A stunningly simple DIY bar stool makeover of basic, $15-20 wooden stools using spray paint, wood stain, sealer, and sandpaper.
Do any of your makeover projects start because you own something that is serviceable, but just isn’t working anymore – either because things around it have changed or because you’re just tired of it? That was the case with three basic barstools we bought when we first moved into our house.
As you can imagine, we were practically bleeding money in that first year with all the painting, updates, and remodeling we were doing, so when I found stools for $15 at a piece at a discount store they were just what I was looking for. Then.
The glossy, reddish finish had bugged me for a long time, but with our new darker finished wood floors that coordinate with our kitchen remodel‘s dark wood kitchen counters, I just couldn’t stand to even look at them anymore. Really. Like, I wouldn’t bring them back into the house when our floors were fully cured – even though my family kept giving me grief for not having a place to sit. I needed to make a decision – redo them or buy new bar stools?
What I really wanted were these stools:
But I’d have to buy two sets in order to get three stools, and I just couldn’t justify spending $200 when I had three perfectly good stools. I contemplated doing a faux zinc finish, but these stools are used heavily and naturally distress at the edges of the seat and where people rest their feet – not something that happens to real zinc.
So I decided to paint the legs and restain the tops darker. And because I do not want to do this again, I chose a neutral color for the legs instead of a color that I might grow tired of later.
And you know what? I’m super happy with the results! They look great in our dining room now, definitely more expensive looking than $15 barstools.
Even though I put it off for so long, it was a fairly easy makeover that I wanted to share with you – just in case you’d like to save $200, too.
Bar Stool Makeover Tutorial
Steps for a simple bar stool makeover:
- Gather materials: stripper, gloves, and foam brushes – if needed for seat tops like mine that have a heavy gloss finish (alternately, you can make your redo even simpler by just spray painting the entire stool). You’ll also need spray paint in your desired color, one can for each stool, stain for the seats (if you’re doing this step), and spray or brush-on clear finish. I actually used a spray sealer for the legs and a brush-on for the seats, but you don’t have to seal the paint on the legs, I just wanted a little extra protection.
- Strip the tops according to package directions. I simply brushed the tops with stripper, waited, and then scraped it with a large putty knife onto a plastic sheet that I threw away. Then dip a rag or steel wool into mineral spirits and rub the stripped areas to remove the rest.
- Sand the tops and legs as needed. I had to get more of the red stain out, so I sanded quite a bit – in the sanding portion of the photo above, you can see the difference between the unsanded (left seat) and fully sanded seat (right). You’ll also need to lightly sand the legs and foot rests to rough up any glossy finish.
- Cover the seats fully with plastic, tightly taping underneath.
- Turn stools over and spray with paint, doing 3-4 light coats to minimize runs. Turn stools as needed to spray any unpainted areas.
- Let dry completely. Optional: spray the painted areas with a clear finish for extra protection (or use a furniture wax).
- Remove plastic from seats and apply wood stain according to package directions. I used two coats of Minwax Special Walnut.
- When the stool seats are completely dry, apply 3-5 coats of a clear finish to seats using a foam or regular brush. I used 4 coats of Rust-Oleum Varathane Crystal Clear Water-Based Polyurethane in a satin finish – no more glossy for me.
Wondering about this, uh, interesting photo? It’s the only photo I could find of this step, which is actually an Instagram with this caption: Why yes I’m applying polyurethane while drinking tea. Doesn’t everybody? #diylifestyle (you can follow me on Instagram and not miss any more great witticisms like this!)
I’m seriously loving the way the seats go with the other wood in the kitchen and dining room – especially now that it’s broken up with the black. I did lightly distress the edges of the legs and foot rests, because they’re gonna get that way anyway, so I might as well make it look like it was planned. The seat tops aren’t perfect (what is around our house?) but the wood grain is able to show through and they look great with the black legs, I think.
Here is the side by side before-and-after picture again for you to compare – nice, huh? Some paint, some stain, and voila! New-looking stools for the price of three cans of spray paint (we had all the other materials left over from other projects).
Now the stools don’t look like I plopped $15 stools in the dining room – they actually make the room look finished and add a richness that wasn’t there before. And even though they aren’t metal, I completely happy that I didn’t spend $200 on new stools.
I can think of a lot more things I’d rather do with $200. And that my friends, is the life of a diyer – if we know we can make do with something pretty easily, we just do it, don’t we?
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