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Decorative Painting on a Chair with Mark

Source: Martha Stewart Living Television


Early American furniture was defined by ornate painted designs. Often called "fancy" furniture, the style was originally popularized by George Hepplewhite, an English cabinetmaker who published a manual of patterns for painted furniture in the late-eighteenth century. The look was widely copied by furniture makers in Europe and North America and led to a tradition of painted furniture that flourished throughout the nineteenth century.

Expert colorist and decorative painter Mark Uriu joins Martha today to demonstrate how a set of plain tag-sale chairs can be transformed into "fancy" pieces by painting them with classical motifs. For inspiration, Mark and Martha research the kind of patterns they would like to use by looking through books, including Cynthia Schaffner's "American Painted Furniture: 1660-1880," Dean Fales Jr.'s book of the same title, and "Hepplewhite, Sheraton and Regency Furniture" by F. Lewis Hinckley. From these classic examples, they chose several ideas, including a bordered floral pattern, an Empire-style oak-leaf design, a more formal neo-classical motif, and a traditional eighteenth-century fan motif. The technique Mark uses here to create a painted chair with gold-leaf details can be modified to create whatever designs inspire you.


  • Unfinished chair

  • Pencil

  • Mylar translucent plastic drafting material

  • Masonite or poster board

  • Sandpaper

  • Primer

  • Basecoat paint

  • Topcoat paint

  • Acrylic-glazing medium

  • Gold acrylic paint

  • Artist's oil colors

  • Paintbrushes of various sizes


  1. To get an idea of how the final chair will look, begin by making painted sample boards. Use a pencil to trace the outline of the chair onto Mylar translucent plastic drafting material.

  2. Copy the outline of the chair onto the Masonite or poster sample board, using the transfer technique: Reverse the Mylar, put the penciled side on the sample board, then trace over the chair outline, leaving the outline of the image on the board. (If the image is too faint, draw over your original drawing with a softer lead pencil, and repeat.)

  3. Remove the seat cushion of the chair, and sand all surfaces. Prime the chair, then paint with a base color that is a pale version of the final desired color. Apply two coats of paint; let dry completely.

  4. To create a somewhat aged look, apply the topcoat of paint as a glaze. (Mark uses latex-satin paint and thins it with an artist's acrylic glazing medium to make it partially translucent.) Glaze the chair section by section, completing each area before moving on to the next. Use the natural joints of the furniture as the divisions between sections. Allow glaze to dry overnight.

  5. Once the glaze is dry, trace the sketched motifs onto the chair using the same Mylar transfer technique as with the sample boards. At this point, you only need to trace the outside of each form, because the filling in will be done later.

  6. For a chair painted with gold-leaf details, use gold acryllic artist's paints. To brighten the gold color, fill in the motif outlines with yellow paint. Then, using a very soft paintbrush, apply the gold acrylic paint (thinned with a bit of glazing liquid) over the yellow paint. (Tiny, long-bristled "liner" brushes can be used to fill in stripes and lines around the edges.)

  7. To paint in the details, mix some acrylic paint with tinting colors to achieve the desired color (Mark uses sienna, raw umber, and black to re-create the classic look of sepia-toned ink), and thin the paint with acrylic-glazing liquid. With a tiny brush, fill in the details freehand, or use the transfer method once again as a guide.

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