DIY Paint Makeovers: Mad About Midcentury, part 1

Add a little midcentury modern to your pad with painted projects that salute starbursts, boomerangs, and all things sleek and chic.

Midcentury modern living room

Midcentury styling is all about organic shapes and easy living. Furnishings and accents are free of excessive detailing and embellishment. Colors are generally earthy hues that play off the wood tones that characterize the midcentury palette, but a few vivid strokes, like our aqua and avocado, give it presence.


sideboard before
Most affordable midcentury furnishings were mass-produced so don’t be afraid to update them to suit your design. We loved the lines of this old sideboard but with a less-than-pristine finish, we decided a little color would jazz it up.


Painted sideboard
Here’s how we gave this Danish Modern wall unit a cool new personality with color.
First, we washed the wood with TSP (trisodium phosphate), rinsed it, and let it dry.


Painted interior

We sanded all over with fine grit sandpaper and wiped with a lint-free rag. Then, we gave the hutch interior a vibrant background with two coats of turquoise paint.


Painted doors

The sliding cabinet doors got a whisper of green color. We mixed two parts green paint with one part glaze (you can add more paint if you want greater opacity). When working with wood, always brush with the grain.


Painted hardware

Finally, we punched up lackluster cabinet pulls with colorful enamel paint made for metal. If you’ve ever watched Mad Men, looked at advertisements from the period, or seen a Rat Pack film, you know how important the cocktail culture was to the era. With that in mind, we stocked our hutch with vintage glassware, a pitcher, and carafe in keeping with the midcentury vibe.


chair before

Impress modern-art buffs with your ability to paint sleek shapes on fabric and give an old chair like ours a new lease on life in a new century.


Painted chair upholstery

There was nothing subtle about midcentury modern patterns. They tend toward a strong graphic presence with bold geometrics, whimsical motifs, and sensuous curves. Search online for patterns that appeal to you. Download your choice(s), scale according to your needs, and print the pattern on paper.


Detail of chair seat pattern

Hold fabric over pattern on a light box or against window. Trace shapes with pencil—keeping in mind the fabric’s placement on the chair seat so that your pattern is centered correctly. Or, if you prefer, use tracing paper to transfer your pattern to the fabric.

When transferred, use a fine-tip brush to fill in the patterns with fabric paint in various shades of turquoise. Let the paint dry before upholstering the seat cushion.

To reupholster, turn the chair upside down and using a screwdriver, remove the screws. Pull off the seat. If the existing seat cover is smooth and relatively clean, leave it in place. If it’s gross or heavily textured you may want to remove it and replace with a plain muslin cover.

Wrap the fabric around the seat, ensuring that the pattern placement suits you. Smooth the fabric and tack in place on all four sides of the seat bottom with staples. Wrap the corners snugly to minimize wrinkles and bunching and staple in place, avoiding the screw holes. Cut away any excess fabric and replace the seat.


Boomerang Pillow

Make this boss fabric design for a custom pillow using a glitter fabric paint pen.

Cut two squares of fabric two inches larger than your pillow form size in both directions. Tape a downloaded and scaled pattern to the back of one piece of fabric. Hold fabric on a light box or against window. Lightly trace shapes with pencil. Or, if you prefer, transfer your pattern to the fabric with tracing paper.

Outline the pattern shapes with a paint pen. Place fabric on firm surface before thickening lines as desired. Let dry.

To make the pillow, place the right sides of the two fabric squares together and pin in place. Stitch them together leaving a ½-inch seam allowance around three sides of the pillow cover. Turn the pillow cover inside out and insert a pillow form or batting to fill. Tuck open edges inward, pin in place, and hand-stitch to close.


Painted footstool

Celebrate the dawning of the space age by stenciling an ottoman with 1950s-style atomic starbursts. Take time to protect your stenciled motifs with several coats of sealer to keep heel marks and fondue drips at bay.


Footstool before

Choose a round vinyl-covered ottoman to get a smooth surface suitable for paint. Award extra points if it’s perched atop skinny metal legs. Ours also spins and opens for storage!

Gather your materials

Using the photo as a guide, paint the top side band turquoise and remaining surfaces (excluding piping and buttons) white. Let dry.


Stencil placed on footstool
Spray the back of the stencil with stencil adhesive and place it on the side of the ottoman. Smooth it flat and use painter’s tape to hold stencil in place.

Spread turquoise paint on the paper plate. Dip brush into paint without overloading. Lightly dab paint on the stencil overall, repeating until you have full coverage.

Carefully lift and remove the stencil and let the first impression dry to avoid smearing.


Finished footstool
Repeat the process by alternating the stencil from one side of the design to other; this gives painted areas time to dry while you’re working on other side. Finish with several coats of sealer, allowing each coat to dry completely before applying the next.

<< Next post: Make a Sputnik-inspired coffee table and retro lamp. >>


Projects by Ginny Randall
Photos by Cameron Sadeghpour


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© Caruth Studio

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  1. Hannah SK

    I love absolutely everything about this. The color, the style…how a little bit of paint goes a long way.

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