Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Don't Paint Your Antique Furniture (PLEASE don't paint your antique furniture)

Hello, hello!

Are you ready for a first-thing-in-the-morning fright? Hold your pre-coffee hats, folks...I have a tale to tell that will shiver your timbers. The subject? Antique furniture. But not ANY antique furniture. Painted antique furniture. Ugh! I wanna hear your thoughts on this one, but first let me show you the goods. I apologize in advance that this is not a nice blog, but dang it, these are not nice things to do to these pieces of furniture!

I was trolling through Craigslist antiques, as I am wont to do, using the usual search terms: under the Furniture section, "vintage", then "retro", then "antiques", then decades ("1950s"...but no apostrophe or you won't get any results!). In the midst of combing through ads-with-pictures (most of the time I won't even fool with the no-image results, do you want to sell this thing or not?!), I came across...well....this:

From the listing:
Girls Antique Solid wood Vanity Dresser: $240 cash pick up for your special daughter this Christmas.. this one of a kind. 1920s circa vanity will bring a smile from ear to ear..Barbie will be jealous..call text or email me right away
PEOPLE. I agree whole-heartedly with the "if it's yours, you can do what you want with it to make it your own" philosophy of material goods ownership. Live in a fifties' ranch and want to keep some period details but change others to fit your lifestyle? Dude, it's your house (but if you go Lowe's commerical on that thing...I'm still going to be kind of mad at you). Nevertheless, in this case, it is a TRAVESTY that this art deco bench has been painted to ape some weird, Pottery Barn Kids looking crazy thing in the interest of selling it. "Will bring a smile from ear to ear...Barbie will be jealous..." And Lisa will be dropping a dime on you to the American Association for the Prevention of Cruelty to Antiques. Would that there WERE such an entity. Do you see the curved wood bench that would cradle your little flapper looking self as you apply just the right amount of lipstick to perfect your cupid's bow pout? How about the hat-pin/glove box on the vanity at top right? I am honest when I am saying that I have never seen an antique deco dresser like this in real life. Plenty with the round mirror and four-dresser-drawer set up (including my own at home in my bedroom), but none with a built-in setee. And you murdered it! So you could make it look like an imitation of its lessers!


Here's another piece that just should not have been painted. And I know, you're going "But what if the finish wasn't fixable? What if it had seen a hard life before it was painted?" So stain it darker! Sand that sucker down! Sell it to someone who wants it and spend the money on a new thing you like better! There just isn't an excuse.

From the listing:
Antique Dresser / Sideboard $100 OBO I have an antique hardwood dresser/sideboard available. I'm reasonably sure that this piece dates between the 1930s - 1940s. It's in really excellent condition, it was painted white years ago (before it came to me) and the paint is wearing thin but underneath is a beautiful dark hardwood. There are a couple of minor nicks here and there but with a bit of re-finishing work, this will be a really beautiful piece. I believe there was originally a mirror attached at the top, the slit piece for it is still there. It has it's original hardware as well, although the filigree piece on one side is missing. I'm asking $100 or best offer.
I give this seller a pass because some foolheaded relative of his probably made the decision to "update" this sideboard's look before it passed into his possession, as stated in the listing, but that doesn't make it any less depressing. I have a boulder-sized chip on my shoulder from my own family's history of whitewashing antiques to make them look "fresh" and "new" again with little regard to aesthetic choices. The meager pieces of furniture that made it to my generation intact included a deco vanity (not as fancy as the one above, but with waterfall) someone had painted white in the eighties', and a large, French Provincial style sixties' dresser with a kind of neat/weird sickly green-tan-gold finish, that my parents themselves insisted we paint white after my aunt Donna gave it to me. "You can have it, but we have to paint it," they insisted at the time. Thirteen year old me was adamant. "I like it the way it is!" I whined. "I don't want to paint it! She gave it to ME!" My protestations went unheeded, and the piece was painted flat white, with the original brass handles spray painted gold. Like, gold in the way that Kraft Mac and Cheese is "yellow", by which I mean a fluorescent, wrong kind of gold. I hated the damn thing and was pleased when it ended up, sans mirror, in some other room as a sideboard. Eventually, my dad painstakingly sanded it down to the original finish (before Donna painted it the green-tan-gold that reminded me of Dark Shadows and which I really liked), and it sits in my parents' living room to this day. 

Question though-- what is it that compels people to paint things like this? You're afraid of having a chipped/worn piece of furniture in your house, but then you intentionally not only distress it, but paint it the color of a circus clown and call it "shabby chic"? Throw some doilies on that m'f'n' chifferobe over the scratched parts! Buy some of that rub-in scratch recoverer! You are making me very angry labeling yourself a decorator or DIY'er and really just committing crimes against humanity one paint brush stroke at a time. I am trying to control my rage, but then:


For the record, this is (approximately, this one has a different type top-of-mirror configuration, but you get the gist) what this dresser should look like. It's an Eastlake-style Victorian dresser. Those little boxes at the top? Like the deco dresser, they're made to hold your gloves. UGH, I CAN'T LOOK AT IT FOR TOO LONG, IT BURNS MY EYES.

From the listing:

East lake Cottage Style Dresser circa 1890 The hardware is to die for and all brand new with exquisite large ornate crystal knobs and locks for the bottom two drawers w/keys of course. Shabby chic Patina among many shades in this dresser/chest of drawers would look beautiful in so many decors no matter what your style. Today this Amazing one of kind piece can be yours for $250.00
You're killing me, Smalls. Also, what is it about charging $250 for these things? UNPAINTED they would be worth $250, so why not just save yourself a $40 bucket of chalkware paint and leave the thing like it is?!

Ok, worst one:


From the listing:
Here is a custom hand painted bedroom set (minus actual bed) that a friend of my wife's did. Set includes Desk (with pink chair not pictured) Armoire (glass cracked in corner...can be replaced with a cheap standup mirror from any store) Dresser Mirror This would be perfect for a little girl. There are imperfections in the paint here and there but the set is still very nice and we've received a ton of compliments on the set. It was an antique set that was redone.
WHAT IN THE NAME OF GOD. So you have a dresser, chifferobe, and vanity (minus the mirror, it probably had some kind of trifold thing) that has been intentionally, hideously painted by a friend of the poster's wife. This is one of those times where someone went out and bought some paint and then went "ok, I'll just go where the brush takes me!" Turns out, it took you to hell. I mean, hell itself. The biblical hell, with lakes of fire. WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS. I guess you could sand the three pieces back to their original finish and then stain them, but my thing is-- how much harder is that than just leaving well enough alone? Or selling the things as was? If you REALLY need a mint green and pink finger paint splotches bedroom suite, why not sell this one to someone who wants an antique set, and buy a plainer, eighties' particle board type set, which you can THEN work the dark magic of your poor artistic eye upon? I just don't understand it. I know not everyone wants to live in some Deco Greta Garbo looking early 1930's Manhattan penthouse, but if it is the case that you don't, why not pass it on to someone who does?

I sincerely blame Pinterest for a lot of this. Even though you know I love Pinterest (see my OCD like pinning of paparazzi pictures of Burton-Taylor and vegan taco recipes). Every time I see a "FAIL" on someone's tumblr, where they've hideously botched the job of making turkey-shaped cupcakes or jello-smiley-faces or some other cooking misfire, I always wonder, "Why didn't you think about your own level of competency BE.FORE. you attempted to do a level 10 kitchen project with only level 1 cooking skills?" I've seen cookies where the person is like "Look! They totally turned out these formless blobs instead of Casper the Ghost shapes! They lied to me on Pinterest!" and gone, "You obviously used a pre-made cookie dough  roll instead of mixing your own from scratch-- I know that because I've done it before, and that's what it looks like." You wouldn't think, because you had flown in a plane before, that you could pilot it-- why would you think that because Martha Stewart or, more close to the target, Emily Henderson can re-do a piece of furniture with years of experience and an artist's sense of aesthetic and a good head on their shoulders to assess whether or not the piece even needs updating and a PROFESSIONAL WORKSHOP, that you can just drop in Home Depot and make something worth that magic number, $250, on Craigslist? That's insane!

Here's one that hasn't been hit yet-- Nashvillers, it's on CL for $100. ONE HUNDRED BUCKS. Go get 'im!


From the listing:
 Vintage waterfall vanity. In good condition. Use as is or perfect for a painting project. $100. 
Clarification: DO NOT USE AS PAINTING PROJECT. Instead, why don't you Pledge that bad boy and put it in a place of pride in your home? Throw a shawl over the very top of the mirror and channel your inner gypsy/Stevie Nicks. I swear to goodness, if I see this in the antiques section next week with a coat of pink paint and a $250 price tag, I might just lose contact with reality out of sheer, impotent rage.

All right, I've vented...I want to know what you think! I know not all painted pieces are so bad (I've seen good ones before!), but I'm railing in this post specifically against the bad ones, 'cos they are so, so bad. Have you, like my parents, lived and learned from a horrible painting accident that you initiated before you realized what you were doing to the furniture and possibly mended your ways? Do you think the above pieces, painted, are kind of cute or do you suffer from the same torments of the damned at seeing something perfectly good hideous disfigured with paint? Do you have old vintage pieces in your house in an UNpainted state or are you a devil with a paintbrush? What's the worst chalkware-ified piece out there you've seen? Let's talk!

That's all for today, but I'll be back tomorrow with something in a more positive vein (we can hope so at least, right?). Take care! I'll see you then.

33 comments:

  1. that sad poor furniture!
    if something is made of noble wood i would never paint it. when it has bad scratches you can always repair them.
    we have this strange fashion too here - more and more ugly painted things appear at the fleamarkets. sometimes 10 times more expensive then the original thing......

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  2. ughhhhhhhhhhhhh. i have seen a few mismatched wooden kitchen chairs all painted the same that were nice, but that's about it.

    once i saw a "diy" project where someone painted the legs of a coffee table to "update" it and i was screaming at my computer screen THAT IS A $600 VINTAGE LANE TABLE WORTH $1,600+ IF YOU HAVE THE WHOLE SET OMG WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?!

    wood and vintage and neon do not mix.

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  3. As a lover of natural stained wood, this made my heart hurt. I have some facebook friends that have a furniture renewal company...but basically they paint things with matte milk paint. Sometimes I love the look and think its an improvement if its a shitty piece of furniture...but so many times I will see beautiful sturdy older pieces that it kills me to see them painted up like a harlot.

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  4. Ugh. That pink vanity would be so lovely if it were refinished--I've NEVER seen one like it.

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  5. I cannot stand when people paint vintage furniture-it makes me nuts. That last vanity is gorgeous-I cannot understand the mindset that thinks painting that thing of beauty is a good idea. Arrrggghhh...please let someone buy it who will give it a good and loving home!

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  6. Excuse me while I go vomit and cry. I'm just...there are no words. Thank you for this post.

    xoxo
    -Janey

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  7. I'm with you, hideous paint on lovely antiques, UGH. I have a huge old dresser that the drawers in front all damaged, and someone painted it dark brown, but it is ragged. I never changed it. More paint would not improve it. It's drawers are so wide it can hold guitars! Cool, huh? Love love LOVE old furniture. And they all should come with a label : DO NOT PAINT.

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  8. I love the first pic but not the paint job. There is a chick on my local fb group, well actually two, who ruin furniture this way. They do know how to paint and it isnt hideous but I cringe every time they post something. and it is always at a ridiculous price

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  9. I have seen occasional pieces where the paint job seems to fit the style of the piece. But so many times the paint job and/or color choice is crappy and you just cringe for what could have been. I can barely stand to go to the flea market anymore for just this reason.

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  10. This is why the term "Shabby Chic" makes my skin crawl. People take beautiful antiques and destroy them. Then, when they are no longer wanted, they try to convince the buyer that they've improved it with the garish paint. Ugh, I hated it before, but after I became an art conservator, these people became monsters!

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  11. THANK YOU for this! I feel like I'm crazy here! Why am I the only person I know AGAINST painting every single wooden stick I find? I swear! I recently found an antique buffet in an old bar on the ranch I live on. Turns out it is the owner's (who is 76) great-grandmother's old dresser. WOW! I asked if I could work on it (the whole top is coming off etc.) and after receiving permission, started researching the best products to use. Unfortunately, CHALK PAINT seems to be the only thing people are capable of using! So depressing. Chalk paint has it's place. I will use some later this year to redo a cheap, already painted, ugly dresser for my son. It doesn't however belong on this BEAUTIFUL buffet. I had almost caved. They had almost convinced me. I was weakening. Thank you for writing this and reminding me.

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  12. Right now I have my grandmother's old art deco dressers from the 30s. Someone told me that since they are a little beat up that I should just paint them, and sadly, other people also agreed that painting would be best. Thanks for posting this! It confirms that my decision NOT to paint is the correct decision! I'll see what I can do to spruce up the original wood finish, that has gotten a bit dull over the years,, but I'll never paint it!

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  13. Painted furniture goes back to at least ancient Egyptian times. Also, Europeans have painted furniture throughout the ages, including (but not limited to) the Scandinavians, Germans and Swiss. (I mention these as I have all three ancestral lineages). There are many beautiful examples of antique, European painted furniture pieces - and many are going for BIG BUCKS! When I say that, I mean $10,000, $25,000 and MORE! So definitely DON'T sand and paint down an antique, painted piece of furniture before you do diligent research - you may be sanding away thousands of dollars! But speaking to furniture being painted today - if done RIGHT, it can look beautiful. The trouble is, far too many people think they can bypass really learning how to paint furniture correctly. It takes STUDY and practice to really know how to paint furniture! Too many people just willy-nilly slap on some paint and call it good. Too many paint over beautiful wood that shouldn't be painted over. Some wood begs to be painted, and some wood begs to NOT be painted! Then there is color. For God's sake - some of the painted furniture jobs I've seen look like they were done for a cartoon room! For the most part, lay off the bright, garish colors except for very special jobs (like a kid's room). Take a course in color theory - or at least buy a book on it! Take a few art classes. I'm so tired of people thinking there's nothing to creating art or painting a piece of furniture - I've been painting for 40 years, and I'm still learning! I approach each piece of furniture I'm going to paint with a lot of research and forethought. Sometimes I don't know until days have passed what color I'm even going to paint it! If someone like me, who has an educational background and experience in art and design, takes the time to think and plan it out before painting, then certainly YOU should. I agree that all of the projects above are either horribly done or were NEVER meant for painting in the first place. But don't throw out all painted furniture because there are some truly bad apples out there. Remember, there is much historical precedence for painted furniture - it's certainly nothing new. It's just more inept, inexperienced people are doing it!

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    1. Very well said. I agree that done well and with regard to the integrity of the piece, paint can enhance a piece of furniture-- but as you mentioned, so many inexperienced, no good, very bad amateurs try to do things they shouldn't with pieces that were better left alone!! You are 100% right about historical painted furniture, I really meant to take aim at modern day Annie Sloane enthusiasts, but I hope readers of this post will take your well measured and spot on remarks into account.

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    2. Hi there...I don't usually comment on these blogs but in this case, I had to say something. :) I too have both some lovely vintage pieces that I would never paint. I also have some lovely old (but beat up and tired) pieces that I picked up at local thrift shops or the side of the road destined for a garbage truck... and those I am happily re-staining and/or painting... and WITH Annie Sloan paint. Here's my take on it and I am not a pro, just an "enthusiast". There are so many people who have found a new, creative outlet painting pieces of their own or pieces they have found. Some may try to sell and some are just doing it for their own satisfaction. Painting and refinishing is like therapy for me and I don't do it to please anyone else. And I have seen some truly stunning transformations of pieces that will hopefully now have a new life for many years to come BECAUSE someone took the time to beautifully re-fresh them. I heard this recently and I agree... at the end of the day, painting or not painting antiques...it's a first world problem. I have to agree. :) Peace! Pam

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    3. I've seen it too many times. Worst of which was a friend who stripped and painted a Gustav Stickley sideboard (because it was too dark) and another friend who wheel polished a beautiful Tiffany lamp base. Thankfully the shade was missing, I hate to think what she would have done to it!

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  14. I love this post, I have seen some beautiful hand made furniture destroyed because of this fad.
    I recently brought this lovely bespoke handmade Welsh dresser. Only problem is it is currently hidden under a terrible paint job I am stripping it back but it is taking longer then I expected so far I have stripped back a layer of pink white and Green I have now finality found the wood. I wish I could upload I picture to show you.

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    1. Email me at shewasabird at yahoo dot com! I'd love to see it. :)

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  15. I bought my daughter an art deco bedroom set. Bed, chest of drawers, and vanity with stool it not only is in amazing shape it is also not painted. I promised the women who sold it to me I would never paint it and I meant it. I love love love that it's in oniginal color and shape. The color that kills me when people paint these beautiful pieces of art is the turquoise. Ugh why does everyone paint every piece of furniture turquoise? I mean I love the color as a color but not on every piece of furniture that is an antique. Lol and the shabby chic name to me is code for ugly as hell lol. If it says shabby chic I already know I don't want it.

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    1. Haha! You and I are on the exact same page-- and well done on the bedroom suite!! I am sure you and your daughter will enjoy it for years to come (instead of regretting it when the painted furniture trend passes-- and how I hope that's soon)!!

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    2. I came across your site by accident. I loathe painted wood furniture. Years ago when I was a kid, my dad used to buy second hand furniture and PAINT it. I always hated it and dreamed of having wood finished furniture.Why do people do it? My late husband had an ancient old pine chest of drawers which was painted in white paint. I was going to throw it out but instead I had it stripped. It's absolutely beautiful.

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  16. A lot of it I see is done by people (usually, a younger generation) who has no idea what that have or how rare or desirable it is to others with a wood finish. I've shared info with some on their pieces & when they realized what they had, they had the good sense to remove the ad, do some research and remove the paint & refinish it.

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  17. I found your post when I was looking for examples of painted waterfall vanities. I agree that some things show bad taste or overkill but about painting old furniture, you are off the mark. Waterfall furniture never was or will be considered valuable. It was mass-produced in the depression and is veneer over plywood with a shellac finish. It's shiny wood but has the value of Ikea furniture today. Most people think it's old and dated looking and if painting it keeps it form being thrown out then so be it. The art of painting fine furniture comes from France where painted furniture has always been mixed with wood. There are no hard-fast rules other than if you want to keep the value of a true antique ( and these are rarer than most people think ) then you should leave the original finish. Mass-produced furniture from the 20th century is only worth what someone will pay for it. Besides, the beauty of using something like chalk paint is that you could always strip it in the future and return it to its wood finish if you wished.

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  18. So I have an older waterfall dresser/vanity that I got for super cheap. The top of it is really rough-I want to refinish it, but I also don't want to wreck the wood, becuse it's freaking awesome. I've been looking around on the internet for ideas-but all of them repainting it some hideous shabby chic whatever. Do you have any DIY websites you'd recommend? Thanks!

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    1. Hi! I don't know much about refinishing surfaces but I had some luck with a 1920's headboard just using "restor-a-Finish", have you tried it? It's a stain that can help you keep the wood-look of the material but fill in some uneveness of patina. I wish you luck with your vanity, I bet it'll be gorgeous once you get the old gal spruced up! :)

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  19. Bottom line--painting vintage furniture is a TREND. Just like "shabby chic" was, just like "country" was, just like "antiquing" was, etc., etc. This too shall pass. And then what will be left is a sea of sad, molested furniture that has been greatly compromised both aesthetically and in its market value. To strip furniture is a painstaking hassle and removes the patina...most of this stuff won't get stripped and brought back again, so it's a total loss all around. Why are beautiful wood tones no longer considered beautiful? Oh well-I give this trend about two or three more years, tops, and then painted, masked over vintage wood will be passe. And thank God. Vintage furniture was built to last...it doesn't matter to me if it was mass-produced-you won't find a modern equivalent in this day and age for the same money. And you won't find the gorgeous use of veneers and applied pieces, either.

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  20. A super how to resource for antique furniture restoration is Thomas Johnson. He has videos on YouTube. Van Dukes restoration has just about any product a person would need for restoration, even veneer sheets and strips (for when sanding and filling just won't do the job).
    I love love this blog. I'm with you all the way. I cringe when I see a "shabby chic" piece of furniture. I'm sure that while they agree with me, my family gets tired of hearing me say "omg look". I am a small scale antique refinisher/resaler. My motto is "if it wasn't painted when new then don't paint it when it's old". If you slap paint on an antique that was not painted as a new piece, it loses the antiquity, therefore it becomes almost worthless. Could you see the Queen having her original Chippendale furniture chalk painted ??? Lol yeah that's what I thought.

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    1. That should have been VanDykes for the restoration supplies. ..darn auto correct lol

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    2. That should have been VanDykes for the restoration supplies. ..darn auto correct lol

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  21. I am also one to usually cringes when I see people paint over nice woodwork. Hmmm maybe no one here should look at my "handy work" :) If you do, just remember that I usually start out with stuff that is scratch and dent, veneered or from the goodwill.

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  22. Thank you so much! I thought I was the only one who thinks painting wooden furniture is a crime. I am disgusted by this painting/shabby chic trend. I see beautiful furniture ruined and want to cringe. I go on Pinterest and it seems hundreds of pins are devoted to this trend. Pinterest seems to inspire people into destroying nice furniture. I check out used furniture stores and feel heavy hearted whenever I see pieces painted. I can't do stripping due to arthritis, so I am always on the look out for antiques that haven't been assaulted by a paint brush. This is the tackiest trend I have ever seen.

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