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Lacquering A Dining Table

Transforming high quality vintage pieces, from dated and ugly, to modern and beautiful (like this table), is extremely satisfying. I’ve been doing this since I was 7 years old when I refinished my first desk by painting it a blush pink. I subsequently entered it into the county 4-H fair where I’m pretty sure I must have won the purple ribbon for cutest, most fashion forward desk ever. I did it the correct way, with coat after coat of shellac and sanding in between coats. It turned out so BEAUTIFUL. Oh if I still had that desk and could hand it down to Elliot or Charlie I would be so happy. Lesson learned – NEVER GET RID OF ANYTHING. EVER. And if you are going to get rid of something that you made yourself, at least take a photo of it!!!

One of my biggest/best tips that I try to hammer into people’s heads is that you can ALWAYS change the finish of a piece of furniture, but rarely the shape. So when thrifting look for great shapes, and if you love the shape ignore the finish. Just keep in mind the money it costs to change the finish – both in upholstering and refinishing.


For Nicolette’s makeover we needed an oval table because the space was narrow but long. An oval table provides better flow than a rectangle and would be more proportional to the space than a round one. Oval tables are not that easy to find, folks. I thought about using the oval Saarinen (or any of it’s knock offs, sorry Sir Saarinen) but we had just used one in the project, so I was hoping to find something else. Besides, it was a bit wide for the space and we needed something more narrow.

I was shopping at one of my favorite thrift stores when I found this hideous number:


It’s a Baker piece (a really good American made company that has been around for a century). The shape was so simple and pretty, what with those sexy legs and all, but that shiny cherry finish was not something anybody should live with. It was originally $275, but I think it was down to $225 at the time. It came with 2 additional leaves and sat up to 12 people. I wanted it for me and thought about hoarding it, but then realized that once refinished it would be the perfect table for Nicolette.

But refinishing isn’t cheap, friends, so we needed to weigh all our options:

1. Strip and re-stain as a pretty wood tone. This is what I wanted to do, but Nicolette really didn’t want wood in there and she is the client so she won (and I felt confidant that white would also look good). I didn’t know what the original wood tone actually was, but on the under side of the table where the cherry stain hadn’t reached it looked like it could be a beautiful light tone. If this were for my house, and if I had the time, I could have done this myself. The shape of the table is so simple with no carving or intricate detailing, so it would be a pretty easy refinish job. But I was pregnant, and slammed with work/family so this wasn’t an option anyway. But the point is that I hire out some things but stripping/staining is expensive (because it’s so time consuming) so I would consider doing a table like this myself instead of paying a professional to do it.

2. Lacquer it a color. Since Nicolette didn’t want wood this was our other option. Now lacquering is something that you can’t do yourself. Sure, you can paint a table but generally if it’s a high use table, like a dining table, you need it to be lacquered to stand up long term to the wear and tear. Lacquer is a really thick high quality paint made from something fancier than paint (I’m not an expert on lacquer, I just know it’s better than painting). This needs to be done by a pro (generally) because it takes a lot of prep and equipment. You have to spray it so you need a booth, and the dry time between coats is long so you can’t have ANY elements (even wind) that could get dirt on it, etc. It’s just a tricky job that is best left to a pro that has a shop set up to do it.

Lacquering was the final choice. We thought about doing it in a color, but only briefly. For such a large purchase I didn’t want to give them a trendy color – but selfishly I was dying to do it in a lavender or baby blue. . . We received a few quotes: 1 for $740, one for $3500, and one for $690. We ended up using Greg’s Refinishing (the $690 quote) because his yelp review page was great.

Oh, one more note about lacquering – it doesn’t always have to be high gloss and what we chose was very low sheen.

I don’t buy vintage only because it can be less expensive. I like it because you get something one of a kind, but most importantly, it’s typically higher quality. If it’s really inexpensive (which it can be) then that’s just a bonus. A high quality oval dining table that can seat up to 12 people new is well over $1500 and is typically closer to $2500. So while the total of this table turned out to be $1000, it was still a great price for the perfect piece.


Greg took about a week to lacquer the table. Brady checked in on him and snapped a few of the fancy set up. As you can see it’s not just a simple paint job, but I’m sure that if you have the time and can rent some equipment it’s something you could do yourself. We just didn’t.

In case you missed that whole makeover here’s the fun before/after:




There she is, folks. So pretty. . . if I do say so myself. She’s now scratch resistant, chip resistant, and totally modern. Sometimes you find just the right vintage piece, and can make it work. Showing our client the photo of the table in the thrift store was difficult but I wanted her approval. In the case that she hated it, I was going to strip/stain it a wood tone for me. It took some convincing as you can imagine, but once it was in the space we were SO excited and confident that it was worth the splurge and effort.


If anyone has lacquered furniture themselves, or has hired a pro and has any tips for others (and me) please leave them in the comments.


***Photos of Nicolette and me by Jessica Isaac for EHD. Photos of the space by Zeke Ruelas.

Want more about how we got to here? Check out the Design Plan, the Final Reveal,  watch the video, and see the feature on Refinery29Want more Weekend Crashers? Check out our Mid Century Eclectic Makeover.

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8 years ago

I’ve never lacquered a table, but I did put three coats of poly on my kitchen table and I love how smooth and durable the finish is! And poly can be done over paint or wood stain, so it might be a good option for the DIY version of lacquer. I went with a satin finish, but it does come in high gloss.

How hard is to go back to wood after lacquering a piece? I always hate to cover up such a high quality piece and would love to see what color stain you would have selected for this table. But it does look terrific in white in this space.

8 years ago

Hi Emily. Im trying to find the brand and name of the gorgeous pink paint in the dining room. The link provided goes to the reversible pillow at Target instead of paint color. Pls help! I REALLY WANT IT. Thank u!!

8 years ago
Reply to  Jill

I’m not Emily, but the shade of pink was called pirouette by Valspar.

8 years ago
Reply to  Colin

Thank u so much Colin!

8 years ago
Reply to  Jill

You’re welcome!

8 years ago

WOW this looks amazing, what an ugly cherry stain that had and now is the perfect dining table.

I really love the styling so pretty

Absolutely love your work 🙂

8 years ago

Beautiful makeover, the mix of colors feels cohesive, intentional, and makes the space ultimately harmonious.

8 years ago

These are such great tips! Our dining room table is in serious need of a redo, we’ll have to try this in the spring… when we’re more ambitious!


Rose Boccella
8 years ago

just received your book, early Christmas present to myself. I can hear your voice pin every page as it guides and inspires. I’ve already pitched my high contrast bedspread in my tiny bedroom and picked some great branches to separate my kitchen and loving area My heart is happy. Thanks so much!

8 years ago

The artwork on the wall just makes the space! And I love how you turned a traditional table, into a modern piece of furniture that doesn’t look like it’s trying too hard to be a modern table…if that makes any sense!!

8 years ago
Reply to  Jessica

I came to find out the name of the pink too. Forget the perfect shade of gray, finding the perfect pink is killing me! Also I had a comment on refinishing (another thing that is killing me)…..I bought a bunch of doors with a dark “cherry” stain, and it’s been hell trying to get all the red out.

8 years ago
Reply to  Lindsay

Oops, not really a reply to you Jessica.

julie k
8 years ago
Reply to  Lindsay

Lindsay – For your consideration, I humbly submit Precocious by Benjamin Moore as another pink in this vein. It transforms into many, all absolutely stunning shades as the light in a room changes.

Did it in my first house, brought it into my second.

It’s one of the older shades from the old-school swatches.

8 years ago

My husband is a woodworker and sprays lacquer to ‘paint’ cabinets. It is super nasty, think clouds of nail polish fumes. Respirator required. The equipment is expensive (spray guns that have to be immacuately cleaned, giant air compressor, and industrial fans). But, you can buy rattle cans of lacquer at any hardware store. Like any paint job, It is important to have everything prepped really well before spraying. If you do go diy rattle can route, spray outside & you should still wear a respirator. If you get something lacquered professionally, they can match any color you like from any major paint manufactuer, but there are often significant cost savings if you pick a color from the lacquer manufactuer’s fan deck. Hope this helps!

8 years ago
Reply to  Jana

Also, I would only diy lacquer something small (end table, dining chair, picture frame…) definitely not a dining table. It would be hard to get such a large surface even. That’s why you pay the pros 🙂

8 years ago

What pretty wood tone would you use on the table? I’ve inherited my grandmothers oval table and while it is a beautiful table, the finish is awful and it marks really easily. I’m feeling inspired!

8 years ago

Lovely dining room! Simple and sophisticated dining table and chairs.

8 years ago

My goodness, that table is divine! I live in N.C. where Baker furniture is made. It’s definitely heirloom quality that she can treasure and pass down! Excellent score.
My parents lacquered a vintage french provincial bedroom suite for my sis teal blue and it turned out wonderfully. The key is a really good paint sprayer. They borrowed one from a friend who used to finish furniture for Drexel Heritage. Many coats and lots of patience! It can be done.

So beautiful! The black chairs with the white table is very nice; but the modern artwork against that soft pastel wall color is the best.

8 years ago

I love the how you chose art that had hints of pink in them to go with the walls and the table looks fabulous!

8 years ago

*confident* 🙂
I am loving the Sputnik chandelier,the pink wall, and the gold accents! I need some big artwork in my house to brighten up the place.
This table’s silhouette is perfect for lacquer. Our table has too many grooves, I think. Too traditional.

8 years ago

Those chairs look similar to the Paul McCobb ones I’ve been drooling over. Where are they from? Thanks!

8 years ago

I’ve had probably 20 pieces of furniture lacquered and three entire kitchens (cabinets) Never disappointed. Holds up very well and is tough. The lacquer will bubble so use a coaster under a hot drink. Kitchen cabinets last without touch up easily 3-4 years. My painter touches mine up when he is back either touching up door frames or molding. I go with colors for myself and my clients knowing down the road it can be redone. He generally charges around $375-400 for a piece. He has stopped giving me funny looks after he sees the gold, pink, yellow, blue and grey pieces sprayed in the homes and looking gorgeous!
I have never removed lacquer back to wood. And also I have had it sprayed on traditional furniture with grooves and the wood grain can still be slightly seen but not in an ugly way. Hope this helps someone. If it’s a tiny piece we generally look for a good color in spray paint and prep good and DIY it. The big pieces I would call a pro.

8 years ago

Wow! I’m so fortunate! I have a (secret) company, here in Chicago that sandblasts, powder coats, AND lacquers! They charge me $40 job & their work is superb! I’ve had many pieces transformed and am always quite pleased!

8 years ago
Reply to  Daena

Any chance of you sharing your secret company with a fellow Chicagoan? I’m looking to have my dining table lacquered.