Dress up old furniture with Contact paper

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If you’ve got an old coffee table or desk that needs the surface to be refinished, you could sand it down and apply all the various products you need to get the surface looking good again. But what if the piece of furniture really isn’t worth that much trouble? Or what if you just don’t have time to do a full refinishing job?

Dress up old furniture with Contact paper

The Con-Tact Paper refinish

There’s an easier way to make furniture look like you’ve refinished it when you really haven’t. It’s a bit of a cheat, but it’s a good one: Contact Paper. You buy it at a hardware store (or order it at Amazon, that’s where the link goes). It’s kind of like wallpaper, with adhesive on one side and a color or pattern on the other. Contact paper comes in over 70 colors and patterns so you can always find something to to suit your decor. To apply, you just peel off the backing and stick it to the surface.

Sounds too easy? Well, yeah, there is a little more to it than that.

  • Working with a solid color contact paper is easier than a pattern, so if you’re really in a hurry or concerned about getting it right the first time, you may want to start with a solid color.
  • Clean the furniture first. You don’t need to polish it or anything. You just want to make sure you have a nice, clean surface for the paper to adhere to.
  • If there are any noticeable bumps in the furniture, sand them down so they won’t make the paper bulge.
  • Line your paper up carefully with the edges where it’s going to be applied, and cut it to fit before peeling back the adhesive and sticking it on.
  • Cut your paper very straight-edged. I recommend using an Xacto blade and a big ruler or something to get a very exact edge. This will make a huge difference in getting a professional look that no one will realize is paper (without touching it, anyway).
  • Hide the seams. This is the best trick for getting a really nice look with contact paper. On a table leg, for example, put the seam on the part of the leg that faces inward. For flat surfaces, try to tuck the paper under an edge whenever possible.
  • Use an Xacto blade to remove any uneven paper edges. In theory, you shouldn’t have any if you used an Xacto blade in the first place, but mistakes happen.

Measuring and cutting

Measuring and cutting your paper correctly is crucial to getting a good finished look. Fortunately, Contact paper has grid lines on the back, which make this task really easy. You typically don’t even need to measure. Here are some examples:

  • Table leg. Wrap a piece of Contact paper carefully around a table leg. Note where the paper meets up with itself. Make a pencil mark on the grid on the back so you know where to cut. Now you can cut a piece of contact paper that’s exactly the width you need to cover that table leg without overlaps or gaps at the seams.
  • Drawer. Take the handles off a drawer face. Wrap the paper around the area you’re going to cover and mark both the grid marks for cutting and where the holes will be to attach the handle.
  • Large flat surface. Some surfaces are bigger than the length of a roll of Contact paper. Cover large surfaces in strips cut for the length of the table. If the last strip is wider than needed, mark the grid on the back and cut it down to size. Remember to leave extra to tuck under the edge of the surface, if desired.

Removing old contact paper

What if you hate the look once you see it on a big table? You could paper over it once, in most cases, without it looking tacky. But it’s usually easy to remove old contact paper, especially if it hasn’t been there very long. If yours seems to be really stuck, you can remove it with a scraper.

What happens to the old surface?

Be aware that the adhesive can ruin wood surfaces – that’s why this technique is recommended only for furniture that really needs to be refinished (or where you don’t care about ruining the surface). Of course you still have the option of someday removing the contact paper, sanding down the old surface and refinishing it with stains or whatever you like.

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