This summer, my husband and I were driving on Cape Cod, when I spied a couple of midcentury modernesque chairs outside a thrift shop. “Stop!” I yelled–we were in need of dining chairs. When I asked the owner the price, he informed me that there were four more out back. “How much for all six?” I asked. “Thirty dollars for the set,” he replied. I gave him $35. Score!
Only problem, someone had painted the chairs a pale puce green. But for $35, I was willing to put in the labor to paint them. Here’s how I did it.
Water-based polycrylic or finishing wax
Foam paint roller and pan
Fine and medium sandpaper
Protective floor cloth
Tape (if needed)
Above: My original chairs. Actually, the color looks almost looks OK in this photo. In reality, it’s quite deadly.
Step 1: Get Your Inner Zen On/Chill Out
Sure, when deadlines loom, I’ve been known to slap on a quick coat of photo-worthy paint. The results never bear close inspection.
The key to a smooth, durable paint job is to slow down. So download those TED talks you’ve been meaning to listen to, or the audio-book version of War and Peace, and settle in. If you don’t rush it, painting can be a very zen process.
Step 2: Sand, Sand, Sand
We all know that real estate adage: “Location, location, location.” With paint, it’s “Prep, prep, prep.” To achieve an even finish, you’ll need to do a thorough sanding job. Use a medium grit to remove old paint, stains, and debris. This process helps smooth the surface and will give your paint something to hold onto. If you’re working with a relatively a flat area, you can use an orbital sander. For something with many round parts, like my chair, you’ll have to do most of the work by hand.
Step 3: Clean and Tape
Once you’ve sanded your piece of furniture, you’ll need to thoroughly clean off all the sawdust. Hands down, a tack cloth is best for removing particles that can negatively effect your paint job. Make sure you wipe every inch of your furniture. Be sure to repeat this process every time you sand.
If necessary, tape off any areas you will not be painting.
Step 4: Prime
If your piece of furniture was previously painted or stained, I recommend a stain-blocking primer such as Kilz or Zinsser Bulls-Eye 1-2-3 primer. Otherwise, a regular primer will do.
Using a brush or a roller, apply a thin coat of primer to the entire surface of your piece. Let it dry overnight. Then, lightly sand and clean again. If necessary, prime again.
Step 5: Paint
Finally, you’re ready to paint. Once again, patience is key.
For projects like a table or dresser that have a lot of flat surfaces, a roller is faster and creates in a streak-free finish. For chairs with round rungs or furniture with hard-to-reach corners, you’ll need a brush. Whichever you use (or, if you alternate between them), apply a thin coat of paint in the direction of the grain. In order to avoid drips or buildup, always go back over what you just painted with the tip of a brush, especially around edges and joints, where paint can accumulate. Allow this coat to dry overnight to ensure that the surface will have hardened enough to withstand a thorough sanding.
Step 6: Repeat
Once your first coat is dry, sand, wipe, and paint it again with another thin coat. Repeat: paint, dry, sand, clean. To paint furniture correctly, it can take up to four or five coats.
Step 7: Seal and Protect
Once you’ve achieved full coverage, you’ll need to protect the finish with a top coat. Using a brush, apply one or two layers of polycrylic–again, always sanding and cleaning in between. You can also use a clear finishing wax. (Avoid varnish, though, as it can yellow.)
Above: My finished chairs ready for the table. (They look like Canvas’s Georgica Chairs, no?)
Above: My new suite of dining chairs. Total cost? Less than $200 all in.
London-based designers, Lone and Chris McCourt, had long fallen in love with the the small town of Uzès, France, and in fact, had bought a summer house on the outskirts. When a medieval building (built in 1200!) right in the heart of the village came on the market, they realized that while they enjoyed rural life, town life might just have more to offer.
So the couple traded their country retreat for a four-story townhouse and embarked on a six-month restoration that was as sensitive as can be. They bolstered, fixed, and enhanced but “were careful not to alter the structure and detailing,” says Chris, a furniture maker and owner of Isokon Plus, a company specializing in Bauhaus as well as contemporary furniture design.
They did, however, have to add a kitchen (the building was most recently used as a lawyer’s office and as such, lacked one), but even that was a relatively non-invasive procedure, thanks to Vipp‘s modular kitchen units. “It’s the first kitchen I have ever bought,” shares Chris, who had always crafted his own kitchens in his workshop. “But this house needed something else. . . . We fell for the industrial look that stands in sharp contrast to wooden doors and detailed ornaments.”
Now that the townhouse has been restored and decorated (many of the artful furniture pieces are available at Isokon Plus), the couple are reveling in their new life—and new passions. He’s mastering the art of guitar-making and she’s focused on textile design. “Instead of spending the whole day nursing a garden like we used to, we can have our morning coffee in the local cafés or eat out in the downstairs brasserie if we have spent long hours in our studios and are too tired to start cooking. It brings a certain freedom,” says Lone.
Ready for a glimpse of their slowed-down (but not too slow) life?