Habitation - Trucs et conseils - Redonner une seconde vie à ses meubles

Ever wish you could wave a magic wand and make your furniture look new again? Well, with almost as little effort, you can!

Who doesn’t have a bureau, a couch or a set of chairs that are still in good shape but don’t make the grade esthetically? With a little patience and imagination, you can easily make them look like new. It’s a lot less expensive than buying new, good quality furniture. It’s also the latest trend. Our experts tell us how to do it.

Stripping and staining
Stripping a piece of furniture for restaining or repainting is a simple way to give life back to something whose shine has gone. But be careful: a good-quality finish demands care.

There are two basic kinds of strippers: oil based and water based. Oil-based strippers are highly flammable and toxic, emitting strong fumes. They must be used only in a well-ventilated area, and with a mask. Water-based strippers generally work as well but take several hours to work. They cost more, too. But whichever kind you choose when stripping furniture, you must always wear rubber gloves and safety goggles to protect yourself from splatters.

According to Réal Dionne, director-general of the Institut québécois d’ébénisterie (Quebec cabinet- making institute), the technique is really quite simple. The first step is to apply the stripper with a paint brush to the painted or varnished piece of furniture. Let the product work for the time specified by the manufacturer, then remove it using a wood or plastic scraper – never use metal. Next, clean – but do not scrub – the surface with some fine steel wool (such as Bulldog). If needed, use some paint thinner. Let it dry. If the piece needs some shoring up, this is a good time to do it. Last, paint or stain it as you wish.

Apply a stain with a paint brush, as you would paint. Once you’ve done that, and before the product dries, wipe the surface with one quick swipe, in the direction of the grain with a lint-free cloth to render the colour uniform. Allow to dry completely. Then, use a brush to apply a water- or oil-based varnish to protect the piece and make it easy to keep clean. A water-based varnish smells a lot less but takes longer to dry. Here’s a tip when applying oil-based varnish: keep the tin in warm water as you apply the varnish.

Because varnish spreads very thinly, you’ll want to apply three or four coats, allowing each one to dry thoroughly. And because applying the varnish is the most finicky part, Mr Dionne recommends testing it first on a non-visible surface, such as underneath. The stain and the varnish will raise the grain of the wood slightly, making it rough to the touch, so between coats you will have to sand lightly with very fine sandpaper (no. 400 or 600).

Paint offers many possibilities, especially when you want to gussy up tired old melamine. Francine Alepins, director of design and colour at Benjamin Moore, recommends first cleaning the surface with a product like TSP or giving it a light sanding to make the melamine more adherent. Rinse it thoroughly, allow to dry, then apply a base coat. The rest is up to your imagination. The latest trend is for imitation wood, which is easy to do with a streaking tool. Once the base coat is dry, use a roller to spread a mixture of glaze and paint, then run the streaking tool very slowly and steadily to create a wood-grain texture. This will give your piece a nice rich look.

You can also imitate cloth using a dry paint brush. Dip the tips of the bristles into some paint and gently stipple the surface – vertically or at a 45° angle like Xs – to create a fabric effect. Practise on some other surface beforehand.

Use masking tape to create various patterns. For example, tape a surface at regular intervals (or random, if you prefer) and paint the exposed portions a different colour to make stripes. You can also make checkers or other shapes and, in this case, special effects such as fabric. Another trick is to make a frame around the perimeter of the top surface of the piece of furniture with tape and create a faux fini within. Try a painting!

Experiment with textures by painting a wardrobe, for example, with a satin or velvet finish while doing the doors in a shiny finish. Once it’s done, you can enjoy the play of light on the surfaces.

Design tips
Looking for ideas? Janick Desbiens, interior designer, reveals some of his secrets on how to give your furniture a more contemporary look.

Here’s a classic effect that is always eye-catching: Stencils with themes and colours that match your décor. You can create them freehand or buy them al ready made. You can also create lovely patterns on fabric using fabric paint.

The latest fashion trend for a country look is giving your furniture an antique look. After painting them, scratch them very lightly all over with very fine sand paper. Rub a little harder in specific places, such as edges and moulding, to make them look worn.

Change the handles! This is a simple yet effective way to give new life to a piece that is still beautiful. To spice up a couch, all you have to do is add a few silky cushions and soft throws to restore its charm.

Low-cost makeover: Remove one or two drawers and replace them with shelves for holding attractive wicker baskets.

Do the doors on a wall unit or wardrobe lack originality? Replace them with frosted plexiglass, or, for a country look, with chicken wire lined with fabric.

To instantly change the look of chairs, couches and arm chairs, just cover them with beautiful new slipcovers (there are so many different kinds on the market).

Anything’s possible with a little imagination!

Upholstering a chair seat
Leave the big upholstering jobs to the specialists, unless you take a course in how to execute all the steps correctly. But small jobs are perfectly within your domain, such as changing the seats of shabby kitchen chairs. Maude Léonard of Atelier Entre-Peaux has this advice:

  • Make sure that the fabric you choose is right for the job: cloth intended for draperies or clothing will soon wear out.
  • Add about 2 1/2 in. extra to the dimensions of each seat on each side. Striped, checked and bold patterns need more material than solid or small patterns.
  • Make sure the patterns match from one chair to another.
  • To make the most out of your seat fabric, first lay down a cotton cloth, then some foam rubber, followed by a sheet of polyester before finishing with your fabric: the polyester prevents friction between the foam rubber and your fabric.
  • Always pull the fabric tight before affixing it. Fabric that is not tight enough will soon form pockets, as the weave loosens over time.

If you’d rather leave it up to the pros:

  • Look in the Yellow Pages under Upholsters, Cabinetmakers, and so on.
  • Some trade schools, as well as high schools and CEGEPs that teach these trades, offer their services at low prices.
  • CAA-Quebec members can access a list of Approved Suppliers by calling Residential services or visiting the Residential section at caaquebec.com.

By Jacqueline Simoneau
Translated by John Woolfrey