Over the last several years, I have found or thrifted about a hundred pieces of furniture to refinish. At first, I picked up just about any piece of furniture I could find to experiment with different techniques, paints, stains, and finishes. Most of the pieces were flipped for profit and many were kept to furnish our own home. Through it all, what I learned was that choosing the RIGHT furniture to refinish was as important as the final finish. So how do you choose the RIGHT furniture?
Before you even consider picking up pre-owned furniture, think about what you plan to do with any furniture you find – since there’s no sense in bringing home furniture if it doesn’t have a purpose. Do you plan to refinish and sell it for profit or refinish it for your own home? We’ll talk a little about both here…
Choose furniture that you can move. This right size will be different for everyone. For me, working by myself, I would choose everything from small tables and chairs to large dressers, dining tables, and 2-piece hutches.
Remember, you will have to get the furniture home, move it around as you work on it, and possibly move it into a storage area while you wait for it to sell. And if you cannot move the furniture, then buyers will be hesitant to purchase for concern they will not be able to move it to their own home.
Once my husband helped me bring home a large armoire to refinish and flip. But it ended up sitting in one spot in my garage until I gave it away because I could not move it around to work on it.
Look for solid wood furniture that is well constructed so that it will not fall apart after a few years of use. Look for:
- Solid wood vs MDF
- Solid wood vs. veneer. If you choose veneer, be sure it’s over solid wood construction
- Dove tailed drawers vs. stapled
- Solid wood or plywood backing vs. cardboard
- Wood drawer rails vs metal or metal on plastic
Absolutely choose solid wood if you’d like a natural or stained wood final finish. You will be able to sand the wood back and start with a fresh slate. Most furniture made prior to 1950 was made with solid wood. Furniture makers started using article board around 1950 or 60.
This post may also be helpful: Appreciating and Identifying Solid Wood Furniture
Look for furniture with either an interesting shape or straight lines. An interesting shape may be a curved front, unique legs, or a thick pedestal base on a table. Buyers of refinished furniture tend to like unique pieces, with the exception of curved Queen Anne legs which do not re-sell well.
Mid-century-modern (MCM) furniture with it’s very straight lines sells very well. These are both vintage and modern at the same time and pair well with many other styles of furniture.
Colonial furniture with it’s chunky stature and heavy scrolls is more difficult to transform when you refinish it. I’m careful about the colonial style furniture I pick up because no matter what color you paint most of them, they still look colonial rather than furniture that fits in a modern day home.
I will pick up colonial furniture if it has straighter lines or if I can transform the shape in some way – cut off curved embellishments along the bottom edge to make them straight or fill in carved scrolls with wood filler.
Stained Not Painted
Choose stained furniture. I will no longer bring home painted furniture. First, because of the risk of it being lead paint. Lead-based paint was banned for residential use in 1978. Even if the top coat was painted in recent years, there’s a a chance there could be older, under-layers of paint that contain lead.
Second, I will not strip paint for the reason above.
And third, painting over old paint has a greater chance of resulting in an uneven finish .
I may be showing you how to find free and close-to-free furniture pieces to refinish, but that does not mean you should choose cheap furniture or skimp on quality. The whole point of this post is to help you choose quality furniture pieces that will last many, many years .
When we bought our first home, we had zero budget to spend on furnishings so I purchased some new pieces at big box discount stores that were very inexpensive.
And do you know where all of those pieces are now? I’ve given them away or they went into the trash because they did not last.
Then I learned how to refinish furniture and choose quality, solid wood pieces. I refinished them with a custom finish that fit our style and our home.
And do you know where those pieces are today? Exactly where I placed them years ago.
Why? Because they are quality, solid wood , customized pieces that I expect we will have in our home for the next 20+ years.
My point… find the RIGHT piece of furniture and you’ll spend money once. Choose the WRONG piece of furniture and you’ll spend more because you’ll end up replacing it.
If I said just those 2 lines, most people would think they had to go to Restoration Hardware, Ethan Allen, or Pottery Barn and spend thousands on a single piece of wood furniture. But, you’re following along and you know that I shop thrift stores, estate sales, and even the curb to find free and close-to-free furniture.
My goal is to spend $0 to $25 on furniture I have to refinish. I think the most I have ever spent on a piece is $50. Great furniture is available for not a lot of money.
More often than not makers of quality furniture will put their stamp on their pieces. Sligh Furniture Company, Hooker, Ethan Allen are examples of furniture I’ve brought home, opened the top drawers and found them stamped with the maker’s mark.
If you think you’ve found a piece of furniture you’d like to bring home to refinish, inspect the condition. Are there any visible damages to the wood construction and can these be easily sanded out or repaired?
Give the furniture the shake test. Does it feel solid or rickety? Are the joints and legs still solid?
Inspect the the furniture to be sure it’s free of critters.
How does it smell? Smoke smells, while not impossible to remove, are very difficult to remove from wood furniture so you may want to pass on these.
What is your vision for the furniture? How do you want it to look once it’s refinished? If you plan to re-sell it, then you can change and adjust the final look as you go. If it’s for your own home and you have a specific end result in mind, be confident the piece you buy can get you to your vision before bringing it home.
Can you reach your vision with a few small changes. Perhaps you can transform the furniture by adding legs, removing scrolls, or removing doors.
Choose stained solid wood furniture with solid construction and unique features or straight lines, that you can manage to move around as you work on it.