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How to Paint Over Varnished Wood

In this article: See how a Master Bedroom in a historical house is transformed with paint! Learn the simple steps of how to paint over varnished wood for a beautiful end result.

collage of a painted bedroom before and after | How to paint varnished boards white

Related Post: How to Paint Old, Stained Wood Trim White

I LOVE living in old houses. I love the character, history, and the challenges that come along with them. It forces me to be creative and think outside the box when it comes to practical things.

It is located in the upstairs of our house and was built in 1926. It has sloped ceilings, quaint built-ins, and tons of character. The walls are covered ~ floor to ceiling ~ in stained and varnished boards.

Despite trying every decorating trick I could think of, the problem we constantly encountered was HOW DARK the room was! Even with bedside lights, we could hardly see to read at night. Truth be told, we’ve called the room “the coffin” since the day we moved in.

Armed with a small budget and a painter friend, we decided to test out the power of paint. It worked amazingly!

Here is the same room now:

It’s light and bright ~ and still cozy! We just love it. If you, too are looking to paint over stained and varnished boards, here are the steps to achieve a great finish, with no sanding required!

How to Paint Over Varnished Wood

Supplies Needed

  • Drop cloths or plastic
  • Painter’s Tape
  • Oil- Based Primer
  • Latex Paint in color of choice
  • Basic painting supplies (my favorites are detailed in this post)
  • Paint Sprayer, optional

Prep the area being painted

Since this room was painted with a sprayer by our professional painter friend, we moved all the furniture out the of room. We gave it a good clean by vacuuming the boards and cleaning them with a damp rag.

The painted then prepped the area for spraying by covering the wood floors and window with his materials (a big roll of paper! + painter’s tape).

Prime the boards with oil-based paint

This is the least appealing part of the project, but absolutely necessary! In order for the old stain and varnish to not bleed through the paint, a “stain block” primer must be painted on the boards first. Oil based primer will do just that.

Oil based paints have very strong fumes, so be sure to have the area well ventilated. Also, be sure to use a mask to protect yourself from the fumes.

Latex paints are getting better and better these days, so check with your local paint store to see if there is a stain blocking primer that would work for your particular situation. I would highly recommend testing it out on a small portion first before proceeding with the whole project. Nothing is more disappointing than when yellow starts to bleed through the finished paint color! In our instance, no latex stain blocking paint held back bleed through. Oil based was the only way to go.

Paint 2 coats of latex paint

Once the oil based primer has sufficient time to dry, paint on 2 coats of latex paint. Follow the recommended time for painting between coats on the paint can. This room was painted with Benjamin Moore White Down.

Because this room was sprayed by a professional, it was finished quickly. He arrived at 10:30 and had it all completed by 3:15.

This room was a quick and easy paint job when done by a professional with a paint sprayer. I did tackle painting the same type of boards in two other rooms with a roller and brush, though. It’s a whole lot more work, but it can be done!

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  1. Love it!! Love it, love it!! Way to be courageous. I often think about painting wood white but chicken out. It just seems so final. In this case, it is both final and beautiful.

  2. Wow Rita! Your room is completely transformed! The coffin is gone! It's beautiful, awesome job!

  3. Oh my goodness it's LOVELY!
    I love the look of the painted panelling. SO FRESH!

    Thanks for the email, too. You made my day!


  4. Pingback: The Master Bedroom

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