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Five Mistakes To Avoid Making On Your Furniture Makeovers

Updated: Mar 23, 2023

What is UP my friends and fellow busybees. I hope you are all doing well and if you are a parent currently fending your way through the March Break.. May patience, energy and many distractions for the kids be with you. You’re all great soldiers and you’re going to make it through this!

If you receive my weekly newsletter called the Friday Furniture Focus (which, if you don’t, what are you waiting for? Sign up today!), you know that last week’s episode had me reminiscing about my first projects and just how far I have come in my business and in my abilities to do furniture makeovers and execute them successfully… most of the time, at least. And so I started thinking about techniques that have evolved over time or strategies that I have implemented that have helped me to do so, that I hope can be useful for you whether you are brand new to furniture flipping and can take these on early on in your journey, or even for seasoned refinishers there might be some things that you pick up or are just reminded of that perhaps you haven’t been implementing quite as often as you ought to be.

This will be at least a 2-post series because I immediately had 10 different things come to mind and who knows, this might make some more thoughts come to mind for more episodes to come. And personally, I think this style of post is super helpful and useful and as a blog consumer I know I always love listening to them when I hear them on other people’s shows because I think it’s so valuable to hear lessons learned and things that people have done incorrectly and then corrected over time because that just helps you to skip that learning stage and doing the trial and error when you take on that same kind of thing. That’s exactly the reason why I listen to and turn to people who have been where I am, who have the success that I aim to achieve and who know exactly what it’s like to go through what I do, because they’re the ones I can learn from.

Alright, so let’s jump into five mistakes I made early on while doing my furniture makeovers-- so that you can avoid making these mistakes on your own furniture flips!

The first mistake I used to make was not priming my pieces. This is more specifically when I was going to be painting pieces, because as far as I can remember, I always used a pre-stain or wood conditioner prior to applying a stain to wood. However, a primer is definitely a product that I held off on unless I felt the piece really needed it in order to make the paint stick, like if I was painting a really sleek surface like a laminate. But on wood pieces, especially if I had scuff sanded, I often would just go straight in with paint and then a topcoat of some sort.

If I'm being honest, this was liiikely due to me being a little bit lazy and also trying to keep the cost of supplies for my flips down. But, now I know the benefit of adding a primer on so I have since stopped skipping this step. But skipping it isn’t inherently the worst thing because assuming that you fully got the finish off of the piece when you scuff sanded, the paint is probably on there alright anyways.

There’s also more and more all-in-one type paints that state they don’t actually require a primer due to the paint’s formula. So those pieces that I didn’t prime back in the day may be holding up juuusst fine… but these days I always err on the side of caution and just go into each project assuming I’m either going to run into a huge headache of some sort or that the piece is going to end up in an absolute zoo of a home with pets and children and anything else that might have the ability to damage the piece, so I take all the possible precautions to ensure that the piece holds up to the best of its ability. In order to do that, I’m adding a primer on first.

Doing this serves two different functions: first, it ensures that the paint is adhering to the piece that much better and more evenly and for a longer period of time and throughout different conditions that the piece may go through, like potential weather and temperature changes either during transport or while in its new forever home. It also helps to counteract against any potential bleedthrough that may be already coming through the piece or any that may come in the future, because if you have read Dealing With Bleed Through On Your Furniture Makeover, then you know that the wood tannins may not be peeking through right at the time of you doing the transformation and they may not show through for hours, days, weeks or even months post-makeover. For this reason, we want to do everything in our power to block those from coming through by using a primer that’s either shellac-based or one that states it has stain blocking abilities on the can.

The second mistake I made back in the day when working on my furniture makeovers was not being vigilant in wearing my safety equipment in the workshop while working on my pieces. Now, luckily I didn’t have to learn the hard way or be reminded of the importance of this due to a huge accident that made me regret what I had been doing, because unfortunately that is how many people learn this important lesson. However, one time when I was wearing just a pair of blue light glasses instead of actual safety glasses when I was stripping paint off of a dresser with a heat gun, a small piece of the paint chip did fly into one of my eyes and adhere to my eyeball and although there was no damage it was incredibly uncomfortable and after that I was like "ok, legit protective eyewear only, got it".

And this extends to all of the safety equipment that you need to be having and wearing when you’re working on your furniture flips for various reasons– keeps you from getting injured, keeps you protected from any chemicals or products, keeps your lungs and eyes and toes and everything covered and away from anything that goes awry.. Just do it, please and thank you. I’m thinking of doing an upcoming post specifically on protective and safety gear that you should be regularly wearing in the workshop and the specific reasons for it and some of the science behind it, as well as my recommendations and what I use and wear, so stay tuned for that because that may be coming if I hear that it’s something others would be interested in learning more about.

The third thing that I used to do when doing my furniture flipping that I consider to be a mistake for me personally but may be something that you do and works out great for you, is just working on one piece at a time. I know that for some folks, having one piece that they focus on and refinish that gets their full attention, it works great for them. Some people have limited time in the workshop or maybe space restrictions if they’re working out of a small room in their house or having their workshop double as a storage space in the home and so they only have the ability to work on one piece at a time even if they would prefer to do more.

But for me, having only one piece that I am working on at a time is unideal for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I find it inefficient from a time standpoint because there are so many steps throughout the process of refinishing or transforming a piece of furniture that require you to do some work on it and then let the piece sit to allow some product to dry, whether it be after you clean it, add filler or glue, or after you prime, stain, paint, or topcoat. So by the time I get out into the garage to work on something, get strapped in to my safety equipment, get a podcast queued up (because that’s what I usually do while I work unless I’m looking to have a dance party and rock out to some music), it’s a lot of effort to only just do one step on a piece and then have to clean up, put everything away and let the piece sit.

If I have multiple pieces on the go, I can instead move over to the next piece during that drying time and do the next step on that piece of furniture and then once I’m done that, chances are I can go back to that first piece because it will be dried by then in some instances. Or, if I have a third piece on the go which I typically do, then I can move on over to that and my time in the workshop just feels more productive and efficient to me.

Secondly, I can have a short attention span sometimes or just get bored of things easily so if I’m working on a piece and start to lose interest in it (or, more realistically, I hit a slight curveball and will have to do some research or something that feels like too much effort in the moment for my lazy ass), then I can hop over to another piece that feels more fresh and fun to work on in that moment. Having multiple pieces on the go also can mean that you end up finishing and listing pieces for sale much more frequently, if you have the pieces staggered out in which step they’re at. Or, alternatively, if you do batch work on the pieces and, for example, clean them all at once then repair all at once then prime all at once etc etc, then you’ll end up with multiple pieces being finished at the same time so you can do a big drop of new pieces to your clients which can be a great way to go about it too.

The fourth mistake that I made when I first started doing furniture makeovers and honestly, one that I find myself still struggling with on and off to this date, is bringing in pieces that aren’t worth my while. The thing with doing furniture refinishing is that you probably got into it, at least some of you, because you wanted to reuse existing furniture and not let so many furniture pieces end up in the landfill. Perfectly good furniture that has just a little something off with it, but something totally fixable that you could tackle and then refinish and it would be good as new.

Except that sometimes that quick and easy repair or thing we need to tackle on the piece isn’t quite so quick and not as easy as we had assumed. So we have just taken in a piece, committed to working on it, and maybe even already gotten through a substantial part of the makeover process before we had to tackle that certain thing. So that could already be time, effort, products and thus money invested in this furniture piece. Then, because we’re human, there’s a sunk cost fallacy. If you’ve never heard of it, a "sunk cost fallacy" is a phenomenon where a person is reluctant to abandon a strategy or a course of action because they have invested heavily in it, even when it is clear that abandonment would be more beneficial.

So in these cases, I’ve already done some work on the piece so I don’t want to just chuck it out the door if I hit a barrier or a roadblock, but then at the same time, I have a history of just moving these pieces to the side to start on a new piece and then never fucking finish the first one I started. And I know some of you are laughing because you’ve either heard me talk about being queen of the 82% club or you’ve heard me talk about having to take specific weeks where I focus on actually completing these projects finally so they stop taking up all of my space in the workshop, or because you do the exact. same. thing. Which, selfishly, I hope is the real reason so that I know that I’m not the total worst ever and am not alone on this one but somethingggg tells me I’m not.

So essentially, by taking in these pieces that I ultimately just really wanted to save from getting tossed out, I’ve now unintentionally added something annoying to my plate, added potential stress, and taken my time away from the more efficient pieces I could have been working on in the meantime. And taken this piece away from, potentially, someone who could have came by and snagged it and been able to accomplish the thing on it that stumped me. So I have to remind myself that I can’t save them all and need to be a bit more choosey, especially now that this is my full-time job and not just a fun hobby on the side where I can afford to take as much time as I want to on my pieces and frig around with them.

So although time to time I do encounter this still, I am much more vigilant when I am grabbing a piece to look over it very thoroughly so I know exactly what I am getting myself into when I grab a piece, and honestly this is why I don’t get pieces of Facebook Marketplace as much anymore because I have noticed that people either don’t notice the type of damage or issue that there is with their piece, or they do notice and just decide to not disclose it in the ad. And I often will just dumbly pay for pieces before I pick them up to make the process more efficient and what not so, anyway, that’s my own fault for doing that and ending up with these lemon furniture pieces sitting around for months or even over a year before getting finished and out the door.

The last mistake I made comes with a great lesson learned and hack that I now do on almost all of my furniture makeovers, but before I get to that, I wanted to let those of you who are new to furniture flipping or have never done a furniture makeover before that I have a resource that will be incredibly helpful to you when you tackle that first flip. I have released The No BS Guide To Your First Furniture Makeover and you need to get your hands on it! It walks you through my framework step-by-step for completing your first furniture makeover, whether you want to paint, stain, or some combination of the two on your piece. It also comes with my First Furniture Makeover Supplies Checklist, which will make sure you’re set up for success when it comes time for you to sit down and finally tackle that piece of furniture I just know you’ve had sitting around in your garage for ages with the intention to flip, but you’ve been nervous to take that leap in case you screw it up. Rest assured that with this guide I will take your hand, pump your tires up and get you rolling through from start to finish on that beautiful furniture makeover I know you have in you! So grab your copy today and I hope it gives you the confidence you’re looking for to handle that flip with ease!

Finally, the fifth and final mistake I made early on in my furniture painting and refinishing days was just applying regular polyurethane over my pieces, particularly the dark ones like navy blue and blacks. If you have ever done this before and found that there was a bit of a milky hue that remained when the poly dried or you noticed some streakiness that you have tried over and over to remedy but couldn’t quite get it right, then listen up! I notice this particularly when using a poly in a matte finish because there is a flattening agent like a silica that is added to it to give it that flat, matte finish compared to having more of a sheen. This is what you can sometimes see come through on these darker pieces.

In order to avoid this, again, specifically with darker colours but it would work well with any colour really, is to mix in a bit of paint into that topcoat. This is just like tinting a primer, so that the product you’re applying to that finish is more similar than dissimilar in colour so you don’t need to do as much work to get that flawless finish. You don’t need to add a lot either– I’ll usually just pour into a separate container however much poly I think I’ll need for that piece (and then some, because brushes and rollers and sprayers can eat up more product than they need), and then do a little dollop of paint into it. Mix that up thoroughly so you don’t see different colour streaks of each of the products and it’s mixed up well and then you’re good to go! It’s surprising just how easy of a step can make such a big difference, but I promise you that it will save you a headache or two.

And something you may not know about me… I love little motivational messages. They literally always get me fired up, and I keep a running list of ones that are especially catchy or speak to me in the Notes app on my phone. So I’m going to end every podcast episode with one of those that I have noted down over the years, in hopes that you leave our time here each week feeling inspired, motivated, and ready to take on whatever comes your way that week.

So this week’s Mel’s motivational message is from the book Ego Is The Enemy by Ryan Holiday which is: “No matter what you’ve done up to this point, you better still be a student. If you’re not still learning, you’re already dying.”

Alright, that’s it for now, make sure you tune in next week for the next 5 mistakes I made early on when doing furniture makeovers and how you can avoid them moving forward. I appreciate your time, and I’ll catch you guys next week!

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