Updating Our Dining Room Furniture

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One of the big items we got from my parents as part of their downsizing is an antique dining set. I was happy to get it since the white table and chairs we had in our old dining room have gone into the eat-in area of the kitchen and we needed something in the space. It’s a very lovely set but very traditional so I’ve been trying to think of ways to update it.

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One look I’ve always liked is white painted chairs with dark wooden tables. These are some examples I found.

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Our chairs are not these styles, but you get the idea.

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(And look at all the gold frames – this could have been part of Monday’s post . . . )

Being obsessed with white, my first thought was white paint for the wood but then I saw this image and it made me think that gray may be nice:

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I had the walls painted a very soft, light gray (something between the curtains in this room and the walls outside) so I think gray chairs could work really well. But then again, that might be too matchy-matchy so I will probably just go with white.

Of course all this is if I can get up the nerve to paint these beautiful old chairs. (My mom is going to be horrified!) I just feel so badly about painting antique wood furniture. But for the sake of aesthetics, I think I can get over it(!) Does anyone else feel guilty about painting antiques?

(Photos: 1. Marie Claire Maison 2&3.via Centsational Girl 4.via Things that Inspire 5.via House of Turquoise)

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36 comments

  1. Jane says:

    If they are antiques of any value I have to say I would never ever paint them. I just think its morally wrong!! But thats me, and that is what my mother always taught me.

    But of course I like to paint all kinds of other stuff. I think that you can still achieve a very light white look even with wooden furniture it just then becomes what you do with the rest of the room.
    .-= Jane´s last post ..A trip to Fitzroy for some silk =-.

  2. Jacqueline says:

    Dear Ally,

    Oh I know exactly how you feel. I have no problem painting an old, cheap, pine piece of furniture that can be improved with a bit of painting and distressing but, I feel that it's sacriledge to 'spoil' a beautiful piece. I don't think it's the end of the world. It's just quite difficult to put that first brush of paint on…..mind you, I do love that first picture so, go with it !! XXXX

  3. mlle paradis says:

    That’s a tough one! I can’t bring myself to do it either with family pieces or pieces that have been too beautifully finished. I have a dark french table that I just keep covered most of the time with quilts. You can always bring in your color scheme that way or with a great tablecloth. Fabrics are always much cheaper and easier to change as well as to clean. Stripping or sanding down and repainting a good piece of furniture is almost irreversible.
    .-= mlle paradis´s last post ..Corner View – Coffee Companion =-.

  4. Carol says:

    The reason your Mom would be horrified is that she is old enough to have seen painted furniture come and go before. In the seventies, it was really hot and then became very tired looking and OUT. Right now it is so everywhere that it is already getting tiresome. Wood is more enduring and I think you will be happier in the long run if you use your talent to work around the wood now and then have it to enjoy when the tide turns. It will turn.

  5. Pieter Jansz says:

    I have no problem painting ordinary pieces, but antiques? Yikes, not too sure about that. Have you had them valued? If they're not very valuable (and won't escalate in value) then I don't see a problem, but if they're rare or sought after, even refinishing them could be something you'll regret in a few years. Would you consider having wooden chairs with a white table :)

  6. tiina says:

    nope, not quilty at all! But sure little if it was grandma's chairs that got painted but unfortunately I don't have any furniture inherited from my grandparents. So I shop in an antique stores instead! I just found really lovely store in Stockholm where I bought a carpet in old China style, I love it! I also found really cool whiskey and wine decanters taht fit perfectly with my old silver tray and vintage glassware. Blissss :)
    .-= tiina´s last post ..hely =-.

  7. Debbie says:

    If you feel a bit guilty, could you achieve a similar lightening effect, by doing a tailored slipcover for the chairs? Could just do a little cap for the backs or just the seat if you didn't want to do the whole chair. I'd love to see pics of the set.

  8. Helen Young says:

    Most of the furniture in my house was inherited from either my in laws, my grandmother or mother. Some of them are really good pieces of furniture. I have felt free to recover the good pieces in all styles of fabric, meaning get away from silk damask!, but I would never paint a good piece of furniture. I love painted furniture – I just say paint the furniture that's not of particular value – the goodwill is a great source for this, as well as estate sales and garage sales. How about if you have some great slip covers made in an edgy fabric to change things up? If you use tailored slipcovers, that can give a contemporary vibe to the room.

  9. Donna says:

    Yes, yes, yes! I also inherited a set from my grandmother's family – it is dark and traditional…I've lived with it for about 10 years – I haven't touched them bc of guilt but I am ready to take the plunge(my grandmother could care less )…I too, am painting my chairs, probably white! I think it instantly modernizes those pcs…can't wait to see what color you decide on!
    .-= Donna´s last post ..Mini BLUEPRINT sale!!! =-.

  10. I love the look of painted wood furniture but yes… like you I "gulp" at the thought of painting it. I have an old pine bed that I think would look great painted. So far I haven't been able to get up the nerve to paint it so in the storage room it sits. One day… maybe!

    Karen

  11. Natalie says:

    I was raised to believe it's a sin to paint wooden furniture, so I totally get it!

    Life is short, paint the furniture! It's yours after all. If you get a gift with strings, just cut the strings!

    If it doesn't make my heart race -I toss it out. I've painted my antique furniture, changed out hardware & no one had a stroke or disowned me. Officially anyway.

    you're an artist! be good to you!

  12. nkp says:

    I understand your dilemma. But that said, I don't think you should have something that prominent in your house, such a focal point, that toy will not enjoying using and looking at. Personally, I love the look of an old, dark, even formal table with modern chairs. Perhaps use the table as is and then get siome white Pantons and or Eames Eiffel base chairs to surround it. Or a mix of the modern chair and a simple natural linen upholstered Louis-style chair?

    Or go in the opposite direction and get a more modern table, use your antique chairs and just update the fabric on them. Then maybe you could relegate the dark dining table to another area of the house? As a library table perhaps? I bet it would look wonderful dressed with stacks of your design tomes. Throw in a couple of

    modern chairs and it would be fabulous.

    Last possibility, make the set work. Still reupholster the seats. Throw in a really contemporary or vintage modern Italian light fixture for drama and tension, a gorgeous heavy silk drape in an unexpected solid bold color (fuschia?) or a dramatic wide stripe, pooling on the floor. I'm thinking ball gown here. Some big, bold, and bright modern paintings or vice versa, a very large-scale framed photograph(s). And all the sudden, it is no longer your parents dining room set. Can you see it? :0)
    .-= nkp´s last post ..Everything But the Kitchen Sink =-.

  13. Lorna says:

    I have the same dilemma – I have a dining set in the attic – table, 6 chairs and a sideboard but I think I am going to brave it one of these days and paint them. I saw a fabulous painted dining table in an antique shop recently and it convinced me. Plus, I'm not using them as I don't like the dark colour of the wood (and the quality isn't all that amazing) whereas if I paint them, they will get use and a new lease of life :-)
    .-= Lorna´s last post ..Wallpaper with a difference! =-.

  14. Dang, nkp took the EXACT words right outta my mouth! I would a) get new chairs in a more modern style OR b) get a table in a more modern style (depending on whether you like the chairs or table better).

    As for painting grandma's furniture, I wouldn't paint a truly valuable antique. That said, moms and grandmas think ALL their antiques are valuable, and that is not the case. For example, a handsome Duncan Phyfe dining set is fairly common and could be replaced for 1-2K — not cheap, but less than a brand new Crate and Barrel dining set, if you know what I mean. I would paint the sh*t out of that, no problem.
    .-= erin@designcrisis´s last post ..Friday on a Tuesday =-.

  15. Bettina says:

    I love the chic look of white. But NEVER, EVER paint an antique. Paint away on "shabby" vintage stuff and distress and paint a new piece. But if you paint an antique you will, someday, really regret it. Visualize a realtive 50 years from now, standing on Antique Roadshow and the curator shaking his head sadly at them, saying, "If only that person hadn't painted these… they'd be worth sooo much more!"

    Betyter to pick out some other chairs that stylewise coordinate with the ones you got from Mom and paint those, then mix it up. Use the same fabric for seat/back covers to make it feel more set-like. If you have too many chairs, break them up. Put one in the bath, another in a covered area outside with a sweet little bistro table. You get the idea.

  16. Lumo says:

    If they are antiques I wouldn't paint them. Have seen too much bad examples of destroyed antiques. You can always change the upholstery (professionally), but try to strip the paint later on is another story…
    .-= Lumo´s last post ..Tallinn doors and stairs =-.

  17. Piper says:

    Oh boy, do I know how you feel…it's so hard because you don't want to necessarily do anything to an antique. But what do you do if it's in need of repair or has really nice lines that would look great painted. I know that we've always kept our older pieces in the state they came…but we're not necessarily happy with them like that. I'd almost say…do what makes you happy.
    .-= Piper´s last post ..{spring is in the air…} =-.

  18. Ally says:

    Wow! Thanks for all of your input. Clearly we are evenly divided on this one. I think both sides have really valid points and that's why I can't decide!

    nkp and everyone who suggested splitting the set: That was one of the other option I was considering. I actually have a set of white Arne Jacobsen chairs I could try to use so I wouldn't even need to get new chairs. I hadn't thought about changing the table though. I think there will be a game of musical furniture around here soon . . .

    Debbie and Helen: Slipcovers are a great idea. I had been contemplating that as well since it would be far less drastic than painting but would still make a big change.

  19. Marija says:

    I think what would be worse is to avoid using something that could otherwise stay in the family and be beautiful and you could LOVE because you were too afraid to change it.

    I'm currently painting chairs gray and finding the right shade has been insanely difficult…

    Marija
    .-= Marija´s last post ..Book Club =-.

  20. I say you've gotta do what you like. if you don't like the furniture the way it is, then you should paint it so you enjoy every bit of it. what's worse — leaving them in their original finish and never really liking them just or painting them in the color you want (white or gray) and loving them day after day.

    (I think we know the answer. :)
    .-= Kristin @ Contented Me´s last post ..10 things: getting to know it's pretty good =-.

  21. I'm just getting caught up with your posts :) I've been behind! So glad you had fun in Seoul! I was there back in 2000 and LOVED it!

    About painting antiques, yes, that is a tough pill to swallow. When I was so fortunate to get a home tour of Darryl Carter's home, he mentioned this same thing. He had painted a secretary of sorts and said it was "sacrilege" but necessary in the name of aesthetics :) Good luck!

Thanks so much for taking time to comment! I read every one and reply through my own comments.