Mid Century Modern Furniture Makeovers Done Right

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It’s been a few years now since the popularity of Mid Century Modern furniture pieces began to grow.  I think the trend is probably now here to stay, at least awhile.

What used to be more on the fringe of the average decorating style has now become much more mainstrem, and these days MCM pieces are making there way into all sorts of places you wouldn’t expect to see them!

In case you’re not familiar with mid century modern furniture, let me give you a quick primer.

Mid century modern (or MCM) refers to a style of pieces from the 50’s and 60’s (hence the term “mid century”) that have clean lines, sleek finishes, and that space-age feel.  Think Mad Men, and you’ve probably got a good idea about what constitutes an MCM piece.

As vintage MCM pieces began being sold in the past few years, furniture painters started to get their hands on them and paint away . . . Sometimes in a way that worked, sometimes in a way that didn’t.

Painting a mid century modern piece can be a little tricky.  They have such a specific look that you can’t take them very far from their original design.  To update an MCM piece well, you have to keep the new design true to the style’s clean, simple original design.

This is one of those places where furniture painting becomes a little more of a science than just an art form.

I don’t have a lot of experience making over MCM pieces, but I have one sitting in my garage as we speak waiting on me.  To prep for this project, I’ve been looking a lot online at other painted mid century pieces that I think have been done really well.

I want to make sure when I’m done with my piece, it’s a “Do” and not a “Don’t”!


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So I want to take a few minutes today and share with you some of the MCM makeovers I have found that have been done right–these pieces have been updated in a way that fits with the original style of mid-century modern.


Black, White, Navy, Gray

Accenting with dark or light, keeping it simple with basic colors works on MCM pieces.






These two pieces are both from my blog friend Linda, at Q is for Quandie.  She does a fantastic job changing up her painting style depending on the types of pieces she is working with.  She sticks to basic dark or light colors on these pieces–no pastels here–and they work!


Keep Some of the Original Wood

Mid century pieces often have intricate wood inlays, and if you can keep those parts of the finish showing, it helps maintain the original style.  The wood is also generally high quality and has lovely grain, which is a shame to completely cover.




Reeves at The Weathered Door is another MCM painting master.  Bright white against the dark wood tones is stunning on this dresser makeover.


Paint it All Bright

If you can’t salvage some of the wood and you decide to paint an entire mid-century piece, try going with a bright, bold color.




The popular colors of this era were bright, saturated hues, so it makes sense that a bright, high-gloss finish would lend itself well to an MCM piece.

Shari at Turnstyle Vogue brought this dresser back to life with bright orange–it’s so fun!!  So if you’re going to go all color, think hot pink instead of baby pink, royal blue instead of sky blue–are you following?


Keep it Sleek

It just doesn’t work to distress a mid-century modern piece.  These pieces are glam, classic, and elegant, so giving them a worn or chippy finish doesn’t fit with their natural style.




I’ve shared this photo before, on my Do’s and Don’ts of Painting Furniture post, and I don’t mean to be ugly to whoever created this dresser.

While I really admire how well they created this weathered, layered look, it doesn’t fit with this style of piece.

Take that same paint technique and apply it to an old possum belly cabinet, and you have perfection!  But MCM pieces need to stay sleek and perfectly finished–no sandpaper allowed 🙂

One last thing I should mention . . . Some mid-century pieces floating around out there can be worth quite a bit of money.

Before you paint that old china cabinet grandma passed down to you, I would advise you to try and identify the piece so you can make sure it’s not from a famous maker.

Pieces from designers like Heywood Wakefield, Knoll, Widdicomb, and Paul McCobb for Calvin are better off left in their original condition (if they are not significantly damaged).

You would hate to paint some treasure, then take it one day to Antiques Roadshow and be told that you painted a six-figure furniture piece, wouldn’t you??  Just tryin’ to help a sister out 🙂

So, that’s what I have for you today.  Hopefully, my own MCM piece will be finished here in a week or so and I can show you what direction I decided to go.  I would love to see any MCM pieces you have worked on as well!





Linking up to:  Silver Pennies Sundays


Daphne H.

Sunday 24th of September 2023

Oh my! Thank you for including us examples. My husband and I have a MCM Mainline by hooker tall boy. I've been trying to decide what I want to do to it. These examples are going to help me decide.


Tuesday 7th of June 2016

I'm seeing lots of MCM in upscale thrift stores. I recently went into one of the nicest thrift stores that I had ever been in: everything was well laid out (meaning lots of room to view and well thought out groupings. Really pricey too! I called my designer friend and told her that this might be a nice source spot for her for clients looking to acquire pieces. Kudos to you for pointing out the do's don'ts. I've seen a number of misdirected transformations in specialty shops or so much copy-catting (colors etc) that the pieces fail to appear fresh and/or attractive.


Saturday 11th of June 2016

Ooh, I wish I could go shop that thrift store!!


Tuesday 31st of May 2016

I came across a Kent-Coffey FOCUS Highboy dresser at a tag sale that was obviously "well loved" (aka "abused") by a young person who had carved initials and other things into the veneer on the drawer front and sides, which also had stickers on them. There were crayon drawings on the bottom of all drawers - even those with the original drawer dividers! I felt nauseous, and the gentleman acknowledged my obvious distress by saying "I know its a mess - how about $10.00?" I told him to save it for me, but I just kept thinking how would I ever be able to refinish that beauty that had such beastly damaged done to it? I hate the thought of paining over wood - particularly the wonderful multi-veneers on this piece! I see these dressers with prices $600 and above, but they look to be in fabulous condition. What would you suggest?


Friday 3rd of June 2016

Hmm, well, for starters, I say buy it for $10! And you could consider using a gel stain on it, after lightly sanding the areas where there are damages. Gel stain is good for thin veneers bc you can stain over existing stain, rather than sanding down the piece to raw wood before staining. That's an option if you don't want to paint it. Or you could just paint the worst parts and then save as much wood as you can!

Wendy Johnson

Wednesday 17th of February 2016

Nice article and I love the examples you used.


Wednesday 17th of February 2016

Thank you Wendy! I wish some of them were mine :)

Linda from q is for quandie

Monday 15th of February 2016

First, thanks so much for the compliments on my MCM pieces that you featured! And second, I'm so glad you made that point about checking on the value of a mid-century piece before you paint it (Lane is another good name to look for). So true! I once purchased a brutalist credenza at a garage sale for $20, and luckily I looked it up before painting it. I ended up re-selling it 'as is' to a mid-century dealer. Last, I totally LOVE that orange credenza from Turnstyle Vogue. Gorgeous!


Monday 15th of February 2016

You are welcome Linda! I love your MCM pieces (and I still haven't painted that one I messaged you about on FB, would love your input!). Score for you on the credenza! I honestly don't know a ton about MCM, but am trying to learn more.

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