How (Not) To: Paint Ikea Furniture

Posted on March 2, 2012 and tagged DIY, Favourites, Personal

I've been holding onto the shame of this failed DIY attempt for quite some time now. But let's face it, everyone makes mistakes and I think this is something the world needs to hear about. You can learn from my failures! I love doing How-To's on the blog but today I have something different for you: A How-Not-To! My hope is that you'll read this post, possibly laugh at me, and then go out into the world armed with your new found knowledge and do it right.

It all started here with my trusty Lack coffee table from Ikea.

The Backstory

We bought it for $49 for our first apartment and it had been through many years of abuse and served double duty as our dining room table. We're classy like that. The poor guy was all scratched up and really looked like he had seen better days. So I got the brilliant idea in my head that I was going to paint good old Lacky (from here on out I'll refer to the table as Lacky) and give him new life! HE'LL LOOK LIKE A BRAND NEW TABLE! I also got it in my head that he needed to be fuscia. I hesitantly brought this up to my husband one night when we were sitting cross legged eating dinner with Lacky, thinking there was no way he'd allow me to paint a piece of our furniture bright pink. Surprisingly, he said he didn't care at all what color Lacky was but he made sure to point out that he thought it was a bad idea in general to paint Ikea furniture. Whatever man, what do you know?

I began by thoroughly reading skimming a bunch of tutorials on painting Ikea furniture, spent a couple of minutes scrolling through Ikea Hackers and considered myself an expert on the subject. Most of the tutorials said it was very important to give the surface a good sand and use a primer that was meant for slippery surfaces. Some people said that it's best to paint a piece of furniture that doesn't get a lot of wear, because the paint job is prone to chipping. I assumed they did it wrong and my table would be perfect.

Gathering my Supplies

While at the hardware store, I found a primer that said on the label "Sticks to all surfaces without sanding" and the extremely knowledgeable hardware store guy teen assured me it would stick to anything. Well aren't I smart? This is going to save me so much time! I won't even have to sand Lacky! WRONG!

Next came the paint. A second employee took it upon himself to help me with this. He was a large man and his uniform shirt was unbuttoned almost half-way with a thick mass of chest hair right at my eye level. It was all I could focus on. I showed the paint chip to Burt Reynolds and he told me I was looking at the wrong paint. I needed one with a clear base and they would have to tint my primer too. He grabbed a can off the shelf for me. He also warned me it would be a tricky color to use and I would need to do several coats, maybe even 3, and let each coat dry at least 24 hours before the next one.

Then he regaled me with a fascinating story about the time an episode of Restaurant Makeover was filmed down the street and they bought their paint in this very store. They wanted to do a red accent wall and he told them about the 24 hour rule but they didn't listen to him and THE WHOLE RESTAURANT WAS RUINED! Well I don't really remember how the story ended, I was too distracted by the chest hair. But it did get drilled into my head that I needed to wait 24 hours between coats. When I told him about Lacky, get this, he said it was a bad idea to paint him! Excuse me? Just give me my paint and shut up.

Hold up. Exterior paint? I went back to the store the next day and saw that Burt was working again. I asked him to please exchange my exterior paint for some interior paint because I didn't want to get light-headed and vomit while I was painting Lacky thank you very much. I can only assume that his chest hair had now grown into his brain because he tried to tell me that there was NO DIFFERENCE between interior and exterior paint and I should just use what he picked out for me. Being the DIY expert that I am I went on a rant about how there's a chemical in exterior paint, no I don't remember the name of it, but it's bad and it does bad things to people when used indoors like causes diziness, nausea, and probably even death. So if he didn't want me to die he would get me a new can of paint please and thank you. Oh, and you better believe I tweeted about it.

The Part Where I'm In Denial

By this time I had already started with my primer. It was tinted grey to deal with my "tricky" color choice and really did feel super sticky. No sanding required! Just to be safe, I let it dry 24 hours and then put a second coat of primer on. I let that coat dry another 24 hours and decided it was safe to start with the fun part.

I really loved this color. But apparently I didn't love it enough to spend a couple bucks on a decent roller! This turned out to be a very bad decision because it left a ton of fuzzy bitties behind as I painted and the coverage was really uneven. I picked out as many fuzzies as I could and decided it would look better after a second or third coat.

The next four days were all about Lacky. Set up Lacky in the den, open all the windows, do a coat while trying to keep the cats from walking in paint, drag Lacky (carefully) into the bedroom so the cats wouldn't rub up against him, wait all day, drag Lacky back out to the den so we could sleep, cover him with a sheet and hide him under a desk so the cats wouldn't claw him up, wake up the next day and repeat. I did this for FOUR DAYS! Did I mention the cats? Throughout this whole process, they would not leave Lacky alone. I have never seen them so focused on anything in my life. It was actually kinda creepy.

You Can Look, But Don't Touch

Lacky actually ended up looking great. Sure, the paint was a little bumpy in some spots because of the bits the roller left behind, but it added character! As long as you didn't get too close, he looked fantastic and I was very pleased.


Here's the part where I started to realize this wasn't working out. After I was done the last coat of paint, I let it cure for about a week. Lots of stuff I read online said you would need to wait for the paint to actually harden before it would be durable enough to use as a table again. Well I waited the week and I'm not a very patient person so it was very hard! And remember how I said Lacky was our coffee table/dining room table? That meant we were eating all our meals at a big plastic bin with a whiteboard on top. Even for us, that was not cool.

I probably should have been more patient and waited for the paint to fully cure, but I really believe I would have been waiting forever! Over the next 2 months or so, the paint never cured. Ever. If you set anything down on the table, it would leave a noticable mark right away and everything stuck to it. One time I put a magazine down and left it there for a couple days. When I picked it up again, the back cover stayed glued to the table and ripped right off!

Destroying the Evidence

I ended up leaving poor Lacky behind my apartment building and buying a brand new coffee table like the fraud I am. By the end the paint was chipping like crazy, the table top was covered in dents and marks, and dust and lint was completely imbedded into the paint.

Here's why you hopefully read this whole post, but mostly like just scrolled to the bottom for, my list of mistakes.

Don't be like me:

  • sand (even if your primer tells you not to)
  • pick a sane color that doesn't require 5 coats (the paint will probably cure faster)
  • buy a good quality roller
  • let it cure completely before using it
  • don't paint a piece that gets a lot of wear

I hope this whole thing was informative for you and now you can paint your Ikea furniture with success. I still believe it can be done! But I won't be trying it again any time soon. I will miss poor Lacky, but he gave my DIY ego a much needed reality check and I thank him for that.