Folk-art painted furniture: Upcycle & renew furniture with tips from famed vintage artist Peter Hunt

Folk-art painted furniture How to renew old furniture DIY

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For decades, artist Peter Hunt specialized in painting vintage furniture and found objects — upcycling them by renewing them with colorful peasant designs, reminiscent of classic Pennsylvania Dutch art styles.

As you can see below, some of his favorite motifs were hearts, birds, flowers and fruit, as well as stylized figures of men and women wearing quaint old-fashioned clothes. Not only were the designs whimsical, but he managed to make the case that anyone could create these designs.

To that end, back in the 1940s, Peter Hunt teamed up with the DuPont company. They wanted to sell more paint, and the artist wanted to help teach people all across the country how to decoratively refinish their own furniture with creative paintwork. On both fronts, the partnership was successful.

The following instructions and illustrations on decorative paintwork and antiquing old furniture (along with those in the separate brush stroke how-to article) come from some of their books and brochures originally published in the middle of the twentieth century.

Just as much today as ever, Hunt’s lessons and the dozens of charming examples below can give you ideas to help you bring new life — and a touch of delight — to your home and furniture.

Cans of colorful paint on red background
Photo by fucsiya/Envato

Note: The brand of paint they used in the 1940s — DUCO, referenced several times throughout this article — is no longer available.

After consulting with an artist, we learned that a product like Majic Paints Diamond Hard Acrylic Enamel High Gloss Paint (see it here) may work as a modern-day substitute, based on things like durability, suitable surface types, colors available, and its gloss finish.

You may want to talk to someone knowledgeable at a hardware or paint store in your area to get their suggestions and see what colors are available.

The change of paint brings with it a couple of benefits that people back in the forties didn’t have: By using acrylic paint, you avoid the original old-fashioned nitrocellulose solvent-based paint’s volatile organic compounds (VOCs), the vapors of which are strong-smelling and not healthy to breathe.

As a bonus, you can use water instead of paint thinner or turpentine to clean up acrylics, making the whole process a lot simpler. (Definitely do not use a solvent with water-based acrylic paints — and be sure to ignore any suggestions in the original text below calling for turpentine.)

Inspiration to help you transform old furniture in the vintage peasant style of artist Peter Hunt

From “Transformagic – Color: Likable and Livable,” by DuPont paint (c1955) & Peter Hunt’s Workbook (c1945)

While traveling through Europe some years ago, a Cape Cod artist named Peter Hunt got an idea.

In every home he visited in the country districts, he saw gay pieces of furniture that owed their charm to the simple designs with which they had been decorated by peasant craftsmen.

“Why not,” he reasoned, “use these same charming designs to give new beauty to old American furniture, too?”

Back home again in his Provincetown workshop, Mr. Hunt put his idea to work.

Vintage Peter Hunt

He gathered together, from friends’ attics and from second-hand furniture stores, pieces of furniture that can best be described as “attic uglies” — those sturdy old bureaus and hat racks and so on that were once thought so “elegant,” but that only make us shudder today.

With a little simple carpentry, he removed the gingerbread decoration and made other minor alterations, painted the finished pieces in bright colors, and added gay little figures and designs in the manner of the European home craftsmen who had given him the inspiration.

Soon these transformed pieces were on sale in the more exclusive furniture shops, and were eagerly purchased for many of America’s most gracious homes.

Vintage Peter Hunt Americana folk-art home decor

But good ideas can’t be kept “exclusive” — and soon magazine articles began appearing on the unusual art of Peter Hunt.

The Du Pont Company worked with Mr. Hunt in preparing a booklet about his easy way of transforming furniture… so easy that we christened it “Transformagic.”

And so was born what has proved to be a most unique and fascinating hobby. Through this practical method of rejuvenating old furniture, a whole new field of home decoration was opened to thousands of homeowners, who found a real thrill of creative accomplishment in “making old things new.”

And it’s so easy to decorate your pieces with these gay peasant motifs, because of the simple technique developed by Peter Hunt.

His beautiful designs all revolve around an easy-to-learn “basic stroke” that makes your decorating job fun to do. 

Vintage folk art paint designs by Peter Hunt (3)

The art of making old things new: Transformagic

Adapted from “Transformagic” by Du Pont (1949)

The oak buffet shown below had been stored in a dark attic for years, discarded and forgotten. Through the wizardry of Transformagic, it was economically transformed into this colorful cabinet for a kitchen that needed additional storage space.

This, then, is Transformagic; using paint and sometimes a little carpentering to bring new life to old objects.

It’s a way you can transform old, discarded objects into things of beauty and new-born usefulness — and have fun doing it! 

You can work this same magic for any room in your home. Old buffets are not the only pieces you can transform. Discarded beds, radio cabinets, desks, picture frames, buckets, and flatirons are just a few of the articles that are ideal for inexpensive transformations.

Old oak buffet transformed with paint - Ideas from the 1940s

For example, you will see how a headboard from a discarded bed was converted into a garden bench, and an old picture frame into a serving tray.

Take an old buffet. Shorten the legs, then remove the doors, and hang the mirror upside down. Enamel with DUCO. Result: see below.

Other pages of this booklet give complete instructions on how to use paint on old pieces… how to use two or three colors in pleasing combinations that decorate an old piece so beautifully you can scarcely believe your eyes.

You don’t have to decorate it with “hearts and flowers,” but if you would like to try your hand at hand-painted decorations, you will find complete instructions on how to do that, too.

Before we tell you more about Transformagic, let us introduce you to the originator of this exciting pastime — Peter Hunt of Provincetown on Cape Cod.

Meet artist Peter Hunt (1949)

It all began some years ago on a wintry afternoon in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Peter Hunt, a collector of antiques with a shop on Commercial Street, at last had the time to try something he had thought about for several years.

On many occasions during his search for antiques, the thought occurred to Peter that discarded pieces of furniture, that could not qualify as antiques, could be modified into new and useful objects.

He had a “hunch” that something beautiful could be created if he made a few simple alterations and then used paint in a dramatic manner.

Meet artist Peter Hunt (1949)

It was really more than a “hunch.” Peter had a definite idea about how this old furniture should be painted and decorated.

In his wanderings about Europe, he had seen and admired the beauty and naivete of the decorations made by peasants on their furniture. Those designs, made by simple folk, had a definite charm all their own.

On that afternoon, Peter performed his first Transformagic, decorating it with gay, sparkling colors. He did not copy the designs of the “folk-art” he had seen in Europe, but his decorations did capture their simplicity and spontaneity.

This first transformation was the start of the development of a folk art in the American manner, Peter’s technique reduces the creation of lovely decorations to an A-B-C, step-by-step method that is surprisingly easy to do.

Universal appliances - Peter Hunt (1940s)Since that wintry day in Provincetown, “Peter Hunt Originals” have found their way into the hearts and homes of families in every state of the Union.

Each summer, vacationists go out of their way to visit his famous workshop, carrying home with them treasures they could not resist.

Smart decorators’ shops and department stores feature his work. Thousands more have read and enjoyed Peter’s captivating book “Peter Hunt’s Workbook.” 

Still others undertook the adventure of Transformagic for themselves. Using the three earlier editions of this booklet by Du Pont (now out of print) as a guide, they transformed old pieces into new — and had a lot of fun, too.

Letters arrive at Peter’s workshop every day from all over America and Europe. These letters are from folks who have tried Transformagic and enjoyed themselves so much that they wanted to tell Peter what they had done — and what Transformagic had done for them.

Dear Friends: This new Transformagic booklet tells you exactly how it’s done. But, the important thing is to have fun! Let yourself go; enjoy it. Good luck! — Peter Hunt

Miniature Transformagics: Old buckets

Old lard buckets, or even the prosaic scrub bucket, can qualify as wastebaskets or containers for knitting and sewing materials after a touch of Transformagic.

The empty DUCO quart container makes an attractive flower pot after it is enameled and decorated with a border.

Old buckets made pretty with paintwork

Give old pans new flair

Baking and frying pans, dressed up in the typical Peter Hunt manner, make unusual hors d’oeuvre trays which are bound to excite comment.

Warning: Be careful, or your guests will talk you into doing these same transformations for them!

Vintage-style painted trays - how-to crafts

Transformagic and you…

The adventurous group that first undertook their own Transformagic was made up of many different kinds of people! Some of them had already tried artistic expression with the paintbrush. Many of them — both men and women — never before had a brush in their hands.

They had considered themselves totally unskilled — “couldn’t draw a straight line” — yet, when they completed their transformations, they had a real reason to be proud of their work. Their friends became enthusiastic, too.

ALSO SEE: Vintage 1940s wallpaper: 150 real samples of popular old patterns & colors

This success is not surprising. Many of the most beautiful transformations are made merely by applying a smooth coat of DUCO color accented by a trim of a contrasting shade.

Selecting colors that go well with one another is not difficult. In fact, almost everyone does it every day in selecting wearing apparel. The technique of using a paintbrush to apply these colors is acquired quickly.

Vintage folk art paint designs by Peter Hunt (1)

Some untrained adventurers also explored the idea of hand-painting decorations for their converted pieces. The results were much better than they had even hoped for. If you stop to think that these decorations are folk-art… invented and developed by simple people of the soil, the European peasant… you are better able to understand this success.

Still another reason why these “non-artists” efforts were crowned with success is the technique developed by Peter Hunt. His beautiful designs can be taken apart, piece by piece, so that the amateur is able to see and understand “what makes them tick.”

This may sound impossible, but in this booklet, you will discover how even the most complicated designs are evolved from a fundamental stroke of a small brush. This stroke is so easy to do that it has been given a special name. It is called the “basic stroke.” 

Transformed pieces, either decorated or painted in color-masses, have been put to practical use in many different ways.

Newly married couples, on a limited budget with which to furnish their first homes, began to eye the furniture in Aunt Hattie’s attic with speculative interest. Homes and apartments were furnished with old pieces made new the Transformagic way.

And, when the baby arrived, a clean, sparkling nursery was ready for Junior’s exclusive use. Many different kinds of old furniture can be modified adapted into unusual pieces for the infant’s or child’s room. Teenagers — especially girls — enjoy and need a room which has been personalized as their very own.

There is no better way to fulfill this need than with Transformagic furniture and appropriate curtains and drapes. But, go into this with your eyes open; such a transformed room often becomes the most popular meeting place for youngsters in the neighborhood!

Vintage Peter Hunt designs on home goods (1943)

The single transformed piece, used alone in a room with other kinds of furnishings, adds a distinctive note to the decorative scheme. Painted furniture, either solid colors or with hand-painted designs, has the happy faculty of complementing both traditional or modern furniture settings.

For this reason, many leading decorators include “Peter Hunt Originals” in their plans for decorating some of the smartest homes.

Transformagic has found its place out-of-doors, too. Ordinary summer porches, comfortable, but undistinguished in appearance, blossom overnight into showplaces of the neighborhood. Small gardens can be converted into fair-weather “living rooms” by using old chairs and tables, salvaged and transformed.

Common everyday articles, such as trays, baking and frying pans, bottles, and old flatirons have been transformed into individualized bric-a-brac.

Some devotees of Transformagic, in addition to the fun they had in creating them, have enjoyed the pleasure of using such pieces as gifts to friends and family. This kind of gift always is appreciated for it is unique. Impossible to purchase, it carries with it part of the giver.

You, too, can gain the priceless satisfaction of creating with your own hands beauty and charm out of something old and ugly. Each room in your home can become a new room, reflecting your own personality and skill… the kind of room that becomes “personally yours” with custom-made furniture.

All the information you need… how to modify old furniture… how to enamel or decorate it… and how to antique it, is described and illustrated in this new edition.

Vintage folk art-style painted chairs (1960s)

Your attic holds a treasure…

The raw material for your first transformation may be right in your own home… in the attic, basement, or barn. Yes, it may be that old-fashioned dresser you could never quite bring yourself to throw away. That’s the kind of thing Transformagic is made of.

It’s just possible that at some time you unknowingly may have supplied Peter Hunt with his “raw material.” He gets his old furniture from dealers who, in turn, may have bought the contents of your attic.

Your attic holds a treasure - Old furniture you can paint and restore

The photograph above is a shipment outside Peter’s workshop just unloaded by the dealer. In this pile are old wicker, tables and chairs from a defunct drugstore, some ammunition boxes sold by the government, along with other miscellaneous items.

So, if your attic and cellar are empty, you can always pick up inexpensive raw material at the second-hand furniture shop or at auction.

ALSO SEE: Early American weathervanes: 60+ examples of old-fashioned decorative & functional rooftop art

Old, discarded furniture is not the only starting point for adventures in Transformagic. New, unpainted furniture, purchased from the department or furniture store, has been transformed with DUCO into personalized pieces of surpassing charm.

But the most fun comes from creating something new from something old and useless.

After you finish reading this booklet, look around. You will have new ideas that can be profitably put to use. Old furniture will never be “old” to you again. Each piece will be an opportunity for an interesting transformation.

You will find yourself making new and novel discoveries, stimulated by the ideas in this book. Objects which to everyone else seem shabby will suddenly become to you an adventure in self-expression.

Repainting and renewing old furniture - Chest of drawers - dresser

Variety is the spice of life for this chest of drawers

The repair work required on this chest of drawers amounted only to replacing the lost drawer-pulls with new handles. The rest of the transformation was brought about with the DUCO.

In developing this complete overall decoration for this piece, each drawer-front was treated as an individual unit. The primary designs, except for the strawberries, were repeated. You will notice that they were also rearranged to make a different decoration.

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You may be tempted to decorate each drawer exactly alike. Put this temptation behind you! The same decoration repeated time after time on the same piece is dull and boring. So, repeat your primary designs for unity but rearrange them for variety.

This piece gives a new slant on how to paint leaves in outline rather than solidly. The outline treatment gives this decoration a lacy lightness you may want to try in your decorations.

Renewed dresser with painted designs

Hand-painted furniture: A landing fit for a stork

Peter Hunt managed to get enough material for a nursery fit for a prince!

The old tea-wagon was painted with White Enamel and trimmed with Admiralty Blue. The decorations of angels and flowers were also done with DUCO colors.

Before - antique baby nursery items before repainting

The bathtub, resting on the wagon, became clean and fresh again using the same DUCO beauty treatment which was used on the tea wagon. The colors and decorations match.

Even the old clothes basket was pressed into service to take care of the new arrival. After a coat of Undercoat and Enamel, inside and out, the basket was lined with soft, warm flannel in harmonizing colors.

The walls of this room were dull and depressing because the wallpaper had faded in places. You could see where pictures had been hung; time had etched its outline on the wall. All this was fixed inexpensively with a coat of Du Pont Speed-Easy in Dove Gray applied right over the paper.

Antique baby nursery items after repainting - 1940s Peter Hunt style

Fit for a princess!

The old buffet and the battered wardrobe — both from the “junk pile” — were combined to make this attractive piece for storing the baby’s clothes.

The new wardrobe will save space until Junior is old enough for school.

Before - Old buffet and wardrobe furniture

The old buffet is now the lower section of the new piece. The legs were sawed off to form a chest resting flush on the floor. The “upstairs department” of the transformation is the battered plywood wardrobe bolted to the top of the old buffet.

Here again, Du Pont DUCO Enamel completed the transformation. Color and decorations match those of the baby’s bath ensemble.

Renovated repainted antique furniture with decorative paintwork (1949)

Painted folk-art furniture: Out-of-door showplaces

A similar treatment was given to the remainder of the old wicker set. The chair was enameled to match the base of the coffee table with Hunter Green. The flower boxes in the foreground received honorable discharges from the Army!

They are the ammunition boxes, decorated in the typical Peter Hunt manner. A worn wood floor became new ”flagstone” when refinished with a coat of Du Pont Green Porch Paint.

For the summer porch, a cast-iron base of an old stove, a wicker chaise longue, and a magazine rack were selected from the “junk pile.” A coat of Hunter Green converted the stove base into a unique coffee table.

The top was cut to fit from finished lumber and then primed with Undercoat and enameled with White. The sturdy wicker pieces needed only a coat of White Enamel to make them more beautiful than when they were new.

GET THE DETAILS: How to make beautiful folk-art paint designs using simple brushstrokes

That new look…

Transformed wicker makes furniture in good taste for interiors, too. The attractive cushions were homemade from inexpensive remnants. The settee and table were given new life with the application of White Enamel.

White wicker furniture

The end-table you may remember from the “junk pile.” It was decorated with designs made by a unique and simple method described in this booklet. Its mellow tone is the result of “antiquing,” a painting process described below at “The Antiquing Technique.

Du Pont Flat Wall Paint in the popular Parchment color gives the walls a warm, pleasing glow.

A porch with a personality

Converted bedsteads make excellent outdoor pieces for the porch or garden. Notice how, in this case, Peter Hunt has taken full advantage of the simplicity of line of the original footboard. He has preserved and enhanced the original lines by the uncomplicated use of two colors: White Enamel and Hunter Green.

The table and chairs are the refugees from an old soda fountain. On furniture as prosaic as a drug store table, you may discover an original construction feature that may be accentuated with paint for greater charm.

By painting the small heart on the soda fountain table in white, the transformation becomes more individual and interesting.

When you try your hand at Transformagic, be on the lookout for the original features of the old piece that can be accented to advantage. On the other hand, you can also use color to minimize and conceal a design or construction defect. It works both ways.

ALSO SEE: 20 old-fashioned decorative iron porches & balconies with some real vintage Southern style

Frosted for beauty…

The headboard of a discarded bed was the starting point for this beautiful bench.

This Transformagic took “a little more doing” than an average conversion. The discarded headboard forms the backrest of this masterpiece. The seat and sides were constructed from finished lumber cut to size by the lumber dealer. These additions are easy to make; the home-carpenter can do them with ordinary hand tools.

The striking color was made by a combination of a base-color coat over which was applied a white antique glaze. The base color is a mixture of Undercoat and Chinese Red Enamel applied with a brush.

The “frosted” effect results from the white glaze. Complete instructions on how to make this glaze are given below at the “White Glazing” section.

Converting parts of old beds into cute benches

Accentuate… You can transform bedsteads in many different ways. Here again, you can accentuate the beautiful features of the original piece.

By simple placement of Bermuda Blue Enamel against a background of White, you can achieve a transformation of dignity and charm. Simple color placement, like this, is always charming.

Converting parts of old beds into cute benches (2)

Modify… On this converted bedstead, Chinese Red was used against a background of White Enamel to accentuate the charm of the original.

Then, if you wish, you can modify the back-panel with birds and flowers, painted with A-B-C technique described in this book. Decorations are often placed so that they are “framed” by construction features.

Converting parts of old beds into cute benches (3)

Or disguise… With this bench, Peter Hunt made no effort to use the design of the original headboard of the old bed. Instead, he used White to disguise the lines.

The White minimizes the paneling in the original construction. The decorative areas attract your eye away from the “cut-up” paneling.

Converting parts of old beds into cute benches (1)

Chinese picture-fable designs painted on vintage bedroom furniture

The perennially popular “willow ware” China proved to be the inspiration for this transformation.

Parts of the original design from the plates and cups were used on this furniture. Chapters from this picture fable are retold on the separate panels of the bed and dresser.

Chinese picture-fable designs painted on vintage bedroom furniture (1)

You need not restrict yourself merely to the designs illustrated in this booklet. China, wallpaper, draperies, and rugs may have designs that have always appealed to you. Use them. Modify them as you desire. The result can be very gratifying!

The rich elegance of these transformed pieces makes an almost unbelievable contrast to their original somber, archaic appearance. By repainting the furniture with White Enamel, the entire room seems brighter, larger, and more cheerful.

Chinese picture-fable designs painted on vintage bedroom furniture (2)

Hand-painted furniture: Old trays and frames

Discarded picture frames, even very old-fashioned ones, can be transformed in interesting ways.

An old gilt frame was the basis of the “shadow box” shown on the left. The shelving holding the bric-a-brac was simply constructed. Plywood was used as the backboard. Enameling with Du Pont DUCO completed the magic.

Painted shadowbox made with an old picture frame

Another twist of this same idea is the group of square trays shown below.

A plywood panel was inserted into the frame where the picture was once mounted. Notice the tray with the black background; it is another idea you can use.

This particular tray was made from a shallow drawer of a discarded desk. The drawer-pulls were removed… projecting edges were trimmed with a saw… and a useless thing was well on its way to becoming a novel tray.

ALSO SEE: How to stencil a tray with an Early American design (1950)

Vintage-style trays made from picture frames and plywood (1949)

Of course, there is no reason why you cannot take regular trays and repaint and decorate them as you please. Your Du Pont DUCO dealer has eighteen exciting colors to choose from.

These shades may be used as they are or mixed together to make other colors. Some of the decorations on the trays in the lower picture were painted with mixtures of the regular colors.

Repaint and decorate old trays

ALSO SEE: 50 mid-century modern carpet styles from the ’50s & ’60s: Vintage wall-to-wall flooring in all its glory

Restored kitchen cabinetry with retro Pennsylvania Dutch folk-art style paintwork by Peter Hunt

Restored kitchen cabinetry with retro Pennsylvania Dutch folk-art style paintwork by Peter Hunt

Apply one color at a time

Work with one color at a time. This means that you will not complete one primary design (a bunch of grapes, etc.) and then go on to the next.

Rather, first decide which color you want for parts of each primary design and then paint those spots of that color only.

The same on the next color, until all four colors have been applied. With this technique you will be able to paint on top of other colors, thus developing gradually the primary designs that form the all-over decoration.

Your colors will remain bright and your design clean-cut. Each color should be allowed to dry until it is tacky before applying the next color.

Step-by-step - Painting kitchen cabinets

SEE MORE: 31 retro yellow kitchens from yesteryear: Sunny midcentury home decor

Fixing errors when you do folk art painting techniques

From time to time, your brush is bound to slip. This happens to experts, too. You can “erase,” using a clean cloth dampened with [water or a solvent, depending on the type of paint used]. You must do this with care and before the paint dries hard.

Often, errors need not be removed. Subsequent colors may either completely cover the slip-of-the-brush or disguise it so that it can’t be noticed.

  1. One color at a time — basic strokes make border, circles, and hearts with Red. Allow the DUCO to dry before applying the next color.
  2. Hunter Green goes on next to enhance the border and to form the leaves and stems. A few hearts are added in green.
  3. Pink — made by adding White to Rich Red — changes red circles into flowers, and further fills out the decoration.
  4. Primrose Yellow is the final touch. Super-imposed over the other colors, the Primrose Yellow is the accent color of the decoration.

Old-fashioned Americana - folk art paintwork

Successful old-fashioned folk art-style painting tips

Of course, before you can apply decorations, the piece must be properly prepared and painted. Your old discarded object must be refreshed. Generally, the surface of the old piece can be one of three types, as far as finishing is concerned.

It may be bare wood which has never been previously painted, or it may be an old finish in good condition, or an old finish, badly cracked and damaged.

How to paint each of these surfaces is described in this section. If you follow these instructions, you will obtain a beautiful finish.

ALSO SEE: Vintage home decorating fabric styles for the sixties (1965)

If the wood is bare and unpainted, do this —
  1. Sand wood, using No. 1/2 or No. 1/0 sandpaper. Then wipe off the sand dust.
  2. On the clean surface, brush one coat of Undercoat. Allow Undercoat to dry overnight and then sand with No. 4/0 sandpaper. Remove dust from the sanding operation with a cloth dampened with clean turpentine.
  3. Apply Enamel or follow the directions under “High Gloss,” “Semi-Gloss,” or “Peter Hunt Decorations” below.

Antique kitchen hutch painted white and green

If the finish is in good condition, do this — 

If an object has a finish that has not scaled or cracked, it is not necessary to remove the old finish. If the surface is scratched, an application of Undercoat will help cover these deformities.

  1. Before you apply either the Enamel or Undercoat, be sure the surface is clean and dry. Remove all traces of oil, grease, wax, or furniture polish by wiping with a clean cloth saturated with mineral spirits or turpentine.*
  2. Allow the solvent to saturate the surface for a moment and then dry with a clean, dry cloth. Keep turning the cloth so that you are using a clean portion. If you suspect that wax is on the old surface, play safe by repeating this process several times. If you fail to remove the wax completely, subsequent coats of undercoat and enamel will not dry hard. 
  3. Sand the old finish lightly with No. 2/0 or 3/0 sandpaper so that you will have a good “tooth” for the new finish.
  4. Apply Enamel or follow the directions under “High Gloss Finish,” “Semi-Gloss Finish,” or “Peter Hunt Decorations,” below.
If the finish is in bad condition, do this —

It is a waste of time and effort to apply fresh enamel to an old finish in bad condition. You would be very disappointed in the results. Examine your piece to see if it is —

  • Scaling — coming off in scales or flakes
  • Cracking — covered with wide splits in the finish
  • Crazing — covered with network of fine, hairline cracks.

If any of these conditions exist over large areas, the old finish should be removed.

There are a number of ways to remove the old finish.

A paint scraper, available at your hardware dealer, is very effective. Or, you can sand away the old finish with sandpaper. Commercial paint and varnish remover is used for old finishes which do not respond to the other methods of removal.

If the old finish is loose, the sharp edge of the paint scraper will flake it off readily. Be sure to use your scraper with care and avoid gouging the wood. For large flat areas, the scraper should be 3 to 4 inches wide. On trim, carved or curved surfaces, the scraper will not work; use sandpaper or steel wool.

It is possible to sand away the old finish with sandpaper. For quick cutting, use a paper coated with a rough abrasive; No. 1/0 sandpaper is usually rough enough.

The scratches left by the rough paper can be obliterated by a second sanding with a fine paper; for example, No. 4/0. It helps to wrap your paper around a block of wood so that it can be held more easily and pressed closer to the surface while sanding.

Commercial paint and varnish removers are liquids which soften the old finish so that it is more readily removed with a paint scraper or putty knife. Your DuPont Paint Dealer will recommend an efficient remover. Be sure you read the label directions.

If the label indicates that the remover contains wax, take the precautions necessary to remove the w r ax residue left on the surface after the old finish has been removed. (See instructions on wax removal under (1) of “Finish in Good Condition.”)

ALSO SEE: Vintage ’50s master bedroom decor: See 50+ examples of retro home style

If you want a high gloss finish, do this

After you have prepared the surface, you are ready to go ahead with the final finishing.

The high gloss finish usually is selected for transformations with large areas of background color which will have few or no decorations. DUCO is a high gloss enamel, ideal for this purpose. It dries quickly to a very hard, smooth, glass-like surface.

Decorations are made with DUCO, too. In painting new wood, or in changing from a dark to a light color, a first coat of Undercoat should be applied.

You want a Semi-Gloss finish, do this —

The satiny sheen of the semi-gloss finish gives a pleasing, soft appearance to your transformation. Of course, any semi-gloss finish is slightly more difficult to keep clean than a full gloss enamel.

If you prefer the semi-gloss effect, mix Undercoat with Enamel; one part of Undercoat to three parts of Enamel. By increasing the amount of Undercoat in this mixture, the gloss is lowered. Undercoat is made in white only. Hence, adding Undercoat to colors will result in a lighter tint.

Apply with a good brush.

If you want a “Peter Hunt” decoration, do this — 

It is easier to paint designs on a flat, low-gloss surface than on a smooth, high-gloss enamel. Therefore, if you plan large areas of decoration, it is best to use Undercoat for the background. Undercoat can be tinted with Enamel to make exquisite pastel shades.

After the decorations have dried, apply a coat of Clear to protect them against wear. This clear coat will produce a full gloss. If you prefer a satiny sheen, Du Pont #76 Dull Varnish should be used in place of Clear.

Many of the most beautiful Transformagic pieces receive a further “beauty treatment.” They are antiqued…

Vintage folk art paint designs by Peter Hunt (4)

If you want an antiqued finish, do this —

“Antiquing” is the application of a glaze-coat directly over either solid-color backgrounds or over decorations. This glazing is done not so much to fake great age, but rather as a means of obtaining mellow or soft appearance for freshly painted pieces.

Antiquing is optional, depending upon which kind of effect you prefer. On page 30 you will find illustrated an antiqued chair beside one which was not. These pieces will give you an idea of the effect of the glaze on the appearance of the piece.

Making the glaze for antiquing

For enough glaze to finish a small table, use the following recipe —

Measure three tablespoons of turpentine* into a small tumbler or can. Add one and a half teaspoons of Du Pont Raw Turkey Umber Oil Color.

If you wish to darken this tone, add a trace of Du Pont Lamp Black Oil Color along with the Umber. Mix the turpentine* and Oil Color together thoroughly with a small brush.

Then, add one tablespoon of Clear and stir again. The color of this glaze can be varied. In place of Raw Turkey Umber, Raw Sienna may be used to obtain a warmer, more reddish tone.

Either of these mixtures is excellent for light backgrounds. For dark backgrounds always add Lamp Black Oil Color to the glaze to obtain a tone several shades darker than the background color.

White glazing

When decorations are not used, you have still another choice in antiquing for beautiful effects. Above with “Frosted for beauty…” is illustrated a bedstead converted into a rich, salmon-colored bench.

This bench has a particular “frosted” effect made by glazing with white. White glaze is made by using Undercoat in place of the Oil Color in the recipe.

Paint antiquing technique how-to

When you are sure the background enamel or the decoration has dried completely hard, apply the liquid glaze generously with a paintbrush. On small objects, apply the glaze over the entire surface. On larger objects, such as a bureau or chest-of-drawers, glaze and complete one section at a time.

On flat surfaces, the glaze should be wiped away with a circular motion of a cloth. Start at the middle and work toward the edges. The center of the panel should be the lightest with the color gradually darkening toward the edges.

This graduated blending from light to dark is completed by patting with clean cheesecloth followed by blending with a dry brush. This final blending should also be done from the center toward the edges.

After the final blending is finished, traces of the glaze will still remain in the minute depressions of the surface. Leave it there; this is the effect you want.

Paint antiquing technique how-to (2)

For carved surfaces, such as picture frames, proceed just as you would for flat surfaces. If the piece is highly carved, puddles will collect in the depressions and may be difficult to pick up with the cloth. A dry brush will absorb these puddles quickly.

The raised areas of the carving should be “highlighted” by wiping off most of the glaze, allowing the background to show through. Turpentine* on the cloth will help removal.

To slow down the drying time of the glaze (which will give you additional time for blending), add a few drops of linseed oil to the recipe. Normally, this should not be necessary except when you are working on large areas.

Glaze that has not dried can be removed almost completely by rubbing with a cloth saturated with turpentine* — provided, of course, that your background surface was completely dry when the glaze was applied.

Paint antiquing technique how-to (1)

Directions for above technique, from left to right:
  1. Apply the glaze generously in a full coat over the entire area. On large pieces, antique one section at a time before going on to the next.
  2. Wipe off with a circular motion starting from the center. Use a lint-free rag, removing most of the glaze from the center to form a “bright spot”.
  3. Blend from the center toward the edges. Around the edges, the glaze should be the heaviest. Use a patting motion to blend or wipe very lightly.
  4. Complete blending by pouncing [stippling] lightly with a clean, dry brush. If you want highlights along edges, wipe with a cloth dampened with [water or turpentine*, depending on paint].

A modern kitchen with artistic Pennsylvania Dutch style

New things are improved by Transformagic.

As long as the kitchen is the one place where the homemaker spends most of her time, it should be a cheerful, happy room.

Two popular DUCO colors… Chinese Red and Bermuda Blue… provide the lively environment for this kitchen. DUCO White on the walls, like the DUCO colors, is easy to keep clean and bright.

A touch of folk art, which is not out-of-keeping with the modern decorative plan, lends a note of cheer.

1940s folk-art kitchen decor

From another generation

The antecedent of the attractive chest-of-drawers on the right is the old bureau from a second-hand shop. Its construction was sound. The marble top was unchipped and the mirror unblemished. The old finish was still good. But, its design stamped it as a relic.

It did not take Peter Hunt long to correct this one defect. The mirror was unscrewed and salvaged. It was hung horizontally over the transformation. The color harmony is Nassau Green combined with Cream.

DON’T MISS: Colorful ’40s bathrooms: Retro restrooms in rainbow hues

Green and cream drawers with decorative paintwork (1940s)

A radio converted into a small chest

Waste not… want not! This miniature masterpiece started as the spindly-legged radio. Remember the model? It had a separate loudspeaker “horn” resting on top.

Today, this forgotten relic is a real piece of useful furniture. Only a few alterations were necessary, principally the sawing-off of the legs.

It is used as a chest for small linens, but would also make a “catch-all” for children’s toys and books.

Small chest made from an old radio

Play bench with a hinged cover made from an old dresser drawer

“Left-overs” from other transformations can be adapted to make useful things.

For example, take this play-bench. It was made by using a drawer from an old dresser. The drawer handles were removed and their holes were filled with putty.

With a hinged cover for the seat and arm and backrests added, the only thing needed to complete the job was the enameling and decorating with Enamel.

Thus, an old drawer escaped the woodpile to make some youngster’s room a happier place.

Play bench with a hinged cover made from an old dresser drawer

Ideas for idle hours…

For those who never put books aside when they finished school, Transformagic converts an old school desk into a reading bench. The lift-up top was cut in half for the legs. A few holes provide the pipe rack.

Color scheme: Jade Green with Cream designs. An idea for shortening a child’s rainy day is the play table, bottom right. It’s not difficult to keep children occupied if they have a corner all their own.

An old dining room table, with its legs shortened to “youngster height,” was transformed easily with DUCO colors.

If you have difficulty finding your overshoes under a pile of toys on the closet floor, you can solve this problem just as Jack’s father did. He found an old battered wood chest; sanded it smooth and painted with Undercoat and Enamel.

Ideas for idle hours - reading bench, table, chest and more home decor

To help you decide: Two chairs, one with an antiqued finish

The antiquing process is described in detail above, but words alone are not enough to tell what this glazing will do to your transformation.

To help you decide, two chairs were painted and decorated exactly alike. Then, the chair on the right was antiqued.

Either version, plain or antiqued, provides a pleasing and colorful decorative note for any room. It all depends upon what you happen to prefer.

To help you decide Two chairs, one with an antiqued finishThe table between the chairs is another example of the antiquing effect. Previously, it was a shabby walnut cast-off.

Painted white with Undercoat and then heavily antiqued, it became a charming end table. Pieces like this go extremely well with richly colored walls that give contract.

Young ideas for tired furniture…

The Welsh cupboard shown below is a transformation of this shabby dresser.

There’s no substitute for good food. But, good food can taste better — dining can be a festive occasion every day– in a room that reflects a happy, carefree spirit.

This dining room is such a place because of a salvaged bureau and a few transformed chairs. The old hardware on the original bureau was discarded in favor of plain wooden drawer-pulls. A large sheet of plywood was fastened to the back, extending all the way to the floor.

Shelving with scalloped sides (they could have been straight) were added also. Primary designs were combined to form complete decorations.

Very striking effects happen when one of the drawers is left underrated, as on this cupboard. Chairs need not carry the same color combination as the dominant piece.

Old-fashioned Welsh dresser with traditional Americana paint artwork by Peter Hunt

Converting an old radio cabinet into something fresh

Long since silenced, this obsolete radio cabinet was readily converted to new usefulness. With the legs shortened, this double compartment chest for blankets and toys began to develop.

The background is White Enamel. Rich Red was used on door panels, interior, and the hearts on the side panels. The corner posts and edge of the lid are Bermuda Blue.

MORE: Vintage 1940s wallpaper: 150 real samples of popular old patterns & colors

Converting an old radio cabinet into something fresh

Primitive furniture and objects

Not even Mike O’Leary’s wheelbarrow can escape those who use imagination.

With a little paint, this old barrow was raised to new heights of respectability. It’s a novel means of transporting almost anything around the garden, or could be used as a portable flower box.

An old wheelbarrow reimagined with paint

Transform worn-out furniture with just two colors

Selective use of two colors can give your Transformagic a smart, modern appearance.

This dramatic study in Chinese Red and White was originally the “nightmare” illustrated at the bottom of this page.

The entire upper section was removed along with the legs and hardware. Three-inch wood strips were mounted on the front for the handy, decorative drawer pulls.

The oval mirror was found in a second-hand shop and painted red to match. This piece was not antiqued.

Other color combinations that could have been used on this transformation are Bermuda Blue with Light Ivory, or Admiralty Blue with Pearl Gray.

Transform old furniture with just two colors

Beauty-spots for lawns

Lawn mid porch furniture, either new or old, give an opportunity for transformations that make out-of-door living still more fun.

Adirondack construction, normally severe in design, begins to compete with the beauty and grace of flowers and shrubs.

The color continuation is Bermuda Blue and White… The picnic set is another color scheme you can use: Bermuda Blue and Light Buff.

Outdoor furniture - Beauty-spots for lawns

Tell a tale…

Earthen jars, coffeepots, and jugs can be converted into intriguing lampshades. Shades need not be expensive. A few decorations give them a personality all their own.

This Victorian office desk illustrates how white and a second color both can be used as backgrounds on the same piece. The effect is spirited and lively.

The second color sets the color key for the room, or can be selected to enhance the already established color scheme.

ALSO SEE: 27 old-fashioned wood porch bracket designs

Peter Hunt used the top of this piece to tell a tale. The two amusing figures represent the author of a love letter and his lady-love.

The oversize quill pen labels the author of the letter. The letter itself identifies the receiver. Normal proportion of the size of things is totally disregarded.

Your tale need not be a complicated story. Just an isolated incident is enough.

If you do decide to tell a tale, it is fun to have your story related to the kind of furniture or object you are decorating. For example, the illustration on this desk is closely related to the everyday use of the desk.

Restored Victorian office desk (1949)

Desk and chest of drawers, restored with paintwork

A plain board along the nail from a transformed bureau to the window sill makes a desk-and-chest-of-drawers combination. Above the typewriter is a “bulletin board’ made from a picture frame. Color: Light Ivory.

A color combination of White with Pearl Gray provides the treatment for this dignified piece. Advantage was taken of the lines of the design. The base of the lamp is a leg from an old dining-room table.

Desk and chest of drawers, restored with paintwork

Farmhouse-style decor: Use paint to help an old lamp shine

Lamps that Mr. Edison put out of business can shine with new radiance.

If you should come across an old lamp, look it over with care. You may be on the threshold of a Transformagic discovery. 

Use paint to help an old lamp shine

DON’T MISS: The beauty of antique kerosene lamps – and how one invention changed the way people lived

Update a whole room in the folksy farm style

A dilapidated tool shed is converted via Transformagic into this cheery summer dining room decorated in the location spirit.

The magic wand which turned this clever trick was an ordinary paintbrush dipped in the rich Du Pont colors.

The cluttered tool shed underwent an almost incredible metamorphosis. This lovely summer dining room, in butterfly colors, emerged… a welcome addition to any vacation cottage.

The furnishing for this intimate room is typically Transformagic; old “junk” inexpensively transformed into new furniture. The rough walls of the old shed presented a problem that was quickly solved.

Each vertical board was painted alternately Daffodil Yellow and Larkspur Blue with Flat Wall Finish. The Dutch door, along with the shelves and other trim, received a coat of Interior Gloss Enamel, manufactured by Du Pont to match the Daffodil Yellow Flat Wall color.

The glossy surface reduces the possibility of dirt collection, and, if soil should occur, can be cleaned easily.

Toolshed converted into a summer dining room - Folk art paint ideas

The old flooring was revivified with Interior Floor Enamel. A red border, painted with Chinese Red matching the cupboard, broke up the monotony of a solid-colored floor. The area inside red border was made still more interesting by a “splatter treatment.”

To decorate this area, a brush, well saturated with paint, was struck sharply by the handle against a length of pipe held by the other hand. The pattern of the splatter was varied.

For a large pattern, the brush was struck against the pipe about three feet from the floor. A smaller pattern resulted when less paint was used and the brush struck against the pipe closer to the floor.

Give your piano a new tune

Many old “uprights” are still excellent musical instruments, but their size is accentuated by the dark finish. You can make an “upright” less dominating against light-colored pulls by enameling it with White, like this one.

Two new, inexpensive, unpainted pieces from the department store were “wedded” by nailing one hoard across the top and another along the back. DUCO Undercoat on the new wood provided a perfect base for the enamel.

Give your piano a new tune

For study… or for dreaming

For the young —  or those who feel young — painted furniture gives a room the kind of lilt they want.

This desk is a good example of what can be done for the young “co-ed.” The color combination is Light Buff and White.

For the young man, this desk could have been converted with a more vigorous color combination: Pearl Gray with Hunter Green, for example.

You may recognize the knick-knack shelf resting on the desk as an old picture frame which has been modified with shelving, sides, and back.

The Bermuda Blue and bright decorations provided the touch of strong color needed to complete this setting.

Desk for a teen - painted in light buff and white

* Note about the use of turpentine, mineral spirits, or other solvents: Only use the correct type of fluid for the type of paint in question, and in particular, do not use solvents with acrylic paints. Talk to someone knowledgeable at your local hardware or paint store for tips and advice when painting or refinishing paintwork.

DON’T MISS THIS: 130 vintage ’50s house plans used to build millions of mid-century homes we still live in today

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One Response

  1. I really enjoyed this fascinating article. And now I’m inspired to try some of these projects. I think those Dutch primitives never go out of style. Keep the great articles coming!

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