From old to new: Using paint to transform furniture

Madeline Gray—North State Journal
Kristi Van Zyl of Chalk it Up. (Madeline Gray - North State Journal)

RALEIGH  — You pulled an old three-drawer dresser out of the attic, you found the perfect small table at a flea market, you bought a wooden chair for a steal at an estate sale, or you are tired of looking at the coffee table in your den. You have this piece of furniture, and you are certain it needs a new look, a fresh coat of paint and workable hardware. Now’s the time to Chalk It Up into the perfect piece for your home in a design that is uniquely you.

“Paint transforms looks so you’ll end up feeling like you have a brand-new piece,” said Kristi Abernethy Van Zyl.

The owner and designer of Chalk It Up, a custom furniture business, Van Zyl uses paint and a brush to transform the old into new. She mostly uses Chalk Paint, which is actually a trademarked brand of paint by Annie Sloan of the United Kingdom though other companies have similar paints, for its ability to adhere to furniture.

“Chalk Paint has a chalk-like consistency that adheres beautifully to furniture without a lot of prep work. It is basically paint with a huge boost of primer,” said Van Zyl.

Chalk Paint, is not the same as chalkboard paint, and can be used over wood that has been stained, covered with a sealant, or has an existing finish. The additives in chalk paint allows for easy sticking to surfaces. Chalk paint is known to be used on distressed furniture as it can be sanded easily for a weathered look.

“Painting furniture has always been a fun passion of mine for more than ten years,” she added.

What started as a side business, a change from her days in the mortgage sector, led to the opportunity to dive in and jump start Chalk It Up as a full-time job in 2016.

“Though I work on all types of furniture pieces, I personally, am drawn to vintage. The dovetail construction, craftsmanship, solid wood, casts — vintage furniture is strong in quality and has lots of character,” said Van Zyl.

Van Zyl gathers pieces from a collection of places, be it Craigslist or former clients looking to sell some of their pieces. She’s even partnered with an experienced furniture picker who travels to local auctions, estate sales, and antique shops on the hunt for the next chalked piece. When working with customers, Van Zyl designs pieces to their preference. For paint color selections, she uses neutrals, blues and greens mostly.

“There are so many amazing and fun colors you can use in these color palates,” said Van Zyl. “For pieces with detail work, it’s fun to add a second color for the details. To create a dipped look, you can use two-color tones with one color on the bottom of the piece and another color of the top. Dressers, cabinets, and changing tables all come with the opportunity to change not only the color, but the hardware, too. Using new hardware such as knobs can change the look of a piece.”

“Inspiration can come from all over the place — colors, Instagram, Facebook, and magazines,” she added, “While I find a ton of inspiration from these different places, it is very important to me to put my own stamp on a piece. I think it’s crucial to be authentic.”

Van Zyl can work with the client to have the piece coordinate with fabrics and wall colors. “It is all about customizing the piece to a look the client likes,” said Van Zyl.

For Van Zyl, she feels furniture pieces are not required to match in a room.

“I love a combination of wood in a room,” she said, “I like to mix painted neutrals and wood tones in a room and add a pop of color.”

The styles of Van Zyl’s furniture pieces range from those with clean lines for an elegant look to those rustic and distressed.

“This is the fun part of designing furniture; there is a large spectrum of style,” she said. “There are so many techniques, washes and styles to choose from.”

Her happy place is her workshop in her backyard. She has used referrals from clients, and social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram to grow her thriving business.

“I joke with my clients that they cannot pick up and take home a piece until they are completely in love with it,” Van Zyl said.