How to Paint Prefab Furniture

Prefabricated furniture is an inexpensive way to furnish rooms.
The problem is that the look is often plain and predictable. Use paint to take prefabricated furniture from a look that’s drab to one with pizazz. Paint is inexpensive enough to experiment with different colors and techniques to make the furniture match your current décor or to give the room a complete makeover. You can make the before-and-after painting subtle or dramatic enough that people will think you had the furniture custom-made. .

Step 1

Sand the furniture using medium-grade sandpaper, in number grades ranging from 80 down to 60. Start with the lightest grade to remove any existing gloss or varnish, being careful not to exert pressure that will gouge or dent the surface of the furniture. Wipe away any sand dust with a dry towel or blow dryer to prevent grit bumps while applying the primer and paint.

Step 2

Prime the furniture with a white coat of base primer before painting with the colored paint for best results. Think of it as starting with a fresh canvas. The primer will make the old prefabricated look disappear and the colored paint will adhere much better to the surface of the furniture.

Step 3

Sand the primer coat after it has thoroughly dried with the lightest grade of sandpaper to create an ultra-smooth surface before applying the color paint you will use.

Step 4

Paint the furniture with a natural bristle brush or a sponge brush if you want the paint to appear smooth and even.

Step 5

Apply brush strokes smoothly and evenly by moving from left to right on flat surfaces, and from the top to the bottom on the sides of the furniture. Overlap the brush strokes to avoid ridge lines from the brush strokes. Allow the first coat to dry completely before applying a second coat.

Step 6

Add a layer of varnish or lacquer once the primary coat and paint coats are dry to give the furniture piece a high-gloss look.

Step 7

Paint geometric shapes, such as circles or squares on the legs of a cocktail, end table or nightstand. Use templates to add a leaf border treatment on laundry room or kitchen cabinets. Add a child’s initials to paint prefabricated dressers and drawers in a child’s bedroom or bathroom.

Things You Will Need

  • Sandpaper
  • Primer
  • Paint
  • Brushes (natural bristle and/or sponge)
  • Varnish or lacquer (optional)


  • Use a flat paint for a non-glossy look. Go with an enamel, gloss or semi-gloss paint if you want the furniture to have a more shiny look. Consider using a spray paint for a small piece of furniture that can be painted outdoors or in a garage to a big clean-up job and prevent the paint from spraying onto unwanted areas and surface.
  • Use a flat paint for a cocktail table, shelves or bookcases that may not experience many applications of cleaning liquids and you don’t want a shiny look or finish. Another consideration is to add a glass top to protect the surface after it is painted. Go for a gloss or semi-gloss paint if you want a shiny look.
  • Take advantage of creative techniques to embellish and add a customized look before applying the final coat of varnish or lacquer. Look for templates in art and craft stores with flowers, animals and other designs to paint onto the furniture before applying the lacquer.
  • Choose a paint color that is the same color as the walls for bookshelves to make them look like custom, built-in bookshelves.
  • Consider the amount of wear and tear and ongoing cleaning the furniture will require when you choose the paint. Kitchen cabinets will require more ongoing cleaning liquid-based cleaning supplies, which makes a gloss paint more appropriate.
  • Think about blackboard paint for a child’s table so they can color on the surface with no fuss or need for cleanup.

About the Author

Cheryl Munson has been writing since 1990, with experience as a writer and creative director in the advertising industry. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism with a focus on advertising from the University of Wisconsin in Madison.