Simple Furniture Rehab: Tips and Tricks To Find The Best Hidden Treasures

I have written about different methods of rehabbing old furniture: from adding fabric to creating a chalkboard surface and also constructing new items from found objects. But I truly believe the simplest transformations have the potential to be the most remarkable.

My love of thrift store treasure hunting originally developed from my fascination with the transformative magic of a new coat of paint. Who doesn’t love a makeover?  (I know my pocketbook much prefers the cost). The other day I discovered this old nightstand on sale for only $10.00. At one point, this was probably a very expensive piece of furniture. There was something about it, perhaps the way the gold leaf on the edges that was chipping, that made me think it once rested proudly next to the bed of a young woman who very much enjoyed a touch of glamour in her life. And, despite its chipping exterior, it is still very sturdy, a well-made piece of solid wood furniture.

I’m going to use this night stand I found and show you how easy and inexpensive it is to transform a piece of thrift store furniture with just a little love and a splash of paint. Once you start to develop and eye for what works and what doesn’t, you’ll be amazed at the treasures you can uncover. ‘Who would throw this away?’ you will think. And it will be your good fortune. Let’s also talk about what works and what doesn’t work for a transformation; in my time, I’ve had quite a few ‘misses.’

The Hunt: Where to Shop:

Consignment stores often sell gently used, sometimes very upscale furniture.  The pieces will certainly be pricier than their thrift store counterparts because they are typically all in good to excellent condition. In fact, most consignment stores split the proceeds of the sale between the store and the seller. Keep a consignment store in mind if you have furniture you wish to sell. A consignment store is a great place to find a dining table, an interesting buffet, a coffee table, a dresser, really anything. I’ll even break my rule of no ‘fabric’ based pieces because consignment stores may have something exceptional.

Thrift stores sell a range of furniture, usually in the back. Since most of it is donated, thrift store furniture will likely need more TLC than consignment store.  But, you can find some truly unbelievable gems and deals.

Flea markets run the gamut of variety and condition of furniture. I love flea markets for trinkets and décor; these are usually great places to spot old signs, vintage doorknobs and buttons, etc. that you can use in future projects.

Resale Shops, like Habitat for Humanity, are absolutely amazing for finding old doors, windows, nuts and bolts and often, light fixtures.

What to Look For/Buy? I have a few rules when it comes to hunting for a new piece: solid wood and metal are often best. I skip out on most MDF pieces as they provide a difficult surface to transform and aren’t usually worth the effort. Wood and metal are easy to clean. Wood pieces tend to be made better; they will last longer. Dining chairs, coffee tables, dining tables, mirrors, metal and wood bed frames, doors, glass pieces, wood frames and other small accoutrement, like ceramics and glasses can all make excellent bases. Be wary of electric purchases and always have an employee plug them in to ensure they work. You don’t want to end up paying any amount of money for a dud.

What to Avoid: I tend to avoid any fabric pieces, unless it’s a nice piece from a consignment store or it seems to be in very good shape. Fabric pieces are harder to clean than a wood surface, they pick and retain smells for longer, and they may carry bed bugs with them. Avoid bed mattresses-that’s just something you should really buy new, if possible.

Once you find your piece, you can move on to the next steps. These tips should be go-tos when rehabbing any type of furniture.

Step One, Sand: Even though it might seem unnecessary, it is always important to sand. Even if your furniture is in great shape and you’d just like to change the color, a light sanding will help the paint and primer adhere to the surface. I prefer to use sanding blocks for more control, but any sandpaper will do.  Typically, a medium and fine sandpaper will suffice depending on the condition of the piece. For this bedside table, I used medium and fine sandpaper, medium to remove chipped paint and wood nicks, and fine to remove any marks left by the medium and to create a ready surface.

If there is any damage to the furniture that requires nails or glue, do that BEFORE the sanding process. That way you can eliminate any excess material.

Step Two, Prime: It is very possible to get away with a paint plus primer, but if you want a really nice paint coat, an initial coat of primer is best—especially if you are painting over a surface that doesn’t already have a coat of paint, or if you are changing the sheen (high gloss, eggshell, satin, matte).

Step Three, Choosing Your Brush: There are four ways to paint: use a roller, use a brush, spray paint or use a spray gun. Most of us don’t have paint spray guns and they aren’t really needed for small projects, like painting an end table or coffee table. However, a spray gun comes in handy if you are painting cabinets, or you really want that ‘fresh from the factory’ paint look, like a piece of Pottery Barn furniture.  Smaller, more detailed items, like mirrors, lights or even plastic surfaces work best with spray paint. You must use spray paint in a well-ventilated area, however, and only within a specific temperature range, between 50 and 90 degrees.

I almost always, then, use a small roller or a brush. Rollers are perfect for smooth surfaces. Small rollers can be found in the paintbrush aisle; they give you excellent user control and a smooth finish absent of brush strokes. When painting furniture with many smooth surfaces, like a desk or dresser, use a ‘best’ or ‘very good’ level roller.

If you are painting a very detailed piece, like the nightstand I am painting, use a brush. I typically use an angled brush that comes to a thin point at the end in order to get into all the nooks and crannies and keep all angles precise.

Step Five, Accent Detail: I usually like adding fun accent details, like purchasing new knobs (a big makeover must!) or adding a few graphic design accents. You can find knobs at any home improvement store, upscale home and clothing stores like Anthropologie and even craft stores like Hobby Lobby (which has an excellent selection). Also, if you plan on doing a paint detail, like stripes, check out ‘Frogger’s tape’ which will give you clean lines. During this step, you may also choose to put a protective finish on your piece.

Reveal: No matter how many pieces I re-do, I am always amazed at the remarkable transformation that paint provides!