Adding Modern Character to an Old Table

Here is an easy way to fill an empty space in your home with a modern looking accent with antique character. This is a simple project that will be easy to complete but not hard on your wallet.

Step 1: The problem

Walking through an antique shop I often see a piece of furniture I like but I could never add to the furniture I already own. Usually the problem is mixing older looking furnishings with the more modern elements of my home. I’ll really like the solid construction of a piece with hand carved wood and the attention to detail that give the item personality but worry about making my living room into my grandparent’s. Here is a way to blend an unusual antique into your existing motif without sending your home into a time warp.

Step 2: Finding the Right Piece

You want to add value to the piece you choose not subtract it. If you buy an antique at auction or in a high end shop you would be looking to preserve or restore the item. We are trying to modernize so you don’t want to buy King Henry the Throne. I like Past and Present Treasures right across the bridge from Downtown Fredericksburg (411 Chatham Square, Fredericksburg, VA 22405). The inventory changes pretty rapidly so if you don’t find what you’re looking for on your 1st run through check back in. I saw a small table with an interesting shape and some nice hand carved designs along the face. It was a dark color and was teetering on the edge of grandmotherly. I decided to buy it for $30 because I knew I could modernize it with the right color choice.



Step 3: Choosing the Perfect Color

Start by deciding where the piece will go. I wanted to have a medium size table to put a lamp on in my den to add light to a darker corner of the room. The room is terra-cotta so I needed to keep that in mind while choosing a color. I chose a soft red color because I knew this would really create a dramatic effect. When choosing a color to make something odd look new try to stick to colors that will pop. Black and white will work if you are on the timid side but a tropical blue, clay red, ruby green can completely transform the dark wood of an odder piece. I decided to buy 1 pint of clay red paint with primer mixed in for easy coverage, this should run you no more than $15 depending on the brand.

A few words on selecting red; red pigment is the most expensive pigment. If you ever buy paint at a craft store look at the prices of the red paint verses all other colors, it is almost always the most expensive. It takes more paint to cover a surface with red paint verses other colors so keep that in mind if choose a red color. If you are shopping online and look at the price of a red table verses that same table in blue or white the red table is usually more expensive also. The price of the pigment may play a factor here but I think a red piece of furniture in a show room or online tend to draw our attention and so may sell higher.

Step 4: Prep the Wood

Don’t bother cleaning the furniture 1st, lay down a drop cloths and lightly sand all wood surfaces you intend to paint. Remove the handles from the drawers. Decide if the inside will be painted also. Clean the piece after sanding and let dry.

Step 5: Painting

Follow the wood grain as you paint. Make sure you are keeping just a small amount of paint on your brush. If you see drips your brush is too saturated. Start with a very thin coat of paint. You want to stop painting before you lose the texture of the wood beneath; you are modernizing the piece but trying not to lose any of its personality. Always start painting on the back and work to the front. Once you start don’t stop until the entire coat is completed or you run the risk of paint lines.

Step 6: Knowing When to Stop and How to Finish

If you have added more than two coats of paint you have lost the wood grain. You may not see the wood’s texture until after each coat dries so take a break between coats. If you are painting the inside of a drawer keep the drawer open to dry.

If you plan to set a drink on piece or serve food on it I’d add a clear finish after the paint is completely dry. Wait 24 hours before adding a clear finish on top. Ask the associate at your local paint store for a finish that will be washable. Add finish by following the direction of the wood grain just as before.

Does your piece have knobs or handles? Does the odd style of the handles add to the pieces character or do they need to be updated? If there are no handles would adding handles help modernize the piece? This is the cheapest and easiest way to make something odd look new. Stainless steel or brushed nickel is always a good idea. New handles will run between $1 and $5 at your local hardware store. If you like the handles do what I did and polish them up.

If you have painted a drawer with paint or clear finish let dry for 24 hours before closing. Once everything is dry you’re done.

finished table