DIY Small Table Makeover


This post walks you through the steps for a DIY small table makeover, using milk paint, to give an old piece of furniture a new look.

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My friend Mary gets credit for inspiring this old table makeover.  She found this little mahogany Duncan Phyfe style table for me in New Port, Rhode Island and I couldn’t pass it up.  Normally, I don’t like to work with red toned woods because there are a variety of challenges.  For example, the red toned woods can “bleed through” paint leaving a pink colored stain.  Another challenge is that if you paint these pieces of wood furniture a lighter color, (think- white paint) it could require 4-5 coats of paint. The cost of using this much paint can really add up!

However, I will let you in on a secret, if you paint these red toned woods a dark or gray color then you won’t have any issues.  With that in mind, I decided to paint this table a warm gray known as Schloss. Other MMS milk paint colors that you could use on red toned woods include Typewriter, Aviary, Curio or Carolina Dune.

Today, I am giving you a step-by-step tutorial on how to give this table new life. Giving a small side table a makeover is a great project for first time furniture painters and is an easy DIY project you can tackle in about 4 hours.

These little tables are always useful and can be used in virtually any room, including  the living room, office, library, guest room, and more. 

I will walk you through all the steps I followed to give this table a makeover, so let’s get started.

DIY Small Table Makeover

Finding a Table

Whenever I go to an auction, thrift store, antique store, garage sale, flea market or Re-store, there is an overabundance of red toned furniture from the 1950s-1980s. So, finding a little side table to makeover is relatively easy. There are plenty of options to choose from – just make sure the table is made out of solid wood and that it is structurally sound. You don’t want to spend a bunch of time repairing broken legs or fixing a wobbly surface.

Mahogany side table

This table was a good candidate for painting because its top had damage.  The finish was completely missing in some areas and you could see ring marks caused by water damage from drinks and glasses.  Further, the finish on the legs had also deteriorated.  This little table had definitely seen better days. 

In spite of the damage to the finish, this small side table was structurally sound and had some lovely wooden details.  There was a beautiful cross hatch pattern on the top edge and there were some pretty flourishes on the legs of the table. Most importantly, this piece of furniture was made out of solid wood.

Cross hatch details on table

Smaller pieces of furniture, that don’t require a lot of sanding or the use of paint stripper, are great projects for working on inside. With the weather getting colder in the northeast, I am always looking for smaller projects that I can bring inside.


As with any project, the first thing we need to do is gather our supplies:

MMS Milk Paint in Schloss

Although I did provide links for purchasing the items above online, you can buy the sandpaper, paint brush, putty knife and polycrylic at any big box hardware store such as Home Depot or Lowes. Also, although I used milk paint for this project, you could also use chalk paint or mineral paint.

Step 1: Prep the Table

The first step for any furniture makeover is to give it a good cleaning.  I used a warm bucket of water filled with Mr. Clean and a scrub pad to remove years of grime.  It took about 30 minutes to fully clean the table and then I let it dry.

After the table was completely dry, using 120 grit sandpaper, I scuff sanded the legs table.  The intent was simply to “rough up” the existing finish so the paint would adhere to the wood.  

Sanding the top of the table

The top of the table was in poor condition, so I paid extra attention to sanding it to ensure all of the existing wood finish was removed. 

Tips and Advice

Although I hand sanded the table, you could use a palm sander to save time. A palm sander is one of the easiest ways to save time and create a uniformly sanded surface.

Also here is another TIP: it’s a good idea to put a drop cloth or an old blanket on the ground, under the piece of furniture, before you start sanding. I use moving blankets because they provide great protection and serve a dual purpose when I load up the item to bring to the shop.

Another point of consideration, sometimes these side tables have drawers with hardware. If this is the case, be sure to remove any knobs or pulls from the drawers prior to sanding. This is also a great opportunity to install new knobs or pulls.

Similarly, if your table has a glass top, be sure to remove it prior to sanding.

When all the sanding was complete, I gave the table a good wipe down with a damp terry cloth rag to remove any remnants of dust. Now you are ready for the next step!

Step 2: Paint the Table

As most of you know, I have been collaborating with MMS milk paint.  I have been using MMS milk paint for more than a decade and it is always my first product choice whenever I am painting a piece of furniture. Their paint is environmentally friendly, nontoxic, food safe, and made in the USA. MMS Milk paint is made from 4 plant based ingredients! You can’t ask for a better quality product that is environmentally safe.

For this particular project, I used the color Schloss which is a warm gray. Milk paint comes in a powder form and you have to mix it with water.  I mixed half a cup of powdered milk paint with half a cup of warm water and added about 4 drops of Milk Mix EZ.  Then I mixed all the ingredients thoroughly until the resulting mixture was the consistency of pancake batter. 

Painting table upside down

TIP: I always paint my furniture upside down.  Meaning, I flip the furniture upside down and start painting the bottom first.  This ensures I don’t miss any spots.   When the bottom of the table was fully painted, I flipped it up right and finished painting the top.

The first coat of paint is always a little splotchy, so don’t be deterred.  The entire table required a total of 3 coats of paint for a uniform appearance.

After 3 coats of paint

Step 3: Distress and Seal the Table

Once the table is completely dry, use your putty knife to gently remove any loose paint.  The small areas of paint flaked off on the legs and on the surface of the table. Then I used 220 grit sandpaper to gently sand the edges of the table and decorative details on the legs. 

I also used 220 grit sandpaper to sand the table top surface smooth and used a clean rag to remove any dust.

Carved details after sanding

The final step is to seal the paint on the table by applying Minwax Polycryclic in a clear matte finish. I put the clear coat on both the base of the table, including the legs, and on the top.  I applied two clear coats of polycrylic to the base of the table and three coats to the top of the table. Because the top of tables tend to get a lot of use, I like to put an extra clear on for protection.

Step 4: Enjoy your Table

These little tables are perfect for holding small Christmas trees! They also are great by the side of a chair or sofa.  Below are some “after” photos showing the end result that you can pin to your Pinterest board for future reference.  

DIY Small Table Makeover

You can see how the top edges of the table have the smallest amount of paint chipping, which makes the table look as though it has always been painted. I love scalloped edges of the table, it is such a charming detail.

DIY Small Table Makeover

Similarly, there is slight amount of paint chipping on the surface of the table. I think it’s just the perfect amount of “chipping”. It conveys that the table is well used and loved.

DIY Small Table Makeover

Above is a photo showing how the carved details on the legs look after being painted with milk paint.

DIY Small Table Makeover

Lastly, here is an image showing you the change “before” and “after”.

Thank you for stopping by the blog!  I hope you found some inspiration from today’s project and the ability to see the potential in all that red toned vintage furniture.

If you like these types of DIY furniture makeovers and crafts that I share with you, please subscribe to my blog. I will share these types of posts with you via email. You can also follow me on Instagram, Facebook or Pinterest.

Over the next few weeks, I will post more information about crafts, decor and DIYs that are centered around the Holiday Season. I will also give you a “booth update” and share images as it is refreshed for the Christmas season.

Here are some additional DIY furniture projects you may like to read for more inspiration.

Green Cottage Dresser 1

This green cottage dresser was a fun project work on!

Antique oak dresser with basket and cutlery on top

This refinished oak dresser was a project that I completed this time last year. It has a raw wood finish.

Antique oak dresser painted in white milk paint

Finally, this antique white oak dresser was also completed last year and it was originally painted in the most stubborn green paint.

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  1. This is such a beautiful table, Anna! Thanks so much for the tip on painting tables like these gray first. I always worry about the red tannins bleeding through. It’s so hard to combat once it’s seeped into the paint but this sounds like the perfect solution! Hugs, CoCo

    1. Hi CoCo! Yes, if you ever have any red toned wood that you want to paint white (or a light color) try sealing it with Shellac first OR paint it gray. (It’s one of those tips that I learned the hard way)

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