DIY Furniture Restoration Dos—And Don’ts

Make-over shows make furniture restoration look so easy. But before you undertake an overhaul of your grandmother’s china cupboard, keep these points in mind.

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furniture restoration-furniture sitting out at a flea market

Photo, iStock.

Before you haul that abandoned credenza away from the curb, consider whether it’s worth preserving and the best way to make it your own. Andrea Ford, owner of RE:Style Studio in Toronto, offers expert advice to furniture DIYers.

DON’T overlook a piece because its upholstery is old and the stuffing is flat

Those things can be replaced. Old furniture often features solid wood frames and joinery that stands up over time.

DON’T tear away old upholstery

Uncover the piece methodically and pay attention to how it was put together—that’s your roadmap for redoing it. Take photos as you go to catalogue the stages.

DON’T cut corners on fixing structural wobbles or skip steps in painting and refinishing

Allow time (sometimes days) for primer and paint to dry and cure properly. Transforming furniture is a slow process, so enjoy it.

DO invest in professional help

This way your furniture can be solid and durable. Upholstering can be tricky for beginners, and fabric can make or break a piece of furniture. Cheap or unsuitable fabric can negate all the hardwood and cost you’ve invested. (Most manufactured furniture have a fabric warranty of only one to two years.)

DO consider what a fresh coat of paint can do

But the outcome is only as good as your prep work and your skill level. If the rigmarole of cleaning, sanding and priming is too much for you, take it to a pro. That choice also depends on the piece itself. “It can be tricky for paint to adhere to Melamine or lacquer surfaces in the long term,” says Ford. “For durability it’s often best to leave it to the pros.” Ditto for pieces with ornate carvings. “It’s difficult to paint by hand without globs and a patchy finish. Professional spray mimics a factory finish.”

DO recycle what you can

Out of love with that desk? Drop it off at your local Habitat Re-Store. The nonprofit sells new and gently used furniture with proceeds going to build homes for low-income families. If it’s Ikea, the retailer has a sell-back service that accepts that unwanted Billy bookcase in exchange for in-store credit. To qualify, Ikea family members follow a process that includes uploading images of the fully assembled item. For details, visit Ikea Family. There’s also the Furniture Bank, or you could resell the piece on Kijiji and put the proceeds toward something you want, suggests Ford.