a year ago – by Lisa Marlin

How To Paint Furniture: Easily Transform Old Furniture Into Works of Art

7 min read
This step-by-step guide will teach you how to paint furniture like a pro and turn that old dresser or arm chair into a stunning piece of art.
  1. How to Paint Furniture Step-by-Step
  2. How to Paint Furniture Shabby Chic
  3. Tips for Painting on Furniture Like a Pro
  4. Endnotes

Do you have an old chair that you just don't know what to do with? Or maybe you've picked up a dressing table at a charity shop only to bring it home to find that it doesn't fit your aesthetic. If you want to transform any piece of furniture, the best way is to pick up a paint brush.

You’ll be surprised how easy it is to turn any piece of furniture into a work of art with just a little know-how. Read on for your step-by-step guide on how to paint furniture, as well as handy tips to get the best results.

For all of the tools and materials you’ll need, as well as more tips and advice, subscribe to Betterly’s Paint and Color series.

How to Paint Furniture Step-by-Step

You can bring any old furniture back to life with a coat or two of paint. However, you can’t expect to just slather on some paint and have an Insta-worthy result. If you want stunning results you need to follow these steps.

Step 1: Sand

Before you can get your Picasso on, you need to do some prep work. Whether you're looking at how to paint pine furniture or how to paint IKEA furniture, it all starts with sanding. Even if the primer or paint you use says that sanding is not required, sanding will definitely deliver better results.

You’ll need to sand all the surfaces you're planning to paint with sandpaper or a sanding block. Using 150-grit sandpaper, gently sand these areas, being careful not to gouge or strip the surface.

If your furniture is already varnished, use a coarser sandpaper (around 80-grit) instead to remove the varnish. Whatever you're using, make sure not to strip away the top layer. Sanding is only meant to give the primer something to adhere to – you don’t want to remove the surface completely.

Step 2: Remove the Residue

Once you've sanded all appropriate surfaces, you'll need to remove any residual dust. Use a tack cloth to wipe away the residue. Don't use a paper towel or regular cloth as this is liable to get caught on the rough edges you've just created.

Step 3: Prime

A primer provides a solid base that is perfect for paint to adhere to, so is important to do before painting for the best results. The type of primer will depend on the paint you’re planning to use. For oil-based paints you’ll need an oil-based primer. On the other hand, latex primers are best for latex and chalk paints.

Take your chosen primer and coat the surface you'll be painting using a mini foam roller. You can also use a foam brush to get into all the nooks and crannies. Once you're done, let the primer dry according to the product’s instructions. After the primer has set, use a fine 220-grit sanding block to sand away any drips and wipe away any residue primer with a tack cloth.

Step 4: Paint

Congrats – it’s finally time to paint your furniture! Use a mini foam roller or a good quality paintbrush to paint your piece. Apply as many coats as needed. Whether it is chalk paint, latex or something else, use your judgment to see if you require another coat.

Let the paint dry completely between coats. After each coat has dried, sand away any drips and remove residue using a tack cloth. 

Make sure to get every speck of dust, lint, and dog hair before going in with a new coat of paint. You don’t want to get a stray hair painted onto your piece unless you’re looking for a really unique look!

Step 5: Add a Layer of Protection

A protective layer helps to minimise wear and tear that will detract from all your hard work. If you're keeping the furniture outside, a protective layer is essential to stop your work of art from fading in the sun.

After your final coat has dried, take a new mini foam roller to apply a thin coat of protectant. Make sure to smooth out any bubbles, smudges, or uneven spaces. Let it dry completely before using the piece.

How to Paint Furniture Shabby Chic

Shabby chic has come back into style, if indeed it ever left. This look also allows you to play around and have fun when painting furniture. The best way to achieve that shabby chic cool is to use chalk paint and distress.

How to Distress Furniture with Chalk Paint

Distressing to impress with chalk paint is pretty easy. All you’ll need is a chalk-painted surface, a sanding block, and an eye for style. Just remember, there's a difference between artistically distressed and plain old worn out.

Paint on your layers of chalk paint and let them dry out. Once you're done letting the paint dry, look at where your furniture is most likely to wear naturally, such as the arms of a chair or the handles on a dressing table. Use a sanding block or some sandpaper to roughly sand these spots.

See our guide to painting with chalk paint for more.

Your sanding doesn't have to be perfect, but you shouldn’t distress your piece excessively. After you're done distressing your piece to shabby chic perfection, apply a layer of wax to seal in the goodness.

Tips for Painting on Furniture Like a Pro

Decide on the Style

Whether you're going for shabby chic or a wholly modern piece, pick a style before you start working. This way, you can get all the materials you need in the right quantities, and have everything lined up and ready to go.

Prep, Prep, Prep

Prepping and priming the piece you're painting is incredibly important, especially when it comes to wooden furniture. Sanding and priming the piece allows the paint to adhere to the surface better and produces a smoother finish. Without priming the surface beforehand, your handiwork will wear out faster.

Keep Distressing Natural

Any distressing you do to a piece of furniture needs to be natural. That vintage look comes from natural wear and tear over time. If you overly distress your piece it, will be less shabby chic and just shabby.


Whether you're looking to redecorate your flat or explore a new creative outlet, painting furniture is a productive way to spend your free time while creating some beautiful pieces. If you've always wondered how to paint furniture, you'll be happy to know that the process is straightforward and easy, not to mention stacks of fun.

With no excuses left, it is time for you to get painting!

Want to have everything you need to turn your furniture into works of art? Sign up for a Paint and Color subscription today.

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