Old Made New: How to refinish a coffee table {Tutorial}

I love coming across a piece of furniture with character and personality; aged, flawed, forgotten, unappreciated, and undervalued. Thrift stores, garage sales, craigslist, and curbsides offer up amazing pieces that at first glance might be cast off or ignored, but after a second look their character becomes evident and a new project takes shape.

I found this sweet antique table on craigslist for a mere $20 and turned it into a coffee table with a fresh and chic new look. This gem was drowning under a thick, sticky, and drippy coat of stain and then slathered in, what seamed like, a gallon of shiny lacquer.

I loved the simplicity of the table with the tapered legs and the slightly rippled edges that gave it a little extra character. Our house houses a somewhat ridiculous amount of Ikea furniture that was beginning to make me feel like I was living in one of their showrooms, so this coffee table was a refreshing find, one that helps break up and eliminate that “matchy matchy” feel in our living room.

So, are you just biting your fingernails in suspense wondering what the “afterlife” for this little table looks like? You’ll have to bite them a little longer because I just have to give you the rundown on the extreme makeover I pulled on this little lady.

I started off with a plan to simply sand the table to knock down the blinding shine in order to prepare the surface for paint. But once I started to sand it, I realized the ooey and gooey lacquer was holding on for dear life.

Here’s a photo after the initial sanding:

My trusty assistant got in on the job and gave it some serious elbow grease:

I quickly realized I was going to have to call in the big guns in order to truly reveal the beauty beneath the mask of stain and shine…I called a stripper and highered a gun… ok not that kind of stripper or that kind of gun…

I called in some highly toxic and disgusting furniture stripper and my trusty spray gun, oh and some rubber gloves, oh yeah baby. This table was going to take some serious work to get to the bottom of the grime.

Stripper is seriously nothing to mess around with. It is highly toxic to kids and pets and should never be used in their presence as it is not only a chemical that can cause serious burns, but its fumes are atrocious as well. My little guy was bundled up on the couch with his puppy watching a movie while I worked in the backyard with fresh air on this project. ALWAYS wear gloves (and shoes….speaking from experience over here) when working with this stuff.

I sprayed the stripper onto the table top and we got this disgusting and yet so delicious looking (delicious because scraping that nasty stuff off is like frosting a cake) layer of bubbling goo…

Then I got to frost the cake, oh yeah nothing like stripper to make you hungry…and scraped all the gunk from the table.

After some scrubbing and serious scraping I rinsed the table using a stiff bristled scrub brush and hot soapy water. I wanted to make sure I could scrub into the hard to reach places and get all the stripper residue off. Without the hot soapy water some of the stripper might be left behind, resulting in serious bubbling of the paint I was going to refinish the table with.

After the table dried in the summer sun I put my grandpa’s ancient electric sander to good use (probably its last project in life as the darn dinosaur died on me at the very end) and sanded the entire table.

Bare wood antique coffee table

Sigh… isn’t raw wood beautiful? I have absolutely no clue what kind of wood this is, I also didn’t sand completely down to the true rawest part of the wood purely for time’s sake, especially since I was going to paint the table, not re-stain it. If re-staining had been my mission it would have been really important to get every last bit of old stain and lacquer off to ensure an even new coat. But that’s a tutorial for another day, and another piece of furniture!

So, final steps of the project included painting the legs and sides of the table in a vanilla cream color, so warm and inviting. The top of the table is painted a crisp white which makes me think of vanilla ice cream with whipped cream on top… I think I must be hungry.

The Olympic paint line sold at Lowes boasts a zero VOC latex paint that was super wonderful to work with and cost exactly the same price as traditional paint. I was really excited to find the no VOC for so inexpensive. Unfortunately Minwax polyurethane isn’t no VOC, it’s probably double VOC, this stuff smells so bad…but it works wonders.

The table took 2 coats of each color using a ¼” nap mini roller. I wanted the roller to leave a super smooth finish and opted not to use a brush for that very reason. I made sure to do thin coats to eliminate drips or goop between coats. I purchased the paint in a quart size but I think I seriously used a 10th of it, now I’ll have to use the paint on some other project…. picture frames anyone? I finished the table off with a few coats of poly to ensure I could wipe sticky finger prints and toy car tracks off the top when necessary.

And now for the big reveal….. drum roll please….

Gorgeous right? I love it! The fresh cream and white color combination adds so much light to our space and the size of the coffee table is perfectly proportioned to our living room. Major score thanks to craigslist!

So, are there any pieces of furniture in your house that could be completely transformed by a few coats of paint and some elbow grease? Have questions about any of the steps outlined above? Leave a comment!


8 thoughts on “Old Made New: How to refinish a coffee table {Tutorial}

  1. way to go girly…from having an idea and making it a reality (your bloggy blog) to posting an awesome tutorial. So fun! I can’t wait to see what’s next. I’ll have to pop my head into your home soon, you always do so much in between my visits! Love you.

  2. Pingback: Thrifty finds are so nifty- How to shop frugally | A Little Abandon

  3. Pingback: To refinish, or to paint: that is the question | A Little Abandon

  4. We have been looking for a new coffee table for a while, but nothing really stood out to us. I have been wanting to learn how to refinish wood furniture, so I decided a coffee table would be a good place to start. Two birds, one stone! I just picked up a piece at a local thrift/junk/antique store this afternoon. I’m so excited to start working on it. I will be reading and rereading your post throughout this process. Thanks!

  5. I so totally love the piece, you done a great job although I like the little details in the corners I would have made them pop with a color from the room you placed it in. any who I think your very fun and bubbly I love reading every word and giggled a few times look forward to seeing more of your stripper gun stuff lol

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