Let These Furniture Rehabbers Inspire Your Next Project

With elbow grease and inventive finishes, these DIYers turn drab, second-hand furnishings into showpieces.


“It Needs More”

Crisscrossing Maine as a pharmaceutical sales rep, Allison Oldham scouted for used furniture on her lunch breaks, then took it home to paint. “Once we filled up our house, my husband said, ‘Get this stuff out of here,’” she recalls. Oldham’s quest for marital harmony is now an 8,500-square-foot Portland store and workshop, and her full-time job. At GooeyGump Designs (named after her childhood habit of “gooey gumping” school projects with googly eyes, fluorescent swirls, and other flourishes), she stocks décor, gifts, craft supplies, and rehabbed furniture that runs the gamut from glam — a mid-century wood- and-slate-gray dresser and coordinating nightstands with gold-leaf bases — to farmhouse chic. Last spring, Oldham gave a dinged-up burled-wood bureau a distressed finish with mint-colored chalk paint. “Then I was like, it needs more,” she says. So she rubbed on an Iron Orchid Designs floral transfer, creating a piece that would be perfect for a hallway or casual dining room, she says — in someone else’s house.

1026 Forest Ave., Portland. 207-944-1332.


Learning Curve

When Meredith Schwerdt was hunting for furnishings for her 1954 Falmouth Cape in 2017, she sought good-quality wood pieces like the sturdy, if slightly damaged, early-20th-century bow-front dresser she unearthed at Portland’s Habitat for Humanity ReStore and covered in white chalk paint. “I didn’t know what veneer was, and I didn’t even put a topcoat on it,” says Schwerdt, who now rehabs furniture professionally under the moniker Pumpkin Seed Designs. Last spring, she revisited the project, removing the buckled veneers, sanding the piece back to raw oak, and giving it a light wash of creamy paint topped with satin polyurethane. Oak is an accent on a once-tired 1920s washstand Schwerdt found at an estate sale and recently reimagined with bright indigo paint and satin poly, reproduction gold Eastlake cup pulls, and wooden wheels in place of plastic casters. Like the dresser, “It’s much happier now,” Schwerdt says. “It doesn’t yell out to be fixed.”


Signs of Life

“When I see a piece of furniture, I instantly have an idea of how it should be,” says Falmouth’s Tracy Geoghegan, a mother of four from Ireland who shares the fruits of her refinishing hobby on Instagram. When she nabbed a glazed-walnut Hepplewhite-style china cabinet on Facebook Marketplace, she knew the ornate turned legs should be the star, especially when sanding revealed their rich grain. A quick polish restored the brass handle and teardrop pulls to their original luster, and art-deco-esque bird wallpaper from Amazon punches up the navy paint job. Like the china cabinet, a dowdy 1940s Federal-style sapele-mahogany sideboard, also found on Marketplace, received three coats of self-leveling indigo paint, which creates an even surface as it dries, plus a bright flower border, created with an Annie Sloane stencil, that Geoghegan says lends a “romantic, carefree” quality. “If a piece doesn’t move you emotionally, something’s amiss.”