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Jocelyn, we think painting is a great idea: it's inexpensive, quick, and there are lots of possibilities. We've painted several of our own hand-me-downs white and switched out the handles to update them and help them blend in with the rest of our (more modern) decor.
Here's an example of a fresh-looking room from Maine Cottage that uses traditional painted furniture in a monochromatic color scheme to achieve a more modern look. You could also take a more colorful route, adding bright bedding or one bright piece to anchor the room. This post has a great link to instructions for painting wooden furniture. AT Readers, what are your suggestions and ideas for Jocelyn?