When someone mentions the ‘three year itch,’ chances are they are referring to relationship troubles. In my case, the ‘three year itch,’ implies that I’m ready to move, whether into a new apartment, house or even city. And while my twenties were filled with attempts to negotiate pricey security deposits, they were also replete with more exciting challenges like how to navigate my new neighborhood, the potential for intriguing neighbors and how to perfectly arrange my couch to get the most ample hangout space.

Each apartment or rental house was filled with paper memories: photographs taken, tickets from local concerts, posters I thought perfectly fit the ‘feeling’ of the space. Much like a bird that rebuilds her nest every year, I would take those memories with me on each new journey, delicately placing them about hoping these fiber treasures made my house a home. Eventually, however, they’d wind up in the bottom of a drawer somewhere, or hidden beneath a piece of furniture as new memories took their place.

So what if there was a way to prevent the fading of those paper memories or losing them altogether in some unpacked box in your storage facility? What if you could breathe fresh life into them by creating something new? For centuries, people have been doing just that; decorating their lives with paper memories, preserving them for ages. This is the art of decoupage.

Decoupage is the art of using a varnish or glue to embellish an object with paper cutouts. While the word ‘decoupage’ is French in origin, it is believed to have originated in East Siberian tomb art. From there, decoupage became popular in China before being picked up by Venetian artists eager to capitalize on popular lacquered Asian imports. In 18th century France, the art form was renamed decoupage and grew to be an extremely popular pastime in the wealthier classes. In fact, Marie Antoinette and her court were avid decoupagers.

Today, decoupage is seeing a revival in popularity, especially because it is an easy, fun, and relatively inexpensive way to preserve memories or liven up an object and give it a new use. I have seen people decoupage a variety of furniture, glass objects, walls, seasonal products and even shoes! For me, it is a wonderful way to bring elements of my ‘past lives’ into my present. Today, I am going to demonstrate how to update a piece of thrift store furniture with paint and decoupage.

What You Will Need:

  • Furniture with a smooth surface
  • Mod Podge® in Satin (orange bottle)
  • Paper for your design
  • Cabinet roller paintbrush (optional, if painting)
  • Foam paint brush
  • Sandpaper (optional, if sanding furniture)
  • Rolling pin (optional)

The Hunt: Your options are practically endless. For starters, select an object that has a relatively smooth surface like a coffee table, an end table, a chair, a dresser or a chest. I found this cedar chest for $20 in my local resale shop; bruised and battered, but a diamond in the rough.

The Transformation:

Step One: Sanding. Typically, thrift store furniture will need a little extra TLC before it can be painted. I used medium and fine sandpapers to buff out as many imperfections as as possible.

Step Two: Clean. Wash the surface with a damp towel to ensure it is free of debris.

Step Three: Paint. For this piece, I used Behr’s ‘Blue Fox,’ paint plus primer in satin finish, one of my go-to paint colors. If you are painting a piece of unpainted furniture, I recommend using a primer first, a paint plus primer or an acrylic. This will coat the piece more evenly and you won’t end up having to go over the surface multiple times. Also, I have found that small foam paint rollers meant for cabinet painting are the best ‘brushes’ to use on these projects as they distribute the paint evenly and don’t leave visible brush strokes. Allow at least eight hours to ensure the paint is dry before proceeding with the next step.

Step Four: Design. There are a variety of paper cutouts that work well with decoupage: tissue paper, posters, maps, magazine cutouts, card stock, scrapbooking paper, wrapping paper, and so on. Your local craft store will likely have a scrapbooking section that features a variety of paper backgrounds and cutouts. Lay out the paper on the surface to determine your design. When you are certain you have the look you want, snap a photograph so you don’t forget where you placed each piece.

I used an old poster I had hanging in a previous apartment. There is a special place in my heart for vintage posters (even if they are made to look vintage) and anything California-where my husband and I both lived in our twenties. I thought this old poster the best way showcase a bit of our past in the present.

Step Five: Glue. Now you’re going to use the Mod Podge®, an awesome product that acts as both a glue and varnish in one. Spread a liberal layer of over the entire surface of the furniture. Then, spread another layer of Mod Podge® over the back of the paper cut outs. Pay special attention to the edges. Place the paper on your furniture; you should be able to move it into place.

Step Six: Roll. Use a rolling pin over the entire piece to eliminate air pockets. Don’t worry if you can’t remove them all; when it dries the air bubbles should become less noticeable. Let dry for fifteen minutes.

Step Six: Varnish. After fifteen minutes, go over the entire piece with another liberal coat of Mod Podge®. I recommend repeating this step at least twice so you’ve finished it with two to three layers. Wait at least 48 hours before using the piece of furniture.

The Grand Reveal: Instead of shelving your memories, decoupage provides you an outlet to showcase them throughout your space. And there’s no reason to spend half your paycheck to add a beautiful new piece to your home. In total, this project cost me only $45.00 to complete. What memories will you create?