A Painter in Your Pocket: Painting Furniture


Since I’ve started doing more furniture pieces in between kitchen projects, I’ve been getting more questions about the tools, techniques and products that I use.  So, when I was laying in bed one night, the idea of doing a “Painter in Your Pocket” series popped into my mind.  The idea is simple – think of me being in your pocket, ready to answer any questions that you have as you’re tackling a painting project, from start to finish.  So, here we go, I’m kicking it off today with the first installment – A Painter in Your Pocket: Painting Furniture.  This post contains some affiliate links.

Finding Your Furniture Piece

The first step in the process is to find a piece of furniture that you want to paint.  If you have a piece of furniture in your home already, great.  You can skip to the next step.  Otherwise, stick with me here.  There are lots of places that offer solid furniture pieces for a reasonable price.  Here are some of my favorites:

  • Salvation Army – (by far my favorite thrift store for furniture – my local shop has a great selection of furniture that turns over often, and is reasonably priced, much better than my local Goodwill.  I don’t even go in there anymore.)
  • Online Facebook Sales – Check out Facebook garage/rummage sale sites in your area.  There are lots of good finds there, and I’ve had great success selling refinished pieces through this outlet.
  • Craigslist – Obvious, but still a good source.
  • Garage/Yard/Estate Sales – I’m eager for the weather to warm up here so I can start scouring garage sales for furniture finds.
  • Online Estate Sales – One of my favorite online estate sale sources is Everything But The House.  They are continuously adding new sites, so keep your eyes peeled for a location near you.  If you’re in the Dayton/Cincinnati area, I discovered Second Story Auctions.  Similar idea to EBTH, but on a smaller scale.

I look for pieces that are solid and structurally sound for the most part.  But don’t overlook a piece that needs some repairs!  Many people overlook furniture pieces that need some TLC, and that’s where you can get the best deals!  Don’t forget to check out my tips and tricks for repairing furniture – it’s a life saver for restoring damaged furniture.

Furniture Style Options

Go Classic

As for the style, I tend to gravitate toward the classic and timeless ones.  They paint up so beautifully, and they are easier to resell.  For example:

This classic desk (and dressers/buffets like it) are a personal favorite of mine.

Look at this gorgeous dresser that Cassie at Primitive and Proper transformed with General Finishes Coastal Blue.  It continues to be a piece that I think is a timeless classic, and proves that you don’t always have to go with “traditional” colors when painting furniture.

Go Modern

Another popular style nowadays is mid-century modern.  The downside is that some sellers of this furniture know how popular it is, and pieces can be a bit pricey as a result.  Again, your best bet is to keep your eyes open for furniture that needs a little love, since many people don’t have the time or desire to refinish furniture themselves.  I’m working on my first mid-century pieces (found on Craigslist), but there are lots of great mid-century furniture makeovers out there that certainly will inspire.

The great thing about mid-century furniture makeovers is that simple is good.  You don’t want to be distressing mid-century furniture, as it goes against the whole look and feel of the furniture.  Think clean and simple.  I love the look of pieces that maintain some of the natural wood, while painting some of it as well.  This works well when you’re dealing with damaged furniture too, since some wood filler and paint can be your best friend in giving a piece of furniture a new lease on life.

Look at this handsome guy from The Painted Drawer.  The stained drawers maintain the mid-century feel, and the painted frame gives it a great update.  So clean and classic, don’t you think?

Look at this amazing transformation from The Weathered Door.  Her work is so beautiful, and I’m always inspired looking at her furniture transformations.  This dresser had some humble beginnings, but is a show stopper now that she’s been refinished.  How fun is the graphic paint treatment on the drawers?  Love it.  Want it.

How about a mix of classic and graphic modern?  Again, The Weathered Door knocks it out of the park with this mid-century piece that has an unexpected graphic surprise behind closed doors.  Fantastic.

French Flair

French Provincial is another style that has a nice following.  While I haven’t done any furniture in this style (yet), there are lots of great options out there to give it a fresh new look.  This gorgeous graphite dresser from Cuckoo4Design is one that caught my eye:

And what’s not to love with this fresh and gorgeous green?  I’m itching to do a piece in this color – I just find myself drawn to it like a moth to a flame.

Campaign Style

I’m itching to get my hands on a campaign style piece of furniture, and I think this style lends itself to something bold and unexpected.  Like this stunning orange beauty from Phoenix Restoration

Flip Tips:

  • If you’re looking to flip furniture to make a profit, I try to keep the purchase price on the low side to increase the profit margin.  If you want to keep the piece, I wouldn’t be as concerned with the piece since you don’t have to worry about reselling it.
  • Stick with furniture pieces that appeal to the masses.  I tend to avoid furniture that falls far outside some of the styles I have detailed here.  For example – a dresser with a lot of carved detail is very taste specific, and once painted, the style doesn’t fade away, if that makes sense.
  • This is an extreme example of what I’m talking about, but you get the idea.  I would not buy a piece like this to refinish to resell because your pool of buyers is going to be small.  Again, appeal to the masses.

Carved Dresser

Choosing Paint

I have experimented with a wide variety of paint brands over the years (and have plenty more that I would like to try), but for the purpose of this post, I’m going to speak primarily to the paints that I have personal experience using.

General Finishes Milk Paint and Stains

When I think of furniture projects, more often than not, I think of the General Finishes milk paint line.  Their milk paint sprays beautifully (since I primarily spray my paint), and the finish gives a beautiful matte look.  However, I still top coat my pieces with poly after using this paint, and that is what truly will dictate the final finished look.

I also use a variety of their stains in my work as well, and have been very pleased with the color and the ease of use in working with them.  Their walnut stain is one of my favorites (and is great when you mix it with their satin poly to spray it), but I have also used their Java gel stain with great results.

General Finishes offers a variety of great colors – which is also important to me – and you have the option of distressing your furniture when using this paint, which is a bonus as well.  Some of my favorite colors include the following:

Lamp Black

General Finishes Lamp Black is such a perfect and true black, which is harder to find that you might think.  Here it is on a gorgeous dresser from The Painted Drawer and you can see what a rich classic result it provides.Lamp Black Dresser General Finishes Paint and you can see what a rich classic result it provides.


Coastal Blue

This is another personal favorite of mine.  Coastal Blue is a rich indigo blue and works well on its own, or paired with stained wood.  Like this piece from Team Sutton Designs – what’s not to like?  And how about those hardware pulls?  Yes, please.

Queenstown Gray

Queenstown Gray is a new color discovery for me in the General Finishes milk paint family, but it’s already become a fast favorite.  It’s just a great gray hue – and we all know how popular gray is right now.  It’s a nice shade to have in your toolbox.  I used it on this dresser, and just love it.

Queenstown Gray Dresser Makeover


Velvet Finishes

Velvet Finishes paint is another one that I’ve used that provides a lovely matte finish like the General Finishes milk paint.  It too, comes in a variety of great colors (and sprays beautifully).  I used it on my daughter’s nightstand overhaul for the Fall edition of the One Room Challenge.  I got creative and did a little color mixing too, which is fun if you’re looking to customize your colors a bit.

Velvet Finishes Nightstand

Velvet Finishes has loads of options to choose from when it comes to color.  For a closer look, click here for their color gallery.

Amy Howard at Home

I’m still getting my feet wet with Amy Howard’s paint line, but I’m thrilled to pieces with how my first furniture redo turned out with her One Step Paint.  This line of paint gives more of a chalk finish to it, which can be waxed, or you can top coat it with poly. I used the Flat Out Flat poly from General Finishes, and love how it gives a waxed and buffed look.


Amy’s One Step Paint also comes in a great variety of mixable colors (I mixed Black and Atelier for the piece above).

amy howard at home color chart

Amy Howard Dresser Redo


Benjamin Moore

I am still a big fan of Benjamin Moore’s Advance paint when it comes to painting cabinets, and it does great work on furniture as well.  The only downside is the drying time – 16 hours in between coats, which can be tough when you’re working on furniture items.  However, the cured finish is rock solid, and a great option for furniture, with more color options than you can count.  Added bonus that there is no need to apply a top coat!  Great stuff.

Up Next – Tools and Techniques

I was going to try to put everything into one post, but there is just so much information, that I’m going to break it down into separate posts.  I’m going to be talking about the best way to get a smooth finish and what you need to get there.




  • Reply
    Elaine - visual meringue
    February 10, 2016 at 9:37 am

    Great series! Great idea. Also, any way you can add a ‘pin it’ button to your photos?

    • Reply
      February 10, 2016 at 10:11 am

      I get a “Pin It” button that pops up when I hover over my pictures. Let me check with my web guy to see if it’s just me and have him add it. Thanks for letting me know Elaine!

  • Reply
    February 10, 2016 at 3:51 pm

    Hi Jenny,

    I used to follow the “Natty By Design” blog before it was sadly, but understandably, stopped. So I was delighted when I found your site last Fall! Yeah, more painted furniture! I check in several times a week to see what you’re working on (along with Sawdustgirl and Miss Mustard Seed). Your daughter’s bedside table is one of my favorite projects with the vibrant colors and classic design al-in-one (that green piece makes me smile too). You are fortunate to have so many furniture outlets nearby where you can score such sweet deals. Congrats on the Frontgate headboard. 🙂 Absolutely lovely…

    I enjoyed this post and am excited to learn more from the series. You do a great job of giving step-by-step details, along with honestly discussing your trials. It almost feels like you are talking direct to each one of us.

    Have you ever written a post about how you came to enjoy painting furniture and start your kitchen painting business? I would welcome hearing more of your journey. I live in the Northern Virginia area, outside of Washington, DC, where corporate and government life reign. I, too, am a “corporate drop-out” looking for a way to be creative and maybe build a business that allows me flexible family time. Thanks! Karen

    • Reply
      February 10, 2016 at 6:32 pm

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments Karen! I too, miss Natty by Design – such great work and inspiration. Getting feedback through comments like yours is what guides me in the topics that I write about on the blog. I will definitely include my painting business journey as part of the series! How is life in the DC area? I’m sure the government environment gets tiring and creativity is a great outlet (although I am quite enthralled with this political cycle, I’ll admit). 🙂

  • Reply
    February 10, 2016 at 4:41 pm

    Thank you so much for this wonderful post. I’m very excited about your “Painter in Your Pocket” series. You do such beautiful work and I love that you share so many helpful and thorough tips. It is very much appreciated so much more than you know. Keep up the great work!

    • Reply
      February 10, 2016 at 6:33 pm

      Thank you Debbie! I’m excited about this series – I enjoy it so much, and there is lots to share!

  • Reply
    Beth Chesak
    February 10, 2016 at 6:16 pm

    Have you considered giving a demonstration on refinishing an older piece of furniture? Everything from sanding, priming, spaying paint with specific equipment and sealing it with poly would be helpful to those of us who haven’t attempted refinishing furniture.

    • Reply
      February 10, 2016 at 6:35 pm

      Hi Beth – I’m really hoping to take you all from start to finish with a furniture piece as part of this series. So much to share, and I’m excited to do it. It was only after I started writing that I fully realized how much there is to share! More to come, I promise! 🙂

  • Reply
    Kathy V,
    February 13, 2016 at 12:31 am

    Wow, Jenny, the “Amy Howard” dresser is stunning! I’ve been watching for how the Flat on Flat would turn out on a chalk-like finish, and it’s amazing. Thank you for sharing.

    I’m excited about the new series, and so appreciate your willingness to share. Have you considered developing a YouTube channel where you could demonstrate your process? I know the video process can be time consuming, especially at first; but the opportunities it could open for you could be worth the effort. I’m learning so much already, simply by reading your blog. To actually watch you create your masterpieces, well that would be another fabulous “Evolution of Style”!

    Hope I didn’t overstep here. I just think you’re amazingly talented, and deserve as much recognition and opportunity as possible.

    • Reply
      February 13, 2016 at 2:20 pm

      Thanks so much for your kind words Kathy. I have been thinking about videos – but then that means that I need to think about editing videos too. 😉 I agree though, video really does help with sharing techniques as I go through the process. As long as you know that I usually work in a baseball cap and paint smattered clothes, with no makeup. So it could be a scary video.

  • Reply
    February 17, 2016 at 4:02 pm

    Hi, I am planning to paint my daughter’s bed and dresser some time this spring. I am looking for a paint that is easy to work with and will hold up with small children. I am looking for something with more of a satin finish instead of chalky. Do you have any recommendations?

    Thanks You!!

    • Reply
      February 17, 2016 at 7:18 pm

      I really like Benjamin Moore’s Advance paint (satin finish) – it’s what I use when I paint cabinets, and it holds up beautifully, but takes a little while to fully cure. General Finishes milk paint is another great option, just be sure to top coat it with some sort of polycrylic coat. The Advance doesn’t require a topcoat. Both are great options!

      • Reply
        February 18, 2016 at 11:16 am

        Thanks for the recommendations.

  • Reply
    February 17, 2016 at 11:12 pm

    Jenny! Did you see that Natty By Design is BACK on Instagram – @nattybydesign_ ? I think it’s funny that we were just talking about her last week in the comments below. 🙂 She’s been posting pics the last few days, and from her email, will be getting her website back up and running. Yeah!

    • Reply
      February 18, 2016 at 6:54 am

      Well this is great news! Going to follow here ASAP! Thanks for the heads up!

  • Reply
    Kim Stroup
    March 6, 2016 at 10:01 pm

    Hi Jenny,
    I found your blog while clicking away looking at shades of grey paint for a staircase I am redoing. That was almost 2 hours ago, I have read most of your kitchen redos and loving how much I am learning. I know I have cabinets in my future!
    I have a question about your paint sprayer. I have a friend who painted furniture and she was teaching me to paint. I bought the same sprayer she had, a Graco 3900. Then she moved! I painted a good bit of furniture with her, but she always got the paint ready and it always had to be thinned. So now I’m on my own and I can’t get it right and it’s so frustrating! I measured used the count cup and I still can’t get the consistency correct. I figure experience helps, my friend had the knack and could use any paint and it was perfect. Do you have to thin the paint for your sprayer and do you have any suggestions? I actually bought cans of spray paint to finish my last project!
    So glad to have found your blog and looking forward to this series.
    Thanks, Kim

    • Reply
      March 7, 2016 at 11:52 am

      Hi Kim! I’m so glad you found me and found the tutorials and projects helpful! As for my sprayer, I have a Titan Capspray 95, which is a turbine driven, HVLP system. In terms of thinning the paint, usually I have pretty good luck in following the manufacturer’s instructions, and my sprayer is pretty forgiving overall, since it can push the paint pretty well. Plus, I think I’ve done it so much that I pretty much eyeball it and it works well. Practice, practice, practice! But it’s definitely something I will include with the Painter in Your Pocket series!

  • Reply
    Susan sennott
    April 21, 2017 at 4:23 pm

    What ratio black and atelier did you use on the 9-drawer Thomasville dresser?

    • Reply
      April 21, 2017 at 5:51 pm

      I used a 50/50 mix on the dresser – a gorgeous final color!

  • Reply
    July 17, 2017 at 9:24 pm

    How did you mix the Amy Howard black and atelier? One part to one part?

    Thank you

    • Reply
      July 17, 2017 at 10:41 pm

      Yes – a 50/50 mix of the Black and Atelier. Such a gorgeous final color!

  • Reply
    August 7, 2017 at 5:18 pm

    where do you purchase General Finishes paint?

    • Reply
      August 7, 2017 at 5:55 pm

      I found it in my local Woodcraft store, but you can also find it online – http://amzn.to/2fofU8W (affiliate).

  • Reply
    September 15, 2017 at 10:23 pm

    I’m sor glad I bumped into your blog. I have a bureau that I want to refinish. I have to work on it in my bedroom, as it’s too heavy to move. Do you have a blog about works space? I don’t think I couldn’t sand or use spray paint due to the mess, so I was glad to see the one step line. Any other thoughts or advice. Thank you!

    • Reply
      September 21, 2017 at 10:55 pm

      If you’re working in a space where it’s tight and you can’t spray – it’s all about high quality tools! Good paint brushes, experiment with different rollers to see which one gives you the best finish. There’s no one size fits all I’ve found.

  • Reply
    January 16, 2018 at 1:48 am

    I love the two colors you mixed and got that dark gray/ gunmetal. Gray and black. 50/50 of each?

    • Reply
      April 16, 2018 at 2:25 pm

      It’s Black and Atelier that you mix together – a 50/50 mix.

  • Reply
    April 16, 2018 at 2:22 pm

    That’s a beautiful piece and color. I want to paint a secretary desk (upright type) for my bathroom. I wanted a blue that looked like french country, but the mix of the black & atelier looks like a beautiful blue to me. How much did you mix of each? I would like the same results. I can’t wait to do this. I know it’s going to take time to work and finish this project.
    Any advice and info is much appreciated. Love your pieces! thanks,

    • Reply
      April 16, 2018 at 2:24 pm

      Thanks Amy! It’s a 50/50 mix of Black and Atelier. Good luck!

  • Reply
    Peggy Babler
    June 1, 2018 at 5:05 pm

    Thanks for all the information. I’m doing a coffee table soon…my first attempt.

  • Reply
    Janine Oliver
    February 25, 2019 at 8:34 pm

    So what color is Atelier? Is the dresser a grey and black mix to make a charcoal? The dresser looks like it has blue in it and it is what i wish to do. Is it the lighting or does this have a blue color to it. Thanks for your help.

    • Reply
      February 27, 2019 at 7:17 pm

      It does have blue in it. A blue-ish charcoal, if that makes sense.

  • Reply
    Lisa Li
    April 21, 2020 at 5:54 pm

    Hi Jenny, thank you so much for sharing your wonderful projects with me. Can you explain your process in preparing the furniture before paint? Notably with Amy Howard’s One Step Paint – Black & Atelier?
    Do you sand the furniture beforehand? Clean & Degloss?

    This is my first time refinishing & any help would be greatly appreciated!
    Maybe consider doing a youtube channel? Your pieces are magnificent.

    • Reply
      April 22, 2020 at 9:47 pm

      I always clean my furniture well (usually with Krud Kutter Gloss Off) and then sand it (filling holes as needed). I usually prime (even if the paint says you don’t have to prime – I always prime) with a shellac based primer, and then paint. Thanks so much for your kind words!

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