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The Best Types of Paint for Your Furniture (& Your Style)

We got the experts to reveal their preferred picks.

Photo by Rocky Luten

Everyone from DIYers to A-list interior designers agrees that painting furniture is one of the most transformative DIY makeovers out there. And while plain wooden furniture will always be a classic choice, there’s something intrinsically palette-pleasing about a classic silhouette in a soft neutral or a hand-me-down that’s seen better days and has been revitalized with a burst of bright color.

The only issue? Picking the right paint isn’t as straightforward as it seems (on the other hand, getting stuck with the wrong one is easier than you think). And then there’s all the sanding, multiple paint coats and finishing coats... But let’s start with selecting the right paints for the job. We reached out to a few experts to get their top picks for different styles whether that's farmhouse, classic, or bohemian. Which would you go for?

Bohemian Beauty

If you love the vintage Bloomsbury look, consider chalk paint. Its nuanced, matte finish conjures up decorative but dusty turn-of-the-century glamor. It’s the perfect tool for dressing down an overly fancy piece. Plus, it’s a one-and-done option: Its porous qualities make it easier to bind on to surfaces so you can even skip the sanding and priming steps (the one exception being surface scratches which will need to be filled out with wood glue).

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According to Annie Sloan, the veritable godmother of chalk paint, it works well with most surfaces, including wood, metal, melamine, and even glass. Sloan’s eponymous line of paints includes different finishes that can be used for different techniques, but we’re partial to the Dark Chalk Paint Wax which Sloan loves for an antique look that brings out the grain of the paint. “It’s a great paint to play with,” she says, “and you can brush it on thick to create texture.”

Top Paint Picks:

We’re partial to these muddy tones which remind us of the iconic Charleston Trust and the Bloomsbury group:

  1. Piranesi Pink
  2. Tyrian Plum
  3. Carnaby Yellow

Shiny Brights

Happy colors are the ultimate pick-me-up, and Reagan and Danny Geschardt of Naples-based Broome Street Studios agree. The couple are artists who custom-paint vintage furniture like faux bamboo pieces and campaign chests in saturated shades like taxi-cab yellow and royal blue. And while many of Broome Street’s pieces are professionally lacquered by hand in a process involving multiple coats, Danny is partial to Fine Paints of Europe, which he loves to use for reclaimed furniture. “You don’t need to be a professional because the product is so good,” he says, “and the durability is great—kids can put their sippy cups on the surface or mark it up with Sharpies and it always just wipes off.” Another plus? The extensive color wheel. While Gerschardt sticks to the bright side of the spectrum, there’s something for everyone.

Top Paint Picks:

Gerschardt recommends the line’s Eurolux Interior Acrylic Paint for beginners. Here are his favorite shades:

  1. Van Gogh Yellow (2070)
  2. Delft Blue (4003)
  3. Bottle Green (3022)

Period Piece

The patinated look of Swedish antiques is highly desirable, but hard to attain. That’s why decorative painter Matt Austin of Matt Austin Studios turns to the Old World look of milk paint, or casein paints (named for the protein in milk). It’s the ultimate insider’s pick that pros like Austin opt for when trying to make a piece of furniture look like an antique. “It’s a chalky look, but it can be burnished to a high sheen to give a piece that high-low contrast of tones” he says. “It’s what was used for all of the 18th- and 19th-century Swedish and country French furniture, and it really just works the best.” The powdered format paint needs a bonding primer, but it’s easily mixed by a non-pro.

Top Paint Picks:

Austin’s favorite is the Real Milk Paint Co, and we love its chic farmhouse vibes.

  1. French Gray
  2. Riverstone
  3. Parchment

Rustic spin

If rustic plaster is your spirit animal, then a lime-based paint might be for you. Like chalk paint and milk paint, it’s a matte finish with depth and variation. Stone, wood, and previously painted surfaces are all fair game, and part of the beauty of this finish is embracing the imperfections of a surface. So, go all out and slap it on without following an up-and-down pattern; however, this paint does need a primer if the surface isn’t raw.

Top Paint Picks:

San Francisco-based Color Atelier is Austin’s pick for its subtle and sophisticated palette.

  1. Velvet Noir
  2. Brushed Slate

Back to the Classics

Looking for a clean finish, but a color-rich look? I happen to love Farrow & Ball’s Modern Eggshell finish paint, which can be used not only on furniture, but on doors and floors, too. And it comes in the company’s full range of fan favorites. I love that you can also use it as an all-over paint to match the walls, blending a piece of furniture seamlessly into the room. My next project involves painting a raw wood twin captain’s bed in the softest go-with-everything light gray to match the walls of a tiny, but demanding, client—my 3.5-year-old son.

Top Paint Picks:

  1. Blackened
  2. Pavilion Gray
  3. Stiffkey Blue

Have you tried painting furniture? What's your go-to paint for it? Tell us in the comments.

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