Richmond designer and artist Dana Gibson is always browsing Northern Neck flea markets and consignment stores for treasures, and she’s not afraid of putting in some time to make them look good.
She’s a big fan of upcycling and repurposing. “I like to find one-offs for my rooms; it’s great to have old things that aren’t cookie-cutter looks,” she says.
How do you decide whether something is worth saving? “If it has good lines, good proportions, good craftsmanship, then it’s a little piece of art,” Gibson says. She advises against buying tables or chairs that aren’t sturdy or a chest whose drawers don’t work.
Here are some of her tips on updating vintage furnishings:
1. Choose a warm, creamy paint color. If you need a fresh coat of paint for old wicker, wood chairs or tables, go with a soft white. It’s not as harsh as a plain white. Gibson’s favorite is Rust-Oleum’s Ultra Cover 2x Satin Spray in Heirloom White. It has a built-in primer and gives great coverage, she says. She used this on her 1940s dining chairs.
2. Use slipcovers to save money on upholstering and create a casual, lived-in vibe. Gibson’s Rappahannock River cottage came with two old sofas. She didn’t want to spend a lot of money reupholstering them (her beagle naps there), so she chose ready-made off-white slipcovers. “It’s a quick fix,” she said. “I actually think the ones you get online that are not tailored to the form of the sofa have a great casual feeling.” She bought a slipcover with a tailored arm and straight skirt from SlipcoverShop.com.
3. Freshen beat-up metal furniture. Gibson loved the patina of an old French cafe table she picked up at a local shop. But she wanted to clean the rough metal top before she put it in the living room. She sanded off a bit of the old dirt and rust and used Benjamin Moore’s Benwood Stays Clear Acrylic Polyurethane to seal it. She says brushing on the lacquer evened out the surface and gave it a nice sheen.
4. Repurpose old curtains and table linens. If you come across beautiful window treatments or vintage tablecloths in a consignment shop, grab them. Gibson cut down her mom’s old Brunschwig & Fils curtains to fit her kitchen windows and made the rest of the damask into pillows for a guest room. She also repurposed a small lacy white tablecloth of her grandmother’s into a window treatment, attaching it with three tacks.
5. Re-size tables by cutting off their legs. A table too high for your room layout can be repurposed by cutting it down to size. Cut down small tables to be the perfect height for a sofa or bedside, or take a medium-size dining table and chop it down to the height of a coffee table.