Thrift Store Chair Rescue: Sanding & Painting A Modern Chair

A lot of people were interested in the details when it came to the thrift store chair that we refreshed for our latest column in R. Home magazine. Here’s the play by play.


We picked up the chair for $10 at Diversity Thrift here in Richmond. Then we lugged it home and I got down to business sanding it. We used 100 grit sandpaper to rough up the semi-shiny finish until we got down to the bare wood. Another way to prepare a piece for painting is to prime it with oil-based primer. However, since the chair was very old and we were able to get down to the bare wood with some gentle sanding, we opted to skip that step. Had we been planning to paint it white or any other pale color, we probably would have primed it as well.


Then we applied three thin, even coats of semi-gloss latex paint (in Valspar’s Fabulous Red- the same color we used on our front door). Red always calls for at least one more coat than most other colors to capture that true tone without any hints of pink. The key to getting a smooth finish when it comes to painting furniture is to use a brush. You can see that we briefly used a mini roller, but any roller creates small pricks (tiny spiky things) as it applies the paint, so we went back to our trusty paint brush for a smooth, even finish. You might also notice some leaves in the background of this picture. That shows you how far ahead we work when it comes to our column (we actually completed this project last fall for the March/April issue of this year).


After three coats of the semi-gloss red paint, we just waited for that baby to dry (we always give things at least 24-48 hours to avoid hair-pullingly-frustrating smudges or dings). Sometimes we suggest an optional coat of protective polyurethane for pieces that should be super durable and wipe-able (a kitchen table for example) but because this piece is more of an accent chair, we left it well enough alone (and the semi-gloss finish of the paint still gives it a nice sheen, along with a functional wipe-able finish).


Not only was this total chair makeover quick and easy, it was also super affordable. The entire makeover cost us just $25 for the $10 chair and some paint. And if you use semi-gloss paint that you already have laying around, you can transform a thrift store chair for even less in under a few hours.

You may ask what happened to this lovely chair. Well, R. Home is actually giving it away to one lucky local, so if you live in or around Richmond you could make this totally refreshed accent chair yours. And if you’re not local, just make your own! We promise it’s easy. And totally rewarding too.


  1. says

    Interesting about your experience with roller vs paint brush. I’ve always heard to use a low nap roller (actually I bought the exact one you have in the picture) vs a paint brush, because you get the lines from the bristles on the brush instead of a more smooth finish from a roller. Good to know that hasn’t been your case, because I’m about ready to embark on painting my roll-top desk and definately bought rollers for the main parts of that. I’ll have to give it a try with both and see what is better. I do know when painting Brian’s kitchen cabinets, the finish is much better using that roller then the paint brush- we tried to use it as minimally as possible to avoid the harsh lines.

    • YoungHouseLove says

      Hey Amanda,

      Oh yeah when it comes to the walls, a roller yields a much smoother finish. But we’ve always had a lot more luck with brushes when painting wooden pieces of furniture. And apparently we’re not alone- our local Benjamin Moore paint specialist also swears that they cut down on bubbles and inconsistencies when it comes to refinishing furniture so she says she’s allergic to rollers for anything but walls. She even claims that metal surfaces like a garage door look much better when they’re done with a brush (talk about a big job!).

      Of course with a brush the key is to do thin even coats and not glob everything on there so you have drips and bristle marks. Yuck! Good luck with that roll-top desk… and don’t forget to take before and after pics for us!


  2. Amara says


    Thanks for the info. That chair is gorgeous. I know you said you prefer a brush over a roller. However, how do you feel about spray painting a piece like this. Any problems you can think of?

    • YoungHouseLove says

      Hey Amara,

      Spray painting is a great way to refinish an items of furniture (there’s even spray primer so you’re sure to get great adhesion). There are only three things to be careful about when spray painting:

      1. Do it in a ventilated area (not inside! maybe in the garage with the door open or even in the driveway?)

      2. Be sure to cover anything in the surrounding area with cardboard or a tarp if you don’t want it coated with spray paint dust (it’s much messier than painting)

      3. You obviously have less control with spray paint than you do with a brush, so be sure to apply the paint in soft, steady even strokes without having the nozzle too close to the piece (this is the #1 rookie mistake that we made a few years ago before we knew better- and everything looks terrible with drips and uneven coats of spray paint).

      Slow and steady (along with keeping the nozzle far enough away) is the key. The goal is three thin coats instead of one thick one. The first coat won’t completely cover the piece, but step back and let it dry and go in for another light coat afterwords instead of spraying too much paint on all at once. Hope it helps! Good luck!


  3. says

    I’ve seen so many different posts here and elsewhere about refinishing furniture. I’ve never done it but your explanation seems so simple. I really want to try tacking something like this – and it would be a tackle for me – I am not very handy at all (but do want to be!). Thanks for the photos. The chair looks great!

  4. Mark says

    One trick I learned years ago when painting something red…is to use a light grey primer. It balances out the pink tones in the paint and will give you a richer red in less coats.

  5. Laura says

    You guys never fail to deliver! Thanks for the “extra” paint tutorial – you answered all my questions! Now if I ever get caught up in the archives! I’m still only in May ’08 – but I love it; just means there’s a TON of content!

    • YoungHouseLove says

      Hey Bethany,

      Those shoes were the find of the year at Target (!) for $7 (!). Needless to say I am even more smitten with Target for providing home decor AND shoes on the cheap! The label says they’re Mossimo if that helps. Happy shoe hunting!


  6. says

    Nice work, the chair looks great! I just made over a bathroom cabinet using a 2″ mini roller. It covered well thanks to the high density, but I did have to touch up some small spots with a paint brush.

  7. says

    Just a quick tip on painting furniture. If you leave it out in the direct sunlight for the afternoon, the heat really helps “bake” the paint on. If I have a piece that I am going to be keeping a lot of things on (like a buffet or dresser), I always be sure to put it out in the sun after the paint dries. It really helps to keep the paint from adhering to other items.

  8. YoungHouseLove says

    Ha! Bethany – when I first read your comment I thought you were asking my shoes. I was thinking “well, um, If you really want to know: they’re just a seen-better-days pair of running shoes I bought online…”

    Thank goodnes I realized you were asking about Sherry’s in the last picture. Because I’ll be the first to say that my shoe collection is not very enviable.

    Oh, and great tip about baking in the sun, Bridgett. If only the sun had been shining that weekend!


  9. Bethany says

    Too funny! I like your Asics too, John. You two have inspired a whole new change in my house these days–fresher colors, less store-bought goods. Thanks for constantly rewarding us with fresh and budget-friendly information. I love that it’s now ok to say “I can’t afford that piece, but let’s make a cheaper version ourselves.”

  10. says

    hey guys, i’m still not totally sure when to sand and when to use the oil based primer. you’ve inspired me to paint an old armoire i had been thinking of posting on craigslist. not sure if it’s real wood of heavy duty mdf. does this matter as far as sanding vs. a primer?

    • YoungHouseLove says

      Hey Lauren,

      Sanding and priming both help to prep your piece and ensure that paint adheres well for the perfect “foundation.” So either or both will definitely do some good in any case! Some people do both, and some people do neither (which is a baaad idea, we always at least do one of the two).

      If you’re painting something large like an armoire, unless it’s super sleek and shiny (in which case primer even may have a hard time adhering) you can skip sanding and go straight to priming with an oil-based primer. Just apply one even coat, wait for it to thoroughly dry and follow it with two coats of semi-gloss latex paint (applied with a brush for the best finish- and if you must use a roller never use a foam one!). Of course you want to keep each coat of paint thin and even- and wait for them to thoroughly dry before moving onto the last coat. Then let the armoire dry for at least 48 hours and enjoy it for decades to come! Hope it helps. Happy painting…


  11. Lisa says

    I’m about to paint a chair and step-stool vivid orange. So this tutorial is perfect timing. I’ve painted lots of furniture before, but it’s always nice to re-read and think it through! Thanks!

  12. Aimee says

    Hey guys!
    I’m in the process of repainting my Grandmother’s antigue kitchen chair. I opted to use leftover Ralph Lauren red paint from our 1/2 bath (to save some bucks!). The problem is that it’s a “Satin” finish. So, after 3 coats of paint on the chair, it’s very boring and dull. I bought semi-gloss polyurethane, but haven’t put it on yet. Will that yield a glossier result? Or should I use high gloss polyurethane? Also – have you tried the spray polyurethane? Because there are spindles on the chair that have quite the curve to them, I was wondering if spraying it on would have better results. Thanks a million!!!

    • YoungHouseLove says

      Hey Aimee,

      I definitely think a spray poly is the best way to go in your case- just be sure not to spray it on too thick or it will drip all up and down those lovely spindles! A thin and even application is the key – and don’t forget that getting the nozzle too close to the piece or hovering over one are for too long is a surefire way to get pesky drips and poly pooling! Good luck. You can do it!


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