Thrifted Furniture Finds: How Painting Furniture and Some Elbow Grease Can Transform Any Space

Last week, my friend and coworker decided she wanted to tackle painting some of the furniture in her apartment. She started asking me questions about how I painted my furniture and I started to realize that the majority of the pieces in my apartment are hand-me-downs that I up-cycled by painting and refinishing. I also realized that since I’ve been around the block when it comes to painting furniture, you guys would benefit from some of the information (and mistakes) I have stored in my noggin.

The mass amount of up-cycled pieces in my apartment are the result of moving out of my parents house only a few months after college and being pretty much broke. My family members jumped at the chance to give me their old furniture and I jumped at the opportunity to get it for free—it just needed a little love.

All the pictures you’ll see in this post are pieces of furniture I’ve gotten for free or for cheap and up-cycled it to make it new again. some of them were given to me by family members and other I found at garage sales. You really can furnish your whole place on thrifted finds, hand-me-downs and freebies if you’re willing to put in the time to make it beautiful.

Here’s the Life in Order how-to guide for up-cycling furniture.

1. Sand

The first thing you should always do is completely sand down the piece of furniture. Make sure the surfaces are smooth and any imperfections are blended out as best they can be. If you have an electric sander, that’s great! For all of my furniture, I just used a piece of sand paper and some elbow grease. Use a corse grain on the entire piece first, then go over the whole thing again with a finer grain. It seems tedious, but it’s so worth it when the wood is smooth and the paint goes on easily.

2. Wipe it down completely

Next, you’ll want to take an old rag or sponge and get all the sand of your piece of furniture. This is crucial because if everything isn’t cleaned off the surface, your paint won’t go on smooth and it will appear lumpy and bumpy.


3. Prime if necessary

For some of the pieces I’ve up-cycled, I haven’t had to prime before hand because it was either a light colored wood, or I was freshening up old white paint. For others, like my pretty little springtime dresser, I had to apply a couple of coats of primer. If you can believe it, the dresser above was actually black when I started. It was a challenge, but I got this sucker to be white and I love it (you’ll notice that I love white)!

4. Pick your paint

The hardest step in the process, but also the most fun is picking your paint. You may or may not know that there’s a lot more that goes into picking paint than just the color. You have to pick the type of paint, the brand and the finish you want as well. Let me break it down for you:


For furniture with a lot of intricate detail or smaller pieces, spray paint is your best option. For this round table, I used a semi-gloss spray paint. It was so simple to just spray it rather than try to paint all the detail by hand.


For hardware, always spray paint. On some older dressers, you’ll find that stores don’t make replacement hardware to fit the existing holes. I ran into that problem with the dresser above. Any of the new handles I liked were too wide to fit into the holes that were already drilled into the drawers. I didn’t want to mess with drilling my own holes, so I spray painted the hardware instead and I love how it turned out.

For almost all of my furniture, I chose a semi-gloss paint. It’s good for furniture in small spaces to have at least a little gloss to them because it helps bounce the light, making the space appear larger. A satin finish, or a finish with no sheen, works well on large pieces of furniture in large spaces.


The hardest part can sometimes be choosing the color you want to paint. Neutral colors go well with everything (it’s clear that I love neutrals). Just keep in mind that white can get dirty very easily. I wouldn’t recommend it for a vanity or place where you’ll be doing make-up or anything else that could potentially make it dirty. Don’t be afraid to choose a bold color. Bright accent furniture is very trendy right now, and you’d be surprised how much fun just one small colorful piece can bring to a room.

Here’s some other tips to keep in mind when painting furniture:

  • Take it slow and do several thin coats instead of trying to paint it all at once. This also works for spray paint.
  • Don’t paint on a muggy day. It will take your paint longer to dry.
  • Don’t paint on a really hot day, it could affect how your paint drys.
  • Be sure to check all the way around and under each surface of the furniture. Look at it from different angles to be sure you’re covering every visible square inch with paint.

I hope you guys have found these tips helpful! If you have any other questions on your next up-cycling project or on any of the pieces in my apartment, leave them in the comments below or hit me up on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest. Catch you next time!Signature