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Furniture Block

By Miss Mustard Seed on Jun 11, 2012

You found an awesome piece of furniture on Craig’s List or at a yard sale for a great price.  You bring it home and load it into your garage, maybe adding it to the large pile of other furniture finds.  Maybe you have plans to use the piece in your home, you want to start selling pieces to earn some extra income, or you’re planning to bring it to your established retail space.  Days pass…then weeks.  You’re stumped.  You’re not sure what color to paint it or what style to finish it in.  Should you distress it?  What kind of paint should you use?  Should you test out a new technique you’ve been wanting to try?  You have “furniture block.”

 …and you’re not alone.

I get asked this kind of question a lot and was recently asked something along these lines by one of my readers through my Facebook page, so I thought it was time to write a post about it.

Do you love it?

First of all, there are some pieces that I get totally stuck on.  I have no idea how I want to paint it and I don’t have a “vision” at all.  Most of the time, those pieces end up back at the thrift store, because I don’t want to spend a bunch of time and energy on a piece of furniture I don’t really love.  I’ve become much more careful about only buying pieces I have a vision for and this has saved me a lot of money and unnecessary donation runs to the thrift store.  When I first started my business, though, things were incredibly tight, so I had to work with whatever I could afford and that was usually pieces given to me, found for free, or purchased for less than $20.  I can be a bit more picky now and don’t have furniture block as often.  So, the first thing to ask yourself if you’re stuck is, “Do I really love this piece and have a clear vision for it?”  If the answer is no, perhaps you should cut your losses and get a different piece.  If that’s not possible, try to look for a way you can disguise what you don’t like about the piece.  Sometimes a bright color can distract from a design flaw.  Sometimes a painted pattern can mask damaged areas.


What works with the style of furniture?

Painting furniture is different than a lot of other art forms.  When you’re writing, you have a blank piece of paper.  When you’re painting, you have a blank canvas.  When you’re working on a piece of furniture, you already have a defined style you have to work with.  That doesn’t mean you have to paint a piece of traditional furniture in a traditional way.  My friend Barb Blair is a pro at that.  She’ll take a very traditional piece and give it a quirky modern look.  It can be challenging to do that well,though,  so it looks stylish and not just strange.  Is the piece curvy and feminine?  Is it chunky and bold?  Rustic or formal?  The way you paint the piece, should compliment the style.  For example, a Queen Anne dining set is never going to look like a rustic farm table.  It doesn’t matter how you paint and refinish it.  I have found finished pieces look best when you work with what’s already going on.



How will this piece be used? 

If you’re working on this piece to sell, you might not know, but you can guess.  Is the size and style of the piece something that would likely be used in a kid’s room, master bedroom, living room?  I always try to imagine what kind of room the piece might work in and then paint it in a way that will make sense for that space.

Look for inspiration…

This is sort of an obvious tip, but it’s a great way to break the block.  I do like to look at other pieces of furniture to get ideas, but I mostly look for trends in other areas of design like fashion, home decor, antiques that are popular, etc.  I’m also always on the lookout for beautiful color combinations.  There’s an amazing door in the mini series Little Dorrit and I’m going to use those colors on a piece of furniture as soon as I find the right one.  Keep a notebook or snap a picture when you see something that inspires you.



 What is YOUR style?

Ultimately, the choices you make about the piece are what make it yours.  It’s what sets it apart from all of the other pieces of furniture out there.  The colors, knobs, finishes, techniques and the combination of all of these will make your piece stand out or get lost in the crowd.  For a long time, I painted pieces that I THOUGHT were what other people wanted, not pieces I would have in my own house.  Now, I paint pieces the way I would if I was going to keep them and they sell much better.  I’m also really proud of them and I feel more comfortable putting a higher price on them.

Remember…it’s only paint, so don’t be afraid to try something new or test out ideas.

Now, go tackle those pieces you’ve been stuck on!

And the winner of the Red Shed Antiques’ Giveaway is…

Mary Steward (HEYMUDDA)!  Congrats and enjoy your goodies!

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