Barb Blair, author of 'Furniture Makeovers' talked about her book and offered home design tips. | Home Front

May 16, 2013

Barb Blair, author of 'Furniture Makeovers' talked about her book and offered home design tips. Blair is the founder of Knack Studios in South Carolina. Her work has been featured on Apartment Therapy, Decor8, and Design*Sponge, among other design websites as well as publications such as Southern Living.

Every week, Jura Koncius helps you in your quest to achieve domestic bliss. Got a question about decorating? She's happy to whip out her paint chips and suggest the perfect hue, call a retailer to help track down a hard-to-find accent piece or offer some do-it-yourself. Built on years of reporting experience, Home Front is an online conversation about the best way to feather the nest. We invite you to submit questions and share you own great tips, ideas and, yes, the occasional complaint.

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Hello everyone, I am so happy to be here with you all today! Thank you so much for having me, and I am very much looking forward to our chat together.

Barb Blair knows how to take an old discarded piece of furniture and turn it into an art piece. How many of us have furniture stashed in garages and basements that someday we want to reclaim? Barb, whose South Carolina company is called Knack Studios, has attracted attention from Apartment Therapy and Design Sponge and now has written a book on simple techniques on transforming furniture called FURNITURE MAKEOVERS (Chronicle Books; $24.95). For some fresh home ideas, ask Barb about how you can create unique furniture treasures of your own. 

I'm putting out a call here for anyone who might have been affected by the major storms we've had here in the last few years. Am looking to interview people who had damage or annoying experiences in their homes due to basement flooding, power outages or wind damage. I'm also looking for victims of another summer disaster: backyard grill fires. If you or a neighbor or friend is willing to talk to me for a quick five minute phone interview, please email me today! Thanks!

Hi Barb, you have inspired us, but who or what inspires your work? Where do your ideas from from? Laura, relovedvintageinteriors.co.uk

Hey Laura!

Thank you so much!

I find that my inspiration mostly comes from nature, travel experiences, landscapes, and my day to day surroundings. I take daily photographs of what inspires me, and love to come up with color combinations based on those photographs and color patterns in nature. There are so many combinations of greatness out there!

What do you think of chalk paint? Do you think that look is overhyped at this point?

This is a tough one. I think any look can be overhyped at times....but strongly believe that you just have to find a way to make it fresh and new. There are so many paint brands and products on the market that do the exact same thing as Chalk Paint. Chalk Paint in itself is a great product that can be manipulated many ways to get different looks. While chalk paint is not my personal paint of choice I think it is a great tool to use if that is your preference. I think the key is not being afraid to think outside the box when using any product and always push the design limits.

Bi Barb. I am on a tight budget. How I make older, recycled or cheap furniture appear high-end without spending a lot of money? Where can I get good home decor for a discount? Thanks so much

Hey there,

Good question. I think the key to making older, recycled furniture ...fresh and desireable is to pay attention to the details. I try to look at each piece of furniture that I do and consider it as an art installation. I am not trying to just slap paint on something for a quick fix, but rather truly creating a piece of character that I will love to live with. There are many ways to buy paint and supplies affordably. I have been known to search the "oops" paint shelves at the paint stores, and some of my best colors have come form those shelves! This is an inexpensive way to get a lot of paint when starting out. Also, shopping the sales section for beautiful papers and knobs at places like Anthropologie, and specialty paper stores. I am always on the lookout for interesting detail pieces to add to my furniture.

Is there any way a room should be designed that would promote non-clutter? Or are there any design principles to avoid clutter?

A room without any surfaces would be a pretty clutter free room, unless you like to pile books and magazines and clothing on your furniture! The best way to keep things clutter free is to constantly go through your things and edit out stuff you don't need. I am a big fan of the book "What's a Disorganized Person To Do: 317 Ideas, Tips, Projects, and Lists to Unclutter Your Home and Streamline Your Life" by Stacey Platt (Artisan Books) She's got great sensible and practical ideas on how to rescue every room of your house. If you find a place for everything and keep everything in its place, you will find yourself living a better life. 

I have inherited an antique dresser and mirror that was my grandfathers. It has been in my basement for 13 years and I really want to dust it off and display it. Over the years, I have thought of stripping it and just staining it - whenever I have the time, but I am now inspired to do some sort of distressed painting on it after seeing something similar at a friend's house. Where do I start? Do I strip it, or just sand and go for it!? It currently has an old dark stain on it. Also, since all of the hardware is missing, any suggestions where I can get replacement parts? Thanks.

Hey there!

How special that you have a piece from your Grandfather! Yes, we need to dust that piece off and get it out where you can enjoy it! Maybe it should even be named after your Grandfather when it is done! I love giving my pieces names...it just adds to the character.

In my book when I talk about painting furniture, especially when going for a distressed look, I usually just give the piece a good sanding, then a good vacuum to remove the sanding dust and a wipe down with a damp rag to prep the surface nicely for the paint. If the surface is super "gunky" or glossy you may want to consider stripping the piece with a product called Citristrip. Citristrip is a natural stripper that is very safe to use adn works very well.

As far as hardware goes, if you are looking to replace the original hardware I would look on sites like ebay or etsy to see if you can find the exact hardware. If you would like to get a little crazy and put something fun and colorful on there I suggest checking out Anthropologie, World Market, Hobby Lobby, and other specialty stores that carry pretty hardware.

What has been one of your greatest fails or missteps in your work - a particular project that got out of hand perhaps? It seems like no matter how hard I try, my DIY attempts always wind up either ruining the object, injuring my pride, or both! Here's hoping I'm not alone and that even the experts swing and miss sometimes.

Oh man! You are certainly not alone in this! I have definitely made mistakes and have had mess ups! I think the key is to just keep working the piece and realize there are no real "mess ups"...it can always be fixed in some way. Control it, and let it know who is boss! {Wink!} I think some of my worst "mistakes" have ended up being the best pieces because I spent so much time on them, and they developed a level of layering and detail that would not have happened otherwise. Never give up!

It would be really handy to have a small image of Ms. Blair's book on this site for today's chat in addition to her photo. I'd read about her book on Design*Sponge, but didn't realize today's guest was the author until I googled her to prepare for the chat. I guess I'm more image-oriented rather than name/title-oriented. In any case, just an idea!

This is a great idea and I'm passing it along to our editors. 

I am about to refinish some old painted dressers and am totally confused about what type of paint to use. It is really frustrating to see lovely redone furniture in magazines and on various blogs that will mention the paint color, but not what type of paint was used. Would you recommend using oil base paint or water based paint.? Also, which is better - Satin or Semi-gloss? Thank you in advance for any assistance you can give me. It is greatly appreciated.

Good for you! I hope you enjoy your project and have fun doing it!

I really love Latex paints, as well as Milk Paint and talk about them both in detail inside the book. I rarely if ever use oil based paints, but I do finish off my designs with stains and oil based polyurethane at times.

When using Latex paints I always paint with a satin finish because I feel like the shine level is just right to accept a stain or poly over the top as a finish. You can use a semi gloss if you would like a really smooth non distressed finish, but do not distress semi gloss because where you distress will become matte and stand out from the rest of the finish.

On your blog, you mentioned how you are tough and resist asking for help, but were so thankful when your friends volunteered to help you while you were creating your new book. My hubby is the same way - he likes to do projects by himself, even when they involve heavy lifting and other team-friendly tasks. Should I just let him go it alone? Or keep trying to gently include willing friends and family members in our endeavors?

Oh yes! I am stubborn and try to be wonderwoman at times, but I learned very quickly during the book process...thanks to my amazing family and friends.....that I needed help and needed to learn to accept help. It was such a life changing moment for me, and has been so good. I encourage you to keep loving your husband and encouraging him to accept help....he will get there!

Where is the best place to find used furniture? How much should you pay for a decent used dresser that you can repaint?

I find that the best place to find used furniture is through private owners, auctions, and estate sales. I still hit up the thrift shops every now and again but the prices have increased greatly there so I have to be careful when purchasing pieces for my shop.

As far as price goes, I am always willing to spend a bit more to get a good quality piece especially when looking at it for resale. I think you can look at paying anywhere from 75 -150 for a nice used dresser.

Hi Barb! I have a mid-80's or 90's woodgrain laminate lateral filing cabinet that I want to transform - the laminate is ugly and beat up. Originally I was thinking paint, but lately I've been thinking some kind of patterned wallpaper? Will this work? Any advice? thanks!

Hey there! If the wood is a wood laminate and not a paper or pressed veneer....you can definitely sand it and paint it. Where it is beat up, you may want to just use a little bit of wood filler to smooth out the roughness before painting. Wallpapering a piece is always a great way to add character. If the cabinet has nice straight lines and  cut off points that is ideal. I would still wood fill any damage and get the surface as smooth as possible before applying wallpaper, because wallpaper will adhere to those damaged areas and show the marks. I do a wallpapering tutorial in my book as well as a decoupage tutorial...and both of them would be great candidates for this piece.

I see you live in Greenville, S.C. Are you from there? How do make it in the used furniture business?

I do live in Greenville , SC but am not originally from there. I grew up in Northern California near San Francisco.

I went to college in Greenville, SC and while there....met my sweetheart who just happened to be a southern boy from Virginia....the rest is history :}

Do you have any tips on how to transform furniture that is sustainable. Chemical-free paints, etc? Thanks!

I use a lot of low VOC or chemically free products in my work, and there are more and more products appearing on the market these days!

One of the safest and most natural paints is Milk Paint. It has been around forever and is super safe to use as well as durable. There are many water based latex paints that are zero to low in chemical VOC as well such as Benjamin Moore's Natura paint.

Try to stick with as many soap and water clean up products as possible and read the labels about chemicals and VOC levels before bringing them into your home or work space.

Thanks for your answer! One question - How do I tell if it is wood laminate or pressed veneer?

Wood laminate can be sanded, and paper that is made to look like wood and then adhered to pressed particle board cannot. Look where the damage is on your piece and try sanding it in a hidden placeto see if it is paper or not. Paper will usually roll and peel.

I have several pieces of mahogany furniture that are about 26 years old. The drawers all have small rectangular pieces of wood that were glued to the underside of them. These pieces have routinely fallen off, probably due to low humidity in the winter. Is there a specific type of glue that I should use to replace them that can better withstand a dry winter climate? Thanks.

If you have tried a really superior wood glue like Titebond, then I would try Gorilla glue. Just remember that Gorilla glue expands while drying and use it sparingly!

Thank you all so much for having me today! I have enjoyed being here and chatting with you all!

Loved all of your ideas for reclaiming furniture, Barb. You will inspired more of us to give this a try. Thanks everyone for joining us. Next week we will be discussing preparing for summer disasters. Until then, have fun and keep safe. 

In This Chat
Jura Koncius
Jura Koncius is a Washington Post staff writer who specializes in home and design. Read her daily twitter feed @jurakoncius for the latest in decorating trends, shopping, decluttering, organizing and DC retail.

Home Q&A archive
Barb Blair
Barb Blair is the founder of Knack Studios, based in South Carolina. Her work has been featured on Apartment Therapy, Decor8, and Design*Sponge, among other design websites, as well as publications such as Southern Living.
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