To Paint or Not To Paint?

A frequent topic of conversation among our customers is the question of whether it is ever ok to paint a piece of antique wood furniture or architectural piece. There are several arguments that can be made in favor of painting, as well as taking a hands off approach, to leave a piece in its original stained condition.

If your piece is a collector item and/or you are concerned about retaining the value, then you may want to take a hands off approach where painting is concerned. Most collectors want the finish of an item to be as close to the original as possible. If the original finish happens to be painted, the time worn patina not only adds character to the piece, but could also add value if it is original. Resist the temptation to add a fresh coat of paint or lacquer before you consult with an expert so that your hard work does not take away from its value.

Another argument for retaining the original finish on a piece would be if it is a piece of historical significance. Any item that has a documented history should be kept in its original condition if at all possible. Even if the piece is damaged, restoring the damage usually will not increase the value.

Birdseye Maple Mantel -  circa 1890 from the Bruner house in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Birdseye Maple Mantel – circa 1890 from the Bruner house in Little Rock, Arkansas.

We would also not recommend painting rare and exotic woods such as birdseye maple, curly pine and burl walnut, to name a few. The grain patterns of these woods are exquisite and rare. Covering them with paint, in our opinion, is a crime. We recently rescued a mantel that was covered with several layers of white paint. We decided to strip the paint from this mantel and were so glad that we did. What we discovered is that the wood beneath all that paint was birdseye maple. This discovery drastically increased the value of this historical piece. We were also thrilled to be able to uncover and expose the natural beauty of this rare wood.

An argument in favor of paint is if your antique piece is one that you will keep and use in your home and retaining the value is not a concern. The finish may become more of an issue of personal style and coordinating your treasure with your homes décor. If the original finish does not fit the color or style of your room, painting can be a viable option. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and, while the worn finish and imperfections of an antique piece might be prized by some, others might see it as an eyesore. While some collectors and purist would argue that it is never ok to paint an antique, the bottom line is that if you are the owner and the one living with the piece, you need to be happy with it. A nice coat of paint can give a needed face lift to a weathered door or add interest to a time worn dining room table.

Written By: Lisa Jones


If you are considering painting your antique piece, we recommend looking at the Annie Sloan Chalk Paint®. This paint is easy to work with and requires little to no surface preparation. It can be used on just about any surface so its use is not limited to wood items. Various techniques can be used with the Chalk Paint® that will give your piece an old or antique look… or bring out the natural wood grain. This paint is available from our friend Teresa at Vintage West. If you are within driving distance of Cullman, Alabama, we highly recommend checking out Teresa’s Chalk Paint® classes!

Another product that we highly recommend for stained or natural wood pieces is Briwax. Briwax is a unique blend of beeswax and carnauba wax that naturally cleans, stains, and polishes. It is available in clear and nine wood tones from Southern Accents. We do not recommend using oils. Oil can soak into the open grain of wood and over a period of time can turn it black. Natural wax however will help restore the finish and is preferred by collectors and most craftsmen.

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