Make Furniture Last Longer with Simple Upgrades

Sarah Moore Impact Mill Contributor

Furniture seems kind of permanent, doesn’t it? Maybe because it’s so big and bulky, and takes so much dang effort to get in and out of our houses. We kind of assume it will always be around, pretty much in the same way we bought it.

Sadly, this isn’t true. In 2009, in fact, the EPA reported 9.8 million tons of furniture went into landfill. That’s equivalent to more than 4% of total household waste. This says to me that we should be making much, much better use of our furniture, y’all.

Well, happy day. There’s a pretty simple way to do that: improve the pieces you already have. We already discussed how to do basic repairs that give new life to furniture that’s a little shaky, so now let’s talk updates to give your pieces a whole new look.

A Quick Sand and Stain Job

One of the easiest ways to update furniture is to simply sand off the existing finish and restain or refinish it. Sanding is a pretty basic skill, but if you’ve never done it, there are some tricks to preparing wood correctly, so take a gander at those before you begin.

When you choose a stain, opt for an environmental choice such as Penofin Verde, and coat with a varnish such as ECOS Woodshield, which has no cancer-causing and environment-degrading volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Or, if your furniture is made of real wood, simply rub on a light coat of mineral oil or wax. It works.

A Fresh Coat of Low-VOC Paint


A fresh coat of paint can transform and modernize antique furniture | image: Clyde Robinson/Flickr

Repainting a piece of furniture can give it a whole new look. Think of a ramshackle thrift store dresser that gets a fresh coat of mint green or brick red paint, and suddenly becomes a statement piece. Again, you’ll want to choose non-toxic paints that don’t pollute the world or your home.

Admittedly, spray paint is the easiest way to get a fine, even coat of paint on almost any surface. However, even today’s modern spray paints are still considered hazardous waste and are therefore difficult to dispose of. Cans either get thrown away with no punctures and slowly leak chemicals, or they do get punctured and release those harmful chemicals into the air. If you really must use spray paint, at least choose an eco-friendly version that has a higher ratio of paint to propellant.

New Knobs

New knobs are such a fun way to give furniture and cabinets a new look. We explained in the first article in this series how to size your knobs appropriately, so now it’s just a matter of finding some fun vintage pieces or eco-friendly modern accessories to complement your upcycled furniture.

Distress…the Good Kind

Distressing is a super-easy way to make somewhat battered furniture look sexy. Since shabby-chic is totally in, you can give that old dressing table or sideboard new life simply by whipping out a piece of sandpaper. If your piece of furniture still has a decent paint job with some knicks or peeling spots, rub the fine-grained sandpaper all over until you’ve achieved a nice, even, weathered look.

If you’d prefer to get the distressed with new paint, here’s a great tutorial. Basically, you paint first, then distress.

At the end of the day, keeping furniture out of landfill – and avoiding adding any more chemicals to the air in the process – should be your main goal. Whichever of these ideas you use to spice up your old pieces, try and create a look that will stand the test of time, so you don’t have to rehab again in a few years (or buy all new furniture).

Sarah Moore is an Impact Mill contributor and freelance writer who focuses on sustainability, local food, and the weirder side of science. In her spare time she enjoys writing fiction, running, and cooking. Sarah lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband, two children, two dogs, and an unshakable colony of June bugs.