How to Refinish Wood Furniture Without Stripping | Desk Chair Makeover

How to remove scratches and blemishes to refinish wood furniture without stripping or sanding in one simple step + vintage bedroom desk chair and vanity makeover.

We’ve been making headway in Olivia’s “teen” bedroom makeover, and the latest thrifted bedroom desk and chair makeover that I just finished totally has my heart!

bedroom desk and vanity with refinished wood chair

The wooden chair I found at the Habitat Restore was dry, scratched, and blemished, but it was so charming! That little carved tulip detail at the top? Oh so cute!

And the desk I found on Craigslist was the perfect size for Olivia to use as a homework desk and vanity.

Related: How to Find the Best Deals on Facebook Marketplace

wood chair and desk before

Honestly, I don’t mind having some dents and dings when it comes to vintage wood furniture in a cottage style room.

But I really wanted to make this dry wood look supple and restored without needing to totally sand it down, re-stain, and seal it. So I tried a new-to-me method to refinish wood furniture without the need for all of that.

Related: How to Clean Wood Furniture to Make It Look New

Vintage Bedroom Desk and Chair Makeover



Before starting on the wood chair frame, I removed the seat pad. (I discovered it needed to be completely replaced after removing 3 layers of fabric and gross batting, so I got to that step after restoring the wood.)

removing upholstery from a chair seat pad

How to Clean Wood Furniture

I gave the wooden chair a deep cleaning first with my favorite wood furniture cleaner: Murphy Oil Soap.

It smells like citronella and removes tons of grime and musty smells from old furnishings.

I mix 1/4 Cup soap in a gallon of piping hot water and give the wood surface a quick wipe down with a rag, then wipe with a dry rag and let air dry the rest of the way.

cleaning wood furniture with murphy oil soap

How to Restore Wood Furniture Without Sanding

I’ve used Old English furniture polish in the past but wanted to give this Howard Restor-A-Finish a shot.

Instant love! It works like a dream!

wood furniture refinishing using Restor-A-Finish

The end result won’t be brand new wood furniture like a total stripping, re-staining, re-sealing would do, but it comes as close to that as possible in a matter of minutes. (I’m not sponsored by this brand. I’m just really excited by how well it worked!)

I just applied the oil to a rag and wiped down the wood surface, then wiped away any excess after soaking into the wood for a few minutes.

wiping on restor-a-finish to restore wood furniture without stripping

See how much of a difference it made?!

After applying the Restor-A-Finish, the wood looked conditioned and shiny and scuffs were drastically less noticeable. Some of the scratches were completely gone.

If you need extra heavy duty wood refinishing for deeper scratches, you can apply the Restor-A-Finish with a steel wool pad.

before restor-a-finish
after restor-a-finish

Inexpensive Hack to Reupholster a Chair Seat Pad

For the chair seat pad upholstery, I discovered I could just use a kitchen towel from Target as my upholstery fabric!

I compared a few different kitchen towel patterns (and a couple from IKEA) to see how it would look against Olivia’s rug, but ultimately chose the reddish pink striped towel.

Related: See how to How to Reupholster Dining Chair Seats here

kitchen towels to use as seat upholstery

Bedroom Desk Repainting

The small desk had a not-so-great paint job on it with dried drips and scratches all over the black finish.

So I did have to sand the bad spots, wood fill holes and cracks, and primed with STIX Waterborne Bonding Primer to give the paint extra grip. This desk will take a beating, so I wanted to make sure I was using the most durable primer and paint possible.

repainting a bedroom desk

I had some Sherwin Williams Emerald Urethane Enamel leftover from the entryway’s reeded bench makeover, so I used it on this bedroom desk.

The color Sherwin Williams Anew Gray is the perfect neutral against the Sherwin Williams Smoky Blue beadboard. It works beautifully with the Swedish wallpaper!

bedroom desk and vanity with refinished wood chair

Finished Bedroom Desk and Wood Chair

All in all for the secondhand furniture, upholstery fabric (aka a kitchen towel), flower knobs, and furniture refinishing supplies, this entire bedroom desk setup cost $124 total!

Not too shabby, huh?

I just leaned Olivia’s old memo board against the wall for now because I do NOT want to nail anything into this gorgeous wallpaper unless I absolutely have to.

Decor Sources

vintage cottage bedroom desk and vanity area with swedish wood chair

I’m thinking this bedroom desk vanity area will end up in front of a window, but I’m still working on the furniture layout in my head for this space.

What do you think so far?!

Refinishing Furniture Ideas

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  1. Looks great! I like your fabric choice. Thanks for the dish towel idea. I want to recover a small footstool, and that might just be the ticket!

  2. For hanging things on a wallpapered wall — use a new razor blade or craft knife to cut a down wide V in the wallpaper to make a flap. Carefully loosen the paper from the wall (you may have to wet it a bit) but don’t fold it or cut it off. Place your nail in the v-shape and hang your picture. When you change your mind, take out the nail, carefully fill the hole, and paste down the wallpaper flap. To get fancy, you can cut around a shape in the wallpaper to make a flap instead of doing a v; that hides the faint cut line better when re-sticking the flap back down after un-hanging your picture.

  3. Wow, what great finds! Painting the desk a light color sure makes those pretty
    little details more noticeable, Thanks for recommending the primer, as I have a similar desk that I think has a laminate top that I would love to repaint, and I know that will require a good primer. I learned about Howard’s products years ago, I think from an antique store owner, and have used it many times. It’s not a cure all for major issues, but it really does do wonders on small scratches and scuffs and makes the wood looks so much better. I would also recommend the Feed and Wax product over the top for even more protection (and it smells nice). We share a love for Murphy’s Oil soap, I adore the smell and have used it to mop floors. Can’t wait for the big reveal!