How to Refinish a Vintage Dining Room Set

Refinishing a vintage dining room set can bring new life to a cherished piece of furniture, preserving its history while giving it a fresh, updated look. In this post, I’m going to show you that less is more sometimes and just how simple it can be to refinish a vintage dining room set!

Full view of my vintage dining set in my dining room with a white linen table cloth and runner.

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The process of refinishing an older dining room set does not always involve removing the existing finish. Though some pieces in rough condition might need sanding, staining, or painting it’s not always the case.

The word refinish sometimes makes a project sound long, expensive, and something that requires great skill. But I’m here to tell you that doesn’t always have to be the case.

Plus, a good solid wood piece of furniture deserves the attention you give it and will be useful for decades in return.

If you are reading this with the hopes of finding your own beautiful antique dining room set, I have a few Dos and Don’ts to set you on the right path!

Vintage Dining Room Set, Six upholstered chairs and a table from the curved legs.
I chose to do a simple refresh to my dining set. I reupholstered the chairs, removed the bracing connecting the table legs, and painted the base.

Step-by-Step Guide to Refinishing a Vintage Dining Room Set

So, at this point, we’ve gone through the pros and cons, mostly the pros, of keeping your vintage dining room set. But now the question begs, does it need a refresh or a refinish? Keep reading to find out!

Since my dining set needed a simple reset, I was fortunate in that I did not need to do a complete refinishing process. But I have done this entire process many times in the past!

Beautiful turned vintage wooden table legs.

How to Refinish a Vintage Dining Room Set

If you have an antique or vintage dining room set that has seen better days, it’s time to give it new life with a simple refinish.

Refinishing a dining room set can feel like a daunting task. However, with the right tools and a little love, you can transform an old piece of furniture into a beautiful and functional item for your home.

Here’s how to do a simple refinish of a vintage or antique dining room set.

Supplies You Will Need to Refinish


What Types of Tasks Are Included in Refinishing?

Refinishing an antique piece of furniture typically involves several tasks to restore its appearance and functionality. These tasks can include:

  • Cleaning – Removing dirt, grime, and other debris from the surface of the furniture
  • Stripping – Removing the old finish using a chemical stripper or sandpaper
  • Sanding – Smoothing out rough spots and scratches on the wood surface
  • Staining – Adding color to the wood using an oil-based or gel stain
  • Sealing – Protecting the finish with a clear coat of polyurethane or wax
  • Repairing – Fixing any structural damage or broken parts
  • Touch-up – Applying paint or stain to cover up small imperfections

The specific tasks involved in refinishing an antique piece of furniture will depend on the condition of the piece, the desired end result, and the skill level of the refinisher.

Step 1: Prepare the Surface

The first step in refinishing a vintage dining room set is to prepare the surface. Start by removing any existing finish using a chemical stripper or paint stripper. Make sure to follow the safety precautions and use the stripper in a well-ventilated area. Use a putty knife to scrape away the old finish and clean the surface with a tack cloth.

Step 2: Sand the Surface

Once the surface is clean, it’s time to sand it.

  • Start with low-grit sandpaper, such as 120-grit sandpaper, to remove any rough spots or imperfections.
  • Then, switch to higher-grit sandpaper, such as 220-grit sandpaper, to smooth the surface.
  • Finally, use a palm sander or an orbital sander to make the sanding process easier. Be sure to sand in the direction of the grain of the wood.

Step 3: Apply a Wood Conditioner

After sanding, it is recommended to apply a wood conditioner to the surface of the vintage dining room set. This will help the wood to absorb the stain evenly and prevent blotching. Apply the wood conditioner with a clean rag and let it dry completely.

Step 4: Apply the Finish

The next step is to apply the finish.

You can choose to stain the vintage dining room set or paint it. If you choose to paint it, use white paint or a base color of your choice.

If you choose to stain it, you might consider using a gel stain or an oil-based stain. For a different shade, you can mix two stains or choose a darker stain.

  • Apply thin coats of the stain or paint, using a chip brush or a soft cloth.
  • Let it dry completely before applying a second coat.
  • Repeat this process until you achieve the desired finish.
  • After the last coat of paint or stain, apply a clear top coat like Polycrylic.

Should I Refresh or Refinish?

Before you even start on your project you need to first determine the extent of what needs to be done. This requires a thorough inspection and a little bit of personal reflection.

A few questions you could ask yourself in this process might be:

  • Does it function as intended?
  • Is it my style?
  • Do I like it as is?
  • Does it fit in with my other furniture? (Not necessarily a deal breaker, maybe you like it better than your other pieces).
  • What would I change about it?
Garage sale vintage dining room set with upholstered seats.
Beautifully carved vintage dining room chair with upholstered seat.

Does it Need to be Refreshed or Refinished?

To determine if a vintage dining room set needs to be refreshed or completely refinished, consider the following:

  • Age of the set and its overall condition.
  • Any damage or wear and tear on the surfaces, such as scratches, chips, and fading.
  • The original finish and whether it is still in good condition or has started to deteriorate.
  • Your personal preference for the look and feel of the set.
  • The value of the set and whether it is worth restoring.

If the set has some minor surface imperfections, a simple refresh may be enough, such as sanding down the surfaces and reapplying a new coat of finish. However, if the set has significant damage, extensive refinishing may be necessary.

A Simple Refresh: When It’s Still in Good Condition

This was the state my dining room set was in. It was in good solid condition with very few cosmetic flaws.

It had heat stains on the top from having had hot dishes put straight on the finish and the chairs needed to be reupholstered. But that was really the extent.

Instead of pulling out the chemical stripper, I decided to try a different solution and go the route of refresh vs refinish.

Before and After refinishing the table top

What Types of Tasks are Included in Refreshing?

  • Cleaning – This can be done with a damp cloth or furniture polish, to remove any dirt or grime buildup.
  • Touch-up – This includes fixing any small nicks or scratches on the surface of the piece.
  • Refinishing the hardware – If the hardware is original and has become dull or rusty, it can be polished or replaced.
  • Applying a new finish – A light sanding and reapplication of a clear topcoat can bring back the shine and protect the wood.
  • Replacing missing parts – This could be hardware or parts of the furniture itself, such as legs or trim.
  • Reupholstering – If the cushions or fabric on the furniture is worn, a fresh new covering can breathe new life into the piece.

Supplies You May Need for a Refresh


Refinishing Hardware

Small Repairs

Finish Restoration

How to Do a Simple Refresh on Vintage or Antique Furniture

There is a bit of overlap between what is considered refinishing and what is a simple refresh. Basically, it comes down to the extent of it. Is it something easily remedied in a few hours? Or are you spending a week plus working on this?

Most refresh projects should be quick and easy to tackle without a complete overhaul.

  1. Clean: Begin by thoroughly cleaning the dining room set to remove dirt and grime.
  2. Sand: Use fine-grit sandpaper to gently sand down any rough or uneven surfaces.
  3. Clean Again: Clean the furniture once more to remove any sanding dust.
  4. Paint/Stain: Apply a fresh coat of paint or stain to the dining room set to give it a new and refreshed look.
  5. Finish: Seal the paint or stain with a clear topcoat to protect it from wear and tear.
  6. Upholstery: A simple chair seat upholstery job is well within a beginner’s scope, check the DIY Guide below for more instructions.
  7. Reassemble: Put the furniture back together and admire your refreshed vintage dining room set!

Refinishing vs Replacing: When to Consider Refinishing Your Vintage Dining Room Set

There comes a time with every piece of furniture in your home when the love starts to wear off. You might be at a crossroads trying to decide if you should refinish your dining room set, or just replace it.

Vintage carved dining chairs tucked into the table.
Vintage dining set the backs of the chairs and the table leg.

Here are some reasons I think you should always opt for refinishing first:

  • Cost-effectiveness. Refinishing a vintage dining room set is often much less expensive than replacing it with a new one, especially if it is a solid wood piece of furniture.
  • Sentimental value. If your vintage dining room set holds sentimental value as a family heirloom or antique piece of furniture, refinishing it allows you to preserve its history and sentimental value.
  • Sustainable option. Refinishing a vintage dining room set is a more sustainable option as it reduces the amount of waste and saves resources compared to buying a new piece of furniture.
  • Unique character. Vintage dining room sets often have unique character and charm that is not found in new pieces of furniture. Refinishing allows you to bring out this character and make it the centerpiece of your dining room.
  • Better quality. In many cases, vintage dining room sets are made of solid wood and are built to last, whereas new furniture may not be as durable. Refinishing a vintage set ensures you have a high-quality piece of furniture for years to come.
  • Customization. Refinishing a vintage dining room set allows you to customize it to your liking, from choosing the stain color to applying a specific type of finish. This allows you to have a truly unique piece of furniture that fits your personal style.

The Benefits of Refinishing a Vintage Dining Room Set

If you’re still on the fence let me tell you about all of the amazing benefits of investing love and attention in an old dining room set.

Vintage dining chair and legs on a beautiful vintage style rug.
My table had a stable structure connecting the legs that I ultimately cut off. This way my chairs could tuck all the way under the table.

Refinishing a vintage dining room set has many benefits, including:

  1. Preserving History. By refinishing your antique dining room set, you are preserving a piece of history and giving it new life.
  2. Increased Value. Refinished vintage pieces can often increase in value due to the craftsmanship and attention to detail in the refinishing process.
  3. Environmental Benefits. Refinishing furniture reduces waste and conserves natural resources, making it a more environmentally friendly option than purchasing new furniture.
  4. Emotional Attachment. It may not be a family heirloom, but you’ve got memories with it, right? I’m imagining how many more memories we can build up as time passes with meals and other family traditions right at our dining room table.

By refinishing a vintage dining room set, you can not only save money but also create a unique and personal piece of furniture that will be treasured for years to come.

The Myths: Common Misconceptions About Vintage Furniture

Over the last 15 years, I have definitely come to love and enjoy using vintage and antique furniture in my home. However, I’ve also come to realize there are quite a few false myths when it comes to using them in your home!

Here are 4 of my favorite debunked myths about vintage and antique furniture.

  1. Antiques are always expensive. False. You can definitely find vintage and antique furniture for all budget sizes. Yes, you can even find them for free occasionally.
  2. You can’t have antiques in a house with children. False. Antique and vintage furniture is far better made with higher-quality materials. They’re actually better suited for hard use than newer furniture.
  3. You need to have antiques refinished by a professional. False. There are definitely certain jobs that should be left to professionals, especially if you know they’re beyond your skill level. However, there are a ton of things you can do as a beginner as well. Like simple chair seat upholstery projects, sanding, staining, and even painting.
  4. Antiques should be in perfect condition. False. The flaws are what give a piece character and remind you of the long life it’s already led. The charm is in the scratches, scrapes, chippy paint, etc.
Vintage dining chair with a pillow, the pillow cover is from ikea and is one of my favorites. It is grey but has colors of mustard and orange as well in a Scandinavian design.

How to Re-Upholster A Chair Seat

Yield: 4 Reupholstered Chairs
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Active Time: 1 hour
Additional Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 40 minutes
Difficulty: Easy

The hardest part of reupholstering a chair seat is taking out the hoards of staples from the previous upholstery job. This investment of time and effort is so much better than having some old, dusty, dirty fabric underneath the new stuff.


  • Washed Drop Cloth or Fabric of choice
  • New Padding*
  • Quilt Batting*
  • Spray Adhesive*
  • *Optional, not every job will require this


  • A comfortable spot, you might be there a while
  • A pair of garden gloves, so you don't accidentally poke yourself with an old staple
  • A butter knife or metal scraper, to slightly pry up the old staples or nails so your pliers can get a grip
  • A pair of pliers to finally pull them out
  • A Staple Gun, to install the new fabric


  1. Purchase your fabric. Measure each seat plus 2-3 inches for overhang on each side. I used washed drop-cloth because it is thick, inexpensive, and neutral coloring.
  2. Unfasten the seat from the chair, put the screws in a Ziploc bag altogether so they don't get lost.
  3. Pull out all the old staples/nails from each seat. (This step is the longest and most tedious)
  4. Use the old fabric as a template for the new seat fabric, lay it right side down on the new fabric, and give yourself some grace on each side. More fabric is better than not enough.
  5. Cut out your templates.
  6. Turn your seat over onto the template and make sure it has enough space on all sides to be stapled securely.
  7. Start top and bottom, pulling the fabric taut, but not too much to squoosh the padding flat in places.
  8. Keep the fabric smooth all the way across the side you're working on. Any excess should be pulled toward the corners so it can be easily hidden at the end.
  9. Leave the corners for the very end.
  10. Continue side to side. It's ok to go staple happy, make sure there aren't any large gaps without a staple.
  11. Now for the corners; pull up, straighten them, you can either wrap them like a present (one side and then the other, away from the front of the seat) or you can fold the sides under leaving the top smooth. If it is a rounded seat this works best, if it is a very square seat with a point it may be better to fold like a present.
  12. Staple the corners in place.
  13. Reinstall the seat.


Congratulations! You have now reupholstered your seat. Don't forget, if you don't like it, you can always pull out a staple and redo whatever isn't working. Be patient with yourself and the process. If you need to, only do one chair at a time. That way your mess will be minimal and easily picked up in between seats.

I hope I have inspired you to keep (or start collecting!) antique or vintage furniture. And encouraged you to hold onto that vintage dining room set even if it needs refinishing!

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→


  1. The table ended up so cool! I’ve been tempted to pick up oldfurniture pieces to redo. Thanks for explaining the process so clearly! I’m going to keep an eye out for a cool piece to do this with.

  2. Whoa! I am honestly mostly impressed with what the little refresh did to give that table new life! Then you took it to a whole other level! (clap clap!). Well done! I love seeing new life brought to unloved pieces 🙂

  3. You inspire me! I have an old dresser that really needs repair. You’ve given such great information to help me decode how to go about this project.

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