When I posted about the vintage carved china cabinet I recently acquired for a friend, I mentioned my aversion to the idea of painting such a piece. I was pleasantly surprised to see that all you guys who commented agreed with me! I see so many people jumping on the “paint it!” bandwagon when it comes to any and all furniture pieces, and while I own and love some painted furniture, I do believe there are some things that just shouldn’t be painted.
For example, not long ago I spotted a Broyhill Brasilia dining set on my local Craigslist (Google image search results here, if you’re not familiar with Broyhill Brasilia). It is one of the most collectible lines of midcentury furniture, and for good reason. The architectural shape and woodgrain of each piece is gorgeous.
But this particular set was painted bright turquoise. Upholstered in hot pink fabric. And now a very beautiful, very popular set of midcentury furniture was effectively taken off the market for midcentury modern lovers because no one wants to have to strip all that off. It was kind of heartbreaking. (Of course, you may do whatever you want with the furniture you own! Only, please, don’t ‘shabby-chic’ a midcentury piece!)
I really seem like a paint-hater at this point, but I promise I’m not 🙂 I don’t believe that just because something is made out of wood, it should forever be sacrosanct. You can see some of my favorite painted furniture on my Pinterest board, Great Furniture Redos. And I am 100% a devoted fan of Miss Mustard Seed and her gorgeous chalk-painted pieces! I just don’t paint much furniture myself simply because I prefer to leave that option up to the buyer.
So just for fun I thought I would pull some pictures from my Furniture Archive and answer the burning question: “Would I Paint It?” These are just my honest instincts and opinions, and I would love to hear yours after you scroll through!
Paint it: My Dream China Cabinet.
Leave it: Rustic Vintage Carved China Cabinet.
Antique Chinese Chippendale Chairs? Hmm… While I think the original tortoiseshell finish is charming, I would not be at all opposed to painting these. Like this or this.
Obviously, white is a classic choice, but I’d love to go crazy with something glossy – black, charcoal, or even a kelly green!
Lane Acclaim Dining Set. No! This beloved midcentury set and any others with similar lines should be left alone. The wood grain is everything! .
Vintage French Provincial dining set. Sure! Paint away. I would leave the natural wood on the tabletop, but consider painting the chairs and pedestals. I’d probably even distress the edges. The flourishes and carved details of this set make it a great candidate for painting!
Vintage Mexican Carved Dining Set. Would I paint it? Maybe. Maybe not. I kind of love the dark wood. Would I be upset if you painted it? Nope! All those dark carved details can definitely get overwhelming very quickly. And I can certainly envision how gorgeous those pedestals could be in a light color with a darker stain settled into the crevices to really make the carvings stand out!
Vintage Milo Baughman Drexel Perspective Chest. An absolute NO. Even though this particular piece required professional refinishing, just look at that beautiful wood grain! How could you paint that? I still own the matching low dresser:
It is unfortunately in pretty disastrous shape. The quote to have it professionally refinished is more than I can invest at the moment. But I’m hanging onto it until I can bring I back to its former glory! It would be a screaming shame to paint that absolutely stunning primavera wood.
Midcentury modern dresser rescued from a dumpster. Unfortunately, chipping, peeling, deeply scratched veneer is hard to salvage, and I doubt this piece was special enough to warrant a hefty refinishing investment. In a case like this, I would be tempted to paint some of it, but leave some portions of natural wood as a nod to its midcentury roots. Possibly use painters tape to create a graphic design with the paint?
Vintage Card Catalogs. These were already painted once. The finish wasn’t great, and the uneven army green color wasn’t doing it huge favors… Paint it. Something matte, historical, and understated. Like this. Or strip off the paint and re-stain it. I would not be averse to painting because it was already painted, and stripping paint is a daunting undertaking!
However, NEVER paint these:
There is nothing sexier than one hundred year old oak. Nothing.
Vintage Barrel Chair. Sure, why not? I think the barley twist wood is charming! But if a different paint color would tie in better with your/my décor, there’s nothing particularly special about this chair that painting would destroy.
Vintage Hardware Store Cabinets. Leave them be! They are oozing with authenticity and history! If you cover that up with chalk paint and chippy edges, you would only have pretend history. Don’t make me cry!
Hollywood Regency Burl, Brass & Chrome Dresser. Eh. Paint it. The finish is really not doing it for me. Painting it a solid color would really emphasize the awesome faux-bamboo handles and metallic detailing! Gray? Yes! White? Amen! Teal? Sure, why not?
And finally: Arne Vodder desk and Domino Mobler mid century desk. Would I paint either one? No. As a rule, I would never paint teak. Teak has a lovely grain and a gorgeous natural color. If the color isn’t your thing, pass it on to someone who loves it! Mid century teak is second only to antique oak in my “favorite woods” list. (What, you don’t have one of those? Weird!)
Hopefully that sheds some light: I’m not some old curmudgeon who refuses to paint 1970’s wood paneling and glossy pine… Just a girl who loves her some vintage furniture and believes in being respectful of the history and spirit of each piece. But who also believes you should do what makes you happy to live in your home!
What do you think? Would you paint the same things? Leave the ones I would consider painting? Paint the furniture I would never touch? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Julia Konya says
I pretty much agree with every thing you said. I have painted some midcentury modern furniture though because it was in very bad shape, which I wouldn't have done if it was in great shape. And nope I never "shappy chic" midcentury 😉
I agree that some things just can't be salvaged and need to be rescued with paint! I adore your midcentury dresser makeover and pinned it to my Great Furniture Redos board 🙂
Very interesting take. I — the woman who loves screaming color everywhere — do not paint everything either. I really don't worry about the value so much, since what happens to it after I leave the earth won't bother me then anyway. I usually just decide if I think it would look better in the natural finish or in another one, and go from there. One piece you showed which I might disagree with you on is that bamboo chair. There are so many reproductions out there in so many colors available at so many price points, that I probably would just get some decent fabric on it and call it done. I really like these old natural bamboo pieces as an accent here and there.
Scribbler, thanks for weighing in! I do love the finish on those bamboo chairs as well, and love that you would keep them as-is 🙂
Trisha D says
I ALWAYS have this dilemma, especially since I never know the history of a piece. I would hate to paint an antique that others would consider valuable.
On another note, I'm always drooling over all the fantabulous finds you seem to come across. Like that card catalog, I would give my dog's first born for that!! (hey her pups go for over 1k, so its kinda a fair trade, no? haha).
I hope I didn't come out too strongly against painting – I really truly believe that you should do what makes you happy in your home! I'd advocate doing a quick research beforehand and making sure you don't have a one-of-a-kind or designer made piece… But better a painted piece you love, in my book!
Aw, puppy!!! That's a tempting offer 🙂
Jess McGurn says
YES, YES, YES! Where I live Midcentury furniture is not appreciated at all and chalk paint is just catching on, it's a dangerous combination. "Please, don’t ‘shabby-chic’ a midcentury piece"… YES! I'll admit I have been one to wood fill and paint badly damaged MCM, but typically that's when I'm working with lots of chipped veneer (which happens all too often). I'm going through some of your old posts and reading them is like deja-vu to the words that have come out of my mouth!
Yay! I'm glad you agree 🙂 I'd hate to offend anyone, but a little part of me dies when a distressed finish is applied to mcm furniture! I don't have any problem with a more modern painted finish on a damaged piece though 🙂
Aaaaaaand, once again, came across one of your posts when looking for advice on whether or not to paint that burled wood piece. You’re everywhere. I love it.