You may have heard the phrase (or something like it) about how “paint is the most inexpensive way to transform a space.” I’ll bet I’ve seen it mentioned at least a hundred times, in magazine articles and TV home makeover shows. And it’s true—if you can paint or have a go-to painter that does good work, it’s a great way to re-do a room or two or a whole house and give the space(s) a new feel without having to change furniture or break the bank. A few new (or used!) throw pillows and some new (or used!) art on the walls and it can feel like a whole new space.
But what about transforming “stuff”? Ever been to a garage sale and seen a great piece of furniture or lamp or other item and thought, ‘if only it were a different color’…? Or, ‘it’s so stained, if only I could refinished it’? That thought has made me quit considering a piece—I just don’t have the time, or want to make the time, for refinishing, as I know how long it takes to lovingly do it right. Stripping, sanding, numerous coats of various substances…not my cup of tea. And some items aren’t great candidates for traditional refinishing anyway. But luckily over the years I’ve discovered two no-brainer ways to refinish/repaint stuff that require pretty much ZERO prep (other than wiping dust off) and the craft skills of a preschooler: Using Chalk Paint® or spray paint.
First, let’s talk about spray paint. There are so many great colors these days—and you can get those myriad colors in gloss, flat, indoor, outdoor, etc. just like wall paint; “glitter”, fluorescent, metallic, “natural stain”, “marble effect”, “hammered metal”– even paint that makes something look like it was made out of stone or covered in pebbles. And even though the can’s directions may say to “lightly sand glossy surfaces” before painting, I rarely do much, if any, and it’s still a success.
Case in point: A pair of retro-looking metal, rounded-back lawn chairs we bought new many years ago, one white, and one a sort of “cornflower” blue. One day I wanted both of them to be white, so I bought a can of white Rust-Oleum® spray paint at the hardware store, specifically formulated for outdoor stuff. Even though my husband told me I’d better sand them first, I did not. I remembered somebody telling me they had luck with the no-sanding method, so I decided to try “the smooth way.” I cleaned and dried the blue chair, placed it on a lot of newspapers in the driveway on a day when it wasn’t too windy, and sprayed it all white. Took me less than 30 minutes. The chair remained white for as long as we owned it (more than a decade), only needing touching up in a few spots once in a while. And I did the same for several faded, grayish, “lattice metal” outdoor chairs, also vintage, that we were given when my mother-in-law moved out of her home—I sprayed them a nice forest green. And then bought a table to match. All these chairs sat outside for more than a decade, baking in the hot Texas sun as well as being pummeled by rain, hail and even some snow, and did fine.
Another case in point: One of my daughters found a set of Ikea “VITTSJÖ” rectangular, metal, nesting coffee tables on Facebook Marketplace, with glass tops, for her first apartment, only they weren’t the color she’d been looking for. They were black/brown, and she wanted gold. So, she used gold metallic spray paint (glass removed while spraying) to change their color and bought some glossy, marble print, self-adhesive, repositionable Con-Tact® Brand paper with which she covered the main table’s low shelf (any paper folds or tucks were nicely covered by the shelf’s metal frame when it was all put back together) and easily transformed it into “the perfect piece”. She did do some light sanding of the metal with a piece of fine-grade sandpaper before spraying but did not spend much time doing it.
True, there are some surfaces to which spray paint won’t stick without sanding, but I have yet to find that surface. It can re-do so many things, with great results. And spray paint can reach so many nooks and crannies.
So next, let’s talk about Chalk Paint®. Not chalkboard paint, that paint that creates a black “writing” surface on walls, jars, etc.—but chalk paint. Up until about five years ago I had never heard of it before, until a friend posted photos on Facebook of a side table she’d transformed with Annie Sloan® Chalk Paint®. Sloan is a British designer and author who created Chalk Paint® in 1990, out of the need to achieve decorative effects quickly. The water-based paint she came up with is thicker than regular paint, and not drippy, so it’s easier to work with– the label states that it’s “highly concentrated to produce extensive covering power.” It’s not “chalky” to the touch on surfaces; it gets its name from its ultra-matte finish. The paint can be applied to wood, glass, metal, brick and laminate, left to dry, and then waxed with a small buffing “sponge” (or lacquered, for outdoor use). It’s good for a lot of different paint techniques, like “dry brushing” and “antiquing.” And the prep directions? Pretty much just like my chosen spray paint method—just clean off what you’re going to paint, and start painting. Right on top of whatever paint or surface is there. Be still my “no-fuss crafting” heart! When my friend told me more about her experience with it, I couldn’t wait to try. Who knew I’d decide to “go for it” in a “big” way when, after we moved to our current house in 2017 (that needed updating), I’m standing next to our painter looking at a big built-in desk/shelving/cabinet conglomeration that covered an entire wall in one of the bedrooms, shaking my head at its very dated, oak wood and matching wood wainscoting on the walls, and he explains how long it’s going to take him to paint all that wood grain white, with all the sanding that’s going to be needed. This after many other projects had already been done in the house, with dust and drop cloths and ladders everywhere. I just wanted everything to be done, as soon as possible. A lightbulb went on in my head: “What about Chalk Paint®?” I said. He’d never heard of it, but was willing to try.
Yes, “real” Chalk Paint® (there are knock-offs out there, referred to as “chalk-style paint”) is more expensive than average latex paint, so the paint part did end up costing us more, but the time saved and the labor costs saved were worth it. Two coats of the Pure White Chalk Paint® completely covered it all (of course, Pure White is the only color in the line that needs two coats!!)—but no sanding was needed, no primer needed, just light buffing with Chalk Paint Wax® afterwards, which we did ourselves. After taking off the old brass cabinet handles and drawer pulls and replacing them with some new, matte gold ones, the transformation was complete (look for before and after photos coming up on Instagram @untrashdotblog).
So, if you are a no-fuss crafter like me or even a non-crafty person, I think you CAN do either of these painting methods (truly they are no-brainers!!) and stop passing up “the perfect piece” just because it’s the wrong color or finish, or you can easily transform something you already own that you are thinking of throwing away or giving away. Hint: If you really think you’d ruin anything you touched, just try painting something small, maybe an item that didn’t cost you a lot or something that you don’t care if you mess up. I think you will be amazed.
P.S. There are tons of videos online that can help.
Please share any success or failure stories with refinishing something, and let me know if you’ve tried any of the Chalk Paint® knock-offs or have tried any other no-brainer ways to refinish/repaint something!