I’ve found some easy ways to fix up old furniture. You can give new life to old furniture or repurpose existing pieces.
New Life for Old Furniture
Did I share with you our project this summer? We were looking for easy ways to fix up old furniture, especially our dining room set.
We have a dining room set inherited from my husband’s grandparents. It’s falling apart, but I like it a lot, and we don’t really want to buy new. So my husband hit on the idea of recovering the seats and backs with new fabric and refinishing the chairs. The fabric part went well. We found this great red damask with big chrysanthemums on it in Lynchburg at an upholstery fabric shop. It wasn’t even that expensive. We took the seats and backs off the chairs, removed the badly stained and faded gold silk that was on them, and used the old fabric as patterns. A staple gun took care of the rest!
Beware 60-Year Old Varnish
That finished, we set out to strip the varnish off the old chairs. That’s when the trouble began. I don’t know what in the world they used on these chairs but it was impossible to get it off. Plus we did not notice a whole bunch of carving on the legs and backs. Ugh. Talk about sanding! We both got sick from the paint stripping chemicals and sanding was such a pain in the neck that we gave up after one chair. We thought for a few days we’d have to buy new chairs, but how do you match 60-year-old furniture to new chairs?
Paint to the Rescue!
Then we were in Lowe’s and John spied the paint aisle. He disappeared and appeared a few minutes later with a can of glossy black acrylic paint. At first, I was not sold on the idea, so he said he would finish one chair and then if I liked it we would do the rest. We’d already ruined that chair with our botched refinishing job, so what the heck?
Well, the chair came out great! I loved it. I am not a big fan of the English-Chinese Chippendale style, but the old Italian style set from Grandma and Grandpa suddenly looked….elegant. Like it belonged in a British drawing room somewhere. The chrysanthemum patterned fabric helped a lot by adding a bit of a Chinese flair, as did the combination of black glossy paint, which looked like lacquer, a popular furniture style.
Now before we set to work we did have an expert come and look at the set, and he agreed with our research; it wasn’t worth anything at all. If it was a true antique or a rare antique, we would have left it alone. If it was even well made, we would have had the man who came to look at it do the refinishing work. But it’s not. It’s poorly made, inexpensive furniture my husband’s grandparents bought around 1950 when they bought their home.
But I love it.
And now it has a new life, thanks to my hubby’s frugal chic mindset and creative problem-solving.
New Look to Cheap Furniture
Don’t be afraid to buy cheap furniture, shop at discount furniture outlets, or buy vintage and thrift shop furniture. You can give a new look to cheap furniture by thinking of new and creative ways to use it. Or use simple techniques such as painting over old wood and changing the fabric on chair seats to breathe new life into old and cheap furniture. Here are two ideas for using cheap furniture in new and creative ways.
Before rushing out to paint or refinish old furniture, be sure to look up its value. Antique and vintage furniture often retain its value if it is left unfinished. Painting and restoring certain pieces can drop their value, but it’s up to you to find out before you start any project whether or not your furniture is worth more in its current condition or more after your artistic touches are applied.
Easy Ways to Fix Up Old Furniture
These easy ways to fix up old furniture will have you reusing your existing pieces or thrift shop finds in no time at all!
Like new uses for old dishes, you can come up with many creative uses for old furniture.
.Many people own Grandma’s old sewing machine but do not sew. Antique Singer sewing machines are prevalent at auctions, yard sales, and other sales. Because a treadle sewing machine was a common household item in years past, as ubiquitous as a television set in a modern household, there are many in the antique and vintage furniture market today. You can restore it and use it as a sewing machine.
My grandmother’s vintage Singer was used for many years by my sisters and me to sew doll clothes before we retired it. Many are beautifully decorated with gold painted trim. Others are very plain. The vintage walnut-finish case on this sewing machine was actually more attractive than the machine itself, so we transformed it into our stereo table. This creative use for old furniture and specifically for a vintage Singer sewing machine transformed it into a table and a focal point in the room.
Another Idea for an Easy Ways to Fix Up Old Furniture
Other uses for old furniture include using a china cabinet rescued from a dining room set as a hutch, or a collectible cabinet to display your personal collectibles. I even knew someone who purchased a huge vintage post office unit of antique post office boxes and had it installed in her kitchen. It took up an entire wall but made a great wine and spice rack. She just took the doors off of some of the little post office boxes and slid wine bottles right in! See how many creative uses you can come up with for some of the old furniture pieces in your home.
Furniture Refinishing Options: Paint and Fabric
Another option for using cheap furniture is to paint it and add new fabric. The dining room set featured here was over 60 years old and the fabric was faded and stained. After an expert looked at the set and told us it wasn’t worth much, we decided to fix it up rather than buy a new set.
We purchased upholstery fabric for about $6 a yard and use the old upholstery as a pattern to cut out the new fabric. A wood stapler helped us staple the fabric in place on the forms for the chairs. We started to refinish the wood on the chairs, but the old varnish was a nightmare to remove and wouldn’t come off, and none of us wanted to spend hours sanding it.
The solution? A can of black glossy wood paint. One coat later, we had transformed our Italian style furniture into English Chinese Chippendale flavored furniture. We left the table as is since it was still in good condition, but the final project took only a few days and a few dollars.
Painting furniture is simple and inexpensive. You don’t even need to know how to sew to place fabric on dining room chairs; the staple gun was a lifesaver! If you buy cheap furniture, painting it or recovering it with new fabric are two ways to breathe life into it.
Cheap Furniture to Leave at the Store
Some cheap furniture you should leave at the store. For example, the recent bedbug outbreak also affected homeowners who stayed in infested hotels and accidentally brought bedbugs into their homes. Several clothing retailers in New York City also reported bedbug incidents. What does that have to do with cheap furniture? Bedbugs like to hid in cloth, which is why they are called bedbugs – they snuggle into the seams of mattresses, for example. They can infest mattresses, sofas, and chairs. If buying cheap furniture, you may want to avoid the used or cast off sofa and chairs or learn the signs of bedbugs. Look for photos of bedbugs to identify them. Or better yet – buy new furniture with a guarantee and a reputable retailer you can go back to if you have a problem!
Another issue with buying cheap furniture such as cheap sofas and chairs is that chairs and sofas take a lot more wear and tear than tables or china hutches. Think about how many times per day someone sits on your couch. Kids bounce around on couches, company sits on it, you lay on it to take a nap….the couch and chairs you choose need to stand up to use.
Construction and fabric must be tough enough to withstand normal wear and tear. Don’t skimp on mattresses, couches, and chairs.
Projects to Try
So what new life can you breathe into your old furniture? Think about the following ideas. Most are low cost and require a few simple tools or paint and a little time. Find some frugal chic in your home and breathe new life into old furniture, or buy cheap furniture and reinvigorate it.
Summary of Ideas – Fixing Up Old Furniture
- Painting over wood – dressers, tables, chairs, hutches
- Adding new fabric and recovering dining room chairs or other chairs
- Adding a slipcover to a chair or sofa
- Sponge painting or decorative, antiqued finishes
Give life to those beloved old pieces by fixing them rather than throwing them up. Recycle, reuse, wear it out before you throw it out. These easy ways to fix up old furniture make it simple to be frugal and environmentally responsible.
Jeanne Grunert is a certified Virginia Master Gardener and the author of several gardening books. Her garden articles, photographs, and interviews have been featured in The Herb Companion, Virginia Gardener, and Cultivate, the magazine of the National Farm Bureau. She is the founder of The Christian Herbalists group and a popular local lecturer on culinary herbs and herbs for health, raised bed gardening, and horticulture therapy.