In the past few years painting furniture became quite a trend. It is rather understandable, because who doesn't want to save a buck, get quality pieces and own something unique and one of a kind. But there is a difference between painting as a hobby, and running a furniture flipping business. I am sure there is ton of info on the web about how and what to do, but after receiving multiple messages, having few conversations with friends and customers about how to start, I feel like sharing my experience with you might be still helpful. * I am a Wise Owl paint retailer, so I will be referring to their products, because I love them and use them all the time!
Let's dive right in!
My mother in law:)))) Jokes aside, really anywhere where you can score a deal. On the side of the road. Garage sales, estate sales, Goodwill, consignment stores, Facebook marketplace. One of the mistakes beginners do is filling up their garage/storage top to bottom. Before you decide this is your jam, start small and work your inventory up. Get a feel of what it is like to go through the whole process. Another important thing to take into consideration is what sells best. Look around your house. What are the most used items in your home? It will most likely be dressers, console/coffee tables, nightstands, dining sets (think twice about buying a hutch, many people prefer not to have an official dining room, therefore, lack room for very large pieces). Well, you get the point.
You've got paint, you've got a brush, you are all set! Well, not really... Every furniture paint company out there claims minimum to no prep work, great adhesion to any surface, easy peasy lemon squeezy. Take a brush, dip in the paint, one, two coats - ready to sell. Don't get me wrong, paint will do just that, it will stick and make things pretty. But for how long?! If you are in it to win it, and your long-term goal is to gain repetitive customers, you have to offer high quality durable product. The bad news: prep work is inevitable, my friend. The good news, the amount of work depends on the condition of the piece (does it need repairs?), type of wood you work with (some woods are notorious for bleeding through paint, so primer application will be necessary), kind of paint you are using. So, for the most part the process looks like this: clean, strip/sand, prime, paint, seal.
Often, you get an old and not very well upkept piece. That's the whole point of flipping furniture, right? Find an ugly duckling and reintroduce its potential to the world. Grease, smells, dust, spider webs... You can use something as simple as water mixed with vinegar for easy cases, or clean with a degreaser. I, personally, prefer Krud Kutter, because it is non-toxic and barely has any smell. It is important to remember that any cleaning products might leave residue, which can cause bad adherence later on, so make sure to go over the piece with a damp rag to guarantee nothing stands on the way between the surface and primer/paint. If you are planning on stripping the previous finish, go ahead and skip the cleaning part: the chemicals will do the job. Green EZ stripper and degreaser is my top choice right now - no harsh chemicals and amazing performance. If you are having trouble finding it, send me an email, and I will connect you with the right people.
There are two scenarios for sanding:
a) sand to bare wood for restaining, or natural wood look. Tip: always sand along the grain, otherwise your staining job will look like a patchy mess.
b) sand to prepare the surface for painting. The goal of scuff sanding is not to remove the previous finish, but create a tooth for the paint to grip on to. For this purpose, something like 220 grit sanding block is a perfect choice.
Did you know that in the recent years white furniture was on the top hot list of the most popular colors among customers?! Did you know white color paint request was on the top hot hated list for furniture painters?! It is neutral, elegant, timeless color, but it can be quite challenging on certain pieces of furniture. Without going into all the science about pigments and how paint is made, white color just does not have the best coverage (the quality of the paint does make a difference in this case, but that is a whole different topic). As I mentioned before, many types of woods will bleed through paint, and light colors will be the most problematic in this case. So, primer is your best friend. Primer serves several purposes: helps adhesion, protects from bleeding and lets you achieve better coverage significantly. Wise Owl primers come in three colors: white, clear and grey. White is for light color paint, clear is for pieces you intend to distress and you want the wood underneath to show, grey is for reds. You can take chances with skipping this step, but there is a chance of me saying: "I told you so".
Now to the fun part!!! The hardest thing here is to choose a color, or colors! That's where you let your creativity, your style and your vision come to life. If you are just starting out, and your goal is to paint to sell, then you will have to take into consideration modern trends, your target audience, styles that are in fashion at this particular time. Yes, researching and learning what's popular today will be an essential part of your creations. I will cover more on this topic as we move forward.
Wax, varnish, hemp oil, glaze, colored wax, furniture salve... This topic deserves a separate blog post, but let's cover the basics. Waxes and hemp oil provide a velvety soft finish, but they have ample cure time: up to 30 days. Once it is sealed, it has a great resistance, but you still have to be aware of how damaging harsh chemicals can be. I have a coffee table I had painted years ago and top coated with wax. I would have no problems if it were used just as a coffee table, but when you have small kids, the finish endures food stains, water rings, Sharpie marks, etc. After scrubbing with Clorox wipes and other cleaners, after few years of use, there are spots where the paint started coming off. I am OK with it, because I know I can fix it. BUT will your customer feel the same way?! Will they come back if your work doesn't hold on?! The moral of the story is that every finish has a purpose and different look.
High traffic surfaces require a hardcore finish that will withstand frequent cleaning, water exposure, and harsh chemicals (i.e. dining table, coffee table, night stands, chairs). These are the pieces that will require tough top coat. My obvious favorites are Wise Owl Varnish, which comes in Matte and Satin. It is water-based, non-yellowing due to crystal clear resin technology. Though it is usable in a few days after application, it takes about 30 days to fully cure, so you have to be gentle with it to avoid scratches and marks. One Hour Enamel is another option from my Wise Owl family, it is 90% cured after 4 hours of application, next day return to service, and fully cured in 14 days (unlike the Varnish it has a semi-gloss option). Whatever option you choose, you have to take in consideration how the item is to be used, what finish would be the most appealing, and, of course, do educate your customer on handling the freshly painted piece. It would be a great touch to provide your buyers with a note, pamphlet on how to handle your freshly painted piece to avoid any possible issues.
One rule you need to remember about top coats is that oil can go over water, but water cannot go over oil. Meaning: any water based top coat (Varnish, OHE clear) can be followed by wax or furniture salve, but you cannot apply a water-based coat over wax, or anything that contains any oil/wax ingredients.
What tools do you need to have? Anything you might need to do repairs: a drill, a hammer, screw drivers, wood glue, wood filler, putty knife bar clamps, measuring tape, you get the point.
- One of the things that were a life savior for me is three-wheel mover dollies. I am a 5.6 130lb girl, and I have moved and lifted things that I should have probably never lifted. When you need to move a very heavy piece around, these babies are super handy: put one under each leg, and roll with it. literally.
For refinishing part you will need an electric sander (there are different grade sanders, and, I believe, this topic deserves a whole separate post) sanding pads, brushes.
A buffer that is used to buff cars after waxing is a great option if you plan on using wax a lot as your sealer.
If you are at the point when you do a high volume of furniture to be refinished, large projects, or pieces with lots of intricate details like spindles, you might want to look at spray guns reduce the time spent on painting. There are essentially two types of sprayers: Airless and HVLP. HVLP stands for high volume, Low pressure and LVLP is low volume. HVLP spray guns are mostly used for DIY projects and are used by people who first try spray guns. They are not recommended to use for professional jobs because most of them are slower than LVLP spray guns and they tend to use more compressed air while they also struggle on thicker paintings. HVLP sprayers are your ideal choice to paint and varnish furniture due to the quality of finish, it is ideal for metallic paints and provides great material saving. The most popular brands for these kind of spray guns are Wagner and Homewright. As for spray tent, I have Homewright, it is easy to put together (I mean, if you ever went camping with a tent, you won't need the instructions). The only thing I wish it would have, is built in floor. Wagner tents do come with that option.
-Paint and wax brushes.
A good brush really does make a difference. Just trust me on this one. I will give you my top 3 (yes, I am biased): ClingOn, Wise Owl premium brushes, Zibra.
ClingOn brushes offer superior application, resistant to shedding, are hand-made in Holland with premium synthetic filaments.
Zibra brushes are the most budget friendly, and you can find them in your local home improvement stores.
-Painters tape, high quality paint rollers, heat gun (for removing veneer).
Masks are vital when you do any sanding. Lung issue can arise if you breathe in the fine particles during sanding. I have tried quite a few and this is my favorite - 3M Half Facepiece Reusable respirator 7500 Series. It is comfortable, and makes breathing in a mask easy. Use with 3M cartridges and filters (I believe those are to be purchased separately).
With so many brands and lines of paint out there it might be hard to pick the one. In my experience, they differ, and you will have to find what works for you personally. Coverage, cost, ease of application, being user friendly, customer service, quality, durability... All these points are important, but one of the crucial ones for me was the ingredients. You want to work with materials that are safe for you, for your family and the environment. I have found the Wise Owl company and fell in love with the products. And the message that the company sends out to the Universe. Women owned by two best friends, science proved, low or zero Voc's, variety of products to complete your project start to finish (did you hear they just came up with a luxury wall paint?!), amazing customer service and support either you are a customer, or a retailer.
It is important to know what sealers to use for different projects. You have waxes, hemp oil, varnish, glazes, furniture salve, etc. The main things to take into consideration: is it a high traffic surface? does it have to be water resistant? how long do you have for the sealer to cure before it is ready to be used. I have talked a lot about what finish to use in which case on my Facebook and Instagram pages, but this topic definitely deserves a separate blog post.
Now that we talked about (boring stuff) what you need to have, let's talk about what you need to know.
If you are here to sell, forget about what YOU like and start thinking about what your customer likes. It means you have to stay on top of what is trending. Coco Chanel once said: "Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening." People that buy hand-made want something different and unique. But, don't forget, you are not selling a piece of garment for a special occasion, you sell something your customer will use and stare at every day for years to come. So, my advice, if you don't feel comfortable with your design choices quite yet, keep it simple. Because simple is timeless. Please, don't let me discourage you from expressing yourself artistically (I am the one who takes chances frequently), but if we are talking money, the wider your target audience is, the sooner you will make a sale.
How do you know what's hot? Interior design magazines/interior design bloggers, beautiful spaces on Pinterest, HGTV, successful furniture painters accounts, local popular home decor stores - use all these sources to create your own imaginary board of designs that speak to you while following up to date trends. Once you figured out what style you are going for, it is time to paint!
CHIPPY, LAYERED, DISTRESSED, DRYBRUSHED, GLAZED, OMBRE, WHITEWASHED...
If any of these words makes your brows go up, you need to catch up on learning some of the techniques. You can find multiple DIY'ers, furniture flippers on any social platform providing videos, tutorials and step by step instructions. If you narrowed down the brands you intend to use, follow the official page of that company and retailers of this brand on social media to get more information about the products, learn techniques and tips and tricks on painting.
• Useful tip: when creating an intricate design, or custom color mix - keep track of what colors you used and what exactly you did to the piece. One day your customer will go: "I want that finish!", and, I promise, you don't always remember what you did in the moment of euphoric inspiration:)
Alright, you did the job, you have a beautiful piece of functional art that is ready to find a new home.
How do you introduce it to the world? Either you have a retail space, your own website, or going to sell on Facebook marketplace, you piece has to be presented in the best light. I can't stress enough how much difference a beautiful picture will do.
Staging and good photography will help you to stand out of the crowd. Great lighting, lined up angles, neutral backdrop (preferably white: and yes, white pieces will look fabulous against white background). This is something most people dread to do and it seems intimidating. Well, here is the thing: you will work your skill up as you go (making no mistakes means you are not progressing). You sell decor, so you need to let your customer know that you know thing or two about how pretty things should look together in a space, you have to explain and show your customer how it will work in THEIR space, what purpose it serves. Remember to keep your overall staging cohesive with you piece stylistically and color wise. Don't rush to Homegoods to buy bunch of decor items with an excuse it is for my business! (Though any excuse to stop at Homegoods is good enough:)). Look around the house, be creative, be simple. Your obvious choices will be books, florals, small decor items, maybe art, or a wood sign. Keep in mind, your main goal is to underline the beauty of your piece, not to distract from it, so less in this case is more. When it comes to photography, natural light is your best friend, and if you want to step up your game even more, there is plenty of lighting kits available which will make your images look more professional. And there is one more step (I know, I know, just hang in there): picture editing. I think this one is pretty self-explanatory.
I use Snapseed app, it is free, supports multiple social media formats, lets you watermark your pictures and very user friendly. Just remember - no filters! You want to capture the color of your piece as close as you can, so your customer doesn't complain that what they received was not what they had seen on the picture.
Here you have 3 options:
a) Social media: Facebook marketplace, your own Facebook page, Instagram account. Your listings should be descriptive: explain the viewer what you are selling, and how and where it can be used, provide measurements, mention if it is pick up only, or you offer a delivery.
b) Used furniture selling websites. Some of the most popular ones are: Letgo, Etsy, Offerup, 1stdibs, Craiglist, Chairish. Here you will pay some percentage of your sales, and be ready to provide shipping on all your items.
c) Rent a retail space at an antique mall/decor shop/consignment store. As a rule, you will either do a 50/50 or 60/40 split with the store, or pay a monthly rent and some percentage of your sale. Choosing the right retail space is crucial to your future sales, so do your research before signing a contract. I will write down a check list of what you need to know in the next post.
That terrifying word! Offering shipping for your furniture simply gives you access to more customers. You have two options to choose from: find a shipper yourself, or let your customer handle it. Some customers even prefer to do it themselves, so they can find the best deal and be in control. If they want you to handle the shipping, then my best advice is to use Uship.
Uship is an online marketplace for shipping services. It is free to join and get started. One of the best features is that you can get an instant quote, what is an average cost you are looking at. To find an actual shipper all you have to do is to create an entry for your piece with weight and dimensions on their website or app, pick up and drop off location, and then you wait for transporters to bid. I would highly suggest to choose White Glove service, because with this option you get your shipment packed, unpacked, and carried to a customer’s home or apartment. They receive the address and phone number of your customer, and call them directly to schedule delivery. Uship doesn't verify service provider insurance credentials, but they do provide cargo insurance policy through third party. You can choose to opt for one or not. Just to give you an idea: $50 deductibles on most goods up to $1000. When it is done through Uship, they get paid upon delivery. Once you find a shipper that provide exceptional service, you can work with them directly and pay less fees. In that case, you pay upon pick up. Don't be afraid to scare your customers away with pricey shipping, many are willing to pay the price to receive your beautiful work!
Do you need business insurance, what does it cost and what does it cover. Here are my thoughts. If you own a Brick and Mortar, it is definitely a must. You protect yourself from any product, building damage, theft, a customer hurting themselves in your store, etc. If you are renting a booth, you might want to get insurance to cover your inventory (prior to signing a contract for your space, it is worth asking what stores policy covers). If you are working from home, your main concern is damaging customs (someone getting hurt on your property is usually covered by homeowner insurance). That is where I say it is totally up to you, but it is worth finding a local insurance agent and, at least, to get a quote and see what it covers and if it is worth paying for YOU.
BUISNESS IS BUISNESS, BABY.
So, how do you become successful? Well, now think about any small business you buy from. What makes them special and makes you come back? Quality product, uniqueness, excellent service, friendliness. Be polite, be respectful, punctual. Small touches like a Thank you note with a purchase. A small summary of how to care for a newly purchased piece, for instance. Value you time and your labor, don't overprice your pieces, but don't undervalue your work either. Think about little things to make it easy for a customer to buy from you. What payments do you except? Can you send an invoice? Do you have a written contract, or receipt for custom work?
Painted furniture is not for everybody, so grow some tough skin, and be ready to hear: "Why in the world you painted that?! You ruined its value! It should be illegal to paint an antique!". Many times, people don't realize, that pieces we work with require major repairs, and only paint can be used to save it. Whatever the case is, it is your choice what you want to do with it, and there is even more people that adore color and functional art that the ones that don't. Be ready that some pieces might not sell for weeks, even if you think it is absolutely perfect. There will be wins, there will be disappointments, but the more you work on perfecting every aspect of your business, the more you learn to receive constructive criticism and adjust not your goal, but your methods and attitude, you will see how it starts paying off.
Did I get you sad and worried for a minute?!:))) Well, there is some perks of the job that I totally enjoy:
-You get to be creative. And if you think you don't have it in you, you will be pleasantly surprised!
-You get to build your own schedule. Need to get the kids to that doctor’s appointment in the am, run to the store, because you are out of dang milk again, or just unplug for 15 minutes on the couch with a coffee and All seasoning bagel from Trader Joes (I know, right?).
-You work at your own pace in between cooking and putting a puzzle together with the kid that can totally do it himself, but he needs you by his side anyways. So, you just do that. And then get to finishing painting those drawers on the kitchen counter. The biggest thing - you spend more time with your family!
-When it is night time, you don't have to finish a report for your boss by morning, you turn on your favorite tunes and paint. And then you stand back and think, man it looks good! Go me! I should probably keep this one for our bedroom!
-You make a sale and you start dancing in your living room, because they are not just buying furniture, they are buying your art, your creation!
-Did I mention wearing sweats all day:)))
-You are your own boss, which comes with lots of perks, but also responsibility. You learn how to be independent.
Well, here you have it. I think, I’ve touched the most important points in a nutshell, but each and every one deserves a whole separate detailed post. There is a lot to learn, it does take work, but when you love what you do, and can make money in the process, what is stopping you?!