Update Your Vintage Furniture

Design concept for Chicago dining room
Antique furniture repainted
Vintage display cabinet transformed with chalky gray paint

Transforming Old Furniture into New

There are so many reasons to reuse and repurpose old vintage furniture.  You may have inherited an heirloom piece but the style is so old fashioned that it looks like it has come from your grandmothers house.  Maybe it has!

  • You may have personal memories that the piece of furniture evokes, such as the display cabinet featured here, a client’s heirloom from her mother.
  • Being environmentally conscious, you may wish to keep a cabinet or chest rather than contribute to the world’s deforestation or add to your carbon footprint by buying new.
  • Maybe you don’t want to have to wait for new furniture due to the long lead times.

It can seem so wasteful to discard a well made piece of furniture just because of the way it looks.  I hear this a lot from my clients and love helping them figure out how to bring their furniture up to date.

Often old vintage pieces are made with solid wood, dovetail drawers and mortise and tenon joinery as well as solid wood backs.  The quality of construction is often so much better than what factories make now and for half the price!

They have history and charm but how do you make them fit a more modern style? How do your persuade your children that they are worth keeping? Read on!

Consider the Style of your Room

The Dining room pictured above was originally furnished with a modern table and chairs but the display cabinet did not fit the style with a heavy dark mahogany wood stain and Victorian decorative details. We wanted to refresh and make the room feel brighter.  Adding grass cloth to the walls, repainting in a soft shade of taupe and adding a new rug changed the feeling of the room to one more Scandinavian in style.  Painting the display cabinet with a chalky gray finish with a contrasting dark blue interior transformed it. We mixed in some mid century modern chairs and suddenly the room looked different and more up to date despite the traditional style of the cabinet.  Painting the display cabinet alone would not have worked without making those other changes.


vintage display cabinet before picture
The display cabinet before restyling

Consider the Finish as well as the Color of your Paint

If you know the style of your room, then make sure the finish and hardware on your vintage piece coordinates with that.

Chalky flat finishes, like the one used above, work best for bohemian or country styles and were a signature of the Scandinavian Gustavian style

If you are going more modern and sleek with contemporary styling then consider a lacquered finish in a more muted neutral color.  A lacquered finish is a high gloss finish which needs to be sprayed on in order to give a flawless piano finish.  To have this professionally done is typically more expensive, as there is lot more prep. work required.


Old cabinet repainted to look modern
A lacquered high gloss paint finish in a modern neutral color transformed this buffet cabinet
Painted old cabinet like new
New modern acrylic pulls were added to complete the modernization of this piece


Original old dining room buffet
The original buffet had a distressed painted finish which did not work well with the contemporary style of the room

In order to make the design transformation of this room, we needed to change the wall color, drapes and dining chairs.  But we were able to keep the table, the beautiful hand woven rug and the buffet cabinet by repainting it and adding new hardware without compromising our objectives.

Old style dining room
The original style of the dining room before new design


Modern dining room with striped fabric chairs
The walls and trim are now an ivory tone with a textured grass cloth above the wainscot. A fabric with a horizonal stripe adds to the rhythm around the circular table and picks up the colors in the rug.

Using Fabric Instead of Paint to Update your Vintage Furniture

Paint is not the only tool in our design toolbox.  You can use wallpaper or fabric to lend new life to a dated piece of furniture

In this dining room, two large display cabinets faced off against each other across the dining table.  One had a mirrored back and glass shelves as they did in those days.  Although my client had beautiful china and glass to display, there was so much reflection from the mirror and glass that the cabinet looked cluttered and old fashioned:



Dining room Display Cabinet
Display cabinet with mirror and glass shelves before fabric applied to back

We upholstered the mirrored back with a stunning fabric which has a large scenic pattern, creating a great backdrop for my clients collection of china and glass.

Dining room display cabinet with fabric back
The fabric has given the cabinet a whole new look which feels fresh and updated in keeping with the new design for the room we created
Dining room makeover with antique display cabinet
We repainted the room and added a light colored rug with new white plaster chandelier.

Dining Room Updates

Many dining rooms look heavy and oppressive due to the number of wood pieces that dining rooms typically have, such as display cabinets, buffet, dining table and wood backed chairs.  The effect of all that dark brown wood looks outdated but you don’t need to discard your brown wood furniture if you can transform it into something that looks new and fresh.

In fact you may want to go out and buy old unwanted brown furniture which is plentiful and cheap so that you can transform it with fabric, paint or wallpaper and new hardware.

We will be happy to help you transform your room!

Design concept for Chicago dining room
Fabric and rug selections for the new dining room design, shown with my client’s china