In this vintage buffet makeover post, we’ll show you how to paint a buffet table and all the other steps needed to turn an old junker into a showpiece!
I do a lot of waiting around here.
If I ask The Boy to come downstairs for dinner, he’ll be down faster than The Flash. But if the subject is work, he’ll need at least 5 minutes to find socks, another 10 minutes to put them on, and 5 more to put on his shoes. By the time he’s ready for work, I’ve usually finished the job myself.
And then there’s my babes. If I hear Handan say, “I’ll be right there, my babes,” I can rest assured that I’m facing a 15-minute wait.
Here is an actual photograph of me waiting for Handan to finish up a crafting project so we could watch a movie together.
But as much waiting as I do, we have furniture that waits even longer.
We’ll find a vintage dresser at a tag sale and whisper sweet nothings into its drawers and fill its empty spaces with empty promises of a bright new future as a painted piece in a prominent place.
Then we take it home, toss it in the basement and cover it with a canvas tarp. And there it will sit as the seasons wheel around above it.
We’ll rescue an antique table from the crushing blow of a front-end loader at the Put and Take and say, “You poor thing. Come with us, and you’ll have a better life.”
And then we take it home and store old paint cans on it. And there it will sit as the cans pile higher and higher with each passing year.
We never forget them. Well, I do, but Handan never does. Everything in the house has a history and a future, and Handan knows all of them. It’s just that some futures are farther out than others.
And some poor pieces of furniture get stuck in limbo.
Yes, they’ve been rescued.
Yes, they’ve been promised a bold new tomorrow.
But then they’re put in use – unaltered!
Where’s the new paint job?
Where’s the oily stain?
Where’s the damn sandpaper scrub and mineral spirits bath??
One such piece that got the old bait-and-switch was this vintage buffet table:
A few years ago, Handan found it on Freecycle.org, one of our many resources for sourcing free furniture.
We planned to put some work into it, so we kept it in the garage.
But the buffet makeover never happened, and it sat there for two years collecting dust and tools until Handan decided to bring it into the dining room.
The poor thing must have been mortified! This wasn’t part of the deal!
But there it stayed for well over a year while we figured out what to do with it. You’ve seen it already in a few posts.
But it couldn’t stay like that forever. We didn’t really want another old brown-stained piece in the dining room.
And then there was its top…
We couldn’t bare that top in public. What would people think? Tongues would wag.
So Handan covered the battle-scarred buffet top with a burlap runner, and that’s how it stayed until we decided to pull it out of limbo and give it the makeover it deserved.
Handan and I split the duties for this buffet makeover. She took the painting duties (because she’s awesome at it), and I planned to rework the top.
I pulled out all the drawers and set them aside for Handan. Then I moved the buffet into the garage to sand the top. I was excited, because the buffet was mahogany, and I was hoping the top would shine with a little work.
But after sanding off the old finish, I discovered that the top only had a thin mahogany veneer. I wasn’t thrilled about that because the cheap pine showed all around the edges. Okay, well if I couldn’t have a beautiful mahogany top, I’d just give it an aged look like I did with the carboy crate and our farmhouse table.
I started with the Special Walnut…
Mahogany is porous, and this old piece was dry as a bone, so it drank the stain right in. Something didn’t feel right about it, but I soldiered on.
The next step was to layer on a little Varathane Weathered Gray and wipe it off immediately.
But because the wood was so porous and dry, it absorbed the gray before I could properly wipe it off.
I wiped and wiped…
I rubbed it off the best I could, and then I started in with the Rustoleum Kona.
Normally, I just streak the Kona here and there and then blend it in with my rag.
But this mahogany top wasn’t having it. It didn’t want me to blend anything. It just wanted to guzzle all of the stain and look like crap.
I worked until my wrists were sore trying to blend the three stains into a cohesive aged-looking appearance, but in the end, this was as good as I could get it.
It just didn’t look right, so I left it to tend to my knackered wrists and await Handan’s opinion.
When she arrived home, she agreed with me that it didn’t look right. I told her I’d sand this stain off and we’d try something different.
But while sanding the stain off, I burned through the veneer around the edges. Ugh! I hate thin veneer!
Still, I brought Handan out to look, and we decided to try some new things.
Her first idea was to try white wax. She applied a little to one of the corners and buffed it right away.
It didn’t look good.
Then we tried straight poly. Usually polyurethane makes mahogany shine, and this was no exception.
But we didn’t want the beautiful deep red of mahogany for this piece. It’s why we were painting the body!
And therein lies the fundamental problem with mahogany: it is one of the most beautiful woods in the world, and it damn well knows it. It doesn’t want makeup, and it shuns all efforts to mask its beauty. Straight poly or lacquer is fine, as they enhance what’s already there. But stain? Forget it! Mahogany is a high class bitch, and she doesn’t go in for cheap harlot stains.
Well, Little Miss Mahogany Top had her standards.
But so did we. And I have something she’d never have. Two hands with 8 fingers and 2 opposable thumbs. And with those hands, fingers and thumbs, I loosened her screws and pulled her off of her high horse.
She didn’t want to play by our rules? No problem. I’d build a new top for our buffet makeover.
I decided to slum it up with the new top by making it out of 2×8 framing lumber. From high-class mahogany to builder-grade lumber. What a change!
I cut the lumber to size and lined up the 3 pieces I’d need. On top of these, I placed Little Miss Mahogany Top in her new supporting role as Template.
After tracing out the curve, I cut the shape with a jigsaw and sanded it smooth.
And clamped the boards together.
I felt like these joints weren’t going to be the strongest, so I turned the top over while the clamps were on, drilled some pocket holes with my Kreg Jig and reinforced the joints with pocket screws.
I sanded the top and the edges to give it a more rustic look, and then I started in with my 3-stain aging combo.
First the Special Walnut...
Then the Varathane Weathered Gray…
Then some streaking with Rustoleum Kona…
And finally, since Handan wanted a much lighter color for the buffet top, I went back over it, this time streaking with Weathered Gray until I got it just how she wanted it.
When the stain had dried, I lightly sanded the whole piece, just to knock down the color a bit.
I applied 3 coats of this finish, sanding lightly with 2000 grit sandpaper between coats. If this were to be a high-traffic surface, I would have put at least 6 coats of wipe-on poly.
Let’s head upstairs…
How to Paint a Buffet Table
Step 1: Clean the buffet table
After years of use and further years of neglect, old furniture collects all sorts of grease, grime, dirt and dust. It’s important to get rid of as much of that old gunk as possible. Some folks out there claim that with chalk paint, there’s no need to clean or do any sort of prep. This is pure, unadulterated balderdash. If you’re taking the time to a buffet makeover, give a little more time to do it right. Clean the damn thing!
Step 2: Prime or seal the buffet table
Some sort of priming or sealing is always advised with old furniture (especially with knotty, oily or sappy woods), but mahogany presents a special problem. Mahogany is an ultra-oily wood that will bleed red through any white paint, so it always needs to be sealed before painting. The best way to seal mahogany is with shellac, but applying it with a brush to a piece this complex would take ages, so we opted for the spray-on route. Now, we could have just bought spray-on shellac. It’s a brilliant solution to seal oily woods like mahogany and sappy woods like pine. But there is something a little better we wanted to use in this case. Zinsser Shellac Base Primer gives all the benefit of shellac with the added benefit of better paint adhesion from the primer. But what makes it really perfect for this job is that the primer will let you know when you’ve sprayed enough coats, as the mahogany oils will seep through the first coat in certain areas, and probably even the second coat in some spots. So while it’s a good idea on a piece like this to apply two coats everywhere, you’ll know by seeing the splotchy red spots where you may need to hit it a third or even fourth time. Yes, mahogany can be that difficult. As I said before, she’s a highfalutin bitch who doesn’t like to be covered!
One word of warning about shellac base spray primer or any spray primer, really. It’s expensive, and it will add significantly to your cost. I think we used 4 cans on this project. That’s $40 just to prime it! But for us, that money was worth it, because to prime by hand would have taken an eternity, and we just can’t afford to spend all of eternity priming a piece of furniture. For one thing, we’d fall way behind on blog posts, and who would feed the dogs??
So, to spray or to brush? That’s a decision everyone must make for themselves.
Step 3: Paint the buffet table
Once we had it adequately primed, Handan started painting with her DIY chalk paint color-matched to Old White. Her DIY chalk paint recipe is lighting up Pinterest, by the way, so if you haven’t tried it yet, you really must do so. Handan’s preferred method of painting is to apply ultra-thin coats. For a piece like this, she would apply a minimum of 3 coats and sometimes 4. This helps incredibly with adhesion and durability, but it does take discipline not to cheat after the second coat and just slap the paint on. I’ve seen a lot of painted furniture in my day, but I can say with all honesty that no one paints furniture like Handan. Her tenacious will does not allow her to cut corners, and the results are amazing. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a brush stroke on her work.
She used Wise Owl Chalk Synthesis “Abyss” paint for the sides of the drawers and the inside of the cabinets. Now she intentionally brushed these in a rough manner to give them a more rustic look, as opposed to the smooth white surfaces.
But those smooth, brush-mark-free surfaces don’t come without…
Step 4: Sand the final coat
When the final coat of paint has dried at least overnight, you’ll need to sand the whole piece lightly with 220 or 320 or 400 grit sandpaper. It all depends on the thickness of your paint and how light a touch you have. Handan uses very thin sandpaper from a roll, and she wraps these thin sheets around soft sanding sponges. This step is not very much fun, and that is why most people skip it and move right to the distressing. But without it, you’ll never get that pro-level finish.
After sanding all of the paint, then Handan will work on slight distressing here and there. Restraint is key when distressing. I’m pretty sure furniture that looks like two grizzly bears mated on it is no longer really in style. But what the hell do I know?
Step 5: Wax the paint
Sanding is only half of the equation. To get a finish smoother than a baby seal’s bottom, you need to wax the paint. Most women out there swear by Annie Whatsername’s wax. And it is good, make no mistake. But it’s also expensive as hell, just like her overpriced paint. We are able to DIY our own chalk paint, but we’ve yet to figure out a good recipe for DIY furniture wax, so we found a brilliant alternative. Handan waxed all the painted surfaces of the buffet table with our number one pick for clear wax that works just as well as Annie Whatsername’s but costs much less!
Step 6: Buff the wax
The key to waxing is to buff it off almost immediately after applying it. Handan uses cheesecloth for both applying and buffing the wax. For some pieces, she’ll buff with an electric buffer, but for pieces with a lot of corners, like this vintage buffet table, it’s easier to buff by hand.
The finish achieved by this method is unparalleled, even by professional standards.
Step 7: Sit back, pour yourself a dry martini and enjoy your masterpiece!
You’ve mastered how to paint a buffet table! Huzzah!
Okay it wasn’t martini time just yet, as we had reassemble the buffet table. We placed the top on the buffet, and I screwed it in from underneath.
As the final step, Handan reattached the hardware that she had removed in the beginning.
Then she hung the doors back in place with a little help from my chubby little finger.
And with that last screw, we were finished with the buffet makeover! Let’s see what all the fuss was about…
The original 4 pulls for the two top center drawers had one mismatched pull, so we replaced them all with silver pulls that we sprayed metallic bronze.
I love the color of the top with the white.
Dining Room Makeover Checklist
Moodboard and plan. Paint the room. Create a gallery wall and design printables for it. Decide on the rug. Buy Chairs. Build dining table. Build a small console table. Makeover/upcycle antique wardrobe. Makeover/paint the buffet table.
- Decorate dining room.
Holy crap, folks! Our dining room makeover is done! Click here to see the reveal!
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