Easy Ways to Give Old Furniture an Updated Look

Do you have old pieces of furniture lying around that have seen better days? Don’t throw them away just yet! In this post, we’ll explore some of the easiest ways to give old furniture an updated look, from simple DIY projects to more elaborate furniture makeovers.

A beautiful old piece of furniture, oak empire server with new hardware.

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A simple fresh coat of paint, new hardware, or a new purpose can quickly give a piece a fresh start. You can transform these outdated furniture pieces into beautiful statement pieces that bring new life to your living space.

Whether you’re a seasoned DIY-er or just starting out, these tips and tricks will help you breathe new life into old furniture and give your home a fresh new look.

Best Places to Find Old Furniture Pieces

Looking to give old furniture a new life? Check out my personal favorite sources for unique and inexpensive pieces:

  • Facebook Marketplace: a great online resource to search for furniture listings in your local area
  • Yard sales: often have unique furniture pieces at low prices
  • Garage sales: another great option for finding inexpensive furniture pieces
  • Thrift stores: Shopping at a thrift store will offer a wide range of furniture styles and prices, and may have vintage or antique pieces available.
  • Flea Markets: Possibly the easiest way to spot gorgeous antique furniture, though maybe not always the most affordable option.

By exploring these different options, you can find the perfect old furniture piece to transform through your DIY project.

Before You Get Started: Make a Plan

I’m always excited to jump into a project and sometimes do so without proper planning. But after years of doing things in the wrong order I have learned the right order to proceed. Doing things in this order prevents a lot of wasted time, effort, and supplies!

Assessing Your Old Furniture

Assessing your old furniture before starting your makeover project is crucial to ensure a successful outcome.

Consider these things before you get started: The current…

  1. Condition
  2. Design Style
  3. And the functionality of the Piece

Evaluate whether it’s worth restoring, repurposing, or just needs donating. This will help you determine the right approach and set realistic expectations for your furniture makeover.

Making Repairs is Essential to Your Success

When assessing the piece’s condition – is it in good condition or does it need some repairs? If there are scratches, dents, or cracks, make sure to repair them before moving on.

After making any repairs use sandpaper to smooth out any rough surfaces, and wipe the piece clean with a damp cloth.

How to Make simple easy repairs

Sometimes all a piece needs is to be repaired to give it a new purpose and life. Maybe you purchased it already broken. Or maybe through use joints became weak and it just needs a little help to be useful again. Here are a few ways to repair old furniture:

  1. Fabric Problems? Reupholster damaged fabric.
  2. Loose Joints? Glue, clamp, and reinforce wobbly joints with nails or screws.
  3. Limbs detached? Re-attach legs or arms that have broken off.
  4. Holes or Missing Veneer? Fill in damaged or missing veneer with Bondo wood filler.

Cleaning and Preparing Your Furniture for a Makeover

If you’re looking to update an old piece of furniture, cleaning and preparing it properly is the first step to a successful makeover.

Whether you’re repurposing an old dresser, updating an outdated bathroom vanity, or giving an old coffee table a whole new look, cleaning and preparing your furniture is an essential step to achieving the results you want.

Choosing the Right Cleaning Products

Next, choose the right cleaning products for the type of material you’re working with.

  • For Wood Furniture, use a wood cleaner or a mix of warm water and mild soap.
  • For metal or plastic, use an all-purpose cleaner.

Make sure to remove any dirt, grease, or old finish completely, and let the piece dry completely before moving on.

Cleaning a vintage chair while doing an old furniture makeover.
Cleaning old wooden furniture with wood cleaner for a makeover.

The Best Cleaning Supplies

#1 Replace or Add New Hardware

Swapping out the hardware on old furniture is an easy way to give it a new lease on life.

The right hardware can completely transform the look of a DIY project, and there are countless options available to suit any style or taste.

Whether you’re going for a modern update or a vintage look, swapping out the hardware can add the perfect finishing touch to your furniture makeover.

A drawer full of antique wooden carved golden drawer hardware.
Beautiful brass hardware on a french antique buffet mixed with old original ornate drawer pulls.

There is a pretty good chance when you purchase a piece of vintage or antique furniture it’s missing at least some of its original hardware. Or the hardware is caked in about 100 years of paint and is wooden and can’t be salvaged.

I’ve had this happen many times. Thankfully with a bit of training your eye, you will be able to pick out hardware that fits old furniture pieces or even new pieces.

Charming Vintage Hardware Options

The best part of changing out hardware on a new piece of furniture is you can give it a more modern look or keep it true to its original style with all the amazing options.

When a piece is more ornate I tend to lean more simple, when it’s simple I can go with a more ornate set. But it’s fun to experiment as well!

Vintage typewriter icon in a grey circle.

My personal favorite place to purchase hardware when a piece is missing its originals is Hobby Lobby. They are the most affordable (wait for the 40% off sale!), the best quality, and design options for a vintage look. But Amazon also has some really great choices as well.

#2 Refinish it: Restore the Wood

Refinishing a wooden finish is a great way to update old furniture and give it a fresh new look.

In fact, it’s far easier to refinish a bare wood finish than to paint it and then decide later on to refinish it. So, this is where I’d start.

The great thing is that if you still decide to repaint it, starting with a fresh clean surface gives the best-finished project.

Antique Empire Secretary desk stripped to raw wood. Old furniture projects turn around once you get their old finish or paint jobs off.
Antique Empire Secretary desk stripped to raw wood. Old furniture projects turn around once you get their old finish or paint jobs off.

Whether you’re working with an antique piece or a modern design, refinishing the wood can restore it to its former glory and give it a new lease on life.

In this section, we’ll cover some easy and effective ways to refinish wooden furniture and achieve professional-looking results.

Supplies & Tools You May Need

These are some of my personal favorite tools when stripping furniture down to raw wood. They make getting the old paint off of furniture so much easier so you can start over.

When I take on an Antique or Vintage piece of furniture my entire process is set to try to restore it back to the way the original piece would have been. However, sometimes damage throws a wrench in that plan.

Antique empire secretary desk refinished with new brass hardware.

It’s good to be flexible when making plans to make beautiful pieces live again. It’s a lot of work, but always worth it.

How to refinish wooden furniture

This is the general idea of the steps you’d take to start refinishing a piece of furniture.

  1. Clean the furniture: Remove any dirt, dust, or debris from the surface of the furniture using a soft cloth or brush and a mild cleaner.
  2. Remove the old finish: Strip off the existing finish using a chemical stripper or sandpaper.
  3. Sand the furniture: Sand the surface of the furniture with progressively finer sandpaper until it is smooth and free of any rough spots or scratches.
  4. Stain the wood (optional): Apply a wood stain to the furniture if desired, following the manufacturer’s instructions.
  5. Apply a sealer: Apply a sealer or topcoat to the furniture to protect the wood and give it a finished look.
  6. Reassemble the furniture: Reattach any hardware or components that were removed during the refinishing process.
Vintage Note icon with a quill and ink bottle.

Note that the specific steps and techniques may vary depending on the condition and type of wood furniture you are working with, as well as your personal preferences. It’s also important to follow all safety precautions when working with chemicals and power tools.

#3 Paint Furniture: Adding a Fresh Coat of Paint

One of the most effective diy furniture makeover ideas. And probably the most fun way to take an older piece and make it look like new furniture is to paint it.

The best thing is you can go with a bold color to add a striking new modern look. Or go with a more neutral color and let it fit into more settings.

While I personally love painted furniture, I am never quite a fan when I have to paint a piece. But sometimes it’s necessary and can be a really rewarding experience.

Painted and distressed antique dining table leg on a table in a dining room.

When I was working on my dining room table paint came to the rescue. I was stuck with cut marks from removing the leg supports but loved the original dark stain. It’s a good example of how you can strategically paint some of a piece and not paint it all if you want to keep some originality and still update the look.

To Prime or Not to Prime?

If you’re planning to paint the piece, there are two real options. I personally never choose to prime a piece. But that’s because I like to distress pieces slightly to keep them looking older.

The first option is to prime it before applying the paint. This will help your average paint adhere better, but I don’t consider it necessary. However, I don’t use latex paint.

The Second option is to use paints that are naturally meant to be used without priming like Milk Paint or Chalk Paint.

Let’s talk about the benefits of each.

Chalk Paint

  1. No need for sanding or priming: Chalk paint can adhere to most surfaces without the need for sanding or priming, making the prep work much easier and quicker.
  2. Wide range of colors: Chalk paint comes in a wide range of colors and can be mixed to create custom shades, giving you endless options for your furniture makeover.
  3. Distressed look: Chalk paint can easily be distressed with sandpaper or a damp cloth to create a vintage or shabby-chic look, perfect for updating an old piece of furniture.
  4. Low odor: Unlike traditional paint, chalk paint has a low odor, making it a great option for indoor use.
  5. Dries quickly: Chalk paint dries quickly, allowing you to complete your project in a shorter amount of time.
  6. No Brush Strokes. One of my favorite benefits is that good chalk paint always dries with no brush strokes.
White washing an Eastlake dresser drawer with white chalk paint.
White washed Eastlake washstand finished product.

Milk Paint

  • Provides a smooth, matte finish for a vintage look.
  • Environmentally friendly and non-toxic.
  • Easy to use and apply.
  • Can be easily distressed to achieve a shabby chic or rustic look.
  • Adheres well to a variety of surfaces, including wood, metal, and plaster.
  • Versatile and can be used to create a range of finishes.
  • Can be mixed with other colors to create custom shades.
  • Dries quickly, allowing for multiple coats in a short amount of time.
  • Can be sealed with a variety of finishes to protect the surface.
try miss mustard seed’s milk paint

Use code 10OFFCW for 10% off your purchase.

Vintage typewriter icon in a grey circle.

Finally, seal the piece with a protective topcoat to ensure it stays looking great for years to come.

#4 Distress it: Achieving a Vintage or Shabby Chic Look

One of my favorite ways to add charm and character to a piece is the distressed look. But I’m never trying to make a piece look new, either.

If you love the vintage and shabby chic look then distressing is the perfect way to achieve this well-loved look.

Strategically painted fresh antique server with natural beautiful wood grain between. The paint is lightly distressed.

#5 Repurpose it: Giving Old Furniture a New Use

One of my passions is finding beautiful old pieces that maybe have lost their purpose as their uses become a part of history. Finding beautiful old furniture to give a new updated purpose is a fun way to get a conversation piece as well.

Repurposed handmade grandfather clock turned into a bookshelf.

Repurposed furniture can be as simple as using it in a way it wasn’t necessarily made. You don’t have to alter the structure to repurpose it! I use dressers for all sorts of uses besides clothing. In fact, I have a dresser in my entry that holds all of our shoes, hats, and gloves.

Antique wooden dresser refinished with new brass hardware mixed with original hardware.

Ideas to Repurpose an Old Piece with an Updated Function

Make old pieces feel like new pieces by giving them a new updated use in your home!

Here are some fun ways to repurpose old furniture:

  1. Turn an old dresser into a TV console or media center.
  2. Convert an old bookshelf into a bar or beverage station.
  3. Transform an old headboard into a unique bench or coat rack.
  4. Repurpose an old chest of drawers into a stylish and functional kitchen island.
  5. Use an old door as a tabletop or headboard.
  6. Turn an old ladder into a bookshelf or plant stand.
  7. Convert an old coffee table into a cozy pet bed.
  8. Transform an old sewing machine table into a unique desk or vanity.
  9. Use old suitcases as decorative storage or seating.
  10. Repurpose an old crib into a charming and functional bench or daybed.

#6 Add or Replace Your Furniture Legs

If you want to give your old furniture a new look without spending a lot of money, consider swapping out the legs.

Added legs and folk art to a vintage waterfall art deco style wardrobe for an updated look.

Hairpin legs are a popular choice for a modern update, and they can be an inexpensive way to give your furniture a fresh new look. You can also choose from a variety of furniture legs to match your style and needs. By simply changing the legs, you can transform an old piece into something unique and stylish.

Favorite Furniture Legs

If you’re going to purchase furniture legs I recommend purchasing them online. Hardware stores like Home Depot will have much higher prices.

#7 Contact Paper or Wallpaper

Another fun way to upgrade a piece in a simple way is to use contact paper or even wallpaper.

Charming Vintage Contact Paper & Wallpaper

These are all peel-and-stick options, so extremely easy to install and change out if you change your mind later!

Both materials can also be used to line drawers and shelves, adding a pop of color or pattern to the inside of the piece. They are affordable, easy to apply, and can transform an old piece of furniture into a unique and stylish addition to your home.

Contact Paper

Contact paper is an easy and affordable way to add a patterned or textured finish to a flat surface of an old piece of furniture. It’s a simple DIY project that requires no painting, sanding, or stripping. With contact paper, you can easily create a unique and stylish look on dressers, side tables, and even bookshelves.


Wallpaper can be an excellent option for upgrading an old piece of furniture. It adds a unique pattern or texture to the furniture and is an inexpensive way to give it a fresh new look. Just measure the furniture and cut the wallpaper to size, then apply it using wallpaper paste.


Update hardware, use a fresh coat of paint, replace or add legs, and experiment with patterned contact paper or wallpaper.

Try changing the hardware, adding new legs, reupholstering with a modern fabric, or using contact paper or wallpaper for a fresh look.

Update old living room furniture by adding new throw pillows, a fresh coat of polish, changing the hardware, or reupholstering cushions.

Upgrade your existing furniture with easy and affordable ideas such as adding new hardware, changing the upholstery, or using decals or wallpaper.

Add a fresh coat of paint in a light color, change hardware, add modern legs, or reupholster with a modern pattern or fabric to update dark wood furniture.

In Conclusion

In conclusion, updating old furniture pieces can be a fun and creative way to breathe new life into your space without breaking the bank.

With a little bit of creativity and some DIY know-how, you can create a fresh new look for your home while also being kind to the environment by repurposing and upcycling old pieces. So why not give it a try and see what magic you can create?

Thanks so much for stopping by!


Meet the Author

Hi, I’m Julie! Mother to five beautiful kids, Homeschool Educator, Writer, Handicraft & DIY Enthusiast, Photographer, Thrifter, and Furniture Restorer. Follow along for fun DIY projects creating a handmade home on a budget! Read more about me here→

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