Furniture DIY: Turning Hand-Me-Downs into Pieces You Love

by Jess ViceJune 1, 2018

When you buy a new home or move, family and friends seem to see it as an opportunity to offload their old furniture onto you, the new homeowner. “Oh! I have a table you need!” or “Take my old couch!” are common congratulations. Sometimes it’s easy to say, “Thanks, but that’s not really my style.” Other times, a piece of furniture makes its way into your home that you kind of like, but kind of aren’t sure about, but you can’t really justify getting rid of it.

Here are three weekend projects you can tackle to update or makeover that one piece of new-to-you furniture you just can’t part with.

photo by Linh Pham on Unsplash

Spray or Paint

If the piece is wood, lacquer, metal, or plastic, the quickest solution is to change its color. I have a scratched up, red metal IKEA cabinet that doesn’t know it yet, but is going to be matte black later this year.

Start with a quick sanding job. With wood, you want to remove any varnish or clear coat that’s left on the furniture to expose the raw wood enough that it will soak up the new color. With metal, you can go as deep as you want (and sometimes just the raw metal turns out really nice with a clear coat sealant!). With plastic and lacquer, you want to use a super-fine grain sandpaper and rough it up evenly enough that it will take color without ruining the surface integrity.

If you’re spray painting, just remember to maintain a consistent distance from the surface and move in smooth, even strokes. If you’re painting, you might consider a small, fine roller instead of a brush to avoid bristle marks on the finished surface. But you can always smooth things over with a clear coat if rolling isn’t practical.

photo by Amy Velazquez on Unsplash


Reupholstering furniture isn’t quite as terrifying as it sounds. Newer furniture in particular is put together a little more loosely with staples or brads, which come out quickly and are easy to re-do. Antique furniture may require an expert’s help if it’s very curvy or intricate.

First figure out how your chair or bench or sofa is put together and unmake it in your mind. Are you pulling staples? You’ll need a flat-head screwdriver, a staple gun (the forward-action guns are best for tight spaces and accuracy), maybe a hot glue gun, sturdy fabric scissors, and a hammer.

Measure out your fabric – I always err on the generous side. Sometimes, it’s as simple as pulling the cover off one piece and tacking new fabric in place. But the bigger jobs can require a little more patience. Be prepared to nip and tuck and staple for a bit until things are even and smooth. A good tactic for reupholstering on your own is to segment the piece out into sections: left arm, right arm, back, bottom frame, main cushion, footstool. That way you can cut your fabric into sections and work on one piece at a time – it’s the old parable of eating an elephant one bite at a time.

Another way to reupholster quickly, on a weekend, is to remake the cushions instead of the entire piece of furniture. Throw pillows are easy to piece together, and a new fabric pattern can brighten up an old piece in a few short hours.

Mix ‘n Match

This project is great for odd side tables, kitchen tables, wooden chairs, bookshelves, and more. Keep your favorite section of the furniture – table top, chair frame, shelves – and swap in pieces you like more – legs, seat material, brackets.

photo by Kelly Miller on Unsplash

A fairly easy project is removing table legs and replacing them with something more modern. An old wooden table can take on a fresh new life with a set of metal hairpin legs. An upholstered kitchen chair can become home to a favorite painting (canvas is fabric, right? Just add a couple coats of ScotchGard) or a woven rope seat. Tired of that tall, dark bookshelf? Pull the shelves out, repaint or stain them, and pick some simple brackets from your local home improvement store to make them floating shelves on the same wall.

photo by Dane Deaner on Unsplash

Take a Gamble

The fact is, with hand-me-down furniture, you don’t have much to lose. You didn’t pay much or anything for the piece. You’re not super attached to it. You can chalk it up to a learning experience if it just goes terribly wrong. And in the end, you might have a new-to-you piece that’s completely unique and much more suited to your new space.

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About The Author
Jess Vice
Jess is a user experience strategist by day and a writer by night. Jess loves making a space feel unique and welcoming through DIY renovations, cooking Southern soul food, and hosting dance parties. She and her Schnoodle Puck spend most of their free time playing in the great outdoors in Utah.