The Antique Elephant in the Room

Val Frania's Opinion (and a few facts) on the Subject

Should We Paint Antiques?

It's time to address the issue. There is this common thread running through social media:

"NO! Don't paint that! It's an antique. You will ruin it!" OR, "Leave it as is."


"Nobody wants antiques any more. Paint it, make it beautiful again." 

Who is right? Let's look for a minute at a little bit of history, specifically, Colonial America...




Should We Paint Antiques?


At 6:30 this morning, I woke up and said, "Hey, Siri. What time is it?" The lovely British accent came back at me and said, "It's 6:31, way too early."

As per usual I grabbed my phone to check my messages on the Forum to see if there were any fires to put out and saw a screenshot from my DH about another debate going on regarding antiques. Oh, boy. Here we go again. One day I'll tell you about a conversation I had to deal with when my DH and I were sitting in the surgery prep room at the hospital, minutes away from him being taken away for his second knee replacement surgery.

Is it OK to paint antiques? Does it ruin them? Do the "purists" have it right? Are those of us who flip furniture ruining the past by grabbing up those antiques that sit at roadside ready for the trash set out there by people who no longer see their perceived value?

I thought I should grab some history before addressing this, so I did a search on google, "painted colonial furniture" because I wanted to find out how today's trends match up to today's antiques.

In just 3 seconds this popped up in Google search - check out these prices:


And this was in the side bar:


Now, I realize these are reproductions and are not antiques that were a wood finish and then painted. BUT, the love of painted furntiure is not just for today. It goes way back. A natural wood finish was not the only furniture that Colonials had in their homes. You might say that they decorated just like we do - according to what they liked and what satisfied their own creative flair.

Before going forward, let's remember a few things:

Sometimes we think our opinion is fact.

Back when we were adopting children, I didn't understand why more people didn't adopt. There were and are so many kids who needed forever homes that it made my heart sick that I could only take a few (we ended up adopting 13). Our passions are ever encompassing!

Sometimes our opinions/likes/desires are not shared by everyone.

Antique shops sometimes creep me out. Go figure. I flip furniture. Isn't that weird? Or maybe that's the point. I take old and make new. I love history, so the antique stores definitely draw me in, but old, out of date pieces surrounding me in a small room does nothing to increase my happiness factor. BUT, I know others who get skipping heart beats when they think of antiques. We're all different, and that's OK.

If you look through history, it does not prove to us that the wood finish is king.

Colonials painted their furniture to bring color into their homes. We do the same today. Color has always been perceived as a good thing - there are many studies on how color affects our mood.

The Old Fashioned Milk Paint Company has some great articles on the history of paint through the ages - go take a look. That company was started to revive the original milk paint recipe of the Colonials. History does NOT prove that original wood finish is king. On the contrary. It proves that people desired color and often did paint their pieces. Those pieces today are just as valuable as the unpainted pieces.

Here is an excerpt from OFMP:

"Paint has been used by mankind since before recorded history, first as decoration, and much later as a protective coating. The oldest painted surfaces on earth were colored with a form of milk paint. Cave drawings and paintings made 8,000 years ago, even as old as 20,000 years ago, were made with a simple composition of milk, lime, and earth pigments. When King Tutankhamen's tomb was opened in 1924, artifacts including models of boats, people, and furniture found inside the burial chamber had been painted with milk paint."

I found some badly damaged antiques (and not attractive in my mind) at an estate auction and took them home to flip.

I took flack from some of those who thought I shouldn't have painted them, but I knew the condition they were in and the fact they were going in the dumpster if the auctioneer didn't sell them. We watched piece after piece being tossed. It was disheartening, but the people had spoken. No one wanted the old pieces - either they didn't fit into the buyers' decor or the dealers knew they wouldn't sell.

Pepper Side Table before
Table before

We rescued these two antiques, cleaned them up, repaired them, painted them and sold them for $300 to one family who was thrilled to have them. They now have a new family and will be around another 100 years. How is that a bad thing? It was hard to let them go because I fell in love with them both. I even named one of them after my mom who passed away recently.

Pepper Side Table after16

These pieces, the pieces we flip, are making new memories in their new families. They all have stories that will continue because we took them and put them back on their feet.


So Does Painting Antiques "Ruin" Them?


There are differing opinions on this, but let's break down what makes an antique valuable (one that will fetch a huge price).

"Old" doesn't mean "valuable". In this article at the Art Factory, there are a few things to consider:

  • Quality
  • Condition
  • Rarity
  • Demand

The accusation, "You will hurt the value if you paint an antique," only holds true if the above 4 conditions listed above are met. The Art Factory article points out that, "However it is our experience there is always demand for furnishing that are of the highest quality and detail from conception."

Is this the look of a quality antique in good condition that is rare and in demand? This was Sophia's underside. There is now way I would even try to restore that antique, an even if I did, it probably would not sell.

Hours went into her re-design.

Find Your Tribe

Or maybe I should have said, "Herd" since we're talking about the elephant in the room. 🙂

If you'd like to join us on FFB and find your tribe - fellow flippers who "get you" and are amazing people, come join us this week on Furniture Flipping Blueprint. Enrollment ends Friday at midnight, Sept. 14. You can find all the details by clicking the bottom below.   ~ Val Frania

Table before7
Table before2
Table before5

Simply put, if the antique is of high quality construction, in excellent condition (whether original or expertly restored), is rare, and in DEMAND, then we ought to NOT do anything to it because it will lose its value if we do. But remember, they said, "there is always demand."

I accented DEMAND because as flippers, we are constantly running into antiques that may have been of great quality/condition at one time but have deteriorated because they were used and not set aside to remain in perfect condition. Owners of these pieces have a hard time getting rid of them at any price. The market has seen many of these at auctions and estate sales going cheap. I find antiques often for under $50 because there is little demand for them and are usually in bad shape.

Contrary to some of the "purists" belief, we don't go around grabbing up antiques and painting them for our own profit, in a willy nilly fashion. If we find a piece, we research it to make sure it's not a highly valued thousand of dollars in value piece. If we actually find that once in a lifetime piece, believe me, we would sell it as is for greater profit.

But let's face it. Is that really going to happen?

Sure, maybe there will be that one odd occurrence where an average Joe like me will find a valuable piece, but it's not likely. If we do our due diligence and genuinely research the value of our pieces and find they are not up to par, then we will paint it to sell it to someone who wants it updated. Because let's face it. Not many people want antiques and if they do, they are out there finding them, buying them, and keeping them.

My message to those purists who have a problem with flippers painting the antiques? Offer to buy the piece before they paint it at a profit to make both of you happy. Easy fix. You will be able to sleep at night. We will have flipped the piece we spent hours and many miles looking for.

Love My DIY Home

A Personal Story

When were just starting our family, I was appalled at how many kids were in the system waiting for a mom and dad. I felt like I needed to do something. So I formed an adoption group to help place those kids and wrote newsletters, went to adoption and foster care meetings, met with judges and adoption directors. But if that was all I did...if all my efforts were purely vocal and never took a child into my family myself, then my efforts would have not made a huge difference. Because we saw the VALUE of the children in the system, we adopted two from Korea, took in many foster kids and adopted from our own foster care and adoption system in our state. Some came to us as foster kids and some we just searched out and outright adopted.

We put feet to our words.

That is my challenge to the purists. Go find the antiques that fit the description of those that are valuable and let the rest of us find the ones that are not and update them so they will be treasured again. We are very glad you are out there to preserve the real, genuine antiques.


Love My DIY Home

Honestly, these pieces of furniture are just things.

Yes, some are a piece of history. If I find the original desk of Abraham Lincoln, I'll keep it and get it professionally restored back to its original state and cherish it forever. But all others? I'll buy them cheap at estate sales and flip them to be enjoyed for another 100 years by myself or a buyer.

If we are going to gasp at a travesty, let's gasp at the fact that lives are being lost in war torn countries or that we have children in our very own country that are growing up without a family. One of my sons is over in East Africa assessing the needs of underdeveloped communities and finding donors to help upgrade their living conditions. How about we have that conversation? How about we debate the value of the children involved in those situations rather than getting upset over an old piece of furniture someone paints?

Here is an example of the misconceptions that lead to nasty comments on some of my furniture. This piece was part of a three piece set I got at an auction for $50 - a coffee table and two end tables. Hometalk featured them on their FB page.

I repainted the end tables, named them Cora and Nora and sold them quickly at a decent price. No one else wanted them at the estate sale and they were going into the dumpster if I hadn't bought them just like the other two I listed above. The new owners were thrilled and sent me pictures of them in their home. They were not antiques but some of the commenters on Hometalk FB assumed they were. One assumed they were high end cherry,  and another thought they were part of a set that sold for $2000 just like the ones he had in his home. They were both mistaken.

Comments on Hometalk's Facebook feature of Cora and Nora:

Hometalk nastiness

It's all about balance and priorities. Let's focus on the things that really matter, use good judgement, advise others with kindness, and accept that opinions will differ. In the end, the owner of a piece has final say, regardless.

Different is good. Different is OK. Will people make mistakes? Yes. I've been known to make a few. But in the end, relationships matter. Kindness matters. We have been blessed on Furniture Flipping Blueprint to have found some really great fellow flippers who are gracious and supportive.