How to Refurbish Flea Market Furniture

When it comes to furniture, most of us want it both ways:  truly beautiful, functional pieces that contribute to an enviable home but that are miraculously cheap or free.  We want elegance at no cost, and we all know there’s no such thing as a free lounge chair.  If you’re willing to spend time in place of money, however, you might be in luck.  Flea markets and yard sales can turn up near-perfect furnishings at near-perfect prices—all you have to do is look, and whip out the elbow grease.


Peeling paint?  Ugly color?  That can be fixed.  You can check out this step-by-step tutorial, but the basics are as follows:  strip or sand the wood; prep it by wiping off all debris and ensuring it’s dry; apply primer;  let dry; paint.  There are unlimited ways to get creative with this process, from distressing the piece and giving it an older look to waxing it until it shines from across the room.  Please note!  Furniture that pre-dates the 1970s probably has lead paint, and are especially dangerous when sanded.  Either steer clear of these pieces altogether, or make sure you’re well versed in the (absolutely necessary) safety procedures.


Although refinishing can refer to paint, it can also take the form of wood finish, varnish, or lacquer.  Without paint, finished wood retains its natural look without the scuffs and wear of everyday life.  The process is similar to repainting; given the work involved, consider this only for pieces you really love.


Upholstery can be an expensive business, if you pay for someone else to do it.  As long as you’re not afraid of a little needle and thread, however, it’s relatively simple to make your own slipcovers.  Have you found a chair so comfortable you fall asleep before your butt hits the seat, but it’s been shredded by Catzilla?  Or a couch that fits perfectly into your closet-sized living room but has a college-sized beer stain dead center?  Reupholstering at home is a great solution.

Other fix-its

Sticky drawers, missing legs, rusty seats, and wobbly joints don’t have to be deal breakers, either.  Before you head out to the flea market, poke around online and see what kinds of repairs you can easily make at home; you can keep these options in mind as you browse, and only take on projects you’ve pre-determined to be feasible.  Remember, refurbishing supplies will add a little extra to your budget, but unless your only alternative is shopping at IKEA with every college student and her roommate, you’ll likely still come out ahead.

As always, we recommend you go with low- or zero-VOC (volatile organic compound) paints, and other non-toxic, environmentally friendly products.  They may cost slightly more than their conventional counterparts, but your lungs will thank you.

What are your best flea market finds? Tell us here or on Facebook!

You might also Like