The Power of Paint

Posted by Sheela Cooper

Ah, paint. A humble magician in a can that can transform the ugly, the discarded, and the overlooked into pieces that anyone would be proud to own. If you read any DIY blogs, you have undoubtedly seen many pieces of furniture or numerous decorative items that have been plucked from the brink of death and resuscitated with paint. And not just typical latex or oil paint – the options now include chalk paint, clay paint, milk paint, and spray paint. And let’s not forget the magic of Rub ‘n Buff! (Not actually a paint, but a wax-based pigmented product that transforms anything from frames to vases with a lovely metallic patina.)

I’d like to share some before and afters to inspire you, and also give you a few tips to make your painting experience as smooth (pun intended!) as possible.

Furniture – there are so many options for painting furniture, so you really have to select the best product for each piece. I rescued a chair from Craig’s List and refurbished it with paint and new upholstery. It had great lines, so I knew it had the potential to be gorgeous, but it had a stained and polyurethaned frame, and I didn’t want to sand it all off to prep it for latex paint. This is where I decided to try some chalk paint because the claim is that you don’t have to sand or prep (aside from thoroughly cleaning the piece of any grime or dust). Once I had removed all of the upholstery from the chair, I cleaned the frame and started painting. The paint adhered well, and once I sealed it with a topcoat (I used furniture Mod Podge), the result was lovely. Chalk paint sands to a smooth finish very easily, unlike latex paint, so getting a professional-looking finish is not as challenging as it can be with latex.

Here’s the chair before:

And after:


Big improvement right? This project was my first try at upholstery, and I relied heavily on this tutorial from Little Green Notebook. I had to improvise a bit since this chair needed some back support (I used a double layer of extra stiff Peltex) and there were a few other details that I needed to be creative about, but it worked out pretty well in the end. Don’t be afraid to tackle something you have never tried before. Thanks to the generosity of bloggers who share their talents with us, so many things that seemed daunting are now doable!

I have built several pieces of furniture from pine or poplar, and painting raw wood is very different from painting a piece with an existing finish. It’s important to sand your piece thoroughly so it’s smooth and ready to accept paint. Here’s a VERY important step – use a good primer to ensure that you don’t have any bleed-through (especially if you’re using pine; knots in the wood will bleed through the paint if you don’t prime), and use a quality paint that levels well. I’ve have tried several different brands of latex paint, and so far my favorite for both furniture and walls is Mythic. The bonus here is that it’s no VOC and non-toxic. It has virtually no odor!

When using pine, I have found that if I coat the knots with wood filler first, sand smooth, then prime and paint, I get good coverage with little risk of bleed-through. I learned the hard way when I decided to skip priming some chairs that I built from pine and the knots started to bleed through the white paint! I didn’t make that mistake again. See, you can learn from my error:

If you use a semi-gloss or gloss paint, you won’t typically need a protective topcoat. If you use a matte or flat paint, you’ll definitely want to use some sort of topcoat to keep your paint from scuffing. 

Spray paint is fantastic for quick transformations of so many things, but especially for home décor/knick-knack items that could use a new look. Here’s a small IKEA vase that was white (like this one without the purple accents):

And here it is now after some sunny yellow spray paint:

And here’s another one with silver Rub ‘n Buff:

Like I said, Rub ‘n Buff is not paint, but it’s such an easy way to transform things into metallic beauty. You would never know that this used to be a simple IKEA vase that probably cost $1!

I haven’t yet tried clay paint, but I am anxious to do so. I have also never used milk paint, but I just purchased some to use on some garage shelving that we are installing. The shelving is made from plywood, and milk paint is supposed to be a rock star for raw wood (it bonds into the wood so it’s less likely to chip), so it seems like it will be a great fit. I’ll report back on how I like it.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how paint can transform the walls of any room to make it more personal, comfortable, open, cozy, etc. It’s important to get many color sample cards and look at them in different light throughout the day. Once you narrow it down to about four color possibilities, get small sample pots, paint large samples (I like to use inexpensive pieces of large white poster board), and hang them around different spots in the room and observe those in different lighting conditions. I have read that these large samples should be round (and without white borders) to help your eye better project how it would look on an entire wall. You’ll quickly know which one is right for your room (or at the very least which ones are NOT right!) and you can then purchase gallons of your chosen color. (And once you have this gorgeous new room, you’ll need to add some complementary accessories – check Home From India for some beautiful choices.) 

The basic keys to success when you are painting anything:

1) Always start by cleaning your surface thoroughly. I like to wash walls and trim with powdered Dirtex. It does a great job and doesn’t require rinsing, but it can be a bit challenging to find. I was able to find it at either Duron or Sherwin-Williams (I can’t remember which!).

2) Use thin coats – don’t try to glob on paint to cover in one coat. It will never end well. I have found that all walls and trim need two coats to have full, even coverage. Same with furniture – if you glob it on, you’ll have drips and drag marks from your brush. If you do two or three even coats, you’ll have a solid, smooth finish that looks professional. If you’re spray painting, use thin coats and keep your arm moving so you don’t get drips in any spots.

3) Follow the directions on the can for dry time between coats and before topcoating. If you don’t, your piece may remain tacky (sticky) for far too long.

4) Follow the directions on the can for your chosen topcoat. Doing so will ensure a durable finish that is beautiful and practical.

I hope that your next painted object brings much joy to you and your home. Just make sure to always use caution and common sense when taking on any DIY project. Don’t sand any old paint until you have tested it for lead – safety first! And then, happy painting to you!

Note: I have no affiliation with any products or companies mentioned in this post (except Home From India). I just like their products!
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