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With elegant, inexpensive raw-wood pieces and easy techniques, you can paint, stain, oil, or wax your way to a one-of-a-kind treasure in no time.
It takes some vision to see the potential in unfinished furniture. But because these basic furnishings can be completely customized, they offer a great opportunity. Raw-wood tables, chairs, and dressers are generally less expensive than finished ones, and upgrading the items requires less time and skill than you might think. Pick a piece with great lines. Then choose one, or a combination, of these techniques. In an hour or two, you can turn a humble stool from store-naked to room-stealing.
Our favorite unfinished furnishings combine desirability with durability.
Bench: Any entryway would gladly welcome the Coronado bench (whittierwood.com), a pine piece with plenty of under-seat stowing room.
Stools: This trio of 18-, 24-, and 29-inch Saddle Seat stools (by Whitewood, stacksandstacks.com) can prevent a seating crisis or serve as mobile mini-tables.
Table: Cheer up that lonely corner with the graceful Martha Stewart Living Ingrid side table (homedecorators.com), a blend of solid birch and hardwood veneer.
Dresser: With its rounded edges and flat-front drawers, the birch-wood Art Deco chest (gothiccabinetcraft.com) has a 1930s sophistication (plus lots of storage).
Chair: The scooped seat and contoured back make this alder hardwood Bistro chair (thegrovefurniture.com) comfortable during long meals.
Desk and Hutch: Turn a modest amount of free space into a home office with the pine Melina desk with hutch (gelcofurniture.com), which has six drawers and four cubbies.
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Finished Bench in Milk PaintA historical material for colorizing furniture, milk paint dries matte, giving pieces like this Colonial-style bench an antique character. Eco-friendly and free of volatile organic compounds, it has a powder formula consisting of milk protein, lime, and pigment. Sand lightly with 220-grit sandpaper to open the grain, and then use a three-inch-wide natural-bristle flat brush to apply two coats of paint. Mix and match shades for a customized hue.
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Milk Paint Details
Milk paint, in Cobalt Blue and White, realmilkpaint.com.
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Finished Chair in Stain and Paint
Mixing these mediums gives you the best of both finishing worlds -- a hit of color, plus a rich finish that shows off the grain of the wood. To start, lightly sand entire chair. Then squeeze stain (from a tube) onto a disposable paint palette, dip a cloth into it, and apply to seat and slats; remove excess in direction of grain. Add more coats of stain, which dyes the wood's grains, to deepen color. Prime, and then paint frame using a two-inch angled synthetic brush.
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Finished Table in Oil and PaintA combination of oil and paint gives a traditional piece, such as this pedestal table, an unexpected, modern update. It's practical, too, since a painted surface is easier to wipe clean than an oiled one. After sanding, pour tung oil onto a white cotton rag, and rub it onto base and feet; remove excess in direction of grain. Use two to four coats, depending on how much of a sheen you desire. Sand top, prime, and then apply two coats of paint using a three-inch flat brush.
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Finished Desk in Pickling StainWith its soft, whitewashed look, pickling is a perfect choice for a dainty desk such as this one. After sanding lightly, follow this process: Using natural-bristle brushes, apply one coat each of prestain conditioner (to help wood absorb the stain), stain, and clear sealant. For a chic look, replace standard wooden knobs with oil-rubbed bronze pulls.
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Finished Dresser in Wax and PaintPainting one part and waxing another adds dimension to furniture while maintaining and protecting the wood's natural beauty. Lightly sand the entire piece. After removing the drawers, use a four-inch roller to apply a single coat of primer to the exterior of the dresser, followed by a coat of paint. Scoop wax onto a cloth and rub onto drawer fronts removing excess in direction of grain. Reapply wax as needed (about once a year).
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Finished Stools in Spray PaintSpray paint: It's not just for graffiti! Its glossy finish is upbeat, and it comes in many colors. To re-create these stools, lightly sand each one. Next, apply a coat of spray-on primer and two coats of color to the stool using a sweeping back-and-forth motion. Dry thoroughly, and then apply a strip of painters' tape to the legs (about three inches up) and cover the stool in a plastic film, leaving tips exposed. Spray tips in a contrasting tone.
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