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Furniture Flip: How to Chalk Paint Like a Pro

Have a piece of furniture made from dark wood that you want to paint a light color? This furniture flip shows you how to paint with chalk paint and how to prevent the tannins from the dark wood from bleeding through.

One day while visiting an antique shop with AnnMarie, I stumbled across the most beautiful, perfect, vintage china cabinet I’ve ever seen.

Or at least, it had the perfect style and size for this one little wall in my kitchen.

The best part?

It was only $135!

Fortunately, we were in AnnMarie’s Suburban so there was plenty of room to bring it back home.

There was only one thing wrong with it…

Vintage china cabinet with turned legs, glass doors and side panels painted pale yellow on the outside with dark wood interior.

The previous owner had painted it yellow.

Now don’t get me wrong, I like yellow!

But it just wasn’t going to work in my home.

They also left the inside of the cabinet mostly unpainted.

Vintage china cabinet with doors open showing yellow painted exterior and dark wood interior.

Honestly, I would’ve considered leaving the interior dark and just re-painting the exterior.

But for some reason I don’t understand, they painted the horizontal supports across the back.

So it sorta looked like a bumblebee on the inside.

I’ve never painted furniture before, but I figured it couldn’t be that hard, right?

Technically, it wasn’t difficult, but boy did I make some mistakes!

So I’ll be sharing everything I did right, and everything I did wrong so you don’t make the same mistakes as me.

Wait until you see how it turned out!

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Can You Chalk Paint Over Dark Wood?

Woman using chalk paint to cover dark wood inside a vintage china cabinet.

I was pretty sure I wanted to use chalk paint since it was so easy to use when I painted my fireplace surround.

The first thing I did was visit our local antique mall to get some Dixie Belle paint.

I spoke with the owner of the booth, who paints furniture for a living, so I figured she’d know what she’s talking about!

She confirmed that I could use white chalk paint over dark wood and sent me home with a container of chalk paint, a new paint brush, and a container of their top coat with a satin finish.

Unfortunately, it turns out that she didn’t give me all the information I needed to get great results.

Dark wood shelves painted with white chalk paint with tannins bleeding through.

After giving the dark wood shelves their first coat of paint, I noticed some yellowish tones showing in the paint.

I figured it just needed a second coat, after all, it was dark wood, right?

So I gave them another coat of paint.

And another.

But the yellow kept bleeding through by the next day.

Turns out, when I asked if I needed to prime before painting and the owner of the booth said “no,” she was very mistaken.

How Do You Prevent Wood Tannins From Bleeding Through?

I did what any blogger would do: I asked my friends on Instagram!

We have a lot of friends who paint things white, and I got some great advice.

The general consensus was, always prime dark wood before painting it with a light colored chalk paint.

However, not all primers are created equal.

It’s important to use either a Bonding or Stain Blocking Primer.

There are several great options out there like this one that I used on my laundry room cabinets (See my laundry room reveal here).

Or this one that AnnMarie used when she painted her bedroom furniture (See AnnMarie’s bedroom reveal here).

Can of Zinsser Bulls Eye clear shellac to stop dark wood tannins from bleeding through white paint.

Another option, and the method I used, is clear shellac.

I was assured that this kind wouldn’t yellow, and that it would seal in the stain and tannins without me needing to sand down what I’d already done.

Almost two years later, I’m happy to report that it’s worked perfectly!

So what is the best way to chalk paint old stained furniture?

How to Chalk Paint Vintage Furniture and Get Great Results

1. Clean the surface well before starting

Any time you’re painting furniture, always start by wiping it down.

If it’s really grimy or has a sticky, oily layer of dirt, you may want to use TSP to break through the sludge.

This piece didn’t appear particularly dirty, so I used my favorite cleaning combination of water, vinegar, and a few drops of Dawn dish soap.

Even though this china hutch looked pretty clean, you can see it was actually pretty dirty!

Once it’s clean, either let it air dry, or wipe it down with a lint-free cloth.

2. Remove and label hardware

The person who painted this hutch before me left the doors on so the pretty hardware got painted too.

I wanted to clean up the hardware, so I decided to remove the doors and paint them separately.

Any time you remove hardware, particularly on older furniture, be sure to mark where it should be put back!

You wouldn’t think it makes a difference, but I promise things don’t go back together as nicely if you don’t put the hardware back where it was.

Hinges and screws change over time and with use.

I use a permanent marker and use an abbreviation to write which side the hinge was from, and whether it was from the top, middle, or bottom.

3. Prime or seal to prevent stain or tannin bleedthrough

Interior of vintage china cabinet showing tannins bleeding through the white paint.

We talked about this before, but here’s another example showing how the stain and tannins bled through the chalk paint.

This was after three coats of paint!

The angle and lighting makes it look like it wasn’t as bad at the top of the cabinet, but it was bleeding through everywhere.

I used, clear shellac to seal those tannins and the stain in, and then only needed one coat of chalk paint over that.

4. Paint with one or two coats of chalk paint

China cabinet door with glass panel lifted on blocks of wood on a table for painting.

If you begin with the bonding primer or shellac, you should only need one or two coats of chalk paint.

It just depends on the color you choose and how the paint goes on.

I set the shelves and doors on blocks of wood on a table to paint them, and let them cure for 48 hours before flipping them over to do the other side.

I followed the recommendations on the container for drying, repainting, and curing times.

5. Distress if desired

Close up of a vintage china cabinet with white paint over the areas that were previously painted and distressed.

If you like the look of distressed, chippy paint, now’s the time to distress it.

There are lots of different methods for distressing from simply wiping the paint away before it’s dried, to sanding.

Whoever painted this piece before me preferred a very distressed look and it looks like they used tools which actually chipped away some of the veneer and damaged the wood.

I decided that was enough distressing for me and simply painted over it with the white paint.

6. Apply a Top Coat or Wax

Container of Dixie Belle satin clear coat protectant with a grooved applicator sponge.

Chalk paint needs to be sealed and you have a variety of options to do that.

Many people opt to use wax, but that requires a certain amount of upkeep that I know I won’t do.

I chose to use Dixie Belle’s polyacrylic top coat with a satin finish.

It is so easy to apply using the sponge applicator that the woman at the booth recommended.

You can use a brush if you prefer, but the sponge really gives a nice smooth finish.

The satin gloss has a low lustre and it doesn’t look glossy at all.

7. Clean and reinstall hardware

Woman's hands holding a hinge covered with paint and an alcohol prep pad to clean it.

When the painting was done and everything had cured, it was time to put the china cabinet back together.

Alcohol prep pads work great to remove the permanent marker I used to label the hinges.

They also helped remove some of the paint from the previous paint job.

Furniture Flip: The Big Reveal!

Vintage china cabinet with turned legs and glass doors and side panels painted white with Ironstone collection inside.

It ended up taking a few days longer than anticipated to finish chalk painting the hutch, but I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out!

One issue that I did run into when we reassembled the hutch is that all those coats of paint made the doors not fit.


My husband had to remove the doors and trim about 1/4 inch off the bottom so that they would close.

Fortunately, it’s not at all noticeable.

Vintage china cabinet with turned legs and glass doors and side panels painted white with doors open to show dishes inside.

During the summer months when we have high humidity here in North Carolina, the doors do swell a bit which has resulted in some natural distressing happening where they open and close.

You can see the little chips, particularly in the upper right corner.

The mechanism that latches the doors closed has also chipped away some of the paint from the upper part of the cabinet.

But I feel like those chips and distressing look really natural and I kind of love it!

Side view of a painted antique china cabinet with glass side panels showing distressed paint on edges of the shelves.

Soon after I reassembled the china cabinet, I noticed that I’d missed give the side edges of the shelves a good painting.

Good grief.

You’d think this was the first time I’d ever painted furniture!

Oh wait, it was. LOL

At first, I thought I needed to take the shelves out and paint them, but then I decided they just looked distressed and I’ve left them like that.

Side by side comparison of a vintage china cabinet with glass doors before and after painting it with white chalk paint.

Every DIY project needs a good before and after, so here you go!

It isn’t an understatement to say that I adore how this antique china cabinet turned out.

Sometimes it feels like it was made for this nook in my kitchen, and I love finding new ironstone and black and white transferware to display inside it.

Chalk paint really is a great way to transform furniture so that it meshes with your home’s palette and style.

Just be sure to take the time to do the prep work and you can easily give your furniture a whole new look.

Resources and Shopping Links

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Collage of products used to paint dark wood furniture with white chalk paint and stop bleed through.

Sources: Zinsser Bulls Eye Clear Shellac | Dixie Belle Chalk Paint in Cotton | Frog Tape | Small Angled Paint Brush | Paint Sponge Applicator | Dixie Belle Clear Coat Polyacrylic Top Coat Satin | not pictured but useful: Detail Craft Knife

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