There is some vintage furniture that we keep “as is.” We love the old rusty bits, the flaky paint, the original patina, the soft worn upholstery. But then there is all that other vintage furniture. The furniture that is a little too worn, a little too flaky and little too rusty… Or perhaps we love the shape but not the color, or the texture of the fabric or the drawer pulls or the stains or the springs coming out the bottom. Whatever the reason may be, there are those times when all of us vintage lovers need to take an old & lovely, but misfit piece and breathe new life into it.. For all those times here are some ideas and tips on how to transform your vintage furniture, re-styling and re-purposing it for your life and your needs while still keeping its original vintage flare.
When shopping for (or rescuing from the side of the road) a vintage piece of furniture that you know will need some renewing make sure you ask yourself these questions:
1) Will I be able to fix it/strip it/paint it/upholster it?
2) If the answer is “no” then the next questions is: Do I know who can and can I afford it?
3) And finally is the cost of the item plus the labor and materials cost (not to mention storage of the piece until it is finished) something I can afford?
If you have sailed through those questions easily enough and still want to take the piece home with you congratulations - you are ready to ReNew!
There are various degrees of difficulty when it comes to renewing and restyling vintage furniture and it is good to be honest with yourself which level you are at when you start a project (of course you can always learn and improve as you go, but it will take more time.)
Degrees of Re-Newing
Easy – Cleaning, Light Sanding, Priming, Painting, Replacing Hardware
Moderate- Heavy Sanding and/or Stripping, Minor Repairs, Loose Slip covering
Difficult- Caneing, Upholstery, Reconstruction, Staining,
Here are 2 different chair renewal projects, both at opposite ends of the renewing spectrum;
First, the high chair. A category “easy” project, this chair was not stained nor painted when I found it so no priming or striping was needed. The chair was also in good condition and did not need any major repairs. After removing some hardware on each of the arms (that had been used for the missing tray) we simply washed and painted this chair, using a high quality latex paint. After the 2 coats had dried, we sealed the paint with a spray polyurethane sealant.
The second project – a pair of easy chairs – fell into the “difficult” category for me. As soon as I saw them I knew immediately I would need outside help to make this project happen. The 2 original vintage chairs had sat in a garage for several years and sustained some light damage to the upholstery which was also very dated and worn. Not wanting to waste the chairs, we decided to re-style and re-purpose them for a more fresh and functional feel. To achieve that goal, we hired a professional upholster to do the labor, and shopped for the fabric ourselves (therefore saving a lot of money) and re-designed the chairs for a sleeker look. Our upholster took out the tuffeting on the back and arms, took off the skirt on the bottom and replaced the swivel base with turned wooden legs that were stained to match other furniture in the room. The result was a lovely pair of vintage chairs with a modern touch – the perfect way to recycle with style!
Here are a few more tips to help your next vintage furniture project go off without too many hitches…
Things to Remember when Re-Newing:
- When painting old furniture, always strip or prime (with a product like Kilz Primer) if the piece already has an existing layer of paint or stain. Latex paint will not adhere to any oil based paint or stain for long. So even if that project looks done, changes are if you didn’t sand/and or prime first, that paint is going to chip off over time.
- High Quality paint and brushes save time and money over the long haul. Many of us who love vintage also love a good deal; a great bargain and we don’t like to pay full price for anything, let alone supplies. But the truth is that good thick soft brushes and quality high end paint do make a difference when painting.( I like to use Kilz) One trick is to visit your local big box home improvement store and purchase your paint from the “opps” pile. The “opps” pile is all the reject or mis-mixed paints that the paint department has. Often times these mistakes will be nice paints at low low prices (often 75% off the original.) The key is to be flexible, because you have to take the paint as it is, even if it is not the exact color you were looking for.
- Word of Mouth is the Best Way to find an Upholster. Just start asking around and I bet you will find someone who knows someone who does this on the side, or full time. With upholstery you want someone you know will listen to your ideas and see the potential of your vintage piece that you see. Getting personal recommendations is the best way to ensure this happens.
- Buy your own fabric. Many upholsters sell fabric, but at marked up prices. You don’t have to buy from them, so feel free to shop around for a great buy. Most fabric stores have a chart that you can use to gauge how many yards of fabric to buy for each piece you are recovering. Don't know how much to purchase for your project? This Furniture Yardage Chart is extremely helpful.
Jerusalem Greer is a mom, a wife and a modern vintage gal just trying to live the artsy life. Full of love, laughter with a grateful heart, she enjoys creating beautiful spaces and goodies, which bring joy to all who encounter them.When she's not filling the role of "style and design editor" for Vintage Indie Mag, she is busy working in her studio at Storia Divita.