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Bright Furniture on a Budget – DIY Furniture Makeover

Bright Furniture on a Budget – DIY Furniture Makeover

After I bought my home, I was hit with the harsh reality of how much furniture really costs. I mean… I just spent ALL of my money on my home. Now I have mortgage payments. Crap. How am I ever going to afford the bold, bright furniture to make it look nice?

I have been there… trust me. And I know that the LAST thing you want to do is drag all your IKEA furniture from your apartment into your beautiful new home. It doesn’t work. And… it makes you feel… a little sad inside.

Well, don’t be sad my friend. Because I’m going to show you how to get TONS of character out of old, hand-me-down furniture. With a small budget your house will be brimming with bright furniture with so much charm and character you’ll never want to leave! Don’t blame me when that happens though 🙂

How to Get Bright, Bold Charming Furniture on a Budget

That’s a question I’ve probably typed into Google like… a zillion times. Well, I’ve finally taken the plunge and I’m never going back. I seriously want to paint every piece of furniture in my house using this technique. it’s so EASY…. and so FUN… and the results are AMAZING.


Bright & Bold Furniture on a Budget - BEFORE

Start with an old piece of furniture

This is mine. A hand-me-down dresser I was using for extra storage. It’s actually my childhood neighbor’s bedroom dresser that I swiped up when they were getting rid of it. The dresser itself is in amazing shape. But… it’s just old and not… pretty. It’s not real wood, it’s a veneer. This type of furniture is perfect for this project.

If you don’t have a piece like this, you can use one of your IKEA end tables… or scour Good Will, CraigsList, LetGo, Facebook Marketplace and the like for something really cheap. Just make sure that it’s in good shape so you don’t have to spend time making repairs to the veneer or wood. Trust me on this… this project is super fun and easy, but if your furniture isn’t in good shape, it won’t be so fun.

furniture after 1 coat of chalk paint

Lightly scuff your furniture then paint

Chalk paint can be applied to any surface to make a durable finish. The best part is how little prep work there is! They actually don’t even recommend sanding the surface first… but honestly if you have a high varnish, slippery surface your are better off doing a quick sand before you start. Wipe it down, then begin applying the chalk paint.

You can be pretty sloppy with this. I’m the sloppiest painter ever… and it came out nice for me. The biggest thing is to get the paint into all the nooks and crannies.

I applied 2 coats of paint to my dresser and drawers to get most of it covered. You don’t need a super perfect finish, like I said… just make sure you get most of the surface covered with a layer.

Bright & Bold Furniture on a Budget Collage

Sand & Distress your newly bright furniture (Optional)

Ok…. the color is bright. I bet if this were you, you’d be having a freaking heart attack right now. I agree, this color is ugly…. BEFORE the final step. My experience has been to pick gaudy colors for this technique. Those candy colors that are too bright to put on the walls…. a shade or two too saturated.

Once you’ve got your piece painted, let it dry overnight, you can sand along the edges of the piece to remove some of the paint to create a distressed look. The best way to do this is the think of the places the piece would naturally wear over time… near the knobs and handles, along the edges where someone may touch it or set something onto it… and also along the “detail” parts that you want to highlight.

I skipped this step… for the most part… except for getting a couple huge gloppy pieces off (messy painter). So, you don’t have to do it but a lot of people do distress before waxing.

Wax and buff your furniture

This is the fun part. In order to use a dark wax or a black wax, you first have to apply the clear wax. Annoying, I know. But this will seal the piece so that the black is way easier to work with. Luckily I’ve found a time-saving secret to avoid this… mix the black and clear waxes together!

Grab a spoonful of the clear wax and a spoonful of black wax and mix them together in a cup or on a paper plate. Make sure they are mixed together well, and then you’ll only have to apply this wax once. If you choose to do them separately, make sure that you put the clear wax over every square inch of the piece, then wipe the excess with a rag.

Then, you’re ready to apply the black wax.

Rub your waxing brush or rag into the can of black scary goodness. Then just rub it into your furniture right over the paint. I started at those “Distressed” areas… inside of the detail parts and where I wanted the wax to be darker. Then I took a rag and just rubbed the black into the whole piece. 

It dries quickly so I wouldn’t recommend leaving it on too long like you would with a stain. You’re better off applying and wiping within 2 minutes — so make sure you work in small sections. 

If you have a spot where you think you applied too much dark, don’t worry…. just take some of the clear wax and rub it over the black wax. It acts like an eraser and it will simply remove all of the dark from that area. Apply and work the wax around until you are happy…then buff it until it’s shiny and there’s no residue.

Bright & Bold Furniture on a Budget AFTER
Bathroom vanity in chalk paint and black wax.

Here’s another project I tackled with chalk paint. On my bathroom vanity, I used a very pale blue and then distressed using the same technique with black wax. It’s not as bright and bold as the green dresser, but it really makes a big impact. Read more about it here.

Spray Paint the Hardware (Optional)

The last and final, again optional, step is to spray paint the hardware. I just soaked my hardware in some paint thinner (whatever I had laying around)…. and dried it. Then I used a can of “oil rubbed bronze” spray paint to freshen up the pulls and hinges. It really made a HUGE HUGE difference and I’m so happy I did it.

Wrapping Up

So, that’s it! What a quick and easy way to add some charm and character to your new home! Other than waiting for the paint to dry overnight before applying the wax, this project can be done really quickly… within a couple hours over the weekend!

Just lightly sand your piece, then apply your chalk paint. After sanding and distressing key areas of the piece, apply a black wax mixed with a clear wax to the entire piece. Rub off, buff your piece, and be AMAZED at this beautiful result.

I am still staring at mine, wondering how it looks like there’s so much texture and antiquing to a plain old veneer dresser. It truly does work, and it looks incredible. It’s really one of those can’t screw up projects. Let me know if you have any questions. And I’d love to see your furniture makeovers in the comments!

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Bright & Bold Furniture on a Budget
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How to Mix-and-Match Your Furniture & Couches

How to Mix-and-Match Your Furniture & Couches

I don’t know about you, but I’m not really the type of person to go to the furniture store and just buy the exact set that they have on the floor exactly as-is. If you want to get a little creative with your furniture selection, but still have a cohesive look, I’ve got some great ninja tips for how to mix and match furniture like a pro.

I know most of you believe that you aren’t creative enough to choose pieces that “go” together, but trust me! Finding exactly what pieces of furniture you want is not as difficult as it seems. Just follow my Mix & Match Furniture System to get great results every time.

When mixing and matching furniture, the seat height and depth should be equal. Match the furniture shape, style, color, fabric and/or back height for a cohesive look.

This system works whether you are purchasing brand new furniture or if you have a really special piece that you love and need to build out the rest of your room around that one item.

The Mix & Match Your Furniture System (with Infographic)

My mix and match your furniture system is really simple and will give you a checklist to use in order to determine whether two pieces will actually go together. Whether it’s two couches, two chairs, or a mix of couches and chairs, you will be able to use this system to combine pieces of furniture together in a cohesive way.

Use this infographic to determine if the furniture pieces you choose will actually work together.

How to Mix and Match Furniture Infographic
How to Mix and Match Furniture (Infographic)

Step 1: Furniture pieces must have (roughly) equal seat heights and seat depths

The best way to combine furniture of different sets is to get items that are very similar in scale. Make sure the seat height and seat depth for each piece is roughly the same.

If you are planning on putting the pieces near each other or across from each other, will it be comfortable for two people to have a conversation?

Do the furniture pieces have equal seat height?

Furniture with matching seat height
Chairs that do not have the same seat height will make conversations uncomfortable.

Will one person be sitting up high while the other person is sitting really low? Mismatched seat heights do not lend themselves to having a comfortable conversation.

Do the furniture pieces have equal seat depth?

Furniture with matching seat depth
A chair that is very deep evokes a casual, laid back mood, while a chair that’s not deep is a bit more formal and forces you to sit in a different way.

If one person be sitting with 50% of their thighs hanging off the edge of the chair while the person across from them has been gobbled up by a really deep chair, it will feel awkward. So, make sure you take the seat depth into account while mixing and matching chairs and couches.

Step 2: Find at least two other similarities in the furniture pieces

If both the seat height and the seat depth of the pieces of furniture you choose are roughly the same, you are more than halfway there. In order to make sure that they are a home run, make sure that the pieces share at least two of these three important qualities:

  • Shape or style
  • Color or fabric
  • Back height

Furniture with the same shape or style

Similar shape/style and similar back height
Not only do these two chairs have a similar style, they also have a similar back height. Obviously, they do not share a similar color but they still work together wonderfully.

SHAPE: Using clean lines in all pieces, or rounded backs, or even similar leg/foot shapes in furniture can tie them together.

STYLE: Choosing 2 mid-century modern pieces, or 2 traditional pieces will creative a more cohesive look.

Furniture with the same color or fabric

Similar shape/Style and similar color/fabric
These two chairs have a similar style… but not that similar. What they have most in common is their color. Although one is patterned (with stripes), they still have the color blue in common. So, your colors don’t need to match exactly, they just need to have a common thread. The same is true for fabric selections. If these pieces were two different colors but both had corduroy fabric, they would work together.

COLOR: Choosing pieces in the same color family is an easy way to unite them.

FABRIC: Choosing two corduroys pieces, even in different colors/patterns, will still work together.

Furniture with the same back height

Similar color/fabric and similar back height
These pieces are definitely different styles (traditional vs. modern) but they are a similar color and have the same back height which is enough to unite the two pieces together.

BACK HEIGHT: The height of the back of the furniture piece is also important in achieving balance. A really low backed modern couch next to a really tall backed traditional couch may look strange paired together if there aren’t several other common elements about them.

What Blooms with What?

Never know what to plant together? Find out with this FREE Plant Pairing Guide and become a pro at combining plants for the best garden design possible!

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Ninja Tips for Mixing and Matching Furniture like a Pro

If you are still struggling with exactly how to mix and match your furniture pieces, here are some more ninja tips for mixing furniture like a pro.

1- Start with the most important piece and work from there

The number one tip when working with furniture selection is to start with the piece that you absolutely fall in love with, or absolutely positively need. For me, it was my couch.

So I shopped around for the perfect couch. I knew I wanted grey, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted a chaise attached or not. I like clean lines, and while I like modern styles, comfort is definitely higher on my list. So, I typically lean toward a more “casual modern” look. I found a lot of really nice pieces along the way.  Here’s a few I had my eye on at Ashley Furniture (shop here):

neutral grey couches
Neutral grey couches are a great base to start with when you want to mix and match furniture pieces from different sets.

2- Shop online, but only at stores in your area

Most of the preliminary shopping I did was online… the search and filter features on most websites these days make it really quick and easy to do, and I’d highly recommend you start the search process with some online shopping.

If you do shop online, though, try to only visit websites of stores in your area. That way, once you find something you like, you can go to the store and try it out. I wouldn’t recommend buying any furniture that you can’t sit on first.

Quick Tip: The great news is that you can shop for a lot of furniture brands online using all of Amazon’s awesome filtering features. Here’s a link to all of the furniture available from Ashley on Amazon.

Measurements and descriptions online can be deceiving, and it’s amazing how you can sit on 20 sofas, and just hate all of them. This seat is too low, that cushion is too hard, the back is not high enough for me to rest my head,  I’m falling into the cracks between the cushions, etc. So, try before you buy.

3- Take measurements

Be sure to measure your room before you start shopping. Also take the measurements of all of the furniture pieces. But most importantly, trust your gut. If your room is small, buying 3 oversized pieces of furniture may not work. However, buying 1 oversized couch for a small room can possibly work if you follow the mix and match furniture system.

Quick Tip: Apartment Therapy has a good article about buying “big” furniture for a “small” room.

Virtual “Design a Room” applications can help you to layout the furniture. A simple drawing with the dimensions of the pieces from the store will also help you to determine if your furniture will work in the space.

4- Don’t combine dainty chairs with big puffy couches

Using “apartment-sized” pieces or “oversized” pieces sometimes will work if you follow the system above, but it’s rare. Mixing really small pieces of furniture with large, oversized pieces can create scale problems.

Rooms with wild variations in scale will just feel “off.”  This is why dainty chairs will seem out of place near a puffy couch.

5- Remove “staged” accessories

After visiting the furniture store and sitting on a beautiful steel grey sofa , I really, really liked it. But, I didn’t love the pillows and accessories in the “staged” living room scene surrounding it.

This is the entire staged set for the sofa I picked out.

Furniture stores are notorious for staging each furniture set with every matching piece under the sun!

Living Room Accessory Options
Living room optional accessories

The couch I liked had matching pillows, loveseat, club chair, a wooden chair with a pattern that matched a pillow, and a cushioned chair and ottoman that matched the other pillow. There was even a rug that matched one of the patterns on the pillow. Ugh… gag me. Too matchy-matchy.

Don’t let this affect you! Take the pillows off the sofa if you have to, or push the ugly coffee table, lamp, vase, etc. away from it so you can see it for what it’s worth. If I looked at this set as a “whole package”, I would have missed out on the couch that I ended up really loving.

Quick Tip: Shop for awesome living room accessories on Amazon.

Don’t forget to ask for help if you want to move stuff around the furniture store. Most of the sales associates will help you to gather the items you like so you can see them together. So, corral one of them to help you move the smaller piece next to the larger piece. Seriously… they will do it for you.

If you aren’t as outspokenly obnoxious as me, an alternative would be to take a photo of the one item and walk over to the other item and hold up the picture next to it so you can see them. It’s not as good as dragging furniture around the store, but it’s better than nothing!

6- Shop for comfort, then match the furniture pieces up

So, I chose a beautiful neutral grey sofa. Now the world is my oyster! But the mistake that I see a lot of people make is to focus so hard on getting the pieces to “match” that they forget that they are actually purchasing furniture to umm… sit on.

So, make sure that you are purchasing comfortable furniture. Select a few options that you like, then take them through the mix and match test to see if they will actually work with your other furniture selection(s). Here are the four that I liked:

Comfy Chair Options
I took my time, and narrowed it down to about 4 chairs that I really felt comfortable sitting in; a leather recliner, an orange-red armchair, a celery green armchair, and a striped swivel chair.

Now I needed to figure out of these pieces passed the mix and match test. And, in this case:

  • Seat height & seat depth: The seat heights and seat depths of all 4 chairs are roughly the same as the couch
  • Shape or style: The shape and style of the recliner and the celery green armchair are a bit too traditional for the style of my couch. But, the orange-red arm chair and the striped swivel chair have really similar lines.
  • Color or fabric: None of the chairs truly match the color of the steel grey sofa. However, the striped swivel chair does have some greys and taupes in the stripes that make it a match. As far as the fabric goes, only the celery green chair is the same.
  • Back height: All four chairs pass the back height test– Yay!

So, based on the test here, the brown recliner is not the best fit for my new sofa because it only has the seat height and depth and the back height in common with the couch. But the other three chairs are great options!

Mix and Match Couch and Chair Pair
I ended up choosing the green and taupe striped swivel chair. I like to swivel!

7- Mix and match your accessories

If you end up really liking a couch from one set, and a chair from another, like me, you may be able to swap out the accessories to make a Frankenstein set.

This is a GREAT way to get a cohesive look when combining furniture. By removing the blue and taupe flowered pillows and choosing the striped and flowered green & taupe pillows from the other set, it looks like it was meant to be together.

Mix and Match sofas and chairs
Without all the flowerly blue accessories, this couch looks completely different. Here it is next to the comfy swivel chair I chose.

Another option would be to add an area rug with the colors of both pieces, or accent vases or lamps that go with the color of the chair.

Rug options for mixing and matching furniture
Rug options for this living room set.

All of these rugs would be great options to pull elements of the chair into the room. The stripes would mimic the pattern, while the green tones would mimic the color.

Living room accessroies
Use accessories in the same color as the accent piece throughout the room. Varying the heights of objects also helps.

Use accessories such as benches, tables, lamps, and vases in the same color as the accent piece and scatter throughout the room. Varying the heights of objects (such as a low bench and a tall lamp) brings the color to different heights.

8- Look to the pros for inspiration

Well I know most of us are not made of money, so hiring an interior designer of your very own may be beyond your budget. However, there are some furniture stores that actually have interior designers on staff and offer free room planning services for you. Check with your local stores to see if they offer this service.

If they don’t, you can still take cues from your favorite designers. Watch some HGTV, or go to their website and search the style of room you are looking to create.  

Sarah Richardson is an interior designer who is absolutely known for combining different furniture pieces in every design she does. Her portfolio showcases a lot of great examples of this concept. Here are some of my favorites.

Sarah Richardson Mix & Matched Furniture in Sun room
In this sunroom, the couches don’t match the chairs. But the seat height & depth are the same along with the back height and the color. It’s a match! (Source)
Sarah Richardson Mix & Matched Furniture in Basement
In this room, Sarah successfully mixed a leather couch with a fabric one. That’s because the seat depth and height are the same, the styles are the same and the back heights are the same. It can be done! (Source)
Mixed furniture in an eclectic living room
In this living room, the chairs and the couch are completely different colors. The designer tied in the yellow-tan chairs by hanging yellow curtains across the room. The blues and yellows in the rug also tie the couch and chair together. Of course, the chairs and couch also pass my mix and match furniture test (Source).

Mix and Match Furniture: Before & After

Mix and Match Furniture before and after
Before and After – How I mixed and matched the sofa and chair from a staged set.

This is the result I came up with after working through the mix and match furniture technique. The greens and more modern patterns fit my personality and home style much better than the more traditional floral patterns and blues used in the living room set.

Wrapping Up

It’s easy to mix and match furniture to come up with a completely unique style for your home.  Remember to use my mix and match furniture system to determine if two pieces go together. Start with the most important piece first — like a neutral couch or a really unique flea market find that you want to focus your room design around.

When trying to match another piece of furniture to that piece, make sure that the seat height and seat depth are roughly the same. Then, check to see if the pieces have at least two of these three key elements in common; shape/style, color or fabric and/or back height.

We also discussed some really tips that can help you to pull your room together:

  1. Start with the most important piece and work from there
  2. Shop online, but only at stores in your area
  3. Take measurements
  4. Don’t combine dainty chairs with big puffy couches
  5. Remove “staged” accessories
  6. Shop for comfort, then match the furniture pieces up
  7. Mix and match your accessories
  8. Look to the pros for inspiration

I’d like to mention that I find no fault or problem in selecting an entire “set” of furniture. This is what they are there for. My hope and intention in writing this post was to provide some inspiration and knowledge, so you can become comfortable selecting furniture pieces that will create a creative, unique look of your own and open up more possibilities than what comes out of the box.

What questions do you have about mixing and matching couches and chairs for a unique look? Have you had success with doing this yourself?


mix and match furniture like a boss
Mix and Match Couches and Chairs like a Boss – Pin this Post for Later!

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in December 2012, and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.