen some awesome Ikea updates on Pinterest and it's getting me interested in using their inexpensive furniture. They have some GREAT storage pieces.

Preston and Kate (author) from the Midwest on January 24, 2014:

Hi ChitrangadaSharan! Good to see you again. Saving money is one of our favorite things. And, how great to recycle and save money at the same time. Refinishing used furniture is one of our favorite ways of doing both!

Preston and Kate (author) from the Midwest on January 24, 2014:

Hi vikashkumar! Yes, there is so much we can re-use and using someone else's furniture is a great way to start...if you ask me. :)

Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on January 24, 2014:

Wow, your pictures are great! I love to fix up old furniture and the idea that you included things you would have done differently was spot on. I have learned a lot from my mistakes but it's so much easier (and cheaper) to learn from yours, haha!

Sheri Dusseault from Chemainus. BC, Canada on January 24, 2014:

Very professional and awesome pictures. Congrats on HOD! Pinned and voted up!

RTalloni on January 24, 2014:

Back to say congrats on your Hub of the Day award! Smiles.

Wee Cat Creations on January 24, 2014:

This would be perfect for updating inexpensive furniture from Ikea.

Congratulations on the HOTD.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on January 24, 2014:

Very nice and useful hub! We need to recycle different things for the sake of our environment and you have explained this beautifully in this hub.

Saving money and saving environment!

Thanks and congratulations for HOTD!

Preston and Kate (author) from the Midwest on January 19, 2014:

Hi grand old lady! Thanks for your encouragement. Yes, using spray paint seems to take a lot of time and patience. If done well, I think it can be great for the right project. Thanks for stopping by! -Kate

Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on January 18, 2014:

I love DIY and think you did a great job on all your products, especially the TV cabinet and the Preston Chair. I didn't know it was so hard to use spray paint, and appreciate your description of what you went through spraying the chair. Forewarned is forearmed. Don't think I'll try using spray paint.

Preston and Kate (author) from the Midwest on January 13, 2014:

Hi FlourishAnyway! Good to meet you. I'm glad you enjoyed reading about the good and the bad. :) We are learning a lot as we go! -Kate

FlourishAnyway from USA on January 13, 2014:

This is a great hub, and I like the fact that you pointed out both things you did right and things you could've done better.

Preston and Kate (author) from the Midwest on January 10, 2014:

Hi Blessed Success! Good to meet you. Thanks for stopping by! -Kate

Sandy J Duncan from Kansas City, Kansas on January 09, 2014:

Enjoyed your details and great pictures. Thanks!

Preston and Kate (author) from the Midwest on January 07, 2014:

Hi Krista! So I can COMPLETELY agree with everything you said...especially the part about not wanting to feel committed to something forever. If I grow tired of a piece of furniture, it's much easier giving it up when I haven't spent a fortune on it. Thanks for stopping by and leaving some encouraging words!


Krista Bjornson Aasen on January 07, 2014:

I love redoing old furniture- for all the reasons you have listed. But mostly because I am cheap I mean thrifty and I don't like to spend too much and feel committed to something forever. I like to change things up every few years as well. And it is also crazy what you can pay for new wooden furniture that isn't even real wood and is nowhere near the quality of buying something old but good quality and redoing it. I love your cabinet redo project and that adorable kid's table!! Great work:)

Preston and Kate (author) from the Midwest on January 06, 2014:

Good to see you again kidscrafts! Yes, we learned a LOT and saved some money along the way. :) Thanks for reading!

kidscrafts from Ottawa, Canada on January 05, 2014:

Great hub! I love the way you explain with the origin of your products, the price, the supplies, the mistakes and then the end product!

Very well presented and the result are just wonderful! You gained experience and you saved a lot of money! Just fantastic! Congratulations!

Preston and Kate (author) from the Midwest on January 04, 2014:

Hi OldRoses, we are glad you picked up a few tips here. Be sure to let us know if you give any of your furniture a 'facelift!' Thanks for stopping by!

Preston and Kate (author) from the Midwest on January 04, 2014:

RTalloni, thanks for pinning our hub! We are glad you enjoyed the topic and grateful you stopped by!

Caren White on January 04, 2014:

Great hub! I have a few pieces of perfectly good furniture in my house that need "refreshing". Thanks for the tips.

RTalloni on January 04, 2014:

Neat approach to the topic, neat projects! Glad to find your work. Pinning to my Paint Walls/Furniture/... board.