How to paint laminate furniture [without sanding]

Years ago, when I read Abigail Ahern’s book A Girl’s Guide to Decorating, I loved (among many other ideas) how she achieved a striking look with simple wardrobes by using extra long handles painted in a bright colour, shown below. The idea always stayed with me as I wanted to recreate something like that one day given the chance.

Inspiration: Abigail Ahern

My chance came while decorating my toddler’s bedroom. He needed a new wardrobe and I wanted to get something that would provide all the clothing storage he would need for as long as he lives here. I love IKEA PAX wardrobes as they offer so much flexibility with the interior fittings that we were able to set up a kid-friendly layout inside that can be easily altered in future if needed. The cost is also a huge bonus: they’re great value for money.

But I didn’t want a big white box in a dark blue room so the wardrobe was going to need a makeover. Painting laminate/melamine furniture is not difficult provided you use quality materials and follow the steps, but it can take a while due to the drying times between coats, so only do it when you have the time and space to devote to it. Here’s the fool-proof way to paint laminate furniture:

Step 1: Clean

Wipe down all surfaces to be painted with white spirit using a lint free cloth. (It’s a good idea to wear gloves.)
This step is important because new furniture may have a thin film of oil to aid the manufacturing/packaging process. And oil is no good if you want paint to stick to your surface.

Step 2: Prime

Roll on 2 coats of a shellac based primer (check drying times between coats on the tin). I prefer Zinsser BIN primer-sealer: it is amazing, it sticks to most surfaces. Using a good primer is essential. Don’t skimp on the primer. Buy the good stuff.
I found rolling a very quick process and the finish was free of brush strokes – lovely! I used a few cheap but fantastic quality mini rollers for the project, and disposed of them after use. You could use a brush, and you may need to if your furniture has grooves that a roller can’t get into, but you’ll need Zinsser BIN brush cleaner and restorer, or similar, to clean your brushes. Alternatively, you can use the spray version of the Zinsser primer.

Step 3: Paint with emulsion of choice

Roll on 2 coats of your chosen emulsion paint. I generally prefer eggshell for furniture, in which case you can skip step 4, but if you have a matte emulsion lying around, as I did, you can use this too. I used Little Greene French Grey Dark 163. This, my friends, is the yummiest mid-toned warm grey paint. Pat yourself on the back for choosing a wonderful colour.

Step 4: Varnish

(This photo was taken under fluorescent light in the garage and that has somehow resulted in some sort of red glow around the photo – sorry!)
If using a matte emulsion in step 3, always finish with a coat or two of quality varnish for durability. I rolled 2 coats of Polyvine Decorators Varnish in Satin finish.

Step 5: Wait for the eggshell or varnish to cure and harden. Leave the painted surfaces alone for several days. The longer the better.

Finally, assemble your furniture (if required). Amidst the above painting, I also spray painted the longest handles I could find on the internet. The steps were pretty identical to the above, except in spray form. First I wiped them down with white spirit, then sprayed 2 coats of Zinsser Cover Stain Primer Sealer spray, followed by 2 coats of Montana Gold in Blood Orange (this is an amazing super bright, almost neon, red), followed by 2 coats of Montana Gold Semi Gloss Varnish, and left them undisturbed for several days for the varnish to cure and harden.

Step 6: Admire your project.

Not only does it look amazing (even if I do say so myself, ahem) but the finish feels really durable. We built the wardrobe about a week after the varnishing was finished, and although we were very careful, we felt comfortable handling it without fear of chipping any paint. 2 little kids open and close it several times a day and it is holding up just fine.

I’m absolutely delighted with it! Abigail Ahern even gave it a thumbs up. 😉

BONUS TIP: Cover your paint tray with cling film before pouring your paint on it.
Bonus tip
Discard the paint covered cling film after each coat and replace with fresh cling film before resuming painting. This will save you from wasting precious time between coats having to wash out the paint from the tray so you can have more time sit down with a cuppa or run around the kids. You’re welcome. 🙂

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