Recycling and Brightening Up Old Furniture with White Paint
I'm a firm believer that every sound and sturdy chair is a suitable candidate for the recycling, re-purposing or "up-cycling" white paint treatment. Collecting odd chairs is a hobby for me, and during the long cold months of winter I like to occupy myself cooking up new fangled ways to paint my summer's collection of needy and sad looking chairs. I shop garage sales, antique shops, auctions, the roadside and finally the September Brimfield show with equal fervor. It's a long cold winter here on the farm and I need stuff to paint.
photographs by Mark Samu
I've never had a chair under my brush which didn't look better painted with plain old white paint--clean, modern, fresh, and done. So, all color options aside, a coat of white primer is always the best place to begin. This could turn into a very long and informational post, but I'll hold off on how to select furniture worthy of painting until next time. (We can chat about Brimfield too!) For today, I'd like to introduce a pair of chairs which are so comfortable and sturdy I'm able to overlook the issue that they just may be . . . ugly?
I tried not to think about my Aunt Faye's living room--an homage to crushed velvet and plastic covered furniture--while readying my diminutive cane backed sweetie pies for paint. If you don't know anything about crushed velvet, know this--it's impossible to get paint out of it. A carefully applied protective taping, which can survive through two coats of primer and two coats of paint, is the first order of business. I used blue tape because I had it--plain old-fashioned beige masking tape is, in fact, the better choice when taping upholstery because it's more tacky.
A rookie may want to cover the seat cushions with plastic in case of drips. I went with the old dishtowel method of cushion protection myself.
After sanding, washing, re-sanding, and re-washing the chairs, it was time for the white primer. I never waxed these chairs, and sanding alone wouldn't remove every trace of wax. Two coats of Benjamin Moore's Quick Dry White Alkyd Primer put my mind at ease. After all, these beauties are at least forty years old, surely someone loved them enough to wax them once?
After the first coat of primer was very dry (a day), the chairs got a light sanding with a 220 grit sandpaper and a quick cleanup with a tack rag. Now, here's the place some of you may wish to take a time-out. The white primer will give you a pretty clear vision of the condition of your piece. Fill any holes you're not loving with wood filler. (Please, no joint compound or caulk fillers on wood--it won't sand.) Get out the wood glue, and fix anything splintered, peeling or troubling in any way. Spot prime all of your fixes, and live with your white "whatever" for a while if you're not sure of a color choice.
If, like me, you're convinced the white is perfect (and it so often is), one option is to do another coat of white primer on your treasured thrift shop find, and call your recycling project a job well done! Good garage sale reclamations and long lasting up-cycling finds deserve our best work though, and for that we need some Benjamin Moore paint.
I used two coats of semi-gloss white Advance. I'm new to this product--a waterborne equivalent to alkyd Satin Impervo, Advance is a heavy, or full-bodied paint, making it less apt to run down all the tiny holes in the cane. Be sure to stir this paint well; always remember, the shine is at the bottom of the can!
Slow and steady is the furniture painter's mantra; the work shouldn't be rushed. Maybe you'll get full coverage in one coat, maybe you'll want three--keep an open mind and remember, you want a beautiful finish that will last. No one will ask you how fast you got the work done, I promise.
For the cane, I like to work with a very stiff 3-inch synthetic brush that I actually swirl around in tight little circles. This oddball painting method works well on wicker too. "Swirling" is hard on the bristles, so be sure you straighten them out when you clean, or you’ll need to sacrifice the brush to get your cane covered perfectly.
Advance takes more time to dry than other waterborne paints, so set yourself up accordingly. Once it is completely dry, the paint will sand to a beautifully smooth finish that feels as good as it looks. For smoothness, you need to work wet and again, Advance is a great paint for sanding. I use a 400 grit wet/dry paper for this final step. Wet sanding means what it says--sanding with water. Because I'm a little nutty, I dip the sandpaper into soapy water; a splash of dish soap helps the paint layers hold the shine despite the sanding.
I'm pretty sure my Aunt Faye would be appalled that I painted such "beautiful" cane, a habit I'll keep quiet about when patrolling the retro furniture offerings at the September Brimfield show. At Brimfield, there's enough furniture crying out for paint to keep us all busy this winter, which is why all good garage sale and thrift shoppers and bargain hunters conduct their seasonal grand finale at the show. Next time, I have my tips to help you choose the most suitable pieces for recycling.