Home & Garden

Here's how to transform those furniture diamonds in the rough

To really make this gilded frame sparkle, fill it with a mirror.
To really make this gilded frame sparkle, fill it with a mirror.

Editor's note: The Star-Telegram will no longer be running the Martha Stewart column. This is the last feature.

At thrift stores and flea markets across the U.S. (and all over the internet), affordable, high-quality furniture is waiting to be discovered — and recovered. Here's how to transform pieces at home, and spot diamonds in the rough worth taking to a pro.


The gilded frame of this print was originally beat-up raw wood — the kind of thing you see in big stacks at tag sales. Making it shine with a coat of faux-leafing took less than two hours and $20. Just spread a drop cloth in a draft-free spot, so that the delicate sheets won’t blow away, and you’re golden.


Gilded mirror


Paintbrushes (up to three)

Gilding base coat (optional)

Adhesive size

Gold leafing sheets and sealer

Soft cloth

1. If the frame is peeling, sand, wipe down and brush on base coat; let dry completely.

2. With a clean paintbrush, cover frame in adhesive size. Let dry until just tacky, a few minutes.

3. With a clean brush or your fingers, place gold leafing on frame; brush down until smooth. Work around frame until covered.

4. Buff gold leafing with cloth to remove excess. Apply sealer to entire frame. Let dry completely.

THE DETAILS: Old World Art Venetian red base coat, $3 for 2 ounces; gold leafing, $12 for 25 sheets; adhesive size, $2.75 for 2 ounces; and satin sealer, $4.50 for 2 ounces, dickblick.com.


Chalk paint is one of your top-secret weapons: It modernizes unfinished or even poorly painted items — like this farmhouse-style console table, with its dated scalloped apron and turned legs — by leaving a velvety matte finish, usually in a single coat. Chances are, you won’t even need to sand first. “It’s very forgiving, and you can use it on just about anything, painted or unpainted — even concrete,” says Lorna Aragon, the home editor of Martha Stewart Living.


Chalk-painted console table


Fine-grit sandpaper (optional)

Paintbrushes (at least two)

Chalk paint

Finishing paste wax

Soft cloth

Brass hardware

1. Remove hardware. If table has deep chips or bumpy dried paint drips, sand smooth. (Most items won’t require this.) Wipe down thoroughly.

2. Paint table with chalk paint; let dry completely. Apply second coat if needed.

3. Apply wax and let dry completely, then buff with cloth.

4. If desired, use sandpaper to give an authentic-looking finish to areas that wear naturally over time, such as drawer edges and tabletop. Put on new hardware.

THE DETAILS: Annie Sloan Chalk Paint, in Paris Grey; and Clear Chalk Paint wax, anniesloan.com.


Most chairs are candidates for some degree of at-home rehabilitation. Read on to learn what you can — and really shouldn’t — tackle yourself.


LOOK FOR: Stools, benches or chairs with a removable upholstered cushion.

DO-IT-YOURSELF OR GO PRO? This is a job for total rookies. Unscrew the seat from the base. Loosen the staples securing the fabric and foam with a screwdriver or staple remover; use them as templates for fresh ones. Position your new padding and fabric, turn over the seat and staple down a fold of material; repeat on the opposite side. Continue stapling around the seat, alternating sides to keep the fabric snug and even. Reattach the seat with the original hardware.

STAPLE GUN: An upholsterer’s go-to tool isn’t a needle and thread — it’s this satisfyingly powerful version of the desktop fastener.


LOOK FOR: Minimal rust. “Anything that’s rusted through isn’t worth it,” says Aragon.

DIY OR GO PRO? Powder-coating is the durable pro option, but it can run up to $250 a pop. (You may be able to do multiple items for that price, since the setup is what costs you.) A DIY with high-gloss spray paint can mimic the look. Remove rust with a wire brush, then wipe down the chair. Fit the spray-paint can with a trigger attachment (for a steadier mist), and do a practice pass on cardboard. Don’t rush: Aim for two to three light, even coats, letting the paint dry completely in between.

SPRAY PAINT: “Navy and neutrals are always good choices — but I love school bus yellow, too,” says Aragon.


LOOK FOR: Pieces with padded seats, backs and arms; nailhead or piped trimming.

DIY OR GO PRO? Leave wingback chairs and other fully upholstered pieces to the experts; ditto any piece that needs a structural fix, like new springs or webbing. Otherwise, wood-frame chairs are ripe for a refresh. You’ll want pliers to carefully remove the old piping or upholstery tacks, fabric and foam; use the old upholstery as templates for new. Once you have them cut out, a heavy-duty staple gun is all you need to secure it. Cover the staples by gluing down piping or hammering in tacks.

MODERN FABRIC: A Louis XV-style chair updated in a current, shibori-style print will fit in anywhere.