Projects & Improvements

Make It Last: How to Update & Repair Vintage Wood Furniture

updated Jul 16, 2020
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(Image credit: Jessica Isaac)

We’ve all heard the phrase “they don’t make ’em like they used to,” which in my experience, cannot be more true when it comes to quality-made furniture. Dovetailed drawers or burled wood veneer seems to have been replaced by the convenience of assemble-yourself, particle-board furniture. Although these pieces are affordable, the poor construction quality makes them practically disposable. But if you get your hands on some solid wood furniture (look for these tell-tale signs), you may only need a few simple tricks to keep an outdated piece relevant.

(Image credit: Viv Yapp)

Oil it

Love the lines of a vintage wooden piece but the finish seems dry or cracked? Sometimes the easiest fix is to re-oil the wood. Think about it, you moisturize your skin when it feels dry right? Well wooden furniture needs a little pampering every now and then too.

(Image credit: Ellie Arciaga Lillstrom)

Wax it

The drawers that is. I often find old dressers have a sticky drawer or two. But the culprit is almost always the track – not the drawer. Try rubbing an old candle on the track – a coat of wax can help lubricate and reduce friction (see some more unstuck tips here). If that doesn’t work, it could be the wood expanding/ contracting in extreme temperatures. I’ve been able to get a drawer to fit by shaving the edges for a smoother fit.

(Image credit: June Bhongjan)

Strip it

Inherited a piece with a paint-job gone wrong? Stripping it back down to the wood is not as hard as you may think, especially if you use the right paint stripper and a good putty knife. I personally like CitriStrip Stripping Gel since it’s indoor-safe and has minimal fumes. Still doubting the amount of sweat-equity?

(Image credit: Reeves)

Paint it

It’s no secret that a little paint can go a long way, but using a clever paint treatment can bring a vintage piece back into this century. Try an unexpected pattern or a two-tone finish for something more trendy.

(Image credit: Carina Romano)

Patch It

What if your vintage piece is has missing or splintered veneer? Use high-performance wood filler to patch the missing section and sand/shape to match. I find that it is easiest to paint the entire piece a new color to mask the repaired sections but it is possible to hand paint the patch to match the original wood grain. See how on Style Mutt Home.

(Image credit: Cate Henderson)

Lift It

Adding legs to a low-lying vintage piece can instantly add impact, and it is surprisingly inexpensive. These online retailers have a chic selection of furniture legs, but many hardware stores carry unfinished wooden tapered legs that you can stain or paint to match your piece.

(Image credit: Cate Henderson)

Switch It

Don’t consider yourself a DIYer? Keep your vintage upgrades and repairs simple. Try switching out the knobs for an instant facelift. I’ve even changed the metal finish on hardware with a quick spritz of metallic spray paint—no need to match the pulls’ center-to-center hole dimensions if you’re just refreshing the original knobs. I challenge you to spot the difference. If you are in love with the original hardware, but it’s been gummed up by layers and layers of paint, try this trick to get it back to its former glory.

While it is often the first instinct to change the hardware on an old dresser, most don’t often think to move the hardware. Yes, you’ll have to patch and mask the old holes, but repositioning some knobs can help bring a vintage piece into the modern era.

Any one of these tips can help save a piece with good bones and spare you from lower-quality furniture from the big box store. Found a way to keep a vintage piece of your own relevant? SUBMIT YOUR BEFORE & AFTER PROJECT.