Reclaiming and altering wonderful wooden pieces of furniture

Painted Beauties!

While in Chatham, N.J., not long ago I found a lovely little jewel box of a shop called Home Sweet Home. What a magical find! I recently posted on their Facebook page, “I would have a steady stream of clients working with Janice Chocchi and her business partner.” Let me step back a minute and let you in on the subject for the day.

In the past few years, I’ve discovered that reclaiming and altering wonderful wooden pieces of furniture is something that a growing number of people are becoming passionate about. That is exactly what Home Sweet Home does: They take unattractive 1930s Depression-era, French-style or midcentury piece and literally give them an astonishing new life. The pieces are of good quality wood and well constructed with some intriguing element of design. I was love-struck and wanted to look closer at the repurposing and rebirth of these old—and in many cases, better—pieces of furniture.

Antique, not Antiqued

When I owned my shop, I wanted only brand spanking new product in my shop. As I sit back and analyze that decision, I’m starting to question the logic. After all, my shop was actually composed of new pieces that looked old! Now, a few years down the road from closing my beautiful shop, I may have stumbled onto something that might have been a worthy avenue to explore while running the shop. As they say, live and learn! I am certainly not advocating using only pre-owned pieces of furniture, but when you want a well-constructed piece with some character at a price point that is manageable, then consider shopping consignment stores, flea markets and even Goodwill. Secondhand furniture stores are appearing everywhere these days. (Have any of you ever driven by Paramount Antiques during business hours and noticed an empty parking lot? Nor have I.) Many people are choosing to downsize, making the recycled furnishings business flourish with exceptional pieces; you just need to be willing to analyze a piece and see the butterfly that might be inside that ugly cocoon.

(On a side note, there is one aspect of the pre-owned furniture that I think should be addressed right now: upholstered pieces. I suggest you avoid these pieces—unless you know a bit of their history. If your mom gave it to you, for example, well than love it and use it as she did. I strongly believe that upholstery can harbor some rather unsavory little secrets. With my little dirty secret and opinion exposed in regards to upholstery, we shall move on.)

Artful Reclamations

In addition to Home Sweet Home, I discovered another "almost" local talent—the artist Rhea Knott, who is married to our own James Knott now living in Manchester, Iowa. Knott paints remarkably detailed patterned work in delightfully boisterous hues. A gifted quilter as well as painter, her patterns feature a bit of quilt design complemented by her own brilliant attitude about what a piece of furniture has to say for its self. Look for her work on Facebook (Rhea Knott: Artist).

One look at Knott’s work and you will enjoy her wonderful wisdom with wood and, of course, the charming whimsy she adds to each piece! Her home is known as a drop-off for homeless chairs, which she brilliantly repurposes according to their own personality. While Home Sweet Home creates visions of sophistication with their furniture pieces, Knott’s pieces are fun and fanciful. I discovered two totally different approaches to breathing new life into old furniture—how wonderful.

The Perfect DIY Piece

So, how do you take pieces that some would send to the curb and make them the absolutely perfect personality pieces for your home? Well, another local shop owner teaches classes. You can’t get much better or closer to home than that! This absolutely darling girl’s name is Abbe Doll, and no I did not make up this precious name! That is her given name—could you just scream! This talented young woman started out in a portion of another business and grew her business into quite the successful operation. You can attend classes and buy products at her studio in Kechi, Kan., at 135 N. Oliver St. To find out about classes, visit What a wonderful prize to have nearby.

I strongly suggest visiting with a professional like Abbe to learn the ins and outs of painting life back into a wonderful piece of furniture. One thing you’ll learn is that painting furniture is not the same as painting walls! You will need to put some human energy into the process with sanding and priming.

Step 1: Sand

In furniture painting, the first thing you need to do is sand it—the icky part. Please don’t even think about skipping this step (although there is one exception I will share further into the column). Sanding gives you that luscious smooth finish, so no skipping this step!

According to my research, an orbital sander is the way to go. If you try hand sanding, you will poop out and not finish that magnificent piece. So, help yourself out and use an electric sander (maybe add one to your birthday list, hint, hint). You may need to use a variety of sandpaper grits to cut through layers of various finishes, and in some cases you will need to finish up the piece with a little hand sanding. Once the piece is sanded, make sure to remove all the dust with a wet cloth. Or, if you’re working with drawers, a vacuum does wonders in the corners. Clearly the prepping is the pits, but this is the step that will make the piece magic in the end! And you will be so proud of what you did with your own two hands!

Step 2: Prime

It is best to prime all painting surfaces to prevent stains from bleeding through the new paint. Tips include:

The primer needs to match the paint as close as possible.

A spray primer such as Painter’s Touch might be a good option as it provides a thin tidy coat.

Let the first coat dry for approximately 10 minutes, then apply one or two more coats. The piece should be literally covered in primer.

Sometimes you will need to sand one more time after the last coat of primer.

Please remember to paint in a room with good ventilation when using oil-based primers and paints.

Let gravity help with your project! Start at the top and work down, smoothing paint drips as you work your way down.

Step 3: Paint

For your furniture projects, consider Milk pain, which has been around for centuries. The paint consists of milk powder, lime and pigment, and is sold in a powdered form. Milk paint offers a beautiful matte finish that shows amazing variances in the color; it can be used on unfinished and finished wood surfaces with no prep work—how great is that? Sanding is eliminated with this product. Milk paint penetrates raw wood like a stain, but it still looks like a paint, drying to a matte finish. You can also use milk paint on top of finished wood surfaces. On certain finished surfaces, bits of the paint will flake or chip away, giving the piece an authentic antique look. Milk paint is also all natural, so you don’t have to worry about dangerous fumes or chemicals.

A product that literally makes me smile is Miss Mustard Seed’s Milk Paint Furniture Wax, which seals and protects furniture. The wax can be buffed to a high sheen and it provides a durable protective finish. All Dolled Up (Abbe Doll) in Wichita carries this yummy line of paint, and wait until you see the colors: dried lavender, boxwood, linen, typewriter, and tricycle, to name just a few. This first-rate museum quality wax is based on an old family recipe of beeswax with a little carnauba wax. It is ideal for use on wood, marble or as a finish over Milk paint. It is easy to apply, provides a durable finish with a beautiful luster and has almost no odor.

So, there you have it my dear friends: A new way to bring a fabulous piece of furniture into your home with a little elbow grease, time, and love.

I recently received the following email question from a reader:

Question: How late into the year is ok to leave winter greenery up, like pinecones and spruce?

Answer: Coming from the Colorado area four years ago it was very common to leave those items in place until the end of February. I believe this view has become acceptable in parts of the country that experience a true winter.

Remove any element of Christmas and let the winter décor stay in place until the end of February. This includes wintery home scents as well. March 1 I invite spring in. Thanks for the question!

See you next Saturday! Make your week marvelous!