DIY: To Paint or Not To Paint?

Ah, that is the million dollar question. Last week I posted a photo of a refurbishing painting project I did for my mom’s entryway. I took an old knotty pine cupboard that had seen better days, that we had purchased for next to nothing at auction…

Knotty Pine Cupboard

and transformed it using chalk paint and wax. The results were quite lovely,

Painted Pine Country Commodeor so I thought, until I posted the blog on an awesome home and garden website called HomeTalk that I contribute to on occasion. This is a website where homeowners and DIY’ers show off their latest projects, ask advice from novices and experts and share information and comment about everything from growing cabbage to building garages. The after picture I posted set off a torrent of comments that were sorted into three distinct groups.

Country Pine Commode Painted

A. The “I LOVE this!” These are the folks that appreciate a good paint job and had no problem with me transforming this piece for the sake of design and style. As Michele from MD stated:A new life for an old piece! Beautiful!”

B. The “Well, you did a nice job, but maybe you should have left it knotty pine and not painted it?” This group was being nice ( I thank you : ). Though deep down they thought I should have left it alone, they appreciated my painting efforts. From Tamara in IL: “Nice job, however, I am sad that yet another nice piece of wood has died an embarrassing death at the hands of someone with a can of white paint.”

C. Then, the third group, the “why the heck did you go and ruin a perfectly good piece of furniture by painting it!?” These folks were adamantly opposed to my taking a paint brush to this piece of furniture. As Barbara from IA said: “Again all I see is a beautiful piece of wood furniture painted white and then “distressed”. What happened to sanding and linseed oiling the beautiful wood. Natural wood is so much more beautiful! Paint something made out of junk wood, not good natural wood! “

My response was this: “… (back in the day) you just never painted over old varnished wood, no matter what the style or condition. But, there are times when paint is appropriate and necessary-ie: I love the look of deep, dark wood moldings and wainscoting in a magnificent victorian home, and would not paint that, but I don’t really care for stock stained molding and trim in more modern homes. Paint away, I say! But, I would also say that I would never paint an “important” vintage or antique piece! I appreciate the fact that furniture just serves a purpose in our homes and whatever decoration is on the exterior does not change its usefulness-it is simply a personal design preference. This currently popular “old chippy, distressed look” came about because DIY’ers started pulling pieces of old painted furniture out of attics and barns (instead of trashing them and adding them to landfills), taking a fresh look at them and then duplicating the look with newer pieces. The design world has come full circle, and I, for one, applaud the DIY Dumpster Divas out there who continue to rescue and re-beautify old pieces so that they can be enjoyed for many more years!”

This is an antique pine commode that we purchased in the same lot as the one I painted, but with a lovely patina from years of use. The drawer was broken on the inside, but the exterior was so pretty, that I decided to just rewax it and leave it alone. It is one of my favorite pieces on my porch. But I have seen these pine commodes painted as well, and thought they were quite nice. I just decided that the natural wood finish was the way to go for this particular piece.

Country Pine CommodeSo, which group are you in? A, B or C? There is no right answer, because this is all about personal taste. My design style has a country point of view, so I tend to like things a bit shabby and worn and rough around the edges.

Barn Door Coffee TableBut that doesn’t mean that I won’t paint a piece of furniture just because it wasn’t painted in the first place, especially if its dirty and scratched and stained and in dire need of a makeover. Or conversely, strip down an old painted piece and restore it to its natural wood finish. It all depends on where it will be displayed in my home and what function it will serve. Because, lets face it, furniture is really just about function: we sit on it, sleep on it, eat on it and live with it every day. So, it should reflect whatever style serves you best, and at the end of the day, you should be happy to have it in your home. If that means “throwing a can of white paint at another piece of wood”, then so be it. As Jannette said: “I really like it! makes it look inviting, light and cheerful. Very nice. To some of the comments posted. Maybe painting it is more her style. after all it’s her project.” Exactly right, Jannette! It’s my project and it’s my piece of wood, (or in this case, my mom’s) and this was exactly the intent when we decided to paint this piece. What are your thoughts on the subject? A, B, or C? Paint or no paint? Let me hear it all you DIY’ers out there! Hope you a thoughtful Tuesday everyone! Susan




  1. There will forever be two schools of thought on this. Those wood lovers and furniture connoisseurs out there would rather go without a piece than buy something and “ruin” it with paint…And then there are those of of who can appreciate a nice piece in another color. These two camps will never see eye to eye!


  2. For the most part, I am in the league of keeping good antique/vintage wood furniture as it is, but I still like it to be refinished if necessary, but that has a lot to do with the fact that I own an antique store and most antique store owners feel that way. If it is a poor quality of wood however, or damaged, then I have no problem with painting. However, I am saddened by the number of DIY’ers that take a beautiful and often somewhat valuable piece of antique furniture and paint or distress it. Personally, I think the knotty pine piece should have not have been painted, but rather refinished. Besides the mirror above the “now painted” cabinet looks like wood (although a newer piece) so the knotty pine would have been a beautiful accompaniment to it.But that is only my opinion. It is your piece of furniture to do with as you wish and you did indeed do a lovely job, and I truly like your blog. Some of the items that you redid and put in the country thyme market were very creative, and cute. Just keep doing what makes you happy!


  3. chris aka monkey says:

    you are perfectly right it is your piece to do with as you please…i like painted over plain wood myself but i am willing to listen to the “haters” of this if they can be civil and polite… home talk has posted that nasty non-constructive comments will be removed and poster will be warned if they continue the will be barred from site, i think if you can’t say something nice then go find another post you like there are hundreds to choose from xx


  4. I’m in the “whatever floats your boat” category. It’s your piece to do whatever YOU please whether it’s painted or unpainted and that should be respected…period! I’m with you on applauding the DIY Dumpster Divas (being one of them) – if it wasn’t for us the landfills would be filled with perfectly functional and useful furniture that is simply dated, tattered, and deemed junk by those without our vision!


  5. I am in the A group – I love salvaging pieces that are headed to the dumpster with a good paint job. But, then I will also paint a newer piece that just screams to be painted, and will leave another piece in it’s natural state – I am eclectic and it all depends on where the piece is going to be and how I invision it. I love painted furniture. Your cabinet is beautiful and you did a great job on it…. love it


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