Half the fun of refinishing vintage furniture is finding dated pieces with charming character. This summer, I’ve found several pieces that fit that bill, except that they have a cringe-worthy top surface made of Formica.
Formica is a plastic laminate, and back in the day, pieces with this top surface were sought after for their high durability. 40 years later, many of these furniture pieces are still holding up well! It’s heat and water resistant, and in it’s own right a great product. Nonetheless, it just seems out of place on nice wood furniture with it’s faux wood design.
Enter paint, glaze, and distressing! Formica furniture can be refinished just like pieces with real wood top surfaces. The key is to use a high quality primer that will adhere well to the laminate surface.
My go-to product of choice is spray Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 Primer. Available at Lowe’s, this product provides outstanding coverage and it has fantastic adhesion.
Before priming, I prepare the Formica surface with 60 grit sand paper. I use this rougher grade to rough up the glossy surface, insuring strong adhesion for the long haul. The coats of primer and paint will fill scratch marks from the sandpaper.
I apply the spray primer to the entire piece since I’ll be applying latex enamel, which needs a primer coat underneath. I also apply the primer so that the surfaces are entirely covered in white, which insures a solid coat.
One can will cover an end table, while two will cover a dresser. Once applied, the primer will dry and be ready for painting within 30-60 minutes. Before painting, I go back over the entire piece gently with a fine grade sanding sponge to remove primer dust buildup. I then clean off the dust with a shop vac and a quick wipe down with a moist rag.
After I have painted, glazed, and distressed, I love how the primer pops through and adds to the character of my newly upstyled piece! As seen below, the white pops through, adding to the new look and charm of this vintage hexagon end table!
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Hexagon end table in Blazing Orange with Black Glaze. Distressed down to white primer and original wood tones. Original pulls painted black. Find more inspiration in our End Tables Collection.