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DIY: How to Refinish Laminate Furniture

I worked on a variety of upcycling projects in our apartment while we waited for a lease to expire on the first floor of the White House. It helped me be a little less impatient to start renovating. Here’s a short version of the process I followed:

building-home-and-family-painting-laminate

The desk wasn’t a thrift store find. Even thrift-challenged me could probably have found a more appealing desk as a starting point. But it has sentimental value:

As kids, my sister and I took turns going into our parents’ room and wrapping Christmas gifts for each other under the supervision of Mom and Dad. The year my sister was old enough to wrap a gift, my parents told me not to ask her what it was since she was too young for secrets. For years, I laughed how she had burst from my parents’ room and announced the gift: “It’s a pink pony!” It became a family joke about how NOT to keep secrets.

Several years later, I asked my sister to give me a hint about my Christmas gift, but she had learned the value of being cryptic after being the butt of the pony joke. “It’s in Dad’s office,” she giggled. I remember thinking she had seriously underestimated my investigative skills. I looked in the closet where my mom’s wedding dress and some old coats hung. I pulled books off the bookshelf and checked between them. I looked under every piece of furniture, inside every forbidden drawer. Nothing. What’s more, when it came time to wrap presents, no one even went into the office to retrieve a gift! I thought my sister, having mastered secrets, might be learning about white lies.

My dad walked me into his office on Christmas day and pointed to his desk, sitting in plain sight. “The desk is yours,” he told me. I stood in shock for awhile. Such largesse! I love that desk and everything it represents. I remember my dad doing taxes at that desk, paying bills, sorting out medical statements when my sister was born. To me, giving me his desk said my dad believed I was responsible.

Unfortunately, the desk was ugly. I didn’t notice for years. When I did notice, I was scared I might ruin an heirloom. (Can it be an heirloom if it’s laminate? I’m undecided.)

The key to refinishing laminate furniture is to allow yourself lots of time: there are two layers each of primer, paint, and sealant, and each layer needs to dry between coats.

I started by removing the old desk hardware, knowing I would switch out the dated knobs for something more modern.

Building Home and Family Removing Hardware

Typically, you don’t want to sand laminate. The one exception is if you are going to use different hardware/drawer pulls and fill some holes with putty, you may want to lightly sand the putty with a fine grit sandpaper to make sure it’s flush with the main surface.

Building Home and Family Wood Filler and Putty Knife

Building Home and Family Wood Filler

To apply the Zinsser primer, I used an angled paintbrush, plus I smoothed the paint with a mini paint roller to remove brush strokes. I used the same process for the paint. Paint at least 2 coats (until opaque), following directions on the cans for dry times.

Building Home and Family Zinsser with Angled Brush

I also added a coat of polycrylic using an angled brush to keep the finish from chipping/scratching. Follow the wood grain.

When I was done painting, I lined my drawers with fabric. I used a Cotton + Steel print and love the contrasting yellow of the lemons against the blue-gray paint color.

Building Home and Family Lined Desk Drawers

The easiest method is to cut the fabric to size: place fabric inside drawer and use a very sharp razor, rotary cutter, or Xacto knife to cut along the creases.

I actually used a different process. I cut the fabric slightly bigger and added a thin layer of iron-on interfacing onto the back/wrong side of the fabric around the edges before cutting the last ½” or so to size. The interfacing should keep the edges of the fabric from fraying.

Spray half (e.g. the left side) of the back/wrong side of the fabric with spray adhesive and adhere to drawer bottom, smoothing any wrinkles. Then repeat on the other side. Doing this in two parts makes it easier to get the lining straight and smooth.

Building Home and Family Laminate Desk Before and After

Overall, I’m happy with the finish, although I’ve since selected different colors for furniture in the White House. Oops! I’ll probably try to find a way to tie this in.

 

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