Brown Furniture – How To Make it Look Classic and Fresh

freaking-out-over-your-paint-colors

 

The other day, after I wrote this post about interior design trends 2021,  there were numerous requests for a post about “brown furniture” and how to keep it looking classic and fresh.

 

To be clear, it’s not just furniture that’s stained brown, but “traditional” pieces like breakfronts, china cabinets, buffets, curios, bookcases, tables of all kinds, and chairs.

This is not an easy question to answer because numerous situations can influence my response:

 

  • Are these brown furniture pieces fine antiques?
  • If not, are they fine antique reproductions?
  • Or, are they 20th century “traditional” pieces, usually coming in a matched set?

 

Did you inherit this furniture?

If so, does it have sentimental value?

If it doesn’t have sentimental value, can you sell it or give it to someone else if there’s too much of it or it’s not working.

 

What does your home look like?

 

Is it?

  • A center hall colonial?
  • Is it old or new?
  • Is it a contemporary space?
  • Open concept?

 

And, where is the home located? Urban, suburban, country, mountains, lake, ocean?

 

However, before we get into all of this regarding brown furniture, I strongly encourage you to have a look at the following posts:

Inherited Furniture That Must Stay

The Granny Decor Mistakes You  Might Be Making

 

@jamestfarmer on instagram - persimmon sofa

 

Every post about James T Farmer. His rooms are sublime

I Just inherited My Grandmother’s Furniture.

Inherited Furniture that Must Stay

New Traditional Decorating

 

So, let’s go over some general rules for brown furniture.

 

1. To paint or not to paint traditional brown furniture?

Okay, nothing strikes more controversy than this question.

 

Here’s my take on the subject.

If you possess an 18th or maybe even a 19th century fine antique with a gorgeous patina brown wood stained patina, I will not paint it.

Of course, if the piece is an antique from that period and was originally meant to be painted, that is a different matter.

However, if the piece is from the 20th century, unless it is a fine reproduction (e.g., Baker Furniture, Wood & Hogan, etc.) I think it’s fine to paint it.

 

But, here’s the thing. And, we’ve gone over this more times than I can count. But I don’t mind repeating it over and over…

 

Some brown furniture that’s lower-end from the 20th and 21st century is a bastardization of authentic 18th and 19th-century designs.

How do you know if it’s a bastardization or, my favorite word, an “ersatz” (not real or genuine) design?

 

One clue is what the brown-stained furniture is called.

 

For example, remember that “French Provincial” furniture you might’ve had in your bedroom? That’s painted, but it’s not.

 

Vintage “French Provincial” dresser.

Remember the phony French kitchen post? It’s definitely one of my favorites, which was inspired by an internet troll.

 

ersatz early American brown furniture

 

Another example is “Early American” furniture.

 

There is no such animal as what you see above from the Sears catalog circa 1960 something, I reckon. Early American is another made-up term. It should be called “Colonial.” Typically, the “early American” furniture was made from maple. While some Colonial furniture may have been made from maple, most was made from Oak or pine.

If you would enjoy seeing what real early American rooms looked like, please visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or you can look at the period rooms here.

 

Even the term “traditional” is a made-up word. Although, I do use it to differentiate it from modern.

 

ersatz chippendale maybe matched dining room furniture - brown furniture - great color balance
Above is an example of a “traditional” dining room set. Those chairs are wrong in every way.

 

Above are a faithful reproduction of 18th c. Thomas Chippendale dining chairs from Baker. These are vintage chairs and for sale at Stenella Antiques! They are a fraction of the original price.

 

Thomas Chippendale did not call his furniture “traditional.”

 

And, even a century later and to this day, it is called Georgian. Georgian is the name for 18th-century classical furniture designs that originated in England.

Other names are Regency (early 19th century), Directoire, (French) Neo-Classical, etc.

Baker furniture makes a collection called the Historic Charleston Collection. That is based on authentic 18th-century designs.

 

The reason I’m going through this is that if you have a lot of brown furniture, one way to break it up is to paint some of it or even one piece.

 

Years ago, I had this painted breakfront custom-made for a client.

Quite frequently, the piece I like to see painted is the breakfront or china cabinet.

 

via One Kings Lane Madcap Home Tour_Turquoise interior mahogany china cabinet - Granny chic decor - brown furniture - great color balance

Madcap Cottage

Or even the back of the cabinet.

 

The Pink Pagoda One Room Challenge - beautiful china cabinet with blue and white chinoiserie porcelain

The Pink Pagoda

 

LBI Bronxville dining room - custom cabinet by Englishman

Above and below are from the Bronxville dining room I did several years ago now. The wallpaper is from Thibaut.

The dining room table is a faithful reproduction Georgian pot board style. The cabinet with the painted back is out of yew wood, as is the banding on the table made out of cherry.

 

bronxville-dining-room-buffet-mirror - brown furniture

Above is a vintage buffet we also did. All of the furniture is from Englishman’s. They sell mostly new furniture but also had an inventory of vintage pieces. The chairs were from Aidan gray in an antique white. Sorry, they are discontinued.

 

But, here’s another thing regarding brown furniture.

 

Most people have inherited it.

And, there might be a lot of it.

If it does not have sentimental value, you don’t necessarily have to keep it or keep all of it.

 

But, let’s say that you’ve inherited a roomful of expensive antiques?

 

Well, if you don’t want the pieces, perhaps contact a place like Sotheby’s.

The other issue might be that your home style inherently isn’t going to look good with a roomful of brown furniture.

Let’s say you have a 1950s ranch or split-level home.

The furniture might be on the wrong scale.

 

What if it’s a modern home or loft?

 

I definitely think it’s fine to mix modern pieces and antiques. Mixing Modern and Traditional Furnishings

One designer who does this to perfection, in my opinion, is William McLure.

However, generally speaking, when working in a modern setting, less is more. I usually think of the 80/20 rule. 20% can be more formal brown furniture and the rest not.

 

It’s also important to remember that brown furniture is a color.

 

It is brown. lol

So, it needs to be balanced.

 

One way to balance it is with lots and lots of white, black accents and some gold finishes.

 

Another way to balance brown wood is with deep, rich colors.

About a year ago, this post is full of ideas where I show how I balance out brown wood tones with saturated color.

A post, also from last year, shows how terrific warm red looks with brown wood stains.

One of my favorite posts from 2019 explains how to achieve furniture and color balance in a room.

And, finally, this post showcases a beautiful antique farmhouse and gives more ideas for how I knock back the formality of brown furniture.

 

Etsy is a terrific source for vintage furniture. Places like the Resplendent Crow or Julie Simple Redesign will lacquer it for you.

 

best of etsy 150 sources

 

For dozens more fantastic sources, please look into getting my new Etsy Guide of about 150 home furnishings vendors.

Below is a mini widget you can scroll through for some of their pieces. They either started out as brown wood or a blah color. You can keep them as is, with the brown wood stain. Or, they will also do a custom lacquer for you in a color of your choice.

 

 

Below are several dining rooms that show a beautiful color balance with brown wood furniture.

 

joe-nye-flair-dining-room - brown furniture - great color balance - Gracie Chinoiserie wallpaper

Bill Nye

 

Gil Schafer dining room with warm rusty red walls - brown furniture - great color balance

Gil Schafer above and below

 

Horton Design Associates -Gil Schafer architect warm color scheme - enfilade - DeGournay wallpaper -dining room - living room

 

House and Garden-Ben Pentreath-Sharyn-Cairns St. Giles Blue -Benjamin Moore Bluebell - brown furniture - great color balance
Ben Pentreath and Charlie McCormick’s stunning Dorset dining room in St. Giles Blue makes for a beautiful backdrop for their dark mahogany furniture. The pop of the red Chinese Chippendale side chair makes the space, I think. The other thing are the gorgeous black and white prints with black frames.

 

Ben Pentreath Blue dining room

The other side of Ben’s and Charlie’s dining room.

 

Scrumptuous buffet lunch at Ben Pentreath and Charlie McCormickAbove is my pic from my trip to England back in the fall of 2017. Those of you who were reading back then, it’s so difficult to believe that was almost 3.5 years ago!

 

Laurel, you forgot to address open floor plans.

 

You’re right. I did. ;] Okay, obviously, if there are not enough walls for your furniture, it’s okay to add some back in.

 

By the power I’ve bestowed upon myself, I hereby grant you permission to addeth back the walls.

 

There, how difficult was that?

I hope this post gave those of you interested in some ideas and direction for some of the best ways to work with brown furniture.

xo,

PS: Please check out the newly updated HOT SALES!

 

7th edition rolodex-post-graphic - November 2020 - A unique shopping guide with hundreds of sources created by Laurel Bern

  • usvintagewood - February 9, 2021 - 7:25 AM

    The combination of the symmetrical gallery wall and the large abstract adds so much
    interest, as does the completely different style of tables.ReplyCancel

  • Tara Imani, AIA - February 9, 2021 - 4:28 AM

    Hi Laurel,

    You might have already said the name, but I became a bit obsessed with the green chinoiserie bird cage Thibaut wallpaper and googled it: it’s Providence. It also came in a yellow color way. But they’ve got other beautiful patterns in green to choose from. What a great jumping off point to start a Redecor project.

    Thank you for the inspiration!

    Cheers,ReplyCancel

  • Jennifer - February 8, 2021 - 11:57 PM

    I adore brown furniture as long as it’s Georgian. I like it best against white walls with white upholstered pieces and fresh, clear accents for pillows. Paired with really nice art and a seagrass rug (yes, I learned this from you, Laurel 🙂 this is one my favorite ways to decorate. I’m also a sucker for a good blonde wood Biedermeier piece.ReplyCancel

  • Bill - February 8, 2021 - 8:49 PM

    You talked about skipping painting on anything 19th century or older. You might want to include early 20th century mission. That was usually intended to have stained wood as far as furniture goes.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - February 9, 2021 - 12:31 AM

      Thanks for pointing that out, Bill. There are lots of 20th c. styles I didn’t mention that shouldn’t be painted like art deco. Mission, Arts and Crafts, Craftsman and Prairie style are all of a similar time period. True, most of it, shouldn’t be painted. But some craftsmen homes were painted. But, if it was originally stained, I wouldn’t paint it, now.ReplyCancel

  • Pinkie Crabtree - February 8, 2021 - 3:24 PM

    Oh. My! That 1960s colonial living room was my parents living room. In fact, my parent’s current sofa that they purchase over 40 years ago is like the plaid sofa with the wood trim and the pleated skirt. Ugh.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - February 9, 2021 - 12:25 AM

      I knew people in Indiana who had that furniture, too! It was pretty popular back in the 60s.ReplyCancel

  • Elizabeth - February 8, 2021 - 2:39 PM

    I have learned so much from reading your blog and am so thrilled about your move to Boston (where my daughter moved last January!) I just knew purchasing that French provincal set was not ideal, but when I saw it, it checked so many boxes for me. Dove-tailed drawers, the pieces I needed, and a great price.

    I see so many versions of it re-done and I am tempted to do it. Would you ever consider showing us ways to make this particular set work since it seems to be so readily available? Or is it simply too far gone lol…I have seen it done in navy blue with gold, sweetly painted pink for a baby girl’s room, and of course white. I do understand that you are incredibly busy in your own home and am very much looking forward to the progress you are making there.

    Hope you are having a wonderful birthday!ReplyCancel

  • carol - February 8, 2021 - 1:53 PM

    Hi Laurel
    In the widget above can you tell me what site did the picture of the woman next to the milk can come from?
    Thank yoo

    iReplyCancel

  • Susan - February 8, 2021 - 1:39 PM

    Thanks for a great piece, Laurel! We live in coastal Maine and for the past few years, we have been picking up a few late 18th, early 19th century New England maple dressers. I like them with a little wear and tear that knocks back the formality quite a bit. I have always really loved true NE antiques, but 20+ years ago when we were really into furnishing houses, we were priced out of the market. Now you can get these lovely pieces for less than Pottery Barn prices – if you play your cards right. Now we can live with these true hand made relics of New England. How nice is that! As far as those mid century repros – Paint ’em!!ReplyCancel

  • Lorri - February 8, 2021 - 2:49 AM

    I watch a young couple on YouTube who’ve taken on the restoration of a 100-year-old farmhouse. They do the work themselves with a low budget. They recently restored the dining room and painted it a very dramatic deep teal with white moldings around the windows. It makes all their thrifted Empire furniture look so rich and it definitely doesn’t look boring or staid.ReplyCancel

  • Julianna Mathers - February 7, 2021 - 8:22 PM

    Happy Birthday Laurel! I just lacquered my dining room furniture a lovely dark navy and painted & reupholstered the chairs in a cool cream. The inside of the hutch went cream too. The “real” antiques in the room stayed brown. It’s a lively fresh mix and I love it!ReplyCancel

  • Cynthia Blaylock - February 7, 2021 - 6:32 PM

    Oh Laurel, I am so busted! I flipped over our post on Granny Decor Mistakes and it seems I’ve made two of them. I put a round piece of glass on top of a fabric-covered round table (but it’s a beautiful Scalamandre fabric remnant that a designer friend gifted me – do I get at least one point back for that?) And, I hung two English lithographs in a staggered manner – not one over the other or directly next to each other. But it’s in a stairwell, so does that make a difference? Oh, the angst!!ReplyCancel

  • Mary E - February 7, 2021 - 5:48 PM

    Hi Laurel,
    I’ve inherited my grandfather’s Empire Tiger Oak sideboard. When I received it, it was in bad shape. The veneer was missing in some areas & it had some water damage on the feet. I took it to someone that said he could restore it. But all he did was remove the veneer & stain it a dark mahogany color. I was young & stupid & didn’t know any better. I’ve had it now for about 50 years & cringe every time I look at it.ReplyCancel

  • Jenny - February 7, 2021 - 5:47 PM

    Hi Laurel – this is my first time commenting though I have been following you for awhile – love your blog and have your rolodex. Here is my question – when there are fine antiques which I am about to get from my father’s estate, some of which I like, but I know there is virtually no market for them in today’s world…how do I know what to keep? I appreciate your help and congratulations on your new apartment. My row home in Philadelphia is eclectic and has some antiques already so I just don’t know how to proceed.

    JennReplyCancel

  • Tara Imani, AIA - February 7, 2021 - 5:32 PM

    Edit: We bought our set in 1994!!! Big difference. We bought it from a furniture store that was going out of business and had 8 sets left. They waxed and glossed the table top to perfection. We were picky kids back then. And fortunate to get a good deal. We also bought a large gold mirror (that we left at the last house) and a fainting couch that was a bit too Victorian with our transitional decor.ReplyCancel

  • Tara Imani, AIA - February 7, 2021 - 5:26 PM

    My husband and I bought a traditional set of Chippendale mahogany for our Dining Room in 2004 – two houses ago. I like the set because it seats 12-14 comfortably (even though we only have 10 chairs including the two Chippendale host chairs with arms.

    The problem is: it looks too small scale in our current home that has 9’ ceilings. And the chandelier is probably too big for the table width.

    We’ve talked about getting new Dining Room furniture but haven’t decided on the layout and style. So much thought goes into a room and lighting and wall color are key.

    I, too, love the green room above with the Thibaut wallpaper. I’d love to do that. Our current walls in the Foyer, study, DR, & LR are in a pale gold Venetian plaster from the previous owners circa 2006. My husband loves it.

    Those chairs above that you said are “all wrong”- is it because they’re a mix of Chippendale and “Regency?” I don’t know what style that center “crown” piece of molding is.

    To break up the monotony of the all-mahogany look, we bought 6 grey/off-white chairs with an upholstered seat in a grey/muted celadon green. They have a similar “crown” adornment in the top center that makes them look too precious. Otherwise, they’re pretty flexible at either table- breakfast room or formal dining.

    Thank you for this post on “brown furniture!”

    We have a lot of “warm dark brown built-ins” that I’ve often thought to paint a dark blue or green or even taupe. I’d LOVE a post on that.

    Happy Super Bowl Sunday in your beautiful new place in Boston!!!

    -TaraReplyCancel

  • Nataly V Roberts - February 7, 2021 - 4:46 PM

    That’s a great idea! I have wrapped wall hanging shelves in fabric because I didn’t want to be bothered to sand and paint and the fabric pattern added more decorative interest than paint ever would have.ReplyCancel

  • Danielle - February 7, 2021 - 3:04 PM

    Hello, the matching “Queen Ann” set you linked on another post was that by any chance Ethan Allen? I inherited one of these sets but only the china cabinet and dining table with chairs. The reason I have kept it is because it is actually solid cherry wood. There is so much out there that is made of MDF and veneers. I looked on Ebay and this set is selling for quite a bit of money. Do you not like it because it is not real Queen Ann or because it’s too matchy? Anyway I enjoy your blog and now I want to replace all the inherited furniture in my home!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - February 9, 2021 - 12:18 AM

      I don’t know the manufacturer. Yes, it’s not real Queen Ann or any other style. It’s like someone wanted to create a horse, but they created a giraffe instead. That’s the best way I can explain it.

      Unfortunately, veneer has gotten a bad rep because of some poor quality furniture from around the later part of the 20th century. However, fine 18th century antiques are made from veneers because it made the pieces stronger. This was taught to us when I was in design school and I found it fascinating.ReplyCancel

  • Cris - February 7, 2021 - 2:20 PM

    I have started contemplating what will happen to the contents of my home when I pass. I have only on child and she has actually told me, part joking, that she does not want my stuff, only the house itself. I have started an inventory and am trying to put values on things so that she is aware that it is not “junk”. I especially want to let her know that my Henkel-Harris table, chairs and buffet are worth a lot more than we paid for them; even if she does not want to keep the dining furniture, she needs to sell for a good price. There are a number of other pieces of family furniture that are well made. Unfortunately, a lot of the stuff I treasure, like my grandmother’s antique cut crystal pieces or my wedding china and crystal re not appreciated by her.ReplyCancel

  • Janet R - February 7, 2021 - 1:35 PM

    So glad to read your take on this Laurel! I have a houseful of antique brown furniture from various relatives in various styles. For some reason, I have no trouble painting something that I have picked up in bright colors that make me happy, but I can’t with the inherited ones! My house is fairly open with bright wall colors (green apple, aqua, periwinkle with daffodil ceilings) and the colors are what make the furniture work for me. One thing I wish is that a few pieces lined up better so they could be placed back to back for a quasi room divider.
    I’m still slowly making my way through a secretary desk that was my paternal grandmother’s. My mother used it but never got rid of the grandma layer underneath, so there are treasures like WWII letters to my father from his college friends, my grandmother’s letters of reference describing her neat appearance among other attributes (hysterical, but she did graduate from college in 1910), family recipes, newspaper clippings, etc.ReplyCancel

  • Martha Pearson - February 7, 2021 - 12:51 PM

    Hi Laurel,

    Thanks for the insights on “brown” furniture…another great bit of insight. I’m lucky enough to have inherited several lovely antiques from my grandmother. Her mother raised six kids as a single parent by selling antiques (or probably just furniture at the time) out of their home in Nashville. I’d always heard stories about the kids not being sure their rooms would still have the same contents when they got home from school as their mom would sell things out from under them daily!

    With a deeply ingrained appreciation for fine furniture, my great aunt had a bed made for my grandmother as a wedding present in 1920. The family story was that it had been copied from a bed on display in the Met. With the link you provided, I was able to compare a photo of my grandmothers bed alongside a photo of a bed from an exhibit in the Met. (You’d provided a link in today’s column.). The copied bed could indeed have been inspired by the bed in the Haverhill Room in the museum.

    At any rate, we enjoyed the comparison and appreciate your guidance in these matters. Since I use and enjoy most all that I’ve inherited, I’m always up for advice on how to keep things fresh. So, thanks…and congrats on your move!ReplyCancel

  • Valerie - February 7, 2021 - 12:21 PM

    On the other side of the coin, I’m 5′ and have a hard time finding club chairs and other furniture that I can comfortably sit in with my feet touching the floor. Please put those club chairs on a resale website or in a consignment shop so shorties like me can find them! I can get small with good bones reupholstered, but I can not find small but good bones new!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - February 9, 2021 - 12:14 AM

      Hi Valerie,

      Actually, I find that some of the small furniture actually seats big. What I mean by that is that the piece may be visually smaller, but the seat itself is relatively deep on the inside. However, yes with a lower seat it would be easier, but you still might need a back pillow or two. It just depends on the piece.ReplyCancel

  • Sarah Hoyt - February 7, 2021 - 12:20 PM

    Quick tip if you’re hesitating to paint: line your armoire, buffet, bookcase or similar with fabric. Can be wrapped over shelves, mounted on foam care, all temporary!ReplyCancel

  • Paula - February 7, 2021 - 12:03 PM

    Love this love for brown furniture! My mother cherished her antiques, had an eye and chose wisely, learned from an older cousin who was an antique dealer. Nothing very expensive, but fine lines and much character. Born deep
    in coal country WV, she also passed along furniture made by local artisans and relatives, including her father. I painted a bit of it. I balance this melange w saturated color (adore BW Deep Royal, Gentleman’s Gray), lots of mid-tone colors too, lots of texture, touches of black and white in each room, abstract art and hope it feels timeless and fresh all at the same time. Taken time to figure out how to do all this but Laurel, you have helped much over the years! Now the pieces I’ve kept are like a hug from home. And yes, as a kid I coveted that purty French provincial set my best friend had!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - February 9, 2021 - 12:09 AM

      Thanks, Paula. I wanted that vaguely French Provincial furniture too. What I had was pretty ugly. And then I saw this maple totally fake “early American” furniture when I was a teen-ager. My stepdad was in the furniture business. It was totally weird, but at the time, I absolutely ADORED it. Decades later, my mom still had the hutch and dresser in her guest bedroom until the house was sold and she moved out. The crown only covered the front of the piece, not the sides and it was a stand-alone piece!ReplyCancel

  • Donna - February 7, 2021 - 11:23 AM

    For most of my adult life I never had enough furniture then suddenly, I inherited or was gifted a ton of furniture from different family members. There was no room for it all in my home (a delightful problem, by the way!) so I gave a lot of it to my children. So now I have a mix of furniture and it is mostly brown. I am not opposed to painting furniture at all, but it was much easier to purchase a few pieces that were not brown. I love that little red Chinese Chippendale side chair in the Pentreath and McCormick vignette; how perfect is that! I have some black chairs in my kitchen and a black entertainment console in my den that I turned into wine storage and added some silver bar pieces on the shelves for sparkle. I also have a mirrored console in my foyer that was purchased on Wayfair but was also in Neiman-Marcus, Horchow, and Macy’s for a much higher price. It worked for me. Now I must tackle my master bedroom. I have too much dark cherry and other dark woods in there, but the paint color is the most beautiful blue in the world! It is one of Laurel’s selections in her Ultimate Paint Palette and Furnishings Guide, BM Glass Slipper. I love it! Everyone who sees it, loves it! I painted my bathrooms the same color. We are all so fortunate to have such a talented designer share her talent and advice with us, as well as share other designers’ work with us; designers of whom I never would have known about without following this blog. Thank you Laurel!ReplyCancel

  • Susan Strauss - February 7, 2021 - 10:54 AM

    So interesting that this post showed up today! I was lying in bed this morning, looking at the two dressers that I inherited from my great grandmother and was actually thinking ‘I wish Laurel would have a post about brown furniture’. Really did think this – so thanks! Maybe something from you in the future about bedrooms and mixing in older brown furniture?ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - February 9, 2021 - 12:03 AM

      I love it when that happens! It makes me feel like I have special powers. Believe me, I don’t. hahaReplyCancel

  • Penny - February 7, 2021 - 10:08 AM

    Great post Laurel! I love seeing things get a new life. I am fortunate to live near JulieSimpleRedesign and have purchased a number of pieces from her and have had her give several pieces from my Mom a new life. She does absolutely beautiful work. I always look forward to your Wednesday and Sunday morning posts. Enjoy your beautiful new Boston home!ReplyCancel

  • Pamela Eileen Dunn - February 7, 2021 - 9:47 AM

    Good Morning Laurel,
    This post and the last one really spoke to me. I was the “Inherited furniture that must stay”.
    I have learned from you not to go forward without a plan, so I am still making smarter decisions that do not cause me buyers remorse.
    I am thrilled with changes I have made in the DR & LR so far, especially the lamps you suggested for the DR and the perfect size sofa with Crypton performance fabric in the LR!
    Still reading and still learning! Thank you!
    Best Regards,
    PamReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - February 9, 2021 - 12:02 AM

      Thank you, Pam and thank you too for sharing the vignette from your living room. It is beyond lovely!ReplyCancel

  • Sue Walter - February 7, 2021 - 9:36 AM

    I agree! I am so over shabby-painted furniture and cringe whenever I enter an “antiques” store only to find it’s all been chalk-painted. I do, however, love the lacquered finish and the idea of painting the back of a breakfront, etc.ReplyCancel

  • Karen Matragrano - February 7, 2021 - 9:34 AM

    Great post! I am obsessed with the room you designed with the green Thibaut wallpaper. Any idea of the name of the pattern? I’m having difficulty finding it and realize it may be discontinued. Thanks for your practical, informative approach to designing!ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - February 8, 2021 - 11:59 PM

      Yes, I did try to find it for someone else who saw the room and have come to understand that they are no longer manufacturing this pattern.

      Welcome to my [old] world. It can be immensely frustrating, I know.ReplyCancel

  • Susan Hijazi - February 7, 2021 - 9:17 AM

    Laurel has always acknowledged Brown furniture.
    She has gone out of her way to show how to incorporate those pieces with contemporary pieces and make everyone play well together and sing in harmony.
    She has also expressed many times that ultimately your home will reflect the things you like to look at and the way in which it makes you feel.
    Team LaurelReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - February 8, 2021 - 11:57 PM

      Thank you, Susan. Everything you say is true. I would never tell anyone what they can or can’t put in their home. Even when I had paying clients, I always worked with any pieces they wished to keep. The only thing I asked was that they tell me upfront what the givens were.

      I have always loved a mix of stained pieces with some painted, as well.

      More to come on this important topic.ReplyCancel

  • Jerry - February 7, 2021 - 9:11 AM

    Don’t laugh but one thing I have done to a couple of our glass front antique cabinets where I no longer wanted the wood look on the back, yet I didn’t want to paint the backs and affect the integrity of the piece, is to cover the backs with color construction paper. I measured so the horizontal junction points are behind the shelves, and unless one is up close and intentionally inspecting the back, one can not tell that it isn’t paint. If I want to change the color or go back to the wood look, the paper can be easily removed with no damage to the piece.ReplyCancel

  • Margaret - February 7, 2021 - 9:06 AM

    Hi Laurel,

    Interesting to read all the reader comments that oppose painting furniture. I paint and restore quite a bit of furniture for clients and the thing that determines which direction I go with it ultimately is value. Is the furniture historically valuable. If it’s not and especially if the wood is in really bad shape, painting it actually saves the piece from going into the dump. Most people don’t want their homes filled with dark wood furniture and painting it can transform it. That said, the pieces that are truly authentic to a time period but are in great shape, I restore or sometimes alter slightly. For example a year ago I redid a mahogany federal style drop leaf table that was from the 18th century made in Nova Scotia- it had been in the family for generations. It was well built but the shellac finish was horribly done and it was water marked, scratched etc. Looking at antique dealers I was able to discern that the table really wasn’t of great value but of course it was of great value to the client. So in revitalizing it, I decided to stain it black instead of brown. Note that mahogany is one of the hardest woods to sand. It was quite a job to get rid of all the shellac. The reason we went with black stain was because the table was going to be used as a desk in a bedroom where I had painted the entire very dated old wood bedroom set white. I’m sure many of you are cringing her but trust me, it looks fabulous now. The black stained federal table looks spectacular and my client is sooo happily and all of her nephews have put dibs on it when she passes. If nothing had been done, it likely would have ended up in an estate sale, but now the table will continue to stay in the family. I have done this process for so many clients. Have a wonderful day.ReplyCancel

  • Amanda - February 7, 2021 - 9:03 AM

    A fun and informative post as always! Generally, I agree with Goats and Greens and Tracy S – it makes me so mad to see a lovely antique painted over! But, I did fall in love with one such piece, an 1850-ish dresser that had been done over in a very dark navy paint. I respected the decision, because seeing the ‘before’ photos, some of the wood was in terribly bad condition with stains and gouges. It was beyond patina, and just looked bad. I guess restorer could have gone all in with sanding and restaining. But for this piece, the dark paint (and lovely period pulls she put on it) really work, and I love the dresser very much in its new state. Generally, though – I say don’t cover that lovely antique (or even good quality vintage or reproduction) wood!ReplyCancel

  • Diana Bier - February 7, 2021 - 8:57 AM

    Such a timely and informative post! It drives me crazy when people refer to any furniture not modern as “traditional.” As you so rightly point out, there are many classic styles, from William and Mary, to Georgian, to Queen Anne, to Chippendale, to Hepplewhite and Sheraton, and yes, all the French, Italian, and Scandinavian versions of classic styles. I’m sure I’ve left out a lot.
    I have a number of 18thC reproductions from Henkel-Harris, Eldred Wheeler and Statton, which I wouldn’t dream of painting. Solid cherry and tiger maple. Unfortunately no one seems to value them right now, but I hope in time that collectors will again realize their worth and they won’t end up in a landfill or worse.
    Hope you’re settling in to your new home in Boston!ReplyCancel

  • susie - February 7, 2021 - 8:46 AM

    seems like the hardware on the furniture piece (drawer pulls, etc)can make it seem classy or not very goodReplyCancel

  • Of Goats and Greens - February 7, 2021 - 7:51 AM

    … But I do want to say I am glad you are finally acknowledging “brown” furnishings! Thanks.ReplyCancel

  • Of Goats and Greens - February 7, 2021 - 7:48 AM

    Currently, I live rurally in a log home, so yes I love my “brown” furniture. But I used to live in suburbia in a late 60s ranch home, and I also loved the “brown” furniture. No, it wasn’t painted that way, and I gave away the dining set because the chairs were not comfortable and the table didn’t actually fit in the dining space back at the old home anyway. BUt I will categorically state I HATE the dated feel of PAINTING good furniture. I am happy to have inherited many of my parents’ pieces – my brother has the others. Made with quality, to last the test of time. Call it natural wood furniture – it transcends brown! Oh, and I bought oak chairs a decade or two back for my current dining set! Comfortable and attractive and sturdy, even if I did get them from Sears.ReplyCancel

  • Libby - February 7, 2021 - 7:26 AM

    Laurel, the brown v. painted furniture post is very timely as these X ers and millennials will soon be dealing with more of the family heirlooms. One other difficulty I’ve noticed is size. I inherited some beautiful 50s club chairs which are low. I’m 5’8″ and my daughter is 5’10” and these chairs are uncomfortable for most people. I love antiques and classic furniture but beware, many pieces are too petite to be practical.ReplyCancel

  • Tracy S - February 7, 2021 - 7:24 AM

    I have to tell you, Laurel, that my husband looked at that 1960 Sears ad for hideous sofas and said “SOLD!”

    He truly loves that stuff. (But we live in a 2-bedroom condo, so he cannot scratch that itch. Thank God.)

    Per brown furniture, I love antiques. It makes me sad when someone paints over some beautiful 19th c. patina for “shabby chic.” (That’s over, right? Please tell me it’s over.)

    Thanks for another fun, informative post.ReplyCancel

  • Tinamarie - February 7, 2021 - 7:09 AM

    I have just this “brown furniture” your taking about. Well I think, it’s a mid century piece but I’m not really sure. I refuse to paint it because I think it’s a nice piece. I actually inherited the piece from one of our old homes. The seller left it in the dinning room and we had nothing at the time so we kept it. That was 15 years ago and two moves later we still have it. But your right I really struggle to decorate it and to this day it sits with nothing on it.ReplyCancel

  • Jeanne Young - February 7, 2021 - 6:17 AM

    Another fun read, I started following your blog because in general I agree with most of your decorating theories. I am less formal than you are but you are so right about so much concerning decorating in general. To demonstrate my decorating taste, I just saved your article about what is a “French Country” kitchen and what is not, my choice is the real deal, rough surfaces and “some” clutter. I agree with your ideas about “brown”, but the biggest thing you said in that article, after clicking on many links, is that people need to learn some history and what is real and what is ersatz before they invest in a lot of furniture. Simple to say also, all those furniture sets people bought in the 20th century are probably safe to paint, unless they are the pieces that were faithfully copied from originals. you mentioned a few companies, seems I remember Kittinger that also copied faithfully original 18th century furniture. Hope you are enjoying your new life in Boston!ReplyCancel