painting furniture.

March 10, 2014

dresser For someone who can be eager to get rid of certain things, I develop fierce attachments to other things. And chalk it up to too much time spent in museums and studying about them, it’s objects that for me are the best storytellers. (Case in point).

The story of our bedroom furniture is also the story of my early relationship with James.

When I moved to Wilmington, North Carolina just 6 days after my 23rd birthday and 5 days after returning from a year spent away in France, I arrived with a suitcase and a mixed CD from my sister Cait.

James had moved down a month ahead to begin work with the resident sea turtle population and he found us our first rambly apartment all by his lonesome. It was on the bottom floor of a sunken Queen Anne style house on the corner and it had a deep wide enamel sink in the kitchen and cockroaches in the walls. There was a front porch and an overgrown garden and inside the floors creaked from a lack of furniture and stable footing. But James had made valiant efforts at homemaking and by the time I arrived there was a bed set up and a dresser for me to unpack my suitcase into.

For the sake of brevity and honesty, let me say that my youthful generosity about James’s decorating only went so far.  The behemoth dresser he’d found for us had warped drawers and chipping veneer and it had to go and as quickly as possible.

In the next week we scoured Craigslist and found a pair of dressers for sale in a nearby town. They had mismatched brass handles and a silvering mirror and most people probably thought they looked altogether worse for wear. For me it was love at first sight. I knew instantly they were the drawers for us, made of solid wood with carvings that matched the carvings on a headboard I’d rescued from my parents’ attic.

James and I drove together to pick them up and on our next trip to Connecticut we strapped the wall of a headboard to the roof of the car and sailed back south.

I painted the trio to match each other—a single coat of pale green—and added the least offensive and least expensive drawer pulls I could find.
dresser, dressed Last week began a new era. Seven years later we’re in our fifth apartment together and there’s a little Junebug on the way. A fresh coat of paint was in order. I’d love to replace the pulls eventually, but the twenties dropped here and there on tiny apartment improvements have been adding up and so for now I’ll leave them be. headboard

Anyway. This was supposed to be a post about how to paint your furniture. But you’ll see it’s really a post about how to love your furniture.

If it’s tips and tricks you’re after, may I suggest a look in the book of one of my original blog friends, Barb Blair. Furniture Makeovers can offer, no doubt, far more useful information than I can.

But in case you’re too antsy, here are a few notes of my own, in no particular order:

1. Start with real wood. Painting over the high gloss fake stuff has been, for me, disastrous. If you don’t have the choice, do your research on prepping the surface before beginning and expect that the prep might involve some chemicals.

2. When I first painted the dressers and headboard, I wanted a subtle whitewashed look, not a thick coat of paint, so I sanded them, wiped them down, and applied one thin layer of paint so that the original wood still showed through in spots.

3. Second time around I wanted something deep and dark.  We bought a gallon of Benjamin Moore Super Spec paint for $25 at a local hardware store and got it tinted an almost-black called Abyss. (Benjamin Moore Ultra Spec 500 is zero-VOC and approximately half the cost of Benjamin Moore’s Natura zero-VOC. I do not know why, but that is the truth. Unfortunately, it only comes in gallons, but those are still less expensive than a quart of the other stuff. If ever we buy a boat, we’ll have enough paint to cover that, too.)

4. Let the paint dry before giving it a second coat. If you don’t, it gets tacky. And no one wants a dresser that sticks.

You Might Also Like


  • Reply Karen - Quilts...etc. March 10, 2014 at 1:11 pm

    love that furniture – I would have saved it too

  • Reply The Sill March 10, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    What a happy looking silver philodendron!

  • Reply Stella March 10, 2014 at 3:27 pm

    Looks so great! I'm so jealous of the dressers and bed. Where is your bedspread from?

    • Reply Erin March 11, 2014 at 11:20 am

      Our blanket is the Brahms Mount Ticking Stripe blanket! We actually won it in a giveaway!

  • Reply DontBlameTheKids March 10, 2014 at 4:39 pm

    Amazing that you found two pieces of furniture (the bed and the dresser) that were not born together, but look like they were made for each other. Fortuosity!

    • Reply Erin March 11, 2014 at 11:17 am

      I know it! Lucky finds!

  • Reply oliviajamie March 10, 2014 at 5:15 pm

    Looks beautiful! I have been long contemplating this for our end tables. When some Spring temps arrive, that's what I'll be doing!

  • Reply Anonymous March 10, 2014 at 5:31 pm

    But where do you go to paint them? I currently have that problem – we don't have enough windows to open to ventilate. I've been told to not paint on the sidewalk in NYC, even if you put down newspaper and take up less than half of the sidewalk. Where else can you go?

    • Reply Erin March 11, 2014 at 11:17 am

      I painted these guys inside with the windows open–and since I used zero-VOC paint, the smell was really minimal!

  • Reply Lexie March 10, 2014 at 5:42 pm

    There is something so sweet and modest and genuine about your writing. I just love reading about your projects and experiences. Your furniture looks beautiful! 🙂

  • Reply Anonymous March 10, 2014 at 5:45 pm

    So lovely! Could you tell us what paint finish you used?

    • Reply Erin March 11, 2014 at 11:16 am


  • Reply Jenny Bailey March 10, 2014 at 6:48 pm

    Beautiful! I have a few pieces of furniture that my husband and I bought when we first moved in together – pre-craigslist days – that I don't think I'll ever get rid of.

  • Reply modelsxmodels March 10, 2014 at 9:17 pm

    These photos are lovely and totally brightened my day!

  • Reply Kayla Poole March 10, 2014 at 10:07 pm

    crazy you found these two pieces separately! I hope your own kids inherit them one day 🙂

  • Reply catie March 11, 2014 at 6:07 am

    that almost-black is perfection.
    and the delicate carvings have me weak in the knees.
    such a sweet story, erin ♥

  • Reply Linda March 11, 2014 at 6:49 am

    great to read about your anecdotes with the projects you share. the dark color looks great with the white linens!

  • Reply Aja Lake March 11, 2014 at 4:36 pm

    Nice tip on the zero-VOC paint. Thanks!

  • Reply Beth March 11, 2014 at 8:32 pm

    I love your storytelling. And I love that you've held onto these. I have a few pieces of real wood furniture that's been handed down from my family that I don't think I'll ever be able to part with (including a wooden desk with an iron singer machine bedded in the center).

  • Reply Eva Kosmas March 12, 2014 at 12:37 am

    Such wonderful finds, I love vintage furniture and the warmth it brings into every room. Plus it can be tricky/much pricier to find furniture that's built as sturdily as it was 30+ years ago. Pleasing for both the eye and the pocket 🙂

  • Reply shelbyisrad March 12, 2014 at 3:35 pm

    I have read you blog forever and had no idea you ever lived in Wilmington, thats where I am now. 🙂

  • Reply Lisa-Marie March 12, 2014 at 5:06 pm

    They look so beautiful in their new coats. All of our furniture was hand me downs when we moved in here – functional and not unattractive, but also not 'us'. We are slowly replacing these with things I fall in love with, but our first purchase together was a coffee tables which is pine. I can't bear to get rid of it, and you've inspired me to paint it. 🙂

  • Reply Fiyel Levent March 12, 2014 at 8:28 pm

    Soooo pretty! Particularly the beautiful headboard.

  • Reply Design Scouting March 15, 2014 at 12:13 pm

    Love the paint color!

  • Reply Yelle March 16, 2014 at 8:47 pm

    it looks gorgeous! i recently spent the time in re-painting my childhood furniture that was once blue, and now it's a rich espresso brown. it feels so much more grown up with dark colors!

  • Reply Painting my Home May 29, 2014 at 4:40 pm

    Great post! Been reading a lot about painting my furniture. Thanks for the info here!

  • Reply Kimberly June 13, 2014 at 1:31 am

    Thanks so much for the tip on the BM Ultra Spec paint! On your advice I picked it up for my walls and it's the best paint I've ever used. Perfect coverage, beautiful finish and no stink! And $24/gallon! My mind is blown.

  • Reply Anonymous July 14, 2014 at 11:53 am

    Great blog. All posts have something to learn. Your work is very good and i appreciate you and hopping for some more informative posts. medical technology associates degree

  • Reply littlefieldbirch January 2, 2015 at 11:26 pm

    Your dresser and headboard are beautiful!

  • Reply Alba July 14, 2015 at 10:04 am

    Great pictures and projects!! I recently helped a friend chalk paint a dresser for her little girl’s room, and it turned out great.

  • Reply Brittany Danielson May 3, 2016 at 8:26 am

    Hi Erin! I am painting my walls (or looking to do so) and have long loved the deep blue-ish gray of your headboard. Just to clarify, is it called Benjamin Moore’s “Abyss”?? Thanks! xo, Brittany

    • Reply Erin Boyle May 3, 2016 at 9:17 am

      Yup! You got it!

  • Reply Jen October 4, 2016 at 3:04 pm

    Hi Erin, did you use sandpaper? What kind? How long did you spend doing that? Would love to know a bit of your process if you don’t mind. I picked up an old dresser and my husband finally agreed to get rid of the ones from his undergrad days 😉

    • Reply Erin Boyle October 4, 2016 at 3:09 pm

      Hi there: When I added this dark paint, I didn’t sand beforehand because I’d thoroughly sanded and applied only a single layer of paint ~8 years earlier when we bought the dressers. The truth is that the answers to these questions are pretty project specific—a lot depends on the size of your piece and whether it’s varnished or painted or unfinished! In general, using a fine-medium grit sandpaper before painting is a good idea! It’ll help the paint go on better and last longer! I would head to your local hardware store and tell them about the project and they can help you find the sandpaper that’s right for your project!

      • Reply Jen October 4, 2016 at 3:25 pm

        Will do. Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my question!

  • Reply Penny May 14, 2018 at 8:13 am

    So is the actual color of the gray looking bed you Stained on here or did I miss something?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE May 14, 2018 at 9:41 am

      Hi there: Not sure which color you’re referring to. I’m not sure of the name of the original aqua color that I painted the bed when I first painted it a decade ago. More recently I painted it this deep navy called Abyss by Benjamin Moore.


    Leave a Reply

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

    Comments are moderated.