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Top 10 tips for refinishing furniture for profit

Do you think you would like to try your hand at refinishing furniture for profit?  Do you seek a job that allows you to be creative, maintain a flexible schedule, and has great personal rewards?  Following these tips will help lead you towards success.

Display piece by Painted LLC
Display piece by Painted LLC

1. Have a contract!
Listen up, this is majorly important!!! If you do commission work, start out with a contract.  Protect yourself and get paid for all the those inevitable add ons and all of your hard work. Your clients will respect you for being professional, don’t be afraid to be clear from the beginnings that you are paid according to specifications outlined in the contract. Most of us have had that difficult customer with 20 change orders and you don’t want to go into that relationship without some backup. Specify costs for paint, distressing, glazing, finishing products and size and detail of piece. Don’t forget to include no refunds and costs for touch-ups down the road if available. Communicate with your clientele by setting clear terms and expectations as well as negotiating the ever important factor… price. Send updates, keep them abreast on the schedule if you are ahead or behind, and reassure them that their piece is in good hands.contract

2. Do not cut corners!

snow owl painted dresser
Snow Owl Dresser by The Salvaged Boutique

Us furniture painters, we are a breed that is one in the same usually. We have a touch of ADD, love starting a project but sometimes dread finishing it, and many of our at home projects may be waiting on something as simple as putting on the hinges (I am totally guilty!) I painted my buffet 2 years ago and I never put the hinges back on. You cannot skip the small stuff with a paying customer. Consider lining the drawers, making repairs so that your project is solid, painting the back of a piece even though it wouldn’t likely show when pushed up against a wall, and replacing loose, or damaged hardware. Small upgrades on hardware can dramatically affect the value and curb appeal of your restoration.  And most importantly FINISH THE PROJECT! Do not give to your customer saying you just need to wax it, or they will need to fix the drawer slides. Give them a solid, beautifully finished piece that keeps them coming back for more of your creations.

My Buffet I painted in Joyful with black walnut glaze... still missing hinges! Oops
My Buffet I painted in Joyful with black walnut glaze… still missing hinges! Oops
robins egg salvaged boutique
Robins egg desk by The salvaged Boutique

3. Do not undercut your value and the value of other painters!
This should really be #1!
Some points to remember;
A. Furniture is not made the same these days, they do not last 150 years like that Eastlake dresser you may be refinishing. The materials used in most antiques cost an arm and a leg in today’s market (hence the reason furniture is no long “crafted”.)
B. Your time is valuable! Murphy’s law applies here more than ever. Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong. Think about the time it will take you to finish a piece and then add 20% more time as a buffer. This will help protect your profit margin and give the customer a realistic time frame when their piece will be finished. This may help eliminate the “When will I have my finished piece?” questions from clients that may lead to you feeling rushed, and you need to proceed without the need to hurry your projects.
C. You are stepping into a job market where your presence could potentially take business from fellow colleagues. In this small niche of the market you will find some of the most helpful people. We will reach out from far and wide to offer you tips, techniques, advice, and emotional support on business and personal alike. In my past professional life I have been a forester, a debt collector, and a tree trimmer. In these trades, I thought most everyone was too caught up in the rat race to help a fellow comrade.  Furniture rehabbers will share their knowledge, offer advice, and guidance.  This unique quality of the furniture business, is the second most rewarding part (#1 obviously being that paint is therapy) of a job that offers mentors around every corner. You would be hard pressed, to find another profession where individuals are more forthcoming with shared tricks and trade secrets with one another.  With that being established, please do not price your pieces to undercut your fellow friends that may have helped you everywhere along the way. Painting and restoring furniture is hard work, and yes it is our passion, but we should value that it is a respected line of work that you shouldn’t price yourself or others out of work.  If you just think about the economics of it long term, you can’t help but predict the crash of this business that is the livelihood of your fellow painters.  Pricing your items at or below bargain basement prices takes away from the legitimacy and value from this line of work. Offering your customers a fair price is important, but be mindful of the time and effort that goes into restoring furniture.  One thing is for certain, your brothers and sisters in the field will respect you for pricing your work based on your value, and you may even gain referrals from them because of it. We all have other painters we refer to when we get overloaded. You will reap benefits and create great networking relationships. You will never tear down your own business by building others up!

Smokey Quartz nightstand by A Shade of Teal











4. Staging is Important!
Staging your furniture for resale or for your portfolio of work is more important that some may realize. You may have talent coming out of your ears, but if you have a poor camera, a dimly lit staging area, or a drop-zone filled with the kids toys in your pictures, your work could go unnoticed and under-appreciated. Take the time to make sure the correct color is revealed in pictures, experiment with the lighting on overcast vs sunny days, and make sure to capture your pieces beauty. Be sure if you use filters, it is to only enhance the artistic appeal of the photo, not to change the finish of the furniture. Below is an example that demonstrates just how important proper staging can be to selling.   My friends at Brumley Gap Designs intentionally took a bad pic for this example.  They are very talented folks and agreed to share these.  These photos are  of the same desk, which one would you rather buy?  Notice how not only is the second pic beautiful, it captures the true finish of the piece.
brumleygap STAGING

Black desk by Brumley Gap Designs


Ewok finds it necessary to become part of all of my staging.
Ewok finds it necessary to become part of all of my staging.















5. Tract your profit and loss
Ok, admittedly this is the one that is not the most fun, but it is essential! I recommend QuickBooks online because it will sync with PayPal and other payments services and credit cards. You may think that it’s all profit but take into consideration gas for delivery, product investment, accessories for the job like tools, drop cloths, sandpaper, hardware, and other incidentals. They add up, and quickly eat into your profits. All of this tracking no only helps you gain an insight to your business value, but will help 10 fold once tax time arrives. Many furniture painters quickly realize that the business growth is exponential and many have to obtain LLCs and other business licenses sooner than later. This responsible business management practice will also show clients that you are so much more than a crayon and paper welding individual with a paint brush ready to paint your family’s heirlooms.

sea salt salvaged boutique
Sea Salt painted desk by the Salvaged Boutique

6. Know when to say NO!
This part can be hard for many. If a project is outside the scope of your abilities (either artistic, mechanical, or simply time constraints) say NO! It is better to send a customer to another fellow painter and establish a great business relationship, as well as helps those around you that may be seeking work. If you do not have the time to finish a piece in a respectable amount of time, you are doing yourself a disservice my saying yes. take on what you can handle, and accept help if you are getting bogged down with custom work.

7. Paint what you love when painting for resale.
On pieces that are not a commission project, you may consider painting something you don’t really love in the hopes it will sell because it is trending. Why is this a bad idea? You are providing a product that the people obviously like so how could that be bad?
#1. You won’t take the same pride in your piece. Your work is your signature and however small it may seem, is all part of your legacy.
#2. You won’t have as great of a time painting, you will wish the time away instead of relishing in it. Remember the reason we do what we do, because we gain joy from it.
#3. You become known for your work, every piece is part of your portfolio even if you don’t intend for it to be. Paint and create what you love, Don’t be afraid to try new things, but don’t just jump in on the chevron bandwagon if you hate chevron but think it will sell.  It is all about being authentic, and creating a brand for yourself and your creations.  Furthermore, if you see a project that inspires you, apply your own spin on it without completely copying an idea that originated from someone else’s creativity.  We all look for inspiration but it is important to apply your own unique qualities to your finishes and projects.

creme painted french chair makeover
Creme chairs painted by The Salvaged Boutique

8. Utilize the free tools available to you through social media!
Many furniture painters reach a huge customer base by utilizing social media like Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, periscope, YouTube, and more. The advertising market is making a huge shift in marketing trends and the good news is, most of it, is free! You may consider writing a blog to showcase your work while helping others learn techniques and tips for restoring furniture. Your blog may become a resource for potential customers to view your projects and seek inspiration on pieces for commission work. Show the magnitude of your talents and abilities and set yourself apart from others by creating your brand. Creating events on Facebook, or promoting events you are selling at, helps yourself as well as others selling there. Think of joining more local sales sites, auction sites, or other sales websites to reach a larger audience. Promote your favorite projects and let your work speak for itself.  Remember to follow the rules of each Facebook sales group and respect them!

9. Make sure you invest in the necessary tools to do your job!
This may be the time that you put away your hacksaw and invest is some serious tools. Know how to use them and don’t skimp on the quality of finishing products used. If you know a poly is prone to yellowing, obviously don’t use it on a piece because it is cost effective. Invest in good brushes, a good camera, obviously a cling on paint brush since they are clearly the best! Find which tools and products work for you and don’t be afraid to try out some new ones along the way. Be proud of your stash of goodies and take care of them. Paint brushes shouldn’t be disposable so take care of them (this is a hard one for us painters… again with the ADD… I need to wash out my brush… Look! A squirrel!)Cling On! Brush Care

10. Balance
This has been the single hardest step in my own career. I don’t have the answers on how to win the battle with this huge obstacle we all face. I do know, time for family must be made. Many of us choose this career path to spend more time with family, if you are successful, you will inevitable battle this dragon.  Take time to include family in your


projects if they are receptive, or have a little project for your kids to finish when working alongside you. Hey it keeps them off the streets, right? I have a bunch of cabinet doors my daughter keeps painting for me when we paint together. She gets a huge kick out of it. Yes, sometime I shoo the kids out of the studio too, they can be a real damper on productivity lol. Finding a balance is imperative to a successful business because if your family supports you, there is no end to the places you will go!

Cabinet door painted by my daughter Claire at age 5.
Cabinet door painted by my daughter Claire at age 5.
Mermaid Kiss by Wendy Wilshek

I hope you have found this top ten list useful and maybe, you are just having your aha moment when you realize you should be getting paid to paint. If this is the case, I know some of these tips could spare you the hard learned lessons that some of us have encountered along the way. Good luck and go paint! It’s your happy place, after all.




Working on the family balance with Grandma and my girls
Working on the family balance with Grandma and my girls
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