Linda Barker's advice on painting wooden furniture
Choosing the right paint colour
Paint gives our homes character and personality it defines us as homemakers. Minimalism or maximalism? It can all be defined by your paint chart preference.
I’ve often said that it's easy to change the paint colour, just pull back the sofa and get the dust sheet down and off you go but its an increasingly more emotional practice than the sum of its parts. Colour affects our moods and can instantly uplift our home or, just as easily, have the opposite effect.
It’s therefore no wonder that taupe, beige and shades of white are often the best selling colours in a paint showroom. As consumers there is often a barrage of advice ranging from painting inside a cardboard box to get the true colour effect (a great trick if you can be bothered) to using tonal shades in an open plan space, to painting colour blocks for an on-trend look, using dark colours in small spaces or, never using dark colours in small spaces….what are we to do? For more advice, read our article on How paint colour affects mood.
Start with second hand furniture
My advice is to start small, a piece of furniture perhaps? Second-hand furniture is pretty easy to get hold of cheaply these days. Either at the charity shop, eBay or one of the free-to-a-good-home websites. My neighbourhood has taken to leaving unwanted household goods outside the front gate asking people to ‘take me away’ and as I cycle around London I’ve noticed that this is becoming an increasingly popular way of recycling.
Arm yourself with a fabulous piece of furniture to kick start the decorating. A sideboard for the living room maybe? A bedside table, or perhaps a set of chairs for the kitchen. Wooden chairs are about a fiver at my junk shop so let's start with one or two of these to get us going.
If you have a plain kitchen it may be a good idea to paint a set of block-coloured chairs. Each one could be a different shade but make sure the colours ‘marry’ well first and complement your existing room scheme.
Purple works well with mustard, grey and black while pink, aqua, lilac and pistachio are also great combinations. You could simply mix four ‘shades of grey’ – please yourself and be confident. Juggle around some paint chips cut from a colour card to start with and make sure you’re happy. If you’re not sure which colours to put together, watch our short video guide on choosing complementary colours.
Prepare wood before painting
Once you have decided on your paint colours, you can get started. But, before you pick up a paintbrush you must fully prepare your wood beforehand. Rubbing off the top layer of a factory finish is imperative if you want your new paintwork to be long lasting. Wax requires a pad of wire wool with a little turpentine or white spirit, and varnish needs sandpaper. Both need elbow grease and rubber gloves.
Once you have a clean surface to work on the transformation becomes more enjoyable. I’d always suggest a basic primer layer before anything else as this will give your furniture a smoother finish. Acrylic-based primer is great as it is water-based so it's easy to use and brushes and spills get cleared up quickly using only water. Use a 5cm brush to make painting fiddly legs and spindles easy.
Adding layers of paint
After the primer, you’ll need to apply two thin coats of paint, two thin coats are better than one thick one... just let each layer dry fully before applying the next – this makes for a tougher finish. A very light sanding with 180grit sandpaper between coats will help, too. When all is dry, a top layer of acrylic varnish will seal your furniture perfectly and make it easier to clean.
Distressing painted wooden furniture
If a distressed 'shabby chic' look is more your kind of thing, you’ll be wanting to progress from block colours to a rustic effect. Again it's easy to practise first on some second-hand furniture.
Clean the furniture as before using wire wool/turps or sandpaper to key the surface you are working on making it ready to accept the layers of paint. This technique is for a two-colour distressed finish: that is, where the base colour is revealed below the top colour to simulate wear and tear. Use acrylic (water-based) paint again. I’d suggest you use contrasting paint colours for a vibrant effect, or closely matched colours will give a softer effect. Grey over scarlet, for example, or lilac over lime.
Waxing wood after painting
Paint the first layer of colour and allow to dry. Dab small streaks of clear furniture wax along those parts of the furniture that you most want to see distressed. Use an old artists paintbrush for this or simple an old chop stick. Less or more – you are in control. Wherever the wax is, the top layer of paint will not stick.
Paint the top layer of colour over the furniture. Paint over the streaks of wax too, although be careful not to smear this across the furniture. Let this layer dry. Wipe over the streaks of wax with a soft cotton cloth to remove the paint, you’ll notice that the paint that was on top of the wax comes away on the cloth too to reveal the base colour.
Wipe thoroughly then rub the finished piece of furniture gently with a cloth and some fresh, clear furniture wax. The wax gives a soft lustre to the finished piece of furniture whilst adding a protective layer (no need for varnish!) Have you got the decorating bug now?