How do you decide whether to replace an old piece of furniture or to refinish it?

If you’ve got a piece or two of makeshift furniture sitting around the house and bogging down your decor, you’re not alone. But how do you decide whether your little treasure can or should be fixed up or if you should simply replace it? Ultimately, that’s a personal decision that only you can make, but I can offer a few tips to help guide you through the process…

1. First, take a good look at the condition of the piece. Is anything broken or missing? Do drawers slide and doors open? Are the legs sturdy? Yes, pieces can be rescued from pretty decrepit conditions, but the more work is required, I figure the less likely it is that you’ll do it, and the harder it will be to get it right. (I don’t know about you, but I’m looking for fast fixes with these little projects so I can move on to the next thing!)

2. Evaluate how well it really meets your needs. The boxy little dresser in my front foyer holds a lot of gloves, scarves and purses, but is it as useful as I would like it to be? In an ideal world, I would probably prefer to have a couple of smaller drawers. Or the drawers would at least be easier to open so I could get at things more easily. Having lots of small items like gloves and scarves jumbled together in big drawers can turn into a bit of a tangle as soon as I start digging for something on the bottom. (I’ve tried different basket solutions, but haven’t yet found one that does the job.)

Think about how you would like your piece to function — not just about how you use it now.

3. Consider how this item – even in a fixed up state – relates to the rest of the decor in your home. Yes, you can mixed styles and periods, but it’s not always easy to get it right. Will a fresh coat of paint be enough to make that mid century modern credenza work in your French country dining room? Or will a coat of glossy paint be all it takes to turn that curvy antique table into the perfect accent for your otherwise linear modern living room?

The Subjective Part

Here’s where you have to evaluate how much weight to give the answers to the above questions!

4. Now be honest with yourself — What are the odds that you will actually fix it up? Do you have time to do it? Do you have the skills and tools or are you willing to get them? If you have a list of 30 projects that you’ve been thinking about for a decade or more, can you honestly say you are going to get this one done? Replacing the piece with something new could take the pressure of one project off of your real or imagined “to do” list.

5. How perfect does it have to be? I know I have a much easier time dolling up an old dresser at my in-laws’ summer cottage with a coat of fresh paint than I do tackling the dresser in my front hall. At the cottage, where hand-me-downs reign, a coat of fresh white paint can fix almost any ill and good-enough functionality is usually just fine. It’s a different story in my front hall, however. I think one of the reasons I keep stalling on re-doing my little dresser is that I know it’s not really going to fix the problem. I really need something different for that space.

On the other hand, if I had worried less about getting it perfect a coat of paint might have made me much happier while I made do with that dresser. (A question for another time is why we would rather do nothing than risk doing something that turned out less than perfect — I mean, isn’t what we have already less than perfect?!)

These suggestions are obviously not for heirloom type pieces. Those should be evaluated by someone who can tell you their worth and recommend appropriate restoration methods. I’m talking about those perfectly or mostly good pieces that came from parents’ houses, yard sales and college apartments.

So, what’s the verdict? Tackle it, or replace it? I’m going to have to make that decision about my hallway soon… I’ll keep you posted.:-)

Want help making decisions about a beloved or maligned piece of furniture? Contact us to request a Colour and Decor Consultation.

3 thoughts on “How do you decide whether to replace an old piece of furniture or to refinish it?

  1. maureenatmodecormuses

    Yeah Carol… Not sure if I’ve missed other posts, but certainly enjoyed this one. Been there and done everything you have mentioned. I’m hoping to read a post from you VERY
    SOON that explains how you solved your front hall dilemma.

  2. Stephanie

    Thanks for the great tips. I have an old dresser that I have not known whether or not to keep or discard. I am going to take your tips and follow them closely. It is time to really evalutate this piece.
    Hope you keep the great ideas coming. You really know your stuff!


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