Why I Don’t paint Furniture backs

I see the question all the time “do you paint the backs of pieces”, here is my answer…No! Well, usually not anyways, and here are my top 3 reasons why:

1. Outta sight…

Most backs are not seen. They will be up against a wall their entire life. Any paint on the back would be wasted and unseen.

I do make sure I wrap the corners so there are no visable, unfinished portions from any angle.

Occasionally there will be pieces that are meant to be in the center of a room, occasional tables and things like that, if I have reason to think the back will be on display, I would finish it, of course.

This table, for example, went up against a metal stair railing, in an entry, and was visible from all sides, so the back was painted.

Customers will also sometimes request that all sides be finished, they know the intended placement, at the foot of a bed for example, and I would finish a back at the request of a customer.

2. “They” don’t do it

Have you ever seen finished backs on factory finished furniture? Me neither. Go to Ikea, or Ashley, or RC Willey and look at furniture backs. Most are particle board backing to begin with, but if there is a wood backing, they are seldom finished to match the front. Pull out drawers, stain usually stops the second you can’t see it.

I have nice furniture in my home by modern standards, pottery barn, Stanley, Babies Dream in my sons room and Ashley Millennium collection (their higher end line) in my room…none have finished backs

Ashley:

Stanley:

Baby’s Dream:

I’m not trying to duplicate a factory finish, my pieces are hand painted, made to order and I want to keep them unique and special. I want the quality of a factory finish, with a the character of a one of a kind piece.

3. To preserve the story

This is the biggest one! The backs almost always tell the story of a piece. They will me marked by manufacturers with dates, brands, or line information and once covered, that is gone forever.

This mustard piece in my entry, without the markings, I would never know it was made in 1956

Some brands place their stamp and numbering on the back that represents when a piece was made. Drexel, for example, marks their pieces very nicely, the numerical portion represents when it was made.

This piece is in my own home, the 454 represents that it was made in April 1954.

There can also be paper labels on backs that show where pieces were made or from moving companies that have handled them. To me, these are the story of a piece. They tell the age and where it has traveled, like luggage stickers or passport stamps. Part of what sets pieces apart from mass produced furniture is these stories, so I treasure them.

I’m no preservationist, I paint furniture to make it a showpiece again, but I also believe in knowing when to quit 😉

I add one more luggage tag, to the upper left corner on the back, and send it on its journey🌎✈

11 comments

  1. I had a 1960’s wardrobe from Western Auto that I redid a few years ago. Very Inexpensive piece, but it had the WA label on the inside of one door. To preserve that history, I left that exposed when I painted/wallpapered the inside of the piece. I’m with you on the information on the backs of old pieces, but many times I will give it a coat if its plain. I hear my grandmother’s voice in my head telling me the back side should be as pretty as the front…….

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I’m so glad to see your opinion on this. I always leave the back or bottom unpainted to help preserve the story of the piece as well. I think it’s important to see the natural wood, or other layers of paint to have an idea of the history and journey a piece has taken. It gives me a more personal feel for the piece.
    Just like my parent’s dining set that I’ve now passed on to my daughter, you can look under the tabletop or the back of the buffet and see that it’s been white, turquoise, and that god awful 1970’s gold antiquing, before being brought back to white again. It makes me smile. ☺
    -Melanie

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My grandfather and great grandfather were master cabinetmakers in London, UK. My dad and I had a discussion about this very subject whilst in a stately home (think Downton) – we both agreed that if Chippendale did not finish the backs or bottoms it would seem a pointless exercise for me to ‘overwrite’ the knowledge of generations!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m right there with you! I will definitely paint the back if the back is nicely finished already because it belongs in the center of the room (desk) or if it’s going to be exposed. Or if it’s just really really bad. Hahaha Otherwise, I believe in leaving it alone.
    I love that you put your own tag on there too!

    Like

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