How To Decide Whether or Not to Give Antique Furniture a Makeover

How do you decide whether to give an antique piece of furniture a makeover or not? This antique armoire looks so amazing with a makeover but there are some key points to consider.

How to Decide Whether or Not to Give Antique Furniture a Makeover - So Much Better With Age

Do you remember this armoire that I posted about years ago?

This armoire was given to me from a friend. It was left in their crawl space of the new house they bought and in 10 pieces. She knew how much I loved antiques so she just gave it to me and I had it set up at home. It goes together like a jigsaw puzzle which explains how they were able to move massive pieces of furniture up tight staircases and doorways back in the 1800s. And yes, I forgot to mention that piece of information, it’s from the 1800s! So why did I give it a makeover, you are probably wondering.

And how do you decide whether or not to give an antique piece of furniture a makeover?

The biggest thing I didn’t like about the armoire was that it had a very orange-y stain and a glossy varnish.

I never wanted to give it a makeover by stripping it or painting it as I knew it would diminish its worth but it still bothered me.

 It is 8 feet high which is roughly the same as the ceiling height in my current house.

(I’m 5′ 3″ and easily fit inside!)

How to Decide Whether or Not to Give Antique Furniture a Makeover/standing in armoire - So Much Better With Age

When the armoire was assembled together in my previous house, we noticed the back structure was not entirely secure. The armoire is not secured together with screws or nails or anything like that. It stacks together at the base and the bolts from the front doors hold with the weight of the top piece on top. It truly is a marvel piece of furniture! Anyway, the back wasn’t as secure as we would have liked and with small children running around it, we decided to add metal plates and screws to the back of it for security.

There were also a few dents, chips and we noticed that the top ornamental piece was cut in half, probably to make it fit into a room a long time ago.

There were also no definite markings on the piece anywhere from the furniture maker.

I knew from these deficits, that the piece would only be worth what someone would pay for it. I even tried to sell it for a time and did not get any buyers. So I knew it was fate and I had to keep her. How to Decide Whether or Not to Give Antique Furniture a Makeover/armoire from 1800s - So Much Better With Age

Don’t Makeover If:

  • appraised at a high value as is

Do Makeover If:

  • the only thing holding you back is feeling guilt over painting/sanding/staining the wood
  • the only thing holding you back is knowing how much you paid for it __ years ago (it doesn’t matter anymore, all furniture can be expensive and that was then, this is now!)
  • you’re tired of the finish and want to get rid of the piece of furniture
  • family or friends wants to give you a piece of furniture. If they didn’t want it to have a makeover, they shouldn’t have given you the piece of furniture! Every time someone wants to give me a piece of furniture, I first tell them that if they do, it might get a makeover so they are fully aware. Some people like to know that their piece of furniture is off living some glamorous life untouched. But if no one is enjoying it, then it is not making anyone happy. And if that person is trying to get rid of it, then they don’t want it either! There is no point making others feel guilty by not allowing them to do what they want with it. Just make sure to mention that you may or may not give it a makeover. That person can also sell it online. If they find there are no buyers, it’s probably because of the finish! Giving a piece of furniture a makeover is far better than it landing up in the landfill.

How to Decide Whether or Not to Give Antique Furniture a Makeover/details - So Much Better With Age

Makeover Time

Know that I knew I wanted to give her a makeover, I had to figure out what kind of makeover to give her. I knew I didn’t want to paint her. She was just too pretty!

I also knew deep down it would hurt a little to splash paint over all that beautiful inlay and relief work.

The only choice then was to sand her down. That’s right! This entire thing was sanded down…by hand…by my boyfriend last summer!

How to Decide Whether or Not to Give Antique Furniture a Makeover/French armoire - So Much Better With Age

He used the two different sanders that I owned plus a Dremel sanding tool for all the tiny crevices.

It was a mammoth of a job and probably took about 3-4 weeks in total, doing pieces at a time.

How to Decide Whether or Not to Give Antique Furniture a Makeover/French detailing - So Much Better With Age

The Finish

After you sand a piece of wood furniture down to the natural grain, you can pretty much do anything to it! It’s a blank canvas! I wanted to keep it a natural wood and leave it as is. After doing some research, I was told that leaving the natural wood exposed to the elements and oil from fingers (we use this armoire daily for clothes), we decided it needed to have some sort of finish.

I didn’t want it to have a polyurethane finish although I’m sure a matte poly finish would look fine.

I had considered liming the wood to give it a nice whitewashed look but thought that might look too ‘white’ as I loved the natural wood tones.

We could have used a clear furniture wax on the piece but we finally opted for a white furniture wax finish, very light buffing most of it off.

The final result is a slightly white patina mixed into the grain of the wood. You can still see the natural wood color and the depth of the wood reliefs.

How to Decide Whether or Not to Give Antique Furniture a Makeover/relief detail in wood - So Much Better With Age

There were different woods used in this piece of furniture so some of the parts pick up more of the white than others and I like that.

My worry with using a clear furniture wax was that some parts could go dark with it and I wanted it to stay light.

How to Decide Whether or Not to Give Antique Furniture a Makeover/wooden antique - So Much Better With Age

How to Decide Whether or Not to Give Antique Furniture a Makeover/wooden details - So Much Better With Age

How to Decide Whether or Not to Give Antique Furniture a Makeover/French antique armoire - So Much Better With Age

It’s such an amazing piece of furniture and I feel it’s even better now. I’m so grateful for this kind gift and will cherish it forever, especially since it was such a labor of love.

There was so much work involved in this piece but at the end of the day, it only cost the price of the wax.

How to Decide Whether or Not to Give Antique Furniture a Makeover/French bedroom - So Much Better With Age

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Here are the products we used in giving this antique armoire a makeover:

There’s nothing more satisfying than working on a beautiful piece of furniture to match your home decor and to love forever. There’s no point in living with a finish that you don’t like. The furniture always remains a classic but the finish on it makes it up to date.

How to Decide Whether or Not to Makeover Antiques - So Much Better With Age







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  1. It’s such a beautiful piece and so perfect in your bedroom! I’m so glad you found a good spot for it and the makeover is wonderful. We have some huge pieces too and taking them apart to move them would help so much. We joke that if we ever sell our house, there’s a few things that will come with the house. love and blessings~

    1. Thank you so much for the list of products you used to redo the armoire. I have never undertaken such a monumental task but have a small ornate side table that has many grooves and some inlay that I would love to redo. Your article has given me hope!

  2. It looks really great, Jamie. it is a beautiful old piece. You are right- it is difficult to make the decision sometimes. I have a few pieces I will never paint simply because of ruining the value of them…others that I have no compunction about slapping a coat of pain on to them. lol
    Have a great weekend. xo Diana

  3. I’ve always admired this piece when first seeing it as everything about it is beautiful. This piece deserves to stand out just as you/your guy did it. What an awesome gift from a friend and truly a keeper forever! Love the mirrored doors too – did you install these or was it like this when received?

    1. Thank you so much, Julie! The mirrors came with it. I’ve considered taking them out but they are solidly in there. One side has antiqued already but it’s hard to tell in photos.
      Hugs, Jamie

  4. All the while I was reading your post, my head kept saying over & over, “don’t paint it, don’t paint it.” I love your result & am soooo glad you left this beautiful piece of furniture show off it’s wood. You are right, too many people just slap paint on old furniture!!

  5. I’m happy that beautiful old piece found a home with someone that loves and appreciates it. I think your new finish is perfect. I agree! Painting over those details would not have made you as happy as the subtle white you have now. I’ve been going to refinish my oak bureau & tall boy but was undecided about painting it – go light or go dark? Now, I know exactly how I’m going to tackle them. They’ll look so much better with my new upholstered headboard. Thank you for inspiration!

    1. The natural wood would look gorgeous, Joanna. I have an oak piece I’m considering stripping down too. Sometimes oak looks a bit orange so I think a white wax would look pretty on it too.
      Hugs, Jamie

  6. oh, my!! that is so gorgeous!! so happy there are people like you who take the time and care about beautiful old pieces. Now it will be a treasure forever, or until the lady in 3018 decides to do it in orangy veneer, all the rage in 3018… ha!

    1. haha this is hilarious and so true!! Yes in 1000 years people will be looking at my armoire thinking, why on earth would she do that? It needs to be glossy orange lol. Thanks Ruby!
      Hugs, Jamie

  7. It is such a great piece and love what you decided to do. Thanks i know this will help with some pieces i have and what to do. Have a great weekend.

  8. Did you use any liquid finish remover in the nooks and crannies? The chemicals are nasty but it would get in small spaces.

    1. Hi Bonnie, I considered that but the finish wasn’t really thick on the ornate parts of the armoire so it was just sanded down a bit. I would definitely use something if there was paint on it I was trying to remove. Thank you!
      Hugs, Jamie

  9. I have a custom cherry table I have been wanting to stain darker to blend with my other furnishings. Thanks for this timely post.


  11. Jamie, I have refinished so many pieces except for our mammoth armoire – I just had no idea what to do with it and have been waffling about whether painting or stripping it will ruin a good piece……but after reading this I am tempted to go get my sander this very second!! Your armoire is SO beautiful and the new finish is perfection, I love it!! Such a great post!

    1. Aww, thanks Lisa! I do the same thing with every piece of furniture and always come to the same conclusion. I’ve had pieces for years that I’ve refinished and painted and still love them. I love them more once I’ve refinished them they way I want.
      Hugs, Jamie

  12. I really love these old things, they have this grand look you cannot find. I think you could fix that thing at the top someone cut in half. It reminds me of a large bow. Some furniture refinishers make molds of pieces to replace the missing elements. Love it!

    1. Thanks Kellei, I agree, the grand look cannot be duplicated. I’ll have to look into that! I think it was a bow originally at the top.
      Hugs, Jamie

  13. Wow! It is truly a stunning piece! This is such a beautiful and informative post. I will be featuring you at Thursday Favorite Things tomorrow! I hope you will come back and link up again this week. Happy Valentine’s Day!

  14. This piece is absolutely gorgeous and it looks perfect in your room!
    A question: I purchased a beautiful French dining room set and had it stripped it down to the raw wood….beautiful. The only problem is that we use it everyday and the chairs have gotten darker from the oils in our hands. (Not such a pretty color anymore ) Annie Sloan clear wax was the product used. I need a better product. How is your armoire holding up using Miss Mustard Seed white furniture wax? Thanks so much! Linda

    1. Hi Linda, the armoire is holding up really well so far! No greasy fingermarks anywhere. I was worried about that and heard that just a clear wax would still love oil marks. I’m not sure why the white wax is so much different but apparently adding color to the wax is an extra line of defence. You can use a lot of white wax or very little so I used very little to get a more natural look. I waxed it really good but wiped the majority off for a natural seal. I think it would be a great solution for you too.
      Hugs, Jamie

    2. PS: I would either sand it down again or use a solvent to get the previous wax off before adding the white wax to it or you’ll end up with the same problem.

  15. Wow, so beautiful,,,also was worried the “after” would be painted…it is perfect. The white wax is nice, maybe I could use that on a buffet I have. Thanks, just pinned it.

  16. I adore the look you gave this beautiful piece! I am going to use your idea on a chest that needs refinishing. Thank you.

    Could you please tell me the source of the curtains in this room please?

  17. Are you aware that all the tiny holes on the top of the piece are from powder post beetles? Not something you want in your house to get into all your wood furniture. We learned the hard way a couple of years ago.

    1. Hi Pam,
      Yes I am. This armoire is from the 1800s and has no sign of inhabitants. I’ve had it for many years. I had a dining room table with the beetles and they constantly created a dust.

  18. This is such a beautiful makeover! Congratulations on a really pretty piece. I absolutely love that you kept its character but still managed to bring it to modern days somehow. I really love it!
    I completely agree with the reasons you chose for making over a piece of furniture. I may add that when you do makeover a worthless piece of furniture, you give it the worth of your labour and that’s priceless, isn’t it?

  19. I came across this while searching for ‘antique armoire in foyer’. I am trying to decide if I should put my very similar antique armoire in the foyer in front of the stairs (not a huge foyer at all). It looks like in the first picture that is where you had it. Was it too big there? We can put it in our bedroom, but I’d love it to be in a place that is more likely to be seen 🙂

    1. Hi Kristin, I love an armoire in the foyer! If you have the room for it, that would be awesome. The bedroom of course is nice too 😉
      Hugs, Jamie

  20. Jamie,
    Your armoire is beautiful with its update ~ subtle difference but I can see the white wax now that you’ve shared it in close-up photos. Kuddos to your boyfriend for all his hardwork!!! Sounds like he’s a keeper! <3 Pinned to my Perfect Paint board that I'll be renaming to Perfect Finish.

    Thanks for the tutorial,
    Barb 🙂

  21. My parents want to buy an antique furniture to match the rustic theme of our home. It was mentioned here that antiques need a makeover if they don’t like the finish. Moreover, it’s recommended to go to trusted furniture shops for antique furniture.

  22. Jamie, I love the finish you put on the armoire, it brought out its full potential. I had an antique mahogany desk that had a shiny, crazed finish which I didn’t like so I stripped it down & just used tung oil on it. I like this finish much better, it’s a matt finish & much more to my liking. I now have an antique dresser which my father bought @ an auction, I don’t like the finish on it, it has an orangish-red finish that has pebbled like an orange peel in places. I’m sure of the wood type but it is solid wood, it is an 1800’s piece. I need to refinish this piece but I don’t know what to do with it. Any suggestions? Thanks, Sandy

  23. I have an armoire not nearly as gorgeous as yours, but you have inspired me because I think mine is too dark. Can you tell me what attachment you used with the Dremel to get into all those tiny nooks and crannies? And did you just use white wax after sanding?

  24. I love how you said not to do a makeover if it’s appraised at a high value already because it’s a lot easier to just sell it if you can. However, I think it’s a lot of fun to turn something old and ugly into something modern-looking.

  25. This is so random but is that a king size bed that the piece you updated is in front of? If it is, where did you get it or what brand is it? I’m having a horrible time finding a pretty king size bed.


  26. Hi there, love this piece of furniture. I recently purchased an 8’ tall pre-civil war wardrobe closet that sat in two attics forever. With the exception of a small broken corner on the door, it’s flawless. There are no nails or screws. It’s like yours, a big puzzle; tongue and groove slats and wooden dowels. Love it!!! When we bought it we labeled all the pieces so we are able to put it back together when ready. It’s very heavy, so I want to paint the wall it’s going on first.
    It’s very dark. I love what you did with yours. I think it might be worth the sanding to achieve a brighter look. I couldn’t imagine ever painting it. Thank you so much for sharing your story on this beauty.

    1. Hi Stacey,
      Aren’t these old furniture pieces amazing without screws or nails? I’m sure you’ll enjoy it no whatever you end up doing with it!
      Hugs, Jamie

  27. It was interesting when you talked about how the only reason to avoid making over antique furniture is if it’s appraised to be valuable in its current condition. My husband recently inherited two antique wooden bedside cabinets from his grandparents and was planning to do some work on them. I’m glad I read your article so I can have them appraised and learn what they’re worth first!

  28. Thanks for the tip to makeover your antique furniture if you don’t like its finish. Antique furniture is yours once you buy it. I think anyone is free to change it or do a makeover if they want to or not.

  29. Hi! I absolutely love what you did with the armoire! It’s stunning. May I ask though, where you got that bench at the end of your bed in that picture? I’ve been looking for one just like that! Thank you!

    1. Hi Olivia,
      The tufted bench at the end of the bed is from Restoration Hardware. I’m not sure if they still sell it.
      Hugs, Jamie

  30. Hi! My husband and I recently purchased a similar armoire. Could you tell me what type of backets you used to reinforce the armoire? Ours leans slightly to the right when assembled and we think if we use similar brackets to the back, it would help straighten it.

    Thank you!

  31. My husband and I recently purchased a similar armoire. When we assembled it, we noticed that it leaned slightly to the right. Could you tell me what type of brackets you used in yours to reinforce the back panel. We think it may help ours.

    Thank you!

    1. Hi Mary,
      Sorry for the delay! We used a flat L bracket, they can easily be found at any hardware store. I’ll leave a link here so you can see what they look like (it’s an affiliate link but not obligation to purchase these): https://amzn.to/39b6yWy
      Hugs, Jamie

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