So, you have been gifted with an antique/vintage piece of furniture and you’d like nothing more than to see how it looks in Miss Mustard Seeds latest color. Only not so fast. The closer you get to it with your Purdy, you realize….you just can’t do it. Or maybe your path was set (like a paintbrush welding Jedi) but your friend/husband/mother-in-law gets in your head at the last minute with a comment like, “You’re gonna paint that? You know that was Aunt Izzy’s”. Or the classic, “You can’t paint that nice wood! You’ll ruin it!”. To that, I say ha! I’ve painted my fair share of gifted furniture with no regrets. Here’s how I decide whether or not to paint, or not to paint, an antique or vintage piece of furniture that I’ve been gifted.
*Affiliate links included- disclosures here.
*Disclaimer- This assumes you’ve already done some serious Googling to make sure you’re not painting over a priceless artifact that could pay for your kids college tuition 🙂
Does the piece need major repairs or refinishing? If so, and you’re already dying to paint it- now is the time. If you’re stripping the finish anyway- go for it.
Now, it’s so much harder if you’ve got an emotional attachment to the piece itself. I get it. I’ve struggled with this too. Take this dining room table:
Clearly, this piece has been painted. Let’s just ignore the chipped paint, m’kay, and say it’s all part of the farmhouse aesthetic we have around here 🙂
This was my Mom’s parents piece. I have a lot of good memories of this dining set- it was in their lake house dining room, and we spent a lot of time there growing up. My grandmother died when I was young, and my grandfather came to live with us after. Grandpa kept the lake house though, and every summer us kids (I’m the oldest of 5) would spend about a month there with Grandpa.
He would drive ALL 5 OF US from Georgia to Kentucky, where the lake house was. Hours in his Ford Aerostar. Bless. Clearly, he was an angel.
Anyway, my grandmother was super artistic and very talented with any crafts. She could sew, decoupage, paint, anything.
After Grandpa died, my mom gave me this dining set. I had it for several years and while I loved having it, I was ready to change it. The barrel was dark wood, the chairs were very dark, almost black, with a painted fruit motif on them that you could tell was original. Although I loved the piece, it was definitely not my style. But I was feeling super guilty about it. I asked my mom about it.
Mom reminded me that just because Grandma had not painted it, didn’t mean that she wouldn’t have. As creative as she was, she would have almost certainly have painted that set by now. And, if Grandma were alive, she would love to see what I would do with it.
So, that was it. I’ve painted this set several times since then. Knowing that Grandma would be okay with it was all I needed to hear. My mom is so dang smart.
Would your relative be okay with it too? Were they artistic/creative/get a kick out of seeing what you can do with it? If so, go forth and paint with no guilt.
Not to paint
On the other hand…I inherited this dresser from my dad’s family:
Obviously not painted. (And, we’re moving lampshades around because rambunctious boys+dogs=broken lamps/lampshades, so nothing matches. Or fits.)
My paternal grandparents had a lot of antiques, but everything is in its original condition.
My sweet grandmother died a couple of years ago, and my grandfather had passed away several years prior. When we were cleaning out their home, we found labels on everything. Labels such as “this belonged to great-grandfather Joseph” or “jewelry was from my grandmother, given to her at her wedding”. Many of the furniture pieces had been passed down for generations. Never, in a million years, would they have ever painted one of their antiques that they, and their parents, and their parents’ parents, worked to keep in great shape to pass down to us.
Knowing that, I could never paint this piece. Even if it wasn’t in such good condition, and even if it didn’t match my design aesthetic. There are too many other options out there that I could find to paint instead.
My grandma was, I think, literally the sweetest person you would ever meet, and it would just break.her.heart if I painted it.
So, has your piece been carefully handed down for years in the same condition? Would your sweet grandma give you the side eye if you painted it? If the answers are “yes”, put down the brush and reconsider. Just think about it again before you go forward.
And, again, so many other options Go thrifting, go to ReStore, CraigsList…you’ll find another piece, cheap, that you can paint for your space..and you’ll be glad that you went with your gut and didn’t paint this one.
What if you don’t want to paint it but hate the way it looks? Like really, really hate it?
Try to another way to change it. I loved the overall look of the dresser, but it is a big, dark piece of furniture, that, depending on the space, can be visually heavy in a room, especially small rooms like we have. The way that I lightened it up a little bit was to change out the knobs. It was a quick, inexpensive, definitely not permanent way to do that. The best part is, I can change the knobs out whenever I want to. And even I was surprised at how big a change it made on that piece.
Add in accessories that are on the opposite end of the style spectrum. Lighting, books, interesting items can make a huge difference in how the piece looks. There are so many ways to add color and style without paint!
Depending on the piece and the look you are going for, you could try removable wallpaper, or maybe a non-adhesive decal. There are a million different options to choose from, and applied to drawer fronts of a dresser, or just to the top of a desk, would completely change the look without altering the structure.
I went to the Chasing Paper website, and ohmyword. I could stay there all day looking at their designs. Wallpaper is truly artwork.
Look how beautiful! And this is removable wallpaper. Kim and Scott of Yellow Brick Home did this project. And it didn’t alter this stunning vintage piece at all.
This is how I approach painting antique/vintage pieces that I’ve been gifted that I would like to paint: would the person I received it from ever likely change it themselves? Were they artistic/creative? If so or maybe- paint! Does the piece need work? If it is in flawless or really good original condition-reconsider- someone, likely several someones, cared enough to work to keep it in that condition to pass along to you. If it needs work- paint!
I’ve love to hear your opinions in the comments!
Here are some beautiful knobs that I sourced:
And if you’re thinking about painting, my absolute favorite painting supplies that I use and love: