Southerners are natural-born storytellers, and that characteristic extends to the pieces we pick to furnish our homes. Antiques can add a nice dollop of patina to a room, and these timeless treasures can offer a peek into the lives of generations past. Whether it’s a mahogany chest passed down from your grandmother or a gilded mirror uncovered at a flea market, these classic pieces will never go out of style. While some of us may be brown furniture traditionalist, others may want to put their own stamp on these one-of-a-kind finds with a fresh coat of paint. Should you paint your grandmother’s hand-me-down furniture? However you choose to display a vintage piece’s historic charm is up to you. But to weigh in on the debate, we called on two expert antique collectors—Sonia Davis, owner of Found in Birmingham, and Courtney Bukowsky, owner of One of a Find Charleston in Charleston, South Carolina.
Alison Gootee; Styling: Jenny O’Connor
“Is it a sin to paint hand-me-down furniture? No. While I am certainly a ‘brown furniture’ purist, I think ultimately that decision should be based on the piece itself,” says Davis. If you inherited an 18th- or 19th-century fine antique with beautiful patina, rich character, and quality wood, I wouldn’t touch it. Generally speaking, if the piece is from the 20th century and you’ve considered things like material and value, I think you can be forgiven,” she says. Shop Davis’ daily antique and vintage finds on Instagram (@foundbham) or online.
Bukowsky sides with Davis about leaving some pieces untouched: “Growing up in the Northeast in a house full of traditional antiques, I do think there are pieces that are ‘true antiques’ and stunning in the original condition and should be left that way to maintain their quality and integrity,” she says. Bukowsky isn’t afraid, however, to give her vintage finds a fresh, modern look with a lacquer finish. “Sometimes older pieces are too far gone, and they need paint to extend the life of the piece. Or paint can strictly give furniture an updated look. Personally, I think it depends on the piece and the customer’s style,” she says. “Painting or lacquering a traditional piece can give it new life while blending in with more modern design.” Shop Bukowsky’s collection of vintage furniture on Instagram (@oneofafindcharleston) or online. Customers have the option to maintain the piece’s original condition or add a colorful lacquer finish to their purchase.
The bottom line? Painting your grandma’s hand-me-down furniture is a matter of personal preference, but consider their quality, age, and value before giving them a new look.