Make Old Furniture New Again With These Designer Tips

Revitalize thrift store finds with these modern fixes.
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There’s a line in my all-time favorite comedy, Ghost World, where an 18-year-old Scarlett Johansson says to her best friend, Thora Birch, “This reminds me of your little old lady phase.” She was referring to an eccentric non-conformist’s brief stint wearing clothes meant for women four times her age. The character didn’t care that others considered her style of dress lame, silly or little-old-lady; she thought it was cool and rocked it out.

What the hell does this have to do with a decorating blog? Well, I often feel that items deemed little-old-man or little-old-lady-ish are often the most awesome pieces simply awaiting creativity for a fresh new look. In fact, it’s what I search for first as I sift through the inventory at flea markets and thrift stores. Luckily, it’s usually the last thing others pay attention to. Speaking of paying attention, take a look at these pieces once deemed old but show no signs of their secret past thanks to some clever reinvention. You know what else is in the past and I hope it stays that way forever? The mauve and brass combo circa 1986. Good riddance!

My assistant, Dayka, is kinda obsessed with taking traditional pieces, then giving them much more youthful identities with unexpected color. These bentwood chairs were bought for next to nothing. A great sanding and glossy coat of yellow instantly took ‘em from why-so-serious to color-me-happy. Accent pieces like these are fair game for bold color because, well, they’re simply accents and can punch up the energy in a room with a small dose of a high-energy hue.

Since the heavy, bulky size of larger pieces such as dressers or consoles can command a ton of attention and dominate the room, going bold with color isn’t always the best option unless you want the pieces to be the star of the space. Black and white are pretty much always a safe bet. Here’s an example of a previously-cheesy 1980′s dresser Dayka modernized with a coat of white paint. She wanted it to simply do its job and shut up; having it be the star of the space was not part of her agenda. Did she succeed? I’d say so.

I was recently asked to redesign the basement of a friend’s grandma. Believe it or not, Grandma wanted me to de-Granny her stuff. Weird huh? No, it’s more like awesome and amazing! She loved the ornate detail of her mid-1960′s dresser but found the light brown stain a total snorefest. For that new lease on life, we dropped it off at an auto body shop and had it sprayed with fire engine red auto paint. How the hell did we do that? Well, it’s not very complicated: You pick up the phone, ask a local auto body shop if they accept furniture, then drop it off. As far as pricing goes, shops usually charge by the booth, not the piece. So, you can drop off several pieces and have them all sprayed the same color for one set price.

For those of you without DIY skills, here’s an update you can handle: Juxtapose traditional style furniture with modern fabrics. In this bedroom, I kept 60-year-old traditional beds, then dressed them with graphic, modern textiles. It keeps the integrity of the original piece but makes it a lot more hip.

Something that’s been huge in Los Angeles for a while but now spanning globally is using modern upholstery on older, non-modern chairs. Thanks to my sinister iPhone, I can no longer find my before shot of this chair; however, it’s probably a blessing in disguise since its hideous tan, mustard and beige floral print may have harmed your retinas. Being that the lines of the chair were simple, all it needed was a streamlined fabric to bring it up to date. My choice? A quilted silver silk.

Rescued, Rehabbed and Resold Furniture

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