Revamping Grandmother’s Attic

Using family heirlooms can add so much history and meaning, much more than new furniture ever can. But don’t feel like the original finish can’t be changed! Everyone has pieces that they bought in the past or inherited that no longer work with their room’s new decor, so before rushing out to buy a new piece, consider adding on a fresh coat of paint or a specialty finish to give these furnishings the desired look and change the overall feel of the room.  

Many of my favorite furnishings came from my grandmother, Florence Richardson Goldberg, and every time I look at them it always brings me back to her. To tie in the special pieces I inherited from her, I simply refinished them and now they blend perfectly with my new decor.  If you’re wondering whether or not a replacement is worth it, look at your existing furniture and ask some questions to decide: Does it have good lines?  What’s the quality and condition of the piece? Is there sentimental value attached to the piece? How much would it cost to replace?  

Here she is, beautiful in her 1920s garb! Always fashionable, my grandmother loved interior design and was constantly renovating her home – no doubt inspiring my own love for design. Contributing to my education and wedding, she gave so much of herself to me when I was growing up that I always shared a very special connection. Being able to integrate her furniture was very important to me, even though it didn’t match my home’s decor. By refinishing these pieces that hold so much sentimental value, I was able to fit them into several spaces in my home.

This piece, formerly mahogany, is one of my favorites from my grandmother’s. When visiting her home, I used to rush over to this cabinet to look through the wonderful family photos it housed.  To better suit my master bedroom and downplay the 1920s style of this cabinet, though, a gesso, French blue finish changed the feel and gave the appearence of a larger scale to make it work in the space.  The inside drawers were left in the original finish. Offering the effect that layers of paint have been chipped away over time, bits of wood peak through in some areas so the inner cabinet wood still relates to the new outside finish. Painting over hardware also eliminated the need to replace it, keeping costs down. Refinishing this piece was significantly less than a new cabinet would have been. Keeping her memory alive, the chest is filled with some of grandmother’s things–look at those hats!!

This 25 year-old chair, made of sturdy mahogany wood, had carved lines that could fit the style of the new dining room if it was not so formal in appearance.  Once the space was revamped with a European flair, the shiny, mahogany finish didn’t suit the mood or feel.  By putting a series of glazes directly over the wood finish, a portion of the wood shows through and gives the chairs a certain age that complements the new fabrics, plastered walls and decor.  The antique Aubusson insets on each chair complete the look! Though the chairs were originally going to be replaced, they are now a favorite feature of the room. Purchased in 1987 for $795, each chair was refinished for a fraction of the cost of purchasing new at $375.

The lines and scale of this French chair were perfect for my art gallery!  Buying four of them from a place that specializes in buying up furnishings from estate sales and reselling them, the price was great. By simply changing the stained finish to a painted one, they became so perfect for the space that I couldn’t part with them even though I had originally purchased them to sell.

Previously mahogany, this piece was also from my grandmother and the wrong finish, but its scale was ideal for a bedside table!  Sanding, spray-painting silver and tea staining the little side table gave it the character it needed to fit in my daughter’s Hollywood style bedroom.

Used to hide the TV in the master bedroom, this large stained piece was overpowering the room.  By giving it a paint finish, embellished with beautiful, haindpainted lines to create a soft architecture, the new armoire culls the different colors in a soft way and opens up the room.

Acting as a vanity for the bedroom, this old mahogany dressing table of my grandmother’s was painted in a two tone French style–giving the very formal piece a shabby chic look with a touch of a Provencal feel.

Going all out, gesso applied in a cream finish and highlighted with silver leaf detail transforms the stained wood of this dresser. Modifying the hardware also played a big part in changing the overall look – shiny brass handles became an aged silver. This piece was in my mother’s room when I was growing up, so I love the fact that I now have it in my bedroom. I hope the dresser in its new finish will be handed down for many more generations to come.

One of my client’s gave this previously mahogany chest to her granddaughter for her new big girl room. While it was the perfect size to fit the room, the finish didn’t have the playfulness needed for the space.  Painting stripes and drawing vines and butterflies like those in the wallpaper, this piece became the room’s new focal point that the granddaughter just loved!

This rice bed – everyone had to have one in the 80’s! – overpowered the room but had stayed with my husband and I since early marriage.  Putting a two tone glaze on the bed’s four posts softened the bed’s look to go with the room’s new decor.  You can see the difference since the headboard isn’t complete.

The client had impeccable vision to see that this piece, when given a new finish, would work perfectly in its new home.  Transforming it from a cherry wood finish, this new look complete with modern hardware is the star of this powder.

This estate sale find was only $350!  Of course, the chair, though of great quality, had been spray-painted in a single color and covered in a hideous fabric, but the construction and lines of the chair couldn’t be beat. With new fortuny fabric and a series of pewter, gold and umber glazes, the chair was instantly revived!

Look around your home and find any forgotten pieces you might have that would work well once refinished and in a different space.  Gold mirrors, frames or accessories can be toned down and reused. Many believe in the myth that stained pieces are ruined when painted. I know my mom was horrified when I was revamping some of my grandmother’s pieces that had so much meaning to all of us, but if you ever want to go back to the furniture’s original finish, the piece can just be stripped and restained. 

If budget doesn’t permit hiring a professional, try doing the piece yourself–just sand, prime and paint for a whole new look! One of the easiest solutions, if you want to try and add a little gold or silver metallic to a piece, Rub and Buff, found at Bering’s or Texas Art Supply, is a wonderful product that is great for any homeowner to use, just remember to have some paint thinner handy to wipe off any areas that get too heavy!!

Revamping old furniture is such a great, inexpensive way to have a whole new look. I love thinking of all the warm memories my grandmother’s pieces bring to my space, especially this Mother’s Day. They’re a large part of what makes my house a home.  Let me know what is in your home or attic that you would like to redo or that you have taken and already redone!!!!  Have a wonderful Mother’s Day!!  You all deserve a special Day!!  Next week we will visit my friends Lisa’s new country home where she took down the origional homestead piece by piece and rebuilt it!! 

A Reclaimed Home!!
Egg-cellent Easter Decorations!


  1. Sophia Loerryn says:

    Hi :0) I would love to get some info on the silver sprayed tea stain bedside table… was it silver spay paint, and actual tea bag stain? –It looks metallic?– Thnks

  2. I like the poster above would love to get more info on the silver sprayed and then tea stained finish. I have a cabinet that I would love to try this on. What type of tea was used?

  3. Sophia Loerryn says:

    Hi Candy :0) I'm the poster from above… I did get an answer. I was told the it is a metallic spray paint, with a tea stained glaze finish. Still working on my buffet now…

  4. Please send more inf on the nightstand table you did in metallic silver and tea stained. I have no idea how to do tea stain on furniture. I have tea stained old linens but not furniture. I have a very old dresser i would like to do with that technique. Would like details. Thanks

  5. Love love love the creamy gesso finish. Where could I find a tutorial or information on how to achieve this finish. It is stunning! Everything is just gorgeous! Thanks so much!

  6. Sarah Fielden says:

    Hi! I love the tea stained chest. Would love the step by step technique for getting. The look. I paint furniture often but have never done heard of this one. I HAVE a chest I would love to do. Thank you, Sarah in Texas.

  7. is there a book I cam purchase to show me how to do some of your techniques? Love the kitchens!!

    • Thank you, Christina!! You are so sweet to follow the blog. I don’t know of an instructional book with our techniques as I am self-taught. There is lots out there on U-tube right now of free you might check out. I have published two books so far Segreto: Secrets to Finishing Beautiful Interiors and most recently Segreto Style that feature my finish work in some truly beautiful and inspiring homes. Each book includes color information along with tips and tricks from myself that might be helpful. They can be purchased by clicking ‘books’ on the tool bar above! Thank you so much for the support and best of luck!

  8. Patti Ginnetti says:

    Absolutely love the mahogany chair, I recently inherited 2 dining chairs from my mother-in-law that I want to refurb, what a wonderful idea!

    • Leslie Sinclair says:

      It is always special to have inherited pieces!! Send me pics when you are done with them! Happy painting!

  9. Ok. Not so artsy here but want to transform my 1980s rice bed. Can you tell me exactly how you did yours? Need product names and colors too. I think I can follow instructions. I hope!

  10. Oops. Had a typo in my email address with my previous comment wanting details on transforming the rice bed. Please use this address. Thank you so much!!!

    • Leslie Sinclair says:

      Hi Regina!! I wish I could give you more detailed information. I did the bed about 10 years ago. Typically we mix on site when going over wood so its like baking a cake without a recipe. I did sand the bed well and then mix tints in primer so it would bond well and not fully cover. I hope this helps. Have a great day!