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A little elbow grease turns old furniture new again
Staple under arms, making sure to smooth fabric before you staple. - photo by Tasha Biggers

Chic or Shabby

What: Antiques and "shabby chic" furniture refinishing
Where: 975 Ronnie Green Parkway, Gainesville
More info: Pam England, 770-540-0718

Melissa Howard Jones

Who: A Gainesville artist specializing in painting portraits, murals, plastering walls and refinishing furniture and floors
More info: 770-540-8363 or

Hancock Fabrics

What: Store offering heavy-duty staplers, foam, hemming tape and other craft items
Where: 1500 Browns Bridge Road, Gainesville

Spring brings more than flowers - with warmer weather, yard sales are also popping up on the weekends. But before you pass them by as nothing more than junk for sale, stop to take a look at second-hand furniture.

With a little work, you can make it new again, with just some primer and a coat of paint.

Tamara Lewis, part owner of Chic or Shabby in Gainesville, said some pieces are great for painting, and some should be left alone.

"A quality piece, to me, is anything that's built before the '60s or the '70s," Lewis said. "You can get some quality pieces today, still, but those are going to be pieces that you're probably not going to want to paint."

She said pieces from the 1920s, '30s and '40s are ideal for refinishing. Lewis recommended looking for solid wood pieces, too.

But you also can find furniture to refinish in your own home. Lewis said to look in your basement or attic for pieces you don't use or ones that are dated.

When you find something you like, get to work.

Sharon Pruett, paint department manager at Lowe's in Gainesville, said to begin with an oil-based primer so the paint will adhere, even to a shiny surface.

"If you want to paint, all you have to do is just prime it with an oil-based primer and then you can paint right over whatever type of finish," Pruett said.

"It takes around an hour for your oil base to dry, and then you can paint it right away.

"You don't have to put an oil just because you're using an oil-based primer," she said. And how you apply the paint is "up to the individual."

"Myself, because I'm not a good sprayer, I would prefer to roll it on or brush it on. But if you're good at spraying, you can spray it," Pruett said.

If you want to add new fabric to a piece of furniture, Melissa Howard Jones, a Gainesville artist who upholsters furniture, said to start with something simple, like turning a stool or a small table into an ottoman.

She said a square piece is best for beginners.

"If you have something that's like a small square or a rectangle, you can do it all with a stapler," Jones said.

"Go to Hancock Fabrics or somewhere like that, or Wal-Mart even, and pick up a piece of foam and cut it to the size of the top of it," she said.

After you find material you like, cut it a few inches larger than the top of the ottoman so it can be stapled under it.

Jones said to put the material on the floor, upside down, and place the foam in the center of it. Put the stool upside down on top of the foam, pull the material taut and staple a few times to begin.

"Pull the other side, directly across from it, taut and staple it," Jones said. "Then make a cross, basically, and then pull the sides, and then work your way from the middle to the outside corners and then (fold) like a hospital corner and staple it," she said.

If the piece has "great legs," Jones said you're finished after the material is stapled on. But if you don't like the legs, either paint them or make a skirt.

To make a skirt, Jones said you'll need a rectangular piece of material long enough to wrap around the table.

Using hemming tape, which can be found at any fabric store, iron about a half-inch hem around the bottom of the material and any edges that will be visible. The hemming tape will stick to the material when heated by the iron, so you don't have to sew it together.

Staple the raw edge of the piece under the edge of the ottoman, leaving a neat row of staples so the skirt will hang straight.

If you want a pleated skirt, Jones said to use a longer piece of material and make even folds, pinning them together before stapling. Then, staple across the folds.

Pull the skirt down over the legs and your ottoman is done.

An important last step in refinishing your furniture is to stand back and admire it.

Be proud. You saved a piece of furniture that might have been thrown away and added a decorative piece to your home without spending a lot of cash.

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