Cottage Blue Home has always specialized in up-cycled and refinished antiques. A new finish, whether it is painting out the wood to brighten up a dresser, or darkening a table top to modernize it, makes a HUGE difference in the value and appeal of antique furniture. A piece that may have otherwise only held value for antique dealers, or maybe your grandparents–or their grandparents– can appeal to a whole new generation and style with a little TLC and a lot of hard work; it is very rewarding to give new life and purpose to old pieces that have otherwise been dubbed junky or outdated. Over the last twenty odd years, and countless experiments with various products and techniques, we have developed our own particular methods to produce a lasting finish that can withstand the test of time, and a “look” that has now become synonymous with the Cottage Blue.
In the last few years with the rise of Pinterest and DIY projects, more and more people have shown interest in the process of refinishing, and customers frequently ask us how we achieve our “Cottage Blue look.” It’s so exciting to see so many people sharing in our passion, and we’d love to encourage this so we thought we’d give you a sneak
peek at what we do. This blog post will take you through each step of our process as we refinish this antique buffet.
Step 1: First off, we always start with a plan. Decide how you want your piece to look at the end of the process, and take the appropriate steps to get there. For this project, we want to paint the base of the buffet black and darken the wood top.
Step 2: Now, it’s time to check for repairs. Are all the drawers solid and working well? Do the doors open and close easily? Are the legs sturdy? Are there any dents or holes to be filled? Luckily for us, this buffet was in good shape and we didn’t have many repairs to do. Once you have addressed these issues, you’re ready to start working on the finish of your piece!
Step 3: Next we remove the hardware from the drawers and doors. Usually, we only remove the handles and knobs and leave the doors hinged; it tends to be easier to work on the doors while they’re still attached than it is to grapple with the antique hinges! It’s a good idea to take the drawers out of the piece at this point, so they don’t get stuck once you’ve taken the handles off (it sounds like common sense, but it’s easy to forget these little details that will make your life a lot easier!). At this point, we decide whether or not we want to keep the originals handles and knobs for the piece, or switch them out. In this case, the original knobs and drop pulls on the buffet are quite classic, and will work nicely with the new finish so we have to be very careful not to damage them or lose them while we’re taking them off of the buffet.
Step 4: Finally, it’s time to get messy—start sanding! We want the base of the buffet to be black, so we have to prep it for painting. To do this, we use 120 grit sand paper on the palm sander, and sand the piece until all of the shine from the previous finish is gone. Paint will not stick to gloss, so it is very important that all of the shine is removed or the paint will just peel off. We have to pay special attention to the tricky areas. On this piece, “tricky areas” include the mouldings on the doors, and the turned legs. We often need to sand these areas by hand (without the palm sander) to make sure you get into all the nooks and crannies.
Step 5: Now that we’ve prepped the base for painting, we have to strip the top down to the original wood so that we can stain it a darker colour (we aren’t huge fans of the original red wood!). To do this, we start with 80 grit paper on the belt sander.
This part can be particularly difficult; it is important to hold the belt sander even and level or you will make unwanted dents and grooves in the wood. This requires a fair amount of strength (in terms of your upper body strength as well as your patience!). The 80 grit paper on the belt sander removes most of the red varnish from the top of the piece, but the heavy grit leaves lines in the wood. So we have to follow up with lighter grits until the top is smooth. First with 120 grit on the belt sander to take away any grooves or lines that you made in the first round. Then you follow with 80 grit on the palm sander to smooth the wood, and finally 120 to open the grain of the wood so that it will absorb stain nicely.
Step 6: Stain takes a lot longer to dry than paint does, so we put the stain on next. We chose Jacobean stain to give the dark wood a nice, warm tone (seen below).
First we apply the stain with a brush, evenly with the grain. It’s best to reach from one end to the other in one stroke so that we don’t leave marks in the middle where the brush ran out of stain. Once we have brushed the stain onto the top of the buffet, we take a clean rag and wipe of the excess; if there is too much stain left on the wood it won’t try properly and instead will become gummy and sticky.
Step 7: While the stain dries, we will prime the bottom of the piece. Because we are painting the buffet a dark colour, we will use a primer from Home Hardware that we had tinted a dark grey. The primer ensures that none of the red tones from the wood bleed through the paint, and gives the paint a little extra hold so that we can be 100% sure that it won’t peel or scratch off. We tape off the top of the piece to make sure we don’t get any primer or paint on the top that we just painstakingly sanded down to wood, and then use a brush and small roller to prime the rest of the piece. It is important to use a light touch when priming; any lines we make with the prim
er will show in the paint as well.
Step 8: Once the primer is completely dry (to be safe, we will give it at least an hour to dry) we can start painting! Using a brush for the edging and details, and a roller to create a smooth finish we will apply Latex eggshell paint to the bottom of the buffet. This will take at least two coats, sometimes three to get a perfectly even finish. We have to keep our eyes open for drips, especially on the turned legs and details of the mouldings, they’re easy to miss but look awful if we don’t catch them and take a long time to sand down once they’ve dried.
Step 9: We have to let the paint dry completely, or it will start to peel before long. Once it has dried, we take 220 grit sand paper and use it to distress the edges of the piece. This means we sand back some of the paint and let the wood show through. This might seem counterproductive, but distressing the edges highlights the intricate details of the piece and gives the buffet a little more character! For this piece we will keep the distressing minimal, we’ll only sand down to wood a little bit on the edges and mouldings where the piece would be most likely to naturally experience wear and tear. This maintains the “antique” look of the piece in a natural way.
Step 10: Once we are satisfied with the look of the distressing, we take 220 grit sand paper and a sanding sponge and lightly sand the whole bottom of the buffet (everything we painted). We want to remove an burrs or bumps in the paint, and make it as smooth to touch as possible. It is very important to sand the entire piece evenly, or it will look patchy when it is finished. Don’t sand too hard; the goal is not to take any more paint off, but rather to make it smooth and even. This will turn the black paint grey, but don’t worry! We then dust the piece off to get ready for waxing.
Step 11: Next we apply furniture wax to the now painted base of the buffet with a clean rag. This buffet is black, so we choose a darker wax to bring a warm tone to the wood that shows through in the distressing. We have to apply the wax very evenly (this is especially important over black paint) or it will come out patchy.
The wax provides a bit of a shine, and protects the paint so we really want it to be evenly coated everywhere. We have to be very careful around the mouldings so as not to leave any unwanted chunks of wax. Not only to those look awful, but they won’t fully dry so your clothes will forever be at risk! The wax hardens as it dries (this will take roughly 30min), then we can polish it. With a clean rag we buff the piece vigorously until we achieve an even shine over the whole piece.
Step 12: By now, hopefully the stain is dry on the top of the buffet (sometimes the piece will have to rest overnight before the stain is completely try to touch). If it is, we can clear coat the top. In this case, we chose use Minwax Polyacrylic clear coat (satin finish) on the top of the buffet for two reasons. Firstly, the top of a buffet is likely to get a lot of use in a dining room or kitchen, and the clear coat creates a hard protective finish. Secondly, it creates more shine than the wax does, producing a more modern look; this helps to update the antique buffet. Alternatively, we could have chosen to wax the top the same way we did with the bottom. With a foam brush, we apply at least three coats even across the top of the piece (letting it dry fully between each coat). We typically have to examine the top from several different angles to make sure that we have evenly coated the entire top, creating a uniform sheen everywhere. Then we take 220 grit sand paper and a sanding sponge and lightly sand the whole top to remove any burrs or imperfections, leaving it smooth, dust it off and carefully apply one last coat of polyacrylic with the foam brush.
Step 13: Now it’s just time for the finishing touches! We reapply all the hardware (being very careful not to chip or scratch the paint, as it takes roughly 30 days for paint to cure entirely), put the drawers back in, and attach closures to the doors.
And for the fourteenth, and final step: Step back, and admire your work!
As you can tell, finishing furniture can be a time consuming and meticulous process; but the results make it worthwhile! This buffet was relatively straight forward to refinish, but each antique is a unique piece, with unique challenges and that’s what makes it fun. It’s amazing what a little TLC and a lot of elbow grease can do!