Paint put pizazz on old or unfinished furniture

March 20, 1994|By Ro Logrippo | Ro Logrippo,Universal Press Syndicate

Spattering, sponging and foam-stamping can be as much fun as finger painting. Decorative paint techniques are just as playful, especially on a child's furnishings.

These and other do-it-yourself touches give plain furniture pizazz. By adding a splash of color and a -- of detail, they jazz up a setting for someone young.

Detailed with paint, furniture acts as a canvas for myriad designs. If parent and child pool their decorative ideas, the result is bound to be meaningful.

Because growing up means growing into different looks, it's wise to consider furniture for a child's room that easily changes face. With a little elbow grease and a colorful new decorative finish, painted furniture assumes as spirited or sophisticated a personality as you want.

Before deciding what furniture to paint in a room, consider the age and interests of its resident. For a preschooler who likes tabletop activities, think about detailing a small table and chairs with a stencil design in his or her favorite motif. Once he or she is school age and doing homework, zero-in on a desk or a big table suitable for projects, and paint it in a color the student prefers.

For ideas about painting furniture, visit museum furniture

exhibits and folk-art stores, or study painted dollhouse furniture, kids' clothing patterns or books on Americana. And look in the library for how-to books on painted furniture finishes.

If you lack talent to do a detailed project, take on something easy. In a room devoid of bold furnishings, even one object in a solid bright color pops out from the surroundings. Painting the handles of a dresser or desk in a contrasting color is another touch that doesn't demand special skill.

Sponging and spattering are among finishes with kid appeal. Both entail free-form expression similar to finger painting. Sponging involves dabbing paint on a surface with a sea sponge. The mottled effect is magical if more than one color is applied. Spattering is just as splashy. All it takes is a flick of the wrist with a brush wet with paint. What lands on an object in front of it creates a flecked pattern as fanciful as confetti.

Foam stamps add whimsical flair on kid's furniture, too. Toy and bath stores sell high-density foam designs as tub toys, lightweight blocks or pre-cut letters and shapes. Once acrylic paint is applied, decorating furniture with foam stamps is as easy as using rubber stamps and ink pads. Clear lacquer will protect it and the wood beneath.

An unfinished furniture store is a good place to start if you want to unleash your artistry on something new. Besides chairs, desks and dressers suitable for any age person, you'll see armoires and other storage geared for an older child.

As with finished furniture, unfinished items come in varied woods. If you plan to paint a piece, the wood chosen may seem inconsequential. It isn't. Oak, for instance, has a distinct grain that shows through paint.

Recommended unfinished woods include alder, aspen and better pine. As for knotty pine, be advised. For the dark knots not to "bleed" through paint applied over them, you'll need a base coat of shellac or polyurethane as a sealer. For guidance, consult an unfinished-furniture dealer or paint store personnel. Do-it-yourselfers should also check how-to guides with step-by-step techniques for antiquing and stenciling.

An important consideration in choosing furniture to paint is also construction. Check the drawers, says Randy Buck, president of the Unfinished Furniture Association On a quality unit, he says, drawers are solid wood, not particle board made from sawdust chunks glued and compressed. Because kids tend to be hard on furniture, Mr. Buck recommends items that are solid wood overall. Be cautious of inexpensive veneers bonded to particle board. In general, he says, veneer isn't the best surface to paint because the wetness of paint may lift veneer from material to which it's bonded.

Old furniture renewed

As appealing as something new may be, it's not the only game in town. Old furniture lightly sanded can be repainted with a zippy design. In some cases, old pieces may require wood stripping.

Besides looking at home for relics worth camouflage, check secondhand shops for finds. But think twice before buying a highly detailed piece of furniture. The more intricate it is, the more time-consuming its preparation for decorative application.

There are many furnishings good for painted treatment in a child's world. They include:

* Chests and dressers: Because of their size and flat surfaces, both take large-scale design well. Simple yet striking is a combination treatment with the drawers and top painted a bold color and the sides and hardware stained.

* Cube or small parsons table: Paint a checkerboard pattern on top of either, and it turns into a child's game board.

* Desk: Paint each drawer in a different color, or decorate each knob as a sports ball, such as a soccer ball, baseball, etc.

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