3 Brilliant Furniture Makeover Hacks You Need to Know (and 2 You Should Skip)

updated Apr 29, 2022
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Credit: Cat Meschia

Are you eyeing your first-ever furniture flip project, but feeling intimidated about the process and wondering where to start? Make your way through our starter pack. This content was created independently by our editorial team and generously underwritten by the Toyota Corolla Cross.

At face value, the concept of flipping furniture sounds easy enough. You find free or inexpensive furniture and fix it up so that it looks new, or at least like it belongs in the modern age. But it’s a process that involves a lot of ingenuity — and also a lot of trial and error. Sometimes you just don’t know if a technique is going to work out until you try it.

Fortunately, the DIY community is a generous one that likes to share information across multiple platforms. Whether through a TikTok video, a YouTube tutorial, or an in-depth blog post, intrepid DIYers and furniture flippers offer a treasure trove of hacks to help guide you through a successful makeover. 

Take Lindsey Manning, owner of Repurpose and Upcycle, for example. She has conducted various DIY experiments, such as testing out paint stripping methods with traditional products and unconventional ones, and published the results on her blog. “Removing paint from wood is normally a very arduous task,” says Manning. “I thought it would be fun to experiment with a few different methods to strip paint and see which works best.” Denise Zdziennicki from Salvaged Inspirations had a similar sentiment when she tested out various homemade chalky finish paint recipes and published the pros and cons of each for her readers. After spending $45 and a half-day drive on a quart of brand name chalky finish paint, she was determined to find a cost-efficient alternative.

While it’s surely helpful to see how successful a specific technique turns out to be, it can also be useful to see when one goes awry. Just ask Ashley McLeod, an interior designer who runs the blog Wildfire Interiors and published a post dedicated entirely to her DIY chalky finish paint fail. “The good thing about my chalk paint is that it dried really quickly. The bad thing about my chalk paint is that it looked horrible,” she says. What she thought was going to be a quick project she could finish during her children’s nap time turned into a three-week misadventure in fixing the original homemade paint job. 

From simple makeovers, such as painting and adding new hardware, to more complicated jobs, like stripping wood stain or reupholstering fabric, learning from those who’ve come before certainly saves a novice furniture flipper from having to play the guessing game. Here, read through three of-the-moment furniture makeover hacks you definitely need to know about, as well as two that are best to skip. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Need to Know: Using Oven Cleaner to Remove Paint

Out of the four products Manning tested for stripping paint (Citistrip, oven cleaner, vinegar, and a heat gun), she was surprised to discover that Easy-Off oven cleaner worked the best. After spraying a liberal amount onto the painted surface and letting it sit for an hour, she used a wet sponge to wipe the paint away easily.

“I didn’t even have to use mineral spirits or TSP to clean the surface,” she says. “I couldn’t believe my eyes!” However, she cautions, “No product is 100-percent successful all the time and on all surfaces.” After attempting to strip wood stain from a large buffet, this time the oven cleaner only worked to remove the top glossy layer but did nothing to remove the dark stain underneath it. Manning said this is why Citristrip is still her go-to stripping product, because “it works on all different types of surfaces and materials.”

The main takeaway? When it works, oven cleaner can be a very effective stripping agent, but it doesn’t always succeed. Still, for $4 or $5 a can, it might be worth a try.

Note: For safety, make sure you do this project outside in a well-ventilated area, and wear a mask.

Credit: Cat Meschia

Skip: Using Vinegar to Remove Paint

While oven cleaner was clutch for removing paint, Manning had less-than-stellar results using white distilled vinegar. “If it did strip the surface at all, it was very, very minimal,” she says. She started by heating a bowl of it in the microwave for 30 seconds and liberally applying it over the painted surface with a paper towel. After waiting 15 minutes, she used a plastic scraper to remove the paint — but only a small patch where the vinegar had puddled came up. While vinegar might be a useful (and nontoxic) product for removing small paint drips or splatters, Manning says she would not recommend it to remove paint off an entire piece of furniture.

Credit: Kathleen Finlay/Getty Images

Need to Know: Using Plaster of Paris to Make Chalky Finish Paint

Zdziennicki experimented with four separate products to make her own chalky finish paint: baking soda, non-sanded grout, Plaster of Paris, and calcium carbonate. Though she awarded the latter her first choice, she did note it was difficult to find and more expensive than the other items. “Out of all four recipes, calcium carbonate is the least economical,” she says.

Not all folks have found success with it, either, as McLeod can certainly attest (though she used a 3:1 ratio of paint to calcium carbonate versus Zdziennicki’s 2:1 ratio). To be on the safe side, we’re recommending Zdziennicki’s second prize winner for best homemade chalky finish paint: Plaster of Paris. She mixed three parts paint to one part Plaster of Paris, and found “it was silky smooth and applied just as nicely as brand name [chalky finish paint].” With a large box that only costs $6, it’s also more affordable than calcium carbonate.

Credit: ungvar/shutterstock

Skip: Using Non-Sanded Grout to Make Chalky Finish Paint

When Zdziennicki initially applied a chalky finish paint recipe consisting of 1 cup of paint and 2 tablespoons of non-sanded grout (and enough water to dissolve the grout), the results were promising. “It dried fast, and the finish was just as ‘chalky’ as the store-bought,” she says. But as she continued to apply her first coat of paint, it started to thicken up… a lot. She had to keep adding water and mixing it because it was too thick. By the next day, “it had really congealed,” she recalls. “It turned more like thick icing than paint.” In addition, she notes it had a really weird smell. The verdict? Hard pass.   

Credit: Virrage Images/Shutterstock

Need to Know: Using Joint Compound to “Age” New Wood

What’s old is new in terms of today’s insatiable demand for all things salvaged or restored in the home design realm. Perhaps one of the most sought-after items is weathered wood. With its rustic texture, it brings a certain character and history to a space, but it can be difficult to source. That’s why Manning figured out a way to give new wood the look of “aged” wood using joint compound

She started by staining the wood and letting it dry, and then used a putty knife to apply a large amount of joint compound in the direction of the wood grain. She finished up by “raking” most of the joint compound off the wood and wiping down the surface with a paper towel. The result was a whitewashed effect that made new wood look like it had been bleached by the sun over time.