In this post, I describe how I transformed this vintage buffet from start to finish. Hopefully it will inspire you to not give up on vintage furniture that just need a little love to be beautiful again! They add way more character, charm, and uniqueness to your home than anything you can buy from a big box store!
Vintage Buffet Makeover Video
Be sure to check out my video of this vintage buffet makeover in action! I really had a lot of fun transforming this piece from scary to stunning!
Vintage Buffet Before
I scored this buffet for $50 on facebook marketplace. This is a great price for a buffet, especially because I knew it looked worse than it actually was! I picked it up from some guy that had it literally stored away in a barn, so it had been forgotten for many many years and was in need of some serious love.
This buffet’s biggest issue was the peeling veneer. Other than that, it had a loose spindle on the bottom and a couple missing appliqués. I am going to walk you through exactly how I fixed this piece to make it beautiful and functional again for someone’s home.
I already have a lovely antique buffet in my dining room but at $50 purchase price, I knew I could easily flip it for a great profit! Plus I just throughly ENJOY fixing antique and vintage furniture and giving them new life! Buffets are definitely one of my favorite types of furniture to paint.
Vintage Buffet Makeover Steps
- Removing peeling venner
- Make repairs
- Clean outside and inside of buffet
- Stain raw wood
- Reattach and replace missing appliqués
- Paint with milk paint
- Block bleed through
- Smooth out and distress paint
- Apply sealer
- Dish soap
- Shop rags
- Minwax stain in Early American
- Miss Mustard Seed Milk Paint in Linen
- DAS Air-Hardening Modeling Clay
- Easymold Silicone Putty
- Flat bar/ putty knife
- Sandpaper (60 and 220 grit)
Removing the Peeling Veneer
There was no saving the veneer on this buffet. It was peeling off from literally every side of this buffet. Since it was so badly coming off the piece, I opted to go ahead and remove it all from the piece. Veneer on old vintage furniture is often damaged. This doesn’t necessary mean it needs to be completely removed-it may be easier to just glue it. But in this buffet’s case, it was majorly peeling off. I mean just LOOK at those before images. I could not WAIT to peel this veneer off. There is something just so satisfying seeing veneer peel off in huge strips!
To remove the veneer, I just used a flat pry bar and hammer to remove the veneer. I would just push the pry bar underneath the veneer, hit it with the hammer to loosen the veneer from the buffet. When you are doing this, try to keep your pry bar as flat as possible. If you angle it too much, you risk gauging the buffet underneath.
As I was working across all sides of the buffet, I did my best to remove as big of sheets as I could. If you pull off a section of veneer off, you risk not having a good area of access underneath the veneer to remove it. This was extremely temping to keep pulling off pieces each time I made some progress, but I just waiting to peel it off until it became difficult to reach my pry bar with the hammer because the veneer piece was too big.
Remove stubborn veneer
Once I had the veneer that was easy to remove off, the next step was to work on the areas where the glue was still holding very well. For these areas (mostly the top in this case), use water to reactivate that glue to loosen and pull the veneer off. This trick makes removing stubborn extremely easy and painless.
To do this, i just took a couple of wet rags and got them seeping wet with water and laid them across the areas of veneer. I let the rags sit for about two hours. When I went back, the veneer was loosened enough that I could begin to remove it. When I have stubborn veneer like this, I use a putty knife rather than a pry bar just because it is thinner and sharper to get up underneath the veneer. This is a trade off though because since its thinner and sharper, it is easier to gauge the wood (especially when the wood is wet). But keep the putty knife flat and use the hammer to hit the handle of the putty knife to push it underneath the veneer to easily remove it. Once, I did this about 99.9% of the veneer had been removed.
For the remaining little tiny bits of veneer still clinging on, I just used a low grit sand paper (60 or 80 grit) and a random orbital sander to sand it off. Then I went back in with a medium grit sand paper to smooth out the raw wood areas because they were extremely rough.
There wasn’t a lot of repairs to make on this piece. It had a loose spindle on the bottom section near the legs that needed repaired. To do this, we just glued it and my husband use a large pipe clamp to hold it in place while the glue dried. Wood glue is an extremely strong bond. In fact, wood glue is a stronger bond that using screws so I expect this piece will hold a good long while!
Clean Outside and Inside of Buffet
For a piece that was in a barn for many many years, it was pretty clean! Of course, it had some bugs and dirt that needed cleaned off before it could be painted. For my pieces that aren’t extremely dirty like this, I just use a degreasing dish soap to clean it. I just added a couple squirt of soap to a bucket of warm water and used a shop rag to wipe everything down. I made sure to wipe down everything, including the drawers, inside of the doors, the back of the piece etc.
Staining the Raw Wood Areas
You might be wondering why on Earth I would stain this buffet before I paint it. This is because I used milk paint without a bonding agent because I was hoping to get some paint chipping off. I knew that if the paint did chip (milk paint is unpredictable so you can never truly be sure beforehand) that exposed raw wood would seem strange especially since some areas where there wasn’t veneer was stained.
Therefore, in order to match the raw wood areas and the stained areas, I used a Minwax Stain in Early American to get them closer. I did my best to choose a stain that would match the already stained areas, but I didn’t stress it too much since most of these areas would be covered in paint.
Since I was going to paint this entire piece, I did use a cheap oil based stain. Minwax stains are great for this. They are not my favorite for pieces that I want to leaved stained, but in this application it totally did the job.
Reattach and replace missing appliqués
Appliqués make the piece. They give it personality and character. So I knew I would need to reattach some of the appliqués and recreate the ones that were missing.
The veneer on the doors needed to be removed because it was so badly damaged. With that, the appliqués were removed as well since they were built into the veneer. Almost as if the veneer was pressed around a form rather than having a piece attached to the veneer. I really wanted to try my best to save them since they were original to the piece. Plus the furniture appliqués at local hardware stores are less than ideal. But to be honest, I wasn’t sure if my idea would work.
Since the veneer and the appliqués was technically only one piece, I used an exacto knife to trace around the outside of the ovals. Then I carefully pealed the top layer (which is very thin) of the veneer away from the second layer. Thankfully this process worked and I was able to salvage them!
Then, I took some high grit sandpaper to smooth out the edges of the appliqués so they were less jagged. This made it less obvious that they had been cut out. It is important to be gentle on this step since the appliqués were extremely thin and could be snapped easily!
Then I used wood glue to reattach them in the original position. They came out great and I am so glad I was able to save these! They make the piece!
In addition to reattaching some of the old appliqués, I also needed to recreate/replace an appliqué that was missing. The doors had this cute trim piece but it was missing from one of the doors. I could have just removed the trim all together to make them match. But it was cute and again these details are what vintage makes pieces unique. So I recreated an exact copy using the original piece! Pretty handy furniture restoring tip to have in your back pocket!
To do this, I used a product called Easymold Silicone Putty to create a mold around that original trim. This product comes with two silicone putty jars. Mix equal parts of each color putty together and press around what you want to create a mold of. Work fast because this stuff starts to harden within 3-5 minutes. Be sure to press is all the way around the item and down into the details. After 15-25 minutes, you can remove it and you will have an exact mold of that object. This product is a game changer for furniture restoration! I have used it on so many projects. The product is a little pricy for what it is but I have use the same package on several projects. I even made a mold of an entire leg that was missing. But that is a story for another time!
Once I had a mold of my trim piece, I used a airy dry clay to create the trim. I just pulled off a small amount of the air dry clay and pushed it into the mold. Then the next day, I pulled the trim from the silicone mold, and laid it across the drawer. Since the air dry clay takes several days (36-48 hours) to harden completely, I wanted to lay it across the buffet to have it conform to the curve of the drawer while it was still flexible.
Once the clay completely hardens, I just glued the clay appliqués on with E600. Once the buffet is painted, it will be virtually impossible to tell that this appliqué was not original and made from clay!
Using milk paint
I choose to use Miss Mustard Seed milk paint in the color Linen on this buffet. The color is a warm white that is slightly creamy without being too yellow. If you are new to using milk paint, be sure to check my how to use milk paint post here.
I brushed on the milk paint using my Zibra Fan brush. This is a synthetic bristle brush that is really great about smoothing out the paint and the shape is multifunctional so its a great overall brush.
The first coat of milk paint looked very streaky and patchy. This is totally normal for the first coat of milk paint so do not worry if this happens to you. As you apply more coats, the coverage will continue to build and it will no longer be streaky/patchy.
I brushed on a total of three coats of milk paint. By the end of the third coat, I regretted breaking out my sprayer for this project because this is a large buffet! So each coat took me at least 30 minutes! But I truly do love brushing on milk paint. The process of brushing on paint is very therapeutic for me.
Block bleed through
After the second coat of milk paint was applied, I noticed that on the sides of the buffet there was a yellow tint coming through the paint. These stains are called “bleed through”. Bleed through is vintage furniture is tannins from the wood coming through the paint. These tannins might have come from raw wood, polished furniture, or oils in the wood. These stains can range in color from yellow, orange, or red and no matter how much paint you apply over the stains, the bleed through will always come to the surface. Bleed through is more noticeable on light colored paint. Therefore, the bleed through needs to be blocked using an oil-based stain blocker. My absolute favorite stain blocker is Zinsser Shellac.
So I brushed on one coat of shellac onto the sides of the buffet and let that fully dry before I applied the third and final coat of milk paint.
Smooth out and distress paint
One of my favorite things about milk paint is how buttery smooth is can become once its buffed out after painting. So once the buffet was fully painted, I buffed out the paint using my orbital sander and 220 sand paper. As I sand, I run my hand around the piece feeling for areas that still feel rough. Around the details or in areas where I cannot get to with my orbital sander, I just sanded by hand with the same sand paper. This step of the process is probably my favorite because I really enjoy sanding off the chippy areas of the milk paint.
After the buffet was sanded smooth and any chipping paint is removed, I added some more distressing to the high areas of the buffet. I do not distress the flat surfaces on in low areas of my pieces because this can tend to look unnatural since the paint would not normally wear away in these areas. To distress I just use 120 sand paper on any areas that I wanted to distress. On this piece I was not looking for a super heavy distress so I only distressed a little. I find distressing also looks more natural if you distress in in random areas.
The last and final step to the vintage buffet (and any milk painted piece) is seal the paint. One of my favorite sealers is polyacrylic. This is a water based sealer that does not change the color of your piece (at all!), and is very durable. Polyacrylic comes in many different sheens, I usually choose the clear matte. I just brushed on one coat using a synthetic bristle brush. Feel free to add more than one coat depending on the amount abuse the piece might get.
The finished piece
Here is the finished piece! I really love how this vintage buffet makeover came out. I am thrilled with how this beautiful the linen colored paint looks with the soft brass of the hardware. Also I achieved the perfect amount of chippyness! This piece is going to sell in no time!