How To Paint Furniture – A Step By Step Guide


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In my day job I have had to paint a few pieces of furniture in my time in all different styles – and with painted furniture so popular at the moment I felt it was only right to share a step by step guide to how to paint furniture with you so you can do it yourself as and when the mood takes you.

Not only can it save you a few pennies by giving old items a fresh lease of life, but also it can create a really unique piece for your home that gives you a sense of satisfaction knowing that you created it yourself!

How to paint furniture - step by step guide to follow

We all have the odd piece of furniture around our house that has seen better days, that’s not looking its best, or that just simply doesn’t match with the decor any longer. In my own home over the summer myself and my daughter decided that it was time for her little table to get a face lift.

This table has been sitting in our kitchen for 4 years now, and she loves it as its the perfect size for her to sit and tackle all her craft projects. However, it didn’t fit in with the colour scheme in the room, and it frankly was a little boring for a 6 year old girly girl being just a plain wood finish – so we set about tackling it while the weather was warm enough to do most of the work outside (much less messy!).

So without further ago – here’s the step by step guide for how to paint your own furniture – hope it helps!

Step 1 – Get your supplies!

It’s so much easier to do any project if you have everything you need to hand – so here is the list of what I used:-

  • Cardboard box or cardboard sheets
  • Paint brushes
  • Paint roller – use if you prefer this finish – I used paint brushes only in the end)
  • Paint tray
  • Sandpaper – fine paper works best
  • Cloth or Kitchen Roll
  • Masking Tape
  • Paint for decoration (try and use paint you already have to be more cost effective!)
  • Primer and Undercoat ** (combined means less work, and less proper paint layers required)
  • Varnish (matt varnish seals the furniture without being a shiny finish)
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Step 2 – Go to an open space!

It’s worth doing this outside if at all possible – as you will be creating lots of dust in the next step, and frankly painting can be messy! – I went into our garden and took everything I needed outside.

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Step 3 – Sand the furniture

Using quite a fine sandpaper, simply sand down all parts of the furniture that you are going to paint.  Make sure that you do this in an open area, or wear a mask, as there will be quite a lot of dust.

This furniture had a layer of varnish on it – so sanding it down simply made for a better base for the paint to attach to the wood. If you are painting unfinished wood then you could possibly get away with not doing this step, but I would do a quick sand whatever the furniture as I find it always gives a better surface to add the primer in the next step.

Please note that some primers say that you don’t need to sand first – but for a finish that will last I always sand first.

TIP – If you are painting a chest of drawers then you would be better not to paint the inside of the drawers as this can affect the way the drawers open and close – and you won’t be able to see these parts anyway. For furniture like I was tackling then you are better off painting all areas, including underneath!

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This close up of the furniture after sanding should help you to see how the surface changes afterwards. You don’t have to be neat about it – just create that layer of texture for the paint to adhere to.

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Step 4 – Rub down

When you have sanded everything there will be a layer of dust that resettles on each piece.

This will get in the way of the paint, and add a grainy texture to the finish if you don’t get rid of it – so use a damp cloth or a damp piece of kitchen roll and rub every part of the furniture down to get rid of the dust.

Then simply leave to dry off (this shouldn’t take long at all)

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Step 5 – Apply primer and undercoat

I did this in one layer as I used a combined primer and undercoat. Again you don’t have to do this step, but it gives a better finish overall.  It also means that there is one layer of paint on the furniture before you start painting in the colour that you want to your furniture to end up – so you use less of the expensive paint which is a bonus.

Simply paint on one layer of the primer/undercoat and leave to dry.

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TIP – Initially I was using a bin bag as the flooring for the furniture while I was sanding etc… but when the wind picked up the plastic was sticking to the furniture, so instead I laid down cardboard for the furniture to sit on outside as this doesn’t move in any wind there may be, and is a lot more sturdy.

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Step 6 – Apply 2 layers of the paint of your choice

Once you have done all the groundwork i.e. sanding and priming – now it’s the fun part!

Choose the paint colour that you want the finished piece to have, and apply 2 coats for an even colour finish.

TIP – Sand each paint layer slightly and you will get a smoother final finish

TIP – Use roller or paintbrush depending on the type of finish you want – I used paint brushes only for this project

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Step 7 – Decorate (Optional Step)

You could leave this step out completely if you simply want to paint the furniture one colour, but if like me you want to add some decoration to the items, then now is the time to do so!

We chose some paints in tester pots as we only needed a little paint for the decoration, and therefore it was much more cost effective.

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Use the masking tape to define the patterns that you want to create on the furniture – make sure that the tape is firmly pushed down so that there are no gaps for the paint to leak out under the tape as this can cause a less than perfect finish.

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Then simply paint in the colours that you want to use.

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TIP – I prefer to take the tape off prior to it drying as I find that this means it is less likely to take any of the paint off the furniture that you don’t want to take off. Other people prefer to leave it to dry first – so experiment and find what works best for you.

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Use your imagination – create whatever patterns, shapes, layers that you want to have – you could have the whole rainbow, a shape etc… – whatever works for you!

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15. how to paint furniture

The last part of decorating that I wanted to achieve is to distress the piece a little. This would match the style of my house better, and gives the final item a much more homely finish in my eyes.

Once the paint had all dried completely on all the stripes I did, I simply took back outside and used the sandpaper to go through the layers of paint back to the wood.

TIP – You could paint another colour underneath the final paint colour and sand back to this instead of the wood finish

TIP – Sand areas of the furniture that would naturally wear over time to give a more accurate distressing – I concentrated on the seat, the edges of the back of the seat, and the legs.

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17. how to paint furniture

Step 8 – Apply a layer of varnish

The final step to complete the job is to apply a layer (or 2) of varnish to the items.

I always choose a matt varnish as I much prefer a matt finish to paintwork, it looks more like it hasn’t got varnish on this way.

The varnish helps with longevity and makes it much easier to clean and not to mark with things like water marks from cups or drawing marks from pens etc…

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How To Paint Furniture - A Step By Step Guide - 430. how to paint furniture1

So – those are the steps that you need to follow if you want to update some of your own furniture. My top tips to take away for how to paint furniture are as follows:-

  • Do this in an open space
  • Don’t be tempted to not sand/prime etc… as you will get a better finish doing every step
  • When decorating let your creative side show
  • Always finish with varnish to ensure the item stays looking great for longer


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This article was written by Chrissy

Hi - I'm Chrissy... Having run my own business for 12 years as a Professional Organiser and Interior Designer, I know what works (and what doesn't!) when it comes to setting up a home that works both functionally and aesthetically. Now you can mostly find me in a coffee shop or at home, working full time on (which I setup back in 2011) sharing all my tips and ideas. My mission is to help you create a home that you love to live in every day...


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