Tips to Give Furniture a Second Life

When friends Lauren Zimmerman and Nick Siemaska first met, one can imagine their conversation was peppered with words like, "good bones" and "rehab." If you guessed aspiring medical students, you'd be wrong.

No, the Boston twenty-somethings are a couple of furniture restoration buffs. They discovered a mutual love of restoring old, often discarded, furniture to new, polished gems that's taken them from hobbyists to bloggers to soon-to-be catalog and online store. For Siemaska, 25, it started from practicality. A student and musician, he wanted to improve his place but needed to do so on the cheap.

"I didn't have any experience with it. I did it with the furniture I had already. I had a desk, a table, all unfinished wood furniture, very basic stuff," he says.

For budding restorers, many of Siemaska's tips come from personal experience.
First, look closely at items you have. Are pieces sturdy, structurally sound, made of wood? Learn to look past the current color or detailing, since those things can be easily updated with a little effort.

Second, scour Craigslist, flea markets, curbside toss-outs, yard and estate sales. Many owners give away or sell old furniture cheaply in order to free up space in their homes or make room in the moving truck. Check that drawers slide with ease and don't have hidden broken joints. Siemaska also recommends taking the long view when sussing out possible buys – even for apartment dwellers. Learn how to tell the difference between particle board (wood chips compressed and sealed) that usually has a shorter life span and solid wood, which can last for decades.

Third, invest in some good paintbrushes, sandpaper and a sanding block. He says a good brush won't cost more than $20. You'll also need primer and paint.

Fourth, remove any hardware such as drawer pulls. Check out your local antique or home restoration stores for unique hardware that could update or make a piece pop.

Fifth, fill in any cracks or chips with wood filler.

Then, prime and paint the piece, using even brushstrokes. Siemaska cautions against using a piece of furniture with a heavy veneer or glaze on it, because you'll need to use either harsh chemicals or a lot of time sanding it down in order to repaint it.

In the end, he says you'll have a special piece of furniture that you'll enjoy for many years to come. Or if you have to sell it because of a move, it will most likely be at a profit.

"Putting energy into something is very rewarding," he says.

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