What to look for (and avoid) when buying furniture to refinish

I have had many people send me pictures of items they’ve purchased to refinsh and ask if I had any advice for them or asking me what I think they should do to their new treasure. To be honest, there has been more than once I’ve wanted to say “TAKE IT BACK”, but just didn’t have the heart to do so.  But in all seriousness, there are pieces you should walk away from and cut your losses before you sink money into a piece that is going to 1. fall apart 2. be a nightmare to refinish  3.  end up costing you more to fix than buying new.   Please trust me on this one. I learned this lesson the good old-fashioned way…trial and error and lots of $$$ later! So here are a few tips:

1.  Always make sure your piece is solid wood! Particle  board is a fancy word for “almost like cardboard” and not all particle board can be painted.  You want a solid, sturdy piece…it can be ugly as sin, but it  needs to be solid! Some things to look for: heaviness, grain of wood,  and the quality of drawers (dove tail, etc.).

2.  Evaluate the piece’s condition:  Scrapes and bruises can be sanded out if they are mild, so don’t let that deter you.  However, if half of a corner is gone, a drawer is obviously warped, etc.,  walk away as these items are not easy to fix.  If veneer is slightly chipped in small place, you can fix that with wood putty. However, if it is missing in chunks, peeling off throughout a large area of piece,  and in more than one area, walk  away as this is not an inexpensive or quick fix.   That is a job for a professional!!!  I don’t care how old or “antiqued” a piece is, if it is falling apart, it is not worth your time!!!  If the piece is metal, make sure you evaluate any rust damage and know when too much is too much!

3.  Antique (a.k.a valuable)…ok, let’s get this out in the open. True Antiques and name brand furniture are fantastic finds. However, once you paint it, you are taking some of the value out of that piece. So, if the piece you are interested in dates back to the late 1800’s,  it either needs to be    1.in good enough condition to display  or 2. in a state that can be repaired and refurbished with the realization that is no longer a true antique. Not that it is no longer of value, it just is not in its original state, so it does lose it’s value to true antique collectors.  Now if you can do professional furniture restoration, IGNORE THIS PART! You are amazing and can charge away!

4.  Know your price, know its worth and don’t be afraid to walk away.  Let’s face it, Goodwill, garage sale owners, and  flea markets have caught on to the “refurbishing phenomena” and are now charging much more for used furniture.  You need to know what a piece is worth before you jump right in.  For example, if I find a dresser I know came from Mathis Brothers (machine-made) in the last 10 years, I won’t pay more than $30 for it…I am a stickler on this because it just isn’t worth much more than that to me.  However, if I come across a retro or antique dresser with wooden wheels in good shape, I may just bid war you all day!!!  It all comes down to the quality of craftsmanship of the piece and  how well it has been maintained. If you know it needs to be sanded, stripped, puttied, glued, re-nailed, primed and painted, know what this is going to cost you and figure that into the price of the piece before buying it.  That type of stuff adds up quickly!!

5. Look beyond the intended purpose of the piece:  A broken chair is not a deal breaker for me…If I can take the frame and make a planter out of it, then YAY! another find is salvaged and saved 🙂  However, I will not pay top dollar for something in that condition.  A dresser with some warped drawers?  No problem, you can use it as an outside planter! Always look beyond it’s current state and determine what it COULD be!  Again, just budget and price accordingly. Which brings me to my next point….

6.  Don’t be afraid to ask for a better deal!!!  Biggest, A#1 rule for this one is you should ALWAYS be wearing smile when asking for a discount or better pricing! A polite, positive attitude will usually get you the deal 99% of the time. Don’t ask “what is your lowest on this?”, but instead “Could you take $25 instead of $30?”  However, if the owner is not willing to negotiate, don’t be afraid to walk away! And, NEVER, EVER argue with a dealer.  Just politely say “ok, thank you”  and go on about your day.


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