Tips on Restoring a Piece of Furniture

You got it home! Now, finally, you have a lovely new – to you – piece of furniture. Only it’s covered in dings, scratches, dents, ripped upholstery, weird smells, dingy finishes or it just looks old. Take a breath. This can be hard work, but restoring furniture can also be incredibly rewarding – and it’s not nearly as difficult many believe.

A bit of research, time and plenty of elbow grease are more than enough to make an old piece look like new. After all, you’ve already proven you can see the beautiful bones in this piece. Now you need to make them shine.

Establish a Plan – and a Budget

Have at least an idea of what you plan to do. If you already love the piece, you might be able to simply clean it up and replace any missing or broken parts. However, if you’re dealing with a more damaged piece, the repairs can be much more extensive.

Get an idea of what you plan to do. If you’re going to strip off paint and stain it, you can do it yourself with a pretty small budget for both time and money. If you’re going to be replacing cushions and fabric, or dealing with staining, you’ll need substantially more time and money.

Do a Little Research

Double check the piece you’re working on. Is there a name somewhere, or is it a kind of wood you’ve never seen before? If you think it might be worth something, you can always have a professional check it out. One of my dressers is made of bird’s-eye maple, but I had no idea until I got the paint off. I had someone check it out – it wasn’t worth anything – but having a friend who’s familiar with wood and antiques look at it gave me a chance to learn a lot more about the piece.

If you do this and you find out your piece really is worth a substantial amount of money, it might change your mind about what you’re planning to do. In all honesty, this is a fairly unlikely scenario. On the off chance you do get lucky, you should talk to a professional about having it restored. Find out if any restorations would hurt the value of the piece.

Have a Workspace

You simply can’t start sanding in the middle of your living room. Well, you could, but you’re going to regret it almost immediately. If you don’t have a garage or basement to work in, ask a friend who does, or rent a storage shed for a month or two. Having a place where you won’t worry about damaging electronics or never getting it clean again is a huge weight off your mind.

Equally as important to the success of your project is having the equipment to complete the project. If your equipment has been sitting in storage, perform necessary maintenance. Make sure to refresh yourself by checking out the operator's manual so you can safely operate your machinery. Besides, you need to focus on getting your restoration done well, not on keeping sawdust out of your dinner or losing a finger!

Repairs Come First

If you’re working with something that seems wobbly, is missing hardware or has physical damage, those repairs should be the first thing you fix for a couple reasons. First of all, this is the part where you’re most likely to need help. Replacing handles or sanding out a few dents is a great introduction to craftsmanship, but you might have a harder time trying to replace a table leg.

Second, this is also the place where you can accidentally spend way too much money. If you delve into a project only to find that it’s far more complicated than you originally thought, it’s best to cut your losses. Try and find out what you’re getting into ahead of time, and save yourself the grief.

Paint, Refinish or Upholster

Now that you’ve gotten all the details out of the way, all you have to do if finish it up. Whatever project you’re starting, the first steps are always the same: clean, remove the original coating and clean again. Then, it will start to vary by project. You might need to start sewing, sanding, removing rust or cutting out foam cushions.

No matter what project you’ve started, you’re well on your way to having a beautiful new piece. Go roll up your sleeves and get started!


Megan Wild is a home improvement pro and loves getting her hands dirty working on projects. You can check out examples of her projects on her blog, Your Wild Home.