Life Interiors

Friday 25 May 2018

Colour your world - how to customise your furniture

Adding a personal touch that won't break the bank has never been easier

Annie Sloan paints were used to brighten up the chair, tub, skirting and chest to add character to the room
Annie Sloan paints were used to brighten up the chair, tub, skirting and chest to add character to the room
Janice Issitt
Dresser upper in a sea of green
A door painted in greens and orange.
A bedroom table and wall in pinks and shades of blue.
Adding personality with pink to an old cupboard.

Eleanor Flegg

Over the last few years, with money being scarce, Irish people have become more inclined to repaint furniture than replace it. If a shabby old chair, side table or cabinet meets your requirements, why chuck it out when a lick of paint can work wonders? Painting furniture can transform it, update it and, generally, jolly it along for another couple of years.

When we paint our furniture, we're tapping into an old Irish tradition. Until the mid-20th century, the vast majority of Irish furniture was painted. Eric Cross described a typical scenario in his novel The Tailor and Ansty (1942). "Twice a year the settle and the dresser and the doors and the shutters of the windows are painted by Ansty until by now the accumulation of paint must be near to half an inch thick. The Tailor never gives a hand and views it all with cynical amusement. The only good that he can see in it is that it keeps the paint manufacturers busy and makes them rich."

Not much has changed. Painting furniture is still a predominantly female pleasure and the paint companies are happy to oblige.

In 1953, Irish emigrant Ronan O'Connor returned from America to establish a paint company called General Paints. He set up his factory in an old Famine workhouse in Celbridge, Co Kildare. By the 1960s, they had become the first European paint company to manufacture a water-based acrylic paint. Now, under the Colourtrend brand, the company still specialises in water-based acrylics. It's a type of paint that works just as well on furniture as it does on the walls. When you're looking for a change, you'll find that a litre tin of Colourtrend Eggshell (€22.50) is a lot cheaper than a new piece of furniture.

Kevin Haughey of Colourtrend has noticed the recent surge of interest in painting furniture, and that the woman of the house is often the driving force. "Colourtrend is a very female-friendly paint," he says. "There's no smell and it's very easy to use!" He also think that there's more to the trend than post-recessionary economy. "I don't think it's just the recession. It's a creative thing too. People can be brave with furniture. You're not going to paint your room in a mad colour but you might just experiment a wee bit with a chair."

Haughey feels that the key to painting furniture is to get the preparation right. "Give it a good sanding and two coats of primer, and it will take any abuse you can throw at it."

Traditional Irish country furniture was painted in a thick coat of gloss, but now the preference is for something a little less shiny. The British paint company Little Greene Paints recommends its Intelligent Eggshell range, which is certified safe for children's rooms and furniture. It costs €32 for a one-litre can.

Kevin Coughlan of MRCB, one of Little Greene Paints' Irish suppliers, also recommends careful preparation.

"Priming is an important process because it hides imperfections and provides a surface for the paint," he says. "You'll need to apply three coats of paint, allowing six to eight hours between each coat."

Now, I'm going to divide the human race into two categories. People in the first group are natural craftspeople who love the painstaking process of preparation, pay attention to detail, and take their time getting a job right. They do it once and do it well. I admire these people, but I'm not one of them. I belong to the second group of people who like quick results, tend to be slapdash, and are liable to botch a paint job because they can't be arsed waiting for it to dry. Luckily, there's a paint product for us too.

Annie Sloan, inventor of Chalk Paint™, discovered the joy of painting furniture when she was at home with two children. "By the time I had finished preparing the project I was bored of it. I had a limited amount of time and I wanted to get straight to the creative part," she says. Annie Sloan Chalk Paint has been formulated so that you can skip the preparation. "There's no sanding and no priming. You just get on with it," she says. "Each piece needs a coat and a half; then you apply a clear wax over the lot. It's not a difficult job."

The name "chalk paint" comes from the surface quality of the paint rather than the ingredients. "Many paints have chalk in them," she says, "but... I was referring to the softness and the velvety feel of the finish."

Sloan also works with painters-in-residence, like the stylist, designer and blogger Janice Issitt, who works with these paints to produce showcase pieces. "I use chalk paints on every imaginable surface," says Issit. "The paint will stick to anything, so it's a great way to tie all your pieces together to get a more cohesive interior look." Annie Sloan paint costs €27.95 for a litre tin and is also available in 100ml tins (€9). In Ireland, it's only available from small retailers who have received training in how to use the paints and will be well-placed to help you get started.

If you're interested in finding out more about painting furniture, or in getting free advice from the experts, drop in to the interior design event, House, in the RDS from May 20 to 22. Annie Sloan will be taking the Inspiration Stage and showing her paints with her Irish distributor, Margaret Corscadden of Twenty Six in Nenagh. Colourtrend will also be among the exhibitors, as will Little Greene Paints.

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