It Could Be Time to Wake Up Tired, Brown Furniture.

How Do You Decide What to Paint; What Not To? Here's the Answer.

By: Jeff Garrett • Feb 13, 2010 • 1 Comments

On a recent buying trip to the Philadelphia-New Jersey area, I found myself looking at items through a different set of eyes. I was with my daughter, Julie, who has accompanied me on several buying trips to France.

She seemed startled when I priced a few items that had terrible finishes, no tops or blonde out-of-style wood. She caught my drift quickly when I said, "These will be really good to paint."  She loves painted furniture, but hadn't given the pieces a second glance in their tired, boxy, and utterly brown condition.  A great refinisher who's handy with a paintbrush can breathe new life into classic pieces, and I'm not afraid to give it a try.

On the plane home, the idea of painting furniture made me think how the business has changed in many ways. What used to be only a business of fine woods, inlays and either waxing, French polishing or sometimes totally restoring a finish to bring out the depth and richness of the wood, has become, in many ways, covering up quality woods in order to give a piece the "look that sells." In other words, painted. 

Granted, for the most part I am talking about what is known as "decorative furnishings," not period furniture that no one in his right mind would paint. In our neck of the woods, for many fine homes, style often trumps purity. 

For instance, I recently purchased a 1920s Louis XVI style, 3 drawer commode. The piece was decent mahogany veneers and had a white veined marble top. It was not a period piece by any stretch of the imagination but with a good polish and a little work, it could almost pass the "100 year old" test for antiques. I had to make a decision: do a little work on it (as previously described) and wait for it to sell as originally made (maybe) OR discard the marble top, have a wooden top made for it and have it painted in a nice muted white with gray/blue highlights.

I chose the latter and bingo! Transformation into a sought after and, most important, SALABLE commode...and I sold it quickly.

Plus, on a side note, if styles change in 20 or 30 years (and they will), buyers who pick up on your painted furniture now, can re-do later. A simple strip and finish and you have a lovely flame mahogany Louis XVI commode, ready to grace a fine home.

Painting tired pieces often allows everyone to win and affords a great orphaned piece a new home. 

What was sacrilege to some...has become survival to others. I'll err on the side of survival!  Dealer mentality, right?  We're all looking for ways to stay in the game.

Pat Monroe Antiques - Painted Commode