We’re about to drop one of our favorite furniture secrets. It’s so simple, yet so effective. Any guesses as to what it could be from that slightly vague, but also totally obvious opener image? DON’T SAY IT OUT LOUD. First, let’s do a little light imagination exercise to get you in the right headspace . . . .
Imagine for a moment that you’re at a flea market, walking up and down rows of vintage pieces. The smell of aged wood and ancient rugs hangs heavy in the air like a comforting perfume. There’s a lot to sift through, but you know that your hard work will pay off if you just keep your eyes open. And then you see it, a little vintage side table covered by old books and hidden behind a stack of old frames. Easily overlooked by someone else, but not by you. YOU have “the eye” and you see it for what it could be. The shape is unique, the size is perfect, and the brass hardware is everything you’ve ever dreamed of. The only thing holding you back is the dull gray, chipping paint. But then you remember the words you read in this post . . . .
Should we have Emily write and record little stories like this for bedtime listening? “Imagine you’re in a cozy vintage shop, the rain softly falling outside . . . ” I’m already imagining sweeter, better-styled dreams. ANYWAYS, stay with me (focus on your focus, Sara). So you’ve got your little vintage table, perfect in every way except for the color or tone. Painting is the obvious choice here, duh. I WON’T INSULT YOUR INTELLIGENCE.
But let me ask you a question. What color do you paint your piece? Ah, now we get to the heart of this post. Because the one, sure-fire way to give any piece of furniture an upgrade is to paint it a DEEP, DARK, MOODY color. Yes, that’s right – paint that piece of furniture DARK.
WHY IT WORKS
There’s nothing wrong with painting a piece a light color, but in general light furniture pieces either tend to feel very minimal or have a sense of “youth” to them. There’s also a chance that your piece could end up looking a bit “shabby chic,” especially if you’re painting an already vintage piece. And let me tell you, a light paint is NOT a forgiving medium. It’s like highlighter for chips or dents.
Dark paint, on the other hand, can add a sense of sophistication, which can lean modern or antique. And dark paint is very forgiving. If your painting skills aren’t quite up to snuff, a dark paint is going to hide any mistakes more readily – including imperfections in the piece that may not be considered “vintage charm.”
FIRST, DETERMINE IF YOU REALLY SHOULD PAINT
Now before you start eyeing that little credenza you got from your grandma’s house a few years ago, determine if your piece really needs to be painted. There’s nothing more tragic than seeing a beautiful piece unnecessarily painted. If your piece is already a beautiful natural wood, or just needs a sand and stain to get there, really do some soul searching to decide if a painted piece is going to be able to compete with the seemingly ageless beauty of an all-wood piece. Wood is timeless, people.
But if the original wood of the piece is really not to your liking, OR the piece was already painted and you’re ready to give it a new life then keep heading down this path with me. For example, Em bought this vintage dresser a few years ago for her entryway.
There was nothing wrong with the wood, but Em wasn’t in love with it. The shape, however, was awesome and unique, so she thought a good coat of paint would take it to the next level. Originally she wanted to go for more of a monochromatic look in her entry and painted it a light blue-ish gray (Pike’s Peak Gray, to be exact). But the piece ended up feeling lost against the light wall. So instead, we visualized it in a few different, darker, colors (it was a whole debate, and if you’re interested you can read about it here):
In the end, Em ended up going with Newbury Port for the piece, and it felt so much better. The darker color just makes the piece feel a little more weighted, anchoring it in that space, rather than having it feel like it was floating against the wall.
THINK ABOUT WHERE YOUR PIECE IS GOING TO LIVE
Sometimes you have a gut instinct about a piece before you even know where it’s going to live, and that’s ok. I am you people, and I’m often handing my cash to a flea market vendor before either Mac or my brain can ask me “wait, what do we need a vintage milking stool for?” But if you’re shopping for a specific area of your home then you’ll want to keep in mind the color of the wall behind the piece and the other colors in the room.
Em had this rad demilune painted a dark navy blue (I believe it’s Hague Blue), and it pops off the light-colored wall in such a beautiful way. Em also had a lot of other blue elements sprinkled throughout the room that the demilune picked up once it was painted. All together they created this beautiful color harmony in the space. That’s not to say that you can’t put a dark piece of furniture against a dark wall like Em did below (by putting that dark bar cabinet against a dark wood wall).
Not gonna lie, that piece gives me SHIVERS. The hardware, the lines, the STATELINESS, be still my heart. But just know that a dark piece against a light wall is going to draw more attention and may add a graphic element, while putting a dark piece in a dark room is likely going to give the space an overall moody feel (which I love, and is actually what I did in my own TV room).
WHAT OTHER ELEMENTS DOES THE PIECE ALREADY HAVE?
Before you pick a color, think about the other elements the piece already has. Does it have hardware? Brass, silver, black, or gold? Is it upholstered? Does it have a mirror element, and if so is it a new mirror or a vintage mirror with a tint to it? All of these things are elements you should take into consideration when choosing your dark paint color. Even though it may be harder to tell with dark colors, they’ll still lean warmer or cooler and have discernible undertones. For example: If I was painting a piece dark green, and it had silver hardware, I might choose a dark green that is on the cooler/blue side rather than something more yellow so it vibes better with the cooler silver tones of the hardware.
A FEW TIPS ON PAINTING VINTAGE PIECES
Alright, so you’ve got your piece, your paint, and your afternoon free. UGH, WHY CAN’T YOU JUST PAINT ALREADY?! Because preparation is key to a smooth and successful paint job. BORING, I know. But crucial. Ok, here’s the bad news – you’re going to need to sand your piece. Whether it’s raw or already painted, you’re going to want to create a smooth, even surface that your new coat of paint can stick to. I spent about two hours sanding that little table below before I painted it. Oh, and use a tack cloth to wipe down your piece after sanding to make sure there’s no sanding grit left! My dad introduced me to tack cloths during our reno and I can never go back to life without them.
Next, make sure you choose a paint finish that will be conducive to its use. I went with a semi-gloss finish (in Caviar) for this little table because I knew it was going to endure a lot of traffic, and a semi-gloss surface is much easier to clean than something matte. Also, I liked the stately, sea captain’s office vibe it gave the table.
On the other hand, Em tends to prefer matte paint for a more modern finish to her pieces. Like with her dresser below (painted Caldwell Green).
Lastly, use a combination of super fine rollers and brushes to get your perfect finish. The brush is perfect for getting inside all the little nooks and crannies of a piece, while a super fine roller is going to help you cover those larger, flat areas much faster without visible brush strokes.
A FEW OF OUR FAVORITE DARK COLORS
Now that you’re ready to go full Picasso on a piece (like Julie did with her bed frame above with Limousine Leather), I’ll leave you with one last thing – 6 of our favorite dark, moody colors to upgrade your furniture with. These are the colors we’ve used ourselves, and that we still can’t get enough of.
1. Hague Blue by Farrow & Ball | 2. Caviar by Sherwin Williams | 3. Limousine Leather by Behr | 4. Rookwood Shutter Green by Sherwin Williams | 5. Newbury Port by Portola Paints | 6. satin Black by Behr
Alright folks, the shows over. SO, I’m curious. What are your thoughts on painting pieces, and have you ever taken a little paint trip to the dark side? Let me know in the comments.