How to Refurbish Old Furniture

Transform that Old Furniture Piece

by Mike Friskney


We live in a disposable society. You only have to cruise down a neighbourhood street on garbage day to see the proof, especially when what’s been banished to the boulevard is an old piece of furniture.

While some may view that discarded dresser or kicked-to-the-curb credenza as nothing more than trash, others see it as ‘potential’.

“When I see something out at the side of the road, initially I feel sad,” says Deb Elford, the refurbisher and artist behind My Stroke of Whimsy. “But then when I see that it has potential, I get excited.”

And that’s what refurbishing old furniture is all about.

“If I can see past those scars and that damage and give a piece new life and purpose, then that is a happy day for me,” Deb enthuses. “It’s so satisfying to take something busted and abandoned at the side of the road and transform it into something lovely, functional and treasured again.”


From curb to superb

Refurbishing an old piece of furniture can take a few different forms. “Usually there’s a reason why a piece is being tossed,” states Deb. “Maybe the drawers stick or they’re falling apart. Or there is a big gouge out of the back or a leg is missing.”

If this is the case, all that’s required to resurrect a piece to its former glory is some elbow grease, sandpaper, glue, wood filler, a sander and a fresh coat of stain.

But then there are those pieces that inspire a more dramatic makeover.

“When I look at a piece of furniture, I always look for opportunities,” explains Deb. “What if I incorporated a colour change? Is there a place where I can do an accent colour? A little recessed area that would take anaglypta (paintable, textured wallpaper) or some cool treatment that would make it pop or stand out?”

The ultimate creative rush for a refurbisher is when they not only restore and revive a piece, but repurpose it as well. “I love repurposing furniture,” gushes Deb. “When you can take something and make it into something else, that’s the ultimate.”

One of Deb’s memorable repurposing projects was when she transformed an old Credenza into a cool, contemporary TV stand.


Warning: refurbishing furniture can become addictive

Many people who get the itch to refurbish a piece of furniture for the first time find that once they complete it, they’re hooked.

“A few years ago my husband and I redecorated our bedroom,” recalls Deb Elford. “I no longer liked the orangey look of our solid oak, 80s furniture. We gave everything new, curvy legs, a coat of off-white paint, updated the hardware, and voila, our French-inspired updo was fini. I got such a rush from seeing all the pieces come together–how the furniture was just so completely changed–I said I have to experience this feeling again and again.”

Deb’s husband was fine with this, but there was just one condition. He reminded her that they didn’t have the room for her to keep all the pieces she wanted to create. Deb said, “Okay, then I will try and sell some.” And Deb’s company, My Stroke of Whimsy, was born.

In business for a few years now, many of Deb’s customers are repeat buyers and often refer her to family and friends. When asked to describe her style, Deb says, “Traditional with a fun twist. I try to include something that’s a little surprising or a little whimsical in the pieces I refurbish.”


Some advice for first timers…

Ready to try your hand at refurbishing a piece of furniture? Deb Elford offers this advice on what type of piece to start with.

“I really like dressers and chest of drawers. They are a manageable size to work with, usually feature really cool, retro style, and, most importantly, they are very versatile. Once refurbished you can put them in a bedroom, bathroom, hallway, entranceway—there are so many uses for them. I even repurposed one into a coffee station once!”

And if you don’t have a piece of furniture in your home that you deem a worthy candidate for refurbishing, don’t sweat it. “I get stuff from everywhere,” says Deb. “From the side of the road, share sheds at peoples’ cottages, friends who are downsizing, VarageSale, Facebook Marketplace and Kijiji.”


…or you can buy a piece already refurbished

Don’t have the time to refurbish a piece of furniture yourself right now? Are you drawn to the idea of adding the one-of-a-kind look and feel of a refurbished piece to your home’s decor? You can browse refurbished pieces available for purchase from Deb Elford at My Stroke of Whimsy and other artists like her by visiting these links:


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