How to Upgrade Secondhand Furniture

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Secondhand furniture is inexpensive and can easily be upgraded. Here are some ways to update used furnishings.

Things You'll Need

  • Brass Nailhead Trim
  • Disposable Foam Brushes
  • Padding
  • Chair Cushions
  • Clean Rags
  • Custom-cut Mirrors
  • Fabrics
  • Glass Tabletops
  • Paint Strippers
  • Paints
  • Polyurethane/shellac/varnish
  • Quilts
  • Steel Wool Pads
  • Table Runners
  • Threads
  • Tiles And Supplies
  • Wallpaper
  • Wood-tone Crayons
  • Mineral Spirits
  • Rubber Gloves
  • Old Newspapers
  • Deglossers
  • Staples
  • Linseed Oils
  • Drawer Hardware
  • Multiuse Screws
  • Safety Goggles
  • Sandpaper
  • Staple Guns
  • Sand lightly, or use a liquid sanding product, and then paint wooden pieces (chairs, shelves, tables, sideboards) where the clear-coated finish has seen better days. Painted 'antique' and faux finishes are popular; checkerboard and squiggle designs also are fun; or you may want to embellish that painted piece with decoupage.

  • Disguise a bad tabletop by having a mirror cut to cover the entire table, edge to edge. This works for dining tables and side tables, too.

  • Or you can hide a bad tabletop with a layer of ceramic tile. Use molding or sanded, varnished wood strips at the edges of the tile to fill to the perimeter of the table.

  • Reupholster a dining-table chair that has a pop-out seat. It's easy: Remove the old fabric and then cover with new fabric, using a staple gun to fasten it on the seat bottom. Make it taut but don't stretch it.

  • Cover up soiled or worn upholstery fabric on a dining chair by purchasing or sewing a new chair pad that ties onto the back of the chair. A chair pad with a ruffle on the front and sides usually hides the old upholstery completely.

  • Camouflage the blemished upholstery on a sofa or easy chair with a quilt (even an inexpensive moving-company quilt). Tuck it down deeply behind the back of the cushions.

  • Cover up the soiled arms of an upholstered chair or sofa by draping a pretty table runner over each arm.

  • Apply decorative brass-nailhead trim to hide nicked edges on wood furnishings such as tabletop edges and shelving.

  • Upgrade file cabinets, bookcases or Parsons tables by covering them with textured wallpaper (the type that mimics plaster friezes or pressed-tin ceilings). Then paint and glaze the piece - aged metallic finishes look spectacular on furniture.

  • Renew dull clear-coat finishes - varnishes, lacquer and the like - by cleaning with mineral spirits and possibly ultrafine steel wool; then apply a new coat of finish over the old (test first in an inconspicuous spot). This is a great way to save a picture frame or tabletop.

  • Revive an old trunk or cedar chest by scrubbing the exterior and lining the inside with wallpaper or by stapling in a tightly woven fabric, such as a new bed sheet. A flat braid can hide seams and corner imperfections.

  • Wrap a badly damaged lamp table or nightstand with fabric. The fabric can be fitted, almost like a slipcover, in a box shape for a rectangular table or draped over a round table; have glass cut for the top so that a nonwashable fabric won't be easily soiled.

  • Replace ugly, dated drawer pulls and knobs on a classically shaped chest of drawers, sideboard or similar piece.

  • Touch up small nicks and scratches on stained wooden pieces with special crayons (sold at paint and hardware stores) - or even an eyebrow pencil or shoe polish.

Tips & Warnings

  • Altering the finish on any piece of furniture that might be a fine antique could reduce its value tremendously. Have a qualified person examine and appraise the piece for you first.
  • Be especially cautious about upgrading old baby furniture. Crib slats on older furniture may be so far apart that they pose a strangulation hazard for the baby; old painted finishes may contain lead.

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