Painted Table Painted Table

Q: I recently inherited a large round maple colonial coffee table. It fits well in the corner but does nothing for the looks of the room - I have a country décor, and the rest of the wood in the room is pine, with a wonderful grain and varied stains. I'm considering antiquing or painting this table, as it has no real grain to it like pine does. Is this a no-no to paint this piece?

Maybe with the maple table I can eventually put it in the middle of the room and surround it with round furniture as I can afford to do so. Also, I want to know how to "weather" or "distress" it with paint.

A: I used to get quite anxious about painting anything made of wood, thinking that to do such a thing indicated a lack of respect for the tree that gave its life to become my table or dresser. And then my mother pointed out that my grandfather, who made his living in the lumber business, advised her to paint any wood that wasn't gorgeous and that she didn't love.

After all, what's the point in adhering to rules about design, unless you really enjoy the results? Isn't the most important thing that you love the way something looks?

So, I hereby grant you permission to paint that table, to distress it, to weather it, to paint it pink and stencil flowers around the edge if that pleases you. Because another thing my mother pointed out is that painted wood can always be refinished, and sanded back to its original tone.

  • Tip: In terms of distressing or weathering the wood: "distressed" wood doesn't refer to the wood's emotional state, but rather to its appearance, making it look as if it's survived the distressing Age of Anxiety in not-so-great form. As you may know, there are many different ways of accomplishing this, involving applying paint, wax, and other materials to the wood, then wiping them off in a multi-step process. This gives the furniture a look of being nicely aged, and is a staple in "shabby chic" decor.

I would hesitate to recommend any one method over another; they will each give a slightly different look, and each involves a slightly different technique. I'd just settle in at the interior design department of a book store and do some serious browsing, until you find the method that suits you best.

Once you have the table looking the way you want it to, you may want to reconsider the idea of surrounding it with other "round" pieces of furniture. The beauty of a round table is that it brings another shape into a room, and therefore provides a balance of lines. A room with a rectangular coffee table, a square-armed sofa, a square-framed painting, will overwhelm the visitor with hard angles, and is in need of some rounded edges. This can be achieved with an oval coffee table, a sofa with softer lines, and elegantly drooping curtains or drapes.

But here, you have just the piece you may need to offset the harder edges. I'd rather see you paint the table, install it in the room, and then evaluate how the rounded lines work with the hard angles you already have.

And then, have a ball deciding who's going to inherit that table from you.

Reprinted with permission from the Sheffield School of Design

Got a New Project You're Proud of?

Post it on Your Projects!