DIY Furniture Re-Do: Breathing New Life into Furniture with Chalk Paint

IMG_2294One of my beefs with cheaper types of new furniture is that it’s more or less designed to end up pretty quickly in a landfill. Some of the press-board stuff that you have to assemble can’t even be moved once!

Other pieces, even from higher-end stores, have press-board backs as well as drawer bottoms and sides. Under current law, sadly, companies can call things “solid wood” even when they are made of medium density fibreboard (MDF), particle board or other types of composite materials, yet this stuff is basically chemicals and pressed sawdust, and off-gasses formaldehyde, glues and other nastiness.

Enter chalk paint. With a can of this low-VOC paint and a little wax, even the most dinged-up old wooden pieces can get a new lease on life. The paint is self-priming, so there’s no need to strip the finish from furniture beforehand. It could also be used to seal exposed parts of pieces that have dubious materials inside, to prevent more off-gassing.

Needless to say, this is a huge problem solver for me. Although I have a soft spot for some mid-century design, pieces that are in great condition are expensive. Furniture strippers and refinishing materials are aromatic solvents and are generally toxic, so I don’t really want to mess with them. And nothing’s more green, potentially funkier, or easier on the wallet than upcycling lovely old real wood furniture.

There are a couple of high-end brands of chalk paint, like Annie Sloan and CeCe Caldwell, and there are also recipes online to make your own with a variety of additions to any paint. If you decide to make your own and use the Plaster of Paris method, be sure to follow all safety precautions and do not inhale it. Also, it may help to ensure the base paint is a truly zero-VOC paint like Mythic. One furniture redo diva I spoke with uses baking soda in regular paint as in this how-to, and claims it works like a charm, though others think it’s best for distressed finishes.

I originally played around with some Annie Sloan paint and wax, because I found a local “stockist” for it. It isn’t cheap, though, and the colors are limited (though gorgeous). In addition, the wax comes with a troubling warning under Prop 65, California’s labeling law for hazardous substances, and has a bit of an odor at first. I turned on a fan, opened the window, and wouldn’t let the two-year-old near the final project until the wax was cured.

Since my experiments below, I’ve found a company selling their own DIY chalk paint powder that claims to have a greener wax, Fiddes & Sons. I’m not thrilled with their vagueness about their ingredients, but I’m inclined to give it a go. They also have some helpful supplies, like a wax brush attachment to use on a drill that finishes larger projects in no time. I haven’t yet tried their stuff, so I’ll keep you posted.

Since I discovered the magically transformative properties of chalk paint, I’ve purchased two painted pieces made by local furniture folks (one found on my favorite new mid-century furniture site, Krrrb, and another from Craigslist). The pictures are here to give you an idea of the “looks” that are possible with painted pieces.

Here’s a romantically shabby chic drop-leaf desk that fit perfectly in a small corner of the bedroom:

IMG_2296And a groovy re-do of a mid-century dresser in which the new white paint covers over numerous scratches flawlessly and makes the piece pop, from Salvage Modern, a mom-owned local business whose owners are just lovely:

IMG_2287 IMG_2289I also used chalk paint to add a more fun and decorative element to the elephant insets on my nightstand (matching it to the drop desk). The insets were dull, and no one could see the elephants on the piece as they were too dark. I decided it would be funky to add a bit of relaxed color. The new friend who sold me the desk was kind enough to donate a small amount of the chalk paint she used, and some wax, for the project.

First, I taped up the back area. Then I added two coats of paint and a very light coat of wax, just using a paper towel. Next, I buffed the wax for a good little while with an old cloth diaper, and last, I distressed it lightly with fine sandpaper.

Another easy project was to use chalk paint to jazz up a small, cheap thrift store purchase of a bookshelf for the playroom. For this, I involved my trusty assistant, and we yukked it up while making potato stamps in a star and heart shape, and dipping them into contrasting white paint after painting a few base coats in Annie Sloan‘s Florence paint.

The end result was cute and gives me a little storage for art supplies.

The upshot? Chalk paint provides a fun and easy way to upgrade your existing or used furniture, saving it from an untimely trip to the landfill and making it your own.

As I’ll explain in my next post, I also recently used chalk paint to add a pop of color to a basement bathroom by refinishing and updating a hideous faux-wood bathroom vanity and light fixtures, saving tons of money and giving the whole room a much fresher look. I can’t wait to show this to you, as I’m so happy with the “renovation.” More coming soon!

While you’re waiting, here are a few other posts you may like:

Vacation in a Beautiful Place

Sunset over the Saint JohnFor Labor Day, I thought I would share some lovely pictures of the vacation we just had in New Brunswick, Canada.

You’ve already met the piglets. There were also cows in their native element, but I’ll tell you about that soon.

In the meantime, here’s some shots of the Bay of Fundy, with the largest tidal variations in the world.

Low tide:

IMG_0479IMG_0482And high tide:

IMG_0558The gorgeous hike along the trail in Fundy National Park:

IMG_0523 IMG_0517IMG_0514IMG_0546 Great food, including fiery pickles, homemade ice cream (and meringue from the egg whites left), lots of lobster and fresh low-bush blueberries and blackberries:

IMG_0903IMG_0496IMG_0641 IMG_0660Lots of swimming and fishing:

IMG_0753IMG_0707I’m also, as it turns out from pics, a sap for sunsets, Here’s one advancing across the Saint John River:

IMG_0913IMG_0950IMG_0955Have a relaxing holiday! Look out for a post this week on safer cosmetics and personal care products.

You might also like:

Mid-Summer Photos: Blueberries, Colorado, and Butterflies

The right way to spend summer

The right way to spend summer

For a break from train derailments and chemical rules, I thought I’d share a taste of our recent spates of summertime fun.

Until the last few weeks or so, there wouldn’t have been much to post. I’ve generally been working longer hours, and Maya was attending BuilderBee camp, where she evidently enjoyed gluing things. I have no idea where to store the impressive but awkwardly shaped 3-by-3-foot posterboard city she toted home.

A few weeks back, we went with Grandpa around sunset to a small beach on the Potomac River by Gunston Hall. The pictures were lit by what real photographers call the magic hour (and I call a good excuse to put the camera on the “auto” setting):

IMG_0050IMG_0045IMG_0090IMG_0061Some Monarchs were drinking water by alighting on sand:

IMG_0070We also managed to crunch out a few Saturdays back by toodling up to a yoga education and retreat center in Olney, MD, that also happens to grow pick-your-own organic blueberries. Sadly, the birds had lain waste to the ripe ones, so pickings were slim. But we enjoyed the exercise, including a bright infestation of caterpillars and a surprising and unusual display of color coordination in the toddler’s wardrobe:

IMG_0035IMG_0029IMG_0021IMG_0031IMG_0044IMG_0032Last, but really not least, I braved the skies with the two-year-old and we had a lovely time in Denver for a combo work and vakay trip. We went up the gondola in Steamboat Springs, had an incredibly tasty dinner stream-side at the picturesque Sweetpea Market, picked up goodies at the charming Saturday farmer’s market, and even caught up with a small-town rodeo, which was delightful once I made a concerted decision to look past the animal cruelty issues and enjoy the change in culture.

Maya had a blast doing the “ram scramble,” which actually involved a lamb with a ribbon around its neck being chased through the thick dirt by the under-5 set. She didn’t even come close to winning, but was exhilarated by the bright lights of the rodeo ring.

As we were too far away for good shots of bucking broncos, I mainly took pics of those waiting to ride and the charming kids in their cowboy boots. (And no, I did not add sepia tone via Instagram — my beloved Colorado actually looks this way around sunset. Sigh.)

IMG_0246 IMG_0248IMG_0242IMG_0231We also had lunch at my favorite restaurant for super-healthy food, Watercourse Foods, stopped in briefly at the excellent Denver Museum of Natural History, which Maya loved, and visited a working ranch only a few dozen miles from downtown Denver, where the livestock are maintained as they should be and the out buildings are decorated with whimsical figures.

IMG_0302IMG_0309IMG_0304Hope you’re having a great summer — look for an upcoming post on greening your kitchen, including why a ’70s coffee pot is the right no-plastic solution and deserves a second look!