How to Paint a Sofa Frame

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Do you need to know how to paint a sofa frame? I will show you how to paint the wooden frame of an antique sofa.

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Those of you who have been reading this blog since last fall may remember that I bought an antique sofa to reupholster.

antique sofa makeover

I know. It wasn’t pretty. However, it was a well made sofa. The wooden frame was in excellent condition and all the springs in the bottom were in good shape. So to my eye, it had potential.

Background Story

I picked this sofa up in October of 2021 and I immediately got to work removing the 100 million staples/ tacks so I could take off the old trim, upholstery, batting, and horse hair. Then in November, the temperatures dropped to below 50 degrees. So, the sofa had to sit in the garage through the winter until spring arrived here in upstate New York. Since May, I have been steadily working on the sofa and I recently decided to paint the frame. Here is how I went about it.

Bleaching the Frame

Over the last several weeks I have been working on the frame of the sofa. Initially, I wanted to bleach the wood frame but after 4 attempts -it was obvious that wasn’t going to work. As an aside – if you are looking for a bleached or raw wood finish – I would recommend you avoid mahogany. I find that pine and oak respond well to bleaching.

One of the problems that I ran into when bleaching the frame was a very uneven appearance of the wood. While some sections looked great, other portions of the frame were blotchy or retained the original stain. Some areas retained a very stubborn orange hue. The end result just didn’t look good.

Wooden sofa frame

I should probably elaborate a little and let you know that after each time the frame was bleached, I sanded it. There was a lot of sanding. You can see in the photo above how uneven the wooden finish looked after all the bleaching and sanding.

After more than a month of bleaching and sanding the sofa frame every weekend, I decided it was time to paint it.

Some of you have asked about how to paint a sofa frame and I decided to share this with you as an example. I will walk you through all the steps I took for this project.

Step 1 – Remove the Existing Upholstery

Of course, this post assumes that you have a sofa with a wooden frame on the exterior. This obviously wouldn’t work for a fully upholstered sofa. So with that in mind, the first thing you want to do is remove the trim and any tacks that are visible. Then you need to remove the existing fabric and staples as well as any batting, padding, foam or horse hair stuffing under the fabric.

staples removed from reupholstered furniture

Try to remove as many staples as possible from the frame of the sofa. You will likely end up with thousands of old staples. A pair of needle nose pliers works great for pulling out the old staples.

You may find some treasures during this phase of deconstructing the sofa. Small objects can get lost down the backside of a sofa. I found a few quarters, a handful of pennies, a pen, and a boy scout pin.

Step 2- Clean the Frame

Once the staples, fabric, and stuffing has been removed, you want to give the remaining frame a good cleaning. These old sofas have a lot of dust and dirt that accumulates in the frame over the course of time. The sofa shown here is at least 100 years old and the frame definitely needed a good cleaning. Since the remaining sofa consisted of the wood frame and springs covered with burlap, I used a bucket of Mr. Clean, a scrub brush and a garden hose to thoroughly clean it. Then the sofa frame sat in the sun for a good 4 hours.

Step 3- Sand the Frame

The existing sofa frame may have a varnished or glossy finish. If so, you will need to sand it. I find that given the narrow width of a sofa frame and because they tend to have carved details, hand sanding seems to be most effective. I used 120 grit sand paper and then went over the entire frame again using 200 grit sandpaper. You don’t need to remove all the existing finish on the frame but you do need to ensure that there is a good scuff sanding.

Using Oven Cleaner

If you don’t want to sand the frame, you can try using oven cleaner to remove the existing finish from the frame. However, please remember to wear gloves and that you will need a scrub brush and bucket of water to remove the corroded finish.

Sanded sofa frame

You can see how the sofa frame has been well sanded in the image above. This sofa has a frame that’s made from mahogany and the original finish was dark with a high gloss clear coat. Any existing glossy finish resists paint which is why you need to sand it.

After sanding the sofa, you may want to hose down the frame one final time to ensure that all the dust is removed from the sofa. Again, let the piece dry in the sun for several hours.

Step 4- Paint the Sofa Frame

Old furniture should retain character and a sense of history. This is why I use MMS milk paint. It is a powder paint that was developed in the early 1800s and its look, patina and character is consistent with the age and use of many old pieces of furniture. If you use the link above to buy some MMS milk paint, use the code SLH10OFF to save 10% on your purchase.

MMS Milk Paint SLH 10% off

As I mentioned previously, this sofa is at least 100 years old and I wanted the frame to reflect the age and character of a sofa that has been around that length of time. So I decided to paint the frame using MMS Milk Paint in Farmhouse White. I used a 1 inch brush to apply the paint and I used a heat gun to create the character and patina I wanted on the frame. To ensure good coverage, I gave the frame two coats of paint and “helped” each coat of paint dry by using the heat gun.

Painting sofa frame

The image above shows the first coat of paint being applied to the frame of the sofa. You can see the heat gun on the left side of the sofa.

Getting the Chippy Paint Look

After the second coat of paint was completely dry (which didn’t take long since I used the heat gun) – I used a butter knife to gently scrape away any paint that was chipping. A butter knife is thinner and gives me the ability to reach narrow areas on the frame better than a five-in-one scraper.

Once the painted finish achieved the “chippy paint” effect that I wanted for an old sofa, then I sealed it using MMS milk coat in a matte finish.

MMS Milk Coat

The MMS milk coat has the consistency of hand lotion and was very easy to apply. It took about an hour to dry to the touch.

MMS milk paint on a sofa frame
Using MMS milk paint on an antique sofa frame.

You can see the subtle paint chipping that occurred on the frame of the sofa. This is the type of effect you can only get using milk paint.

Milk Paint used on sofa

Step 5 – Enjoy your Sofa Frame

Once the sofa frame has been painted, sealed and is dry – you are done! At least with painting the frame of the sofa – the next step is upholstering the sofa. I will write a separate post on how to reupholster this sofa. You can pin the images below to your Pinterest account to bookmark this page for future reference.

Paint Sofa Frame 1

You can see in the image above that I started working on reupholstering the deck (or seat) of the sofa. I covered the deck with foam and then topped it with some batting.

Paint Sofa Frame 2

There is still more work to be done but getting the frame finished is a big accomplishment. This photo allows you to see some of the “chipping” of the milk paint.

Paint sofa frame 3

Here is one more image that shows a close up of some of the “chippy paint”. The chipping is subtle and so it’s not obvious from a distance.

More on How to Reupholster Furniture

My friend Emily from Penny and Ivy also has some great information on how to reupholster furniture.

She has a whole series on reupholstering a settee

Part 1 Removing Upholstery and Tacks

Part 2 Reconstructing the Down Seat Cushion

Part 3 The Cushion Cover

Part 4 The Decking

Her posts have valuable information, tips, tools you can use and tricks for reupholstering furniture. Definitely give them a read.


Thank you for stopping by the blog today. I hope you found this post helpful. One more tip – if possible – try to put your sofa on a furniture mover. This is a platform with wheels. It makes moving the sofa around much easier. It also allows you to move the sofa easier so you can reach awkward areas.

I will include a future post on how to reupholster an old sofa. So, check back if that’s a topic you are interested in learning more about.

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  1. You were pretty persistent with the bleaching Anna. Some woods and surfaces are resistant to bleaching – I found that out recently! The paint looks beautiful on the sofa frame and I’m excited to see the upholstery! Pinned several images!

    1. Thank you so much for reading the post Cindy. Yes, mahogany is not a “bleach friendly wood”- I learned something new. Thank you for pinning!

  2. Oh, my work, Anna, SO MUCH WORK but totally worth every minute. This sofa is really beautiful. I love the color you chose for it and how you created a deconstructed look too. It doesn’t even look like the same piece. As always, loving and pinning! Hugs, CoCo

    1. Coco – Thank you so much for the kind words! I am still have some work to do on the upholstery but she has come a looong way.

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