I often scour markets and thrift stores for classic pieces such as chairs, bureaus or cupboards– older furniture won’t have any of the chemical nasties found in their modern counterparts and they are often built to last with solid timber – so all it takes area few ideas and a little work to give each piece a new lease of life.
Why not try a few of these:
Sand the piece down (to give it a key) then re-paint it using natural paints- which won't have toxins.
If the piece is covered in layers of paint, sand it down a little to give it a distressed look.
Or even create the distressed look yourself by adding layers of paint and gently removing them once dry– tonal shades of the same color work best.
Paint the interior drawers a vibrant – even shocking- color for a real burst of life.
Paint a section in natural paints to match your room, and then cover other areas in patterned wall paper, although wrapping paper or squares of origami paper will be cheaper as they are available in smaller amounts.
Apply gold or silver leaf over sections of the unit to give it a soft but rich reflective glow.
Replace the handles and legs with something more contemporary and if there is a lock with a key, fit a decorative tassel for a touch of glamour. These smaller details really work wonderfully.
Use stencils – such as flowers, leaves, or historic patterns to add color and texture. It could even have a graffiti feel for a children’s bedroom.
Cover the piece in blackboard paint and then use it as a memo board by writing on it with chalk – which can look fantastic although it’s best done over a solid floor as it can create dust.
Use a paper decoupage (cut out images or text from magazines) and cover the piece – choose similar colored images or even just black and white for the most coherent effect.
For chairs simply recover fabric sections in something retro, vintage or even really contemporary – the change will work wonderfully.