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Ways To Modernize Your Outdated Wood Furniture

What is UP my friends and fellow busybees. If this is your first time tuning in, hey, I’m Mel, I’m a full-time furniture painter and refinisher and content creator online teaching you how to bring new life to your old and unloved furniture pieces to ultimately help keep as many pieces of furniture out of the landfill as possible. Because if you didn’t know: there are roughly 10 million tonnes of F-waste, which is furniture that gets thrown out, that ends up in our landfills each year in Canada and the US alone. And I always like to point out the equivalent size so you can get an idea of what that would look like, which is 10 million fully-grown white rhinoceros, which are about 2,000 lbs each. So safe to say that anything we can do to come together to save those pieces from ending up in landfills, the better!

One way we can do that is by refinishing or redesigning existing furniture in our homes that maybe isn’t exactly in style or on trend any more, or maybe you’ve just gotten a bit bored of it and are looking to shake things up, or maybe it has some visible wear and tear and you want something that looker newer and not so well-loved. If that’s the case, stay tuned because in today’s episode I want to walk you through some approaches to modernize your tired looking wood furniture that you may have sitting in your home that you had been thinking of getting rid of in order to buy a new piece for your space.

I think this approach, refinishing and modernizing or switching up existing pieces, is the ideal first step someone should explore when looking for “new” pieces for their homes. It’s cheaper, easier, usually requires the same or even less time than having to measure out the space, do a bunch of research to find a piece you want instead, maybe drive around to a bunch of stores looking for something that will work, and then having to buy it, load it into the car, drive it back home, unload it from the car, bring it inside and then also potentially assemble it, depending what you get. Not only is that a financial investment (and with the rising prices of virtually every product I’ve seen lately, chances are you paid a pretty penny for that new dresser or table or whatever it is), but there’s also the time investment of all of those tasks, which shouldn’t be overlooked. You have a busy life, you work hard, so in your free time wouldn’t you rather use the available time you do get in your day to relax, take care of yourself, spend time with your family or friends, or explore your hobbies and passions? Exactly, so think about trying out or exploring some of these options the next time you decide you want to get new furniture for your home.

The key here is that, unless you are looking to switch out the function of the piece or the type of thing that is there, like if you have a buffet in one spot but want to switch it out for an armchair… well, then, maybe you can’t necessarily modernize the buffet into an armchair, fair enough. BUT, you might have an armchair in another space in your home that you could use there and perhaps the buffet would instead work well where the armchair used to sit. So that’s tip #1, to look around your home and play around with the layout because that might give you the dopamine boost you were looking for when you initially decided you wanted to change up your space. That’s definitely the cheapest, easiest and quickest option to shake things up in your home.

However, that buffet may actually be doing a great job for the purpose that you had initially bought it for– showcasing some décor elements on top and being a storage space to use in your dining room to hold additional plates and cutlery for when you host dinner parties and housing other small appliances so they’re hidden but easily accessible. If that’s the case and it is still fulfilling its function but you’re just feeling like the look of it is a bit blehhh or doesn’t match the vibe of your home now, not to worry! We have some fixes for that. The plus side is that the piece is already in that space AND it fits well, presumably, in the space too, so we want to capitalize on those things and just work at changing the look.

If the piece is solid wood and you like the look of it but it’s just starting to look a bit worn or maybe there’s some artificial scratches from light wear and tear, one of my favourite things to do is just to give it a drink and see if that’s all it needed. By giving it a drink I mean providing some moisture to make the finish look good as new. For the outside, I’ll often use Howard’s Restor-A-Finish. This is a liquid product that I like to apply with a shop rag or very fine steel wool and it has a finish-penetrating formula that restores wood finishes while blending out minor scratches, blemishes and abrasions. It comes in 9 colours so it makes it really easy to find a colour or shade that will closely resemble the finish on the wood furniture piece you have, and it takes seconds to just wipe the product into the furniture piece and see it completely come back to life. It’s kind of crazy the difference that you get sometimes, it truly can make a piece look good as new.

For the inside of the piece, because I always like to look at my furniture pieces as a whole when I refinish them so not just looking at the outside, if the drawers are made of wood as well then I will use a furniture salve on them. Again, this just gives the wood a nice drink of moisture and makes the wood look revived and rich again. I’ll link the products in the show notes that I typically use for this, which are Howard’s Feed-N-Wax and Dixie Belle’s Big Mama’s Butta. These are oil-based ointments, essentially, for the wood and will also usually get rid of any minor scratches or blemishes in the wood drawers. The bonus is that they also have a light scent, I typically choose the orange scented ones, so that can help to make the piece smell fresh and bring some new life to it and get rid of or mask any muskiness that may have developed over time.

If the drawers are in really rough shape and have a lot of deeper scratches for some reason or are just really dirty (I’ve come across some that were presumably in a child’s room and they had taken liberties with their markers on the drawer bottoms over the years), you can first try to revive them a bit by sanding them down with an orbital sander or, if you’re looking for a workout, do it the old school way. I’d recommend using about 120 grit sandpaper because you want it to rough up and remove the finish a bit but not rough it up so much that we need to go back in with multiple higher grit sandpapers after in order to smooth it out.

If it’s still not looking quite as you had envisioned, you can always add a drawer liner to add a fun, new and unexpected pop of personality to the drawers of your furniture piece. I dive into more detail on the different items you can use as drawer liners, as well as what I use to adhere them, in my blog post Ways To Makeover Your Furniture Drawers, so feel free to check out that episode if you’re interested in learning more. All I will say is that you may be surprised how such a small detail that you don’t even necessarily see day-to-day when the furniture piece is closed can really make an impact and bring some new life into the piece when you’re using it. Feel free to have some fun with the pattern, colour or picture you use on the inside and give yourself a smile or a laugh any time you open up one of those drawers.

Before I get into the other ways you can change the look of your outdated wood furniture to modernize it and bring it into the style and vibe of your home, I wanted to let you know about a digital resource I launched recently that you may be interested in. I know the world of furniture painting and refinishing has a ton to learn– I’m still learning every day!-- and it can be overwhelming in terms of how much content and resources and learning there is out there in order to figure out what to do for your first furniture makeover. If you Google a certain question, you’ll definitely get an answer… but if you scroll to the next result that came up, it will probably give you the complete opposite answer. It makes it pretty frustrating, I know because I was there once, too. I’ve come to realize that the best way to learn about how to do these furniture flips is to just do and learn along the way. So I have compiled a No BS Guide To Your First Furniture Makeover that 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 know many of you have a piece of furniture in your house already in mind, or maybe a piece you saw for cheap at the thrift store or even sitting on the side of the road in perfectly good condition that is now sitting in your garage, but you’ve been nervous to take the leap to actually tackle in case you screw it up. With this no fluff, no nonsense, No BS 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!

Another quick, easy and relatively inexpensive change you can make to your piece of furniture is to change out the hardware on it. This is something that can transform your piece entirely, especially if you choose some statement knobs or pulls. It makes the piece feel completely new, which is why it is always one of my most favourite parts of any furniture makeover. Depending on the type of hardware you choose, you can contextualize the piece style-wise, so some hardware is very obviously vintage and makes the piece look older and intentionally worn, and things like cup pulls are typically used in farmhouse-style pieces. If you opt for shiny, gold handles it will often give it a chic, modern feel. The possibilities in terms of style, shape, colour and texture are truly endless– you’d be surprised what you can find out there if you do some good research. I’ve used hardware that was made of marble, caning, macrame and knitted knobs, among other things. So sourcing some new hardware that vibes well with your new colour scheme or style of your home if you’ve changed it recently, or even just changing out the shape of the hardware can give it a whole new feel. I’ve also found that depending on the colour of metal or other material the new hardware is, it can often change what undertones come through in the wood on the piece as well so it can give the illusion that you stained it or maybe lightened the wood a bit or something when really it’s just an optical illusion, which is kinda fun!

Okay so those are the quick, easy changes that you can make that will make a sizable impact on the look and feel of your wooden furniture piece, however if you are looking for something more drastic in terms of change, there are some options. They will require you to buy a few more products and dedicate some more time to making the piece over, however, again, it will still likely end up being quicker and cheaper than if you were to source a new piece all together. And, not to mention, there is no better feeling than looking at a piece of furniture in your home, absolutely loving how it looks, and having the satisfaction of knowing that you were the one who made it look like that and brought it back to life.

Your first option is to fully sand it down and stain it a new colour. Depending on the finish that is currently on your piece, you may decide to either sand it, strip it with a chemical stripper or scrape it with a carbide tipped scraper (and sometimes you need to use some combination of the 3 methods) to get it down to the bare wood finish. To ensure the wood is in good condition to be stained, you want to start at a lower grit sandpaper around 100 at first and then work your way up to at least 220 grit to smooth the wood out and close some of those wood pores so they more consistently take the stain and you don’t end up with patchy spots. Another way to set yourself up for success and ensure you get a consistent stain finish is to use a wood conditioner prior to staining as per the directions on the product that you get.

Your second option is to paint the piece entirely. Now, some people have some very strong opinions about painting solid wood furniture and as I’ve come to find out, they really enjoy being very vocal online about this burning passion for justice that they have in relation to home furnishings. I can appreciate where it’s coming from, because they like the look behind these wood pieces, they appreciate the craftsmanship that went into making the pieces, the pieces are often older as well so they.. I don’t know, get personally offended when paint ends up on them.

But rest assured if this is you or if you are just nervous about the prospect of putting paint on your piece only to realize that you don’t like how it looks and wish that you had never done that and want your wood piece back… you can have that. There are many ways to remove paint from wood furniture like stripping, sanding or scraping the piece and it can be good as new in no time.

That will, obviously, require a bit more time and elbow grease though so keep that in mind. One way to get an idea of what the piece will look like when painted (especially if you’re a visual person) is to create a mood board on something like PowerPoint, Canva or even just your Instagram stories. I like to import a picture of the piece as it is, then import a photo of the paint swatch online for the colour of paint I have in mind, then use the colour picker or colour dropper tool to snag that paint colour and then draw over the parts of the Before photo that you planned to paint and see how you like the feel of it. Sometimes just sitting on your design for a bit really helps to make a decision too, so if you’re feeling indecisive during this stage, just take a break and then come back to it and mull it over in a bit and you might have some more clarity in your plan of action.

For paint options, I recently did a blog post, Mineral Paint 101: What Is It, Its Uses & My Faves For Furniture Painting, where I discuss my preferred brand of paint when doing a furniture makeover which is Fusion Mineral Paint and I talk about why I like it, what types of projects I choose it for, some of my favourite colours in their line and I also have a link for 10% off all their products if you’re interested in checking it out.

Your third option is to do a combination of painting some parts of the piece and staining other parts. A common combo when doing this is to paint the base of it and then stain the top, or even just leave the top the normal raw wood colour. If you have a certain vision for the piece or there are some more clearly defined spots where it would make sense to keep some parts wood and paint others, that’s always an option as well. Again, doing a mood board might be helpful to aid you in figuring out the composition of the design and what combination will look good together and make the piece look well balanced and nicely finished– or just go with the flow and figure it out as you go so you avoid overthinking it! Either way, I’m sure it will turn out looking great.

Regardless of what you decide to do to refinish your wood furniture piece, I always recommend adding a top coat over the paint or stain you added to the piece once everything is thoroughly dry. This will add some durability to your finish, as well as just make it look much more clean and well-finished. Even if you feel like you can see some imperfections in the paint, maybe a brush stroke here and there or something like that, adding a top coat always brings everything together nicely and ensures that it looks flawless. I typically use a water-based polyurethane as a top coat most often for my pieces but there are lots of options out there.

And the last recommendation I will leave you with is to make sure you’re waiting the proper amount of time for your furniture piece and the products on it to fully cure before you are using it consistently or are putting home decor or other things onto it. This curing period takes anywhere between 21 to 30 days and although the finish is dried and seems like it’s durable, the products haven’t yet fully cured together so there is the potential to scratch the finish easier or if you leave things on the surface during this time, you may find that the products cure to the bottom of whatever you put on it so when you go to move that lamp or vase or other home decor item, it may peel the topcoat or paint finish back with it and ruin all of your hard work to transform this beautiful piece, so beware!

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: Believe you can and you’re halfway there.

Alright, that’s it for now, I appreciate your time, and I’ll catch you guys next week!

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