DIY Doris – Chair Painting

Do you want to refinish an old piece of furniture, but don’t know how? Are you ever required to pick out a paint colour but have no idea where to begin? Are you flummoxed by the seemingly daunting task of removing wallpaper?  Well, even we here at the Ottoman Empire sometimes have these issues and when we do, we call DIY Doris.

Doris is a wonderful friend of the Empire and has been with us since the beginning. Whether it was the great paint colour debacle of May 2010 or the shopping spree of a lifetime in Summer 2011, Doris, her minivan, and her unending support and advice are always there. In fact, when Doris and her minivan aren’t shuttling gay men to and from antique shops you can often find her taxiing teenage girls from dance class to pit parties. She does it all, with grace and wit.

Excitedly, we launch our first DIY Doris column with a question from a reader on how to paint a chair they picked up at a flea market!

Whatever your question DIY Doris usually has some advice, so ask away and you just may be lucky enough to have your query answered by the design guru herself.


Dear Doris,

I recently picked up an adorable chair from a yard sale in my neighbourhood.  It was a bit of an impulse purchase, and now my vision of design grandeur seems like an insurmountable task.  I know there is an amazing chair under there somewhere, but I have no idea where to begin. Help me please!

Chairless in Charlottetown


Dear Chairless,

So, you ventured off to the local flea or yard sale, and found just the perfect chair! It is just the right size, has a great shape and will be just the thing to tie a room all together! The only problem is the finish. In this situation, it will be one of two things…a hideous “fly specked”, oil rubbed, dirty brown with layers of grease on the back, OR it will have multiple layers of paint that are chipping and obscuring the lines and details. Whatever, it was $5, and you wanted it! Now, how to begin to make this chair as fabulous as you think it can be?

First, assess the finish. If it is the hideous original finish, begin by CLEANING it! Use a detergent that will cut through grease and oils, and allow to dry well. Pay special attention to small spaces around rungs and where the back meets the seat. A cheap paintbrush is great to scrub out those tight spaces. After it is clean, let it dry thoroughly. I know…the temptation to rush to the next step is great, but resist! When it is truly dry, a good sanding is in order. If it is only varnish or oil, start with a 150 grit, and gradually move to a finer grade until you get things smoothed out and ready to receive paint. Now, IF you have been lucky enough to have gotten a chair with 6-8 layers of paint, skip straight to sanding! Begin with a heavier grit, and gradually move to finer. It is not necessary to remove ALL the paint, but it IS necessary to remove all the loose chips, and inevitable drip marks from previous shoddy paint jobs. All the work put into preparing your paint surface is going to be worth it; after all, this IS going to be part of YOUR personal style statement, and you WILL be looking for accolades from everyone who sees it. Make sure you deserve them! When sanding is done, wipe you r project down with a damp rag to remove dust, or use a tack cloth (a piece of cheese cloth treated with bees wax: removes all dust, and requires no drying time afterwards).

While doing the grunt work, you can be thinking about your vision for this chair to make. Is it going to complement what is already in a room? Is it going to “match” something you already own? OR…is it going to be a Statement.  Will you go with a classic black, or a pristine white? Are you going to use your chair to add a bold colour that you would never be brave enough to put on the walls? It is only paint, and it can be undone and re-done.  Be fearless! Give some thought to the finish you want your piece to have: glossy, pearl, matte, etc.

Then, hit the paint store! If you choose a traditional latex paint, a primer will most likely be in order. You will need several painting tools…a good quality brush, foam sticks, and maybe a foam roller and small paint tray. Several thin coats are the best way to get the finish you are looking for, but I will concede that it is easier to slap on one thick, drippy coat…if you want to be THAT kind of painter. If you choose spray paint, read the instructions carefully on the can. READ THEM! Again, several thin coats. Use a smooth sweeping motion, going back and forth over the surface, always changing direction when spray is OFF the chair. Otherwise, you will get lines in your finish. Allow to dry thoroughly between coats, and when you have achieved the finish you want, allow your paint to cure for 24-48 hours before any real use.

Your amazing $5 chair is now a unique piece, not found anywhere else, and realistically has cost $25, including supplies. Sit back, admire your own handy work, and graciously accept any and all compliments; “Oh, it’s nothing really! Just a little something I did on the week-end.”

In design,

Doris ♥

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