Tune into any home decorating show on TV, and you're bound to see a designer taking a $2 garage sale find that looked destined for the landfill and transforming it into a high-end showpiece, all with a single can of spray paint.
So what's the trick, and can you really do things like that to improve your home?
The answer is yes and no. Yes, you certainly can take furniture, cabinets, shelving and other items and repurpose them, making them look great and giving them many years of new life. But no, you can't do it in five minutes with a single can of spray paint — it takes a little more effort than that.
But with the right steps and some simple materials, you'll be amazed at the results you can achieve, for a fraction of the cost of buying something new.
Fix it first
The first step with any project like this, whether it's a flea market bookcase or your existing kitchen cabinets, is to make sure the project is solid and in good condition. Remove any existing hardware — hinges, knobs — and store them in plastic bags so they don't get lost. If you have a lot of hardware, consider taking some digital photos of things before you start, and label the bags as to what goes where.
Next, make any necessary repairs. That might involve gluing loose fittings, adding screws or nails, or perhaps installing metal reinforcing plates. With old kitchen cabinets or furniture pieces with drawers, you might want to consider replacing the old drawer hardware so the drawers will slide easier.
Clean and prep
Here comes the dreaded next step that's often skipped over on the designer shows. In order to get a good finish on a piece of wood, it needs to be cleaned, sanded and prepped first. Start by washing everything with a mixture of trisodium phosphate (TSP) and water, which you can get at home centers and paint stores — the mixing instructions are on the box. This will remove much of the grease, dirt, and built-up grime from the surface, which makes sanding easier. You can also use a good general-purpose degreasing cleaner. Allow everything to dry before proceeding.
Next, sand the wood. Remember, the goal here is twofold: to remove any of the old finish that's loose or peeling, and to roughen up the old finish so that the new paint will adhere to it. You don't need to remove all the old paint or stain all the way down to bare wood. You can sand by hand if you want (very time-consuming), but my preference is a random orbit sander. They can be rented or purchased very reasonably, and make quick work of any sanding project while leaving a nice finish on the wood. Start with 120 grit, then proceed to 180.