Ever since we moved to our Oak house, I’ve been dreaming of piano in our front room, which is a formal dining room turned study complete with art corner and a library wall of built-ins and Montessori materials. A music corner was the only piece missing from our space. The problem was that Brad and I were super picky about pianos. Really, Brad had his heart set on a glossy black baby grand, but that price tag and size just wasn’t going to happen.
As I turned my sights on upright pianos, I found that FB Marketplace was full of free uprights as long as you pick it up and get it tuned. I kept my eye on them for over a year, but I never saw one that was going to work for our décor because they were all that old fashioned wood look. Then one day I saw a distressed white piano for free on the marketplace that was perfect! Unfortunately I was a few minutes late on claiming, but the more I stared at the listing, I came to the conclusion that this person must have painted her piano for it to look that way.
A lightbulb went off in my head. You can paint a piano? Why not?!
I had a chance to put this idea into practice when an upright piano with a honey color wood finish became available for free on FB marketplace a few weeks ago. Brad was really skeptical when we picked it up, but we have both fallen in love with it after the makeover, which included a paint job as well as a few additional special touches. I wanted to share how we refinished the piano to turn it from blah to the centerpiece of our study along with some tips and tricks we learned during the process.
Here are the three main things we did to breathe new life into our newly acquired piano: add trim details, paint, and refinish the hardware. We also added some personal touches at the end.
The piano we acquired was very plain. The upright portion of the piano had no adornment on it, so we decided to add a little flare by mounting some trim to it.
After researching existing piano trim designs, I measured and planned out a square, rectangle, square pattern across the front with a corresponding rectangle for the flat panel underneath. My advice is to just draw out a few designs on paper with the measurements to see what is going to work for you. Once I decided on my plan, I just used a level to draw with pen right onto the piano for Brad to affix the trim over the top.
You can find trim at your local hardware store, but you’re options my be limited because you’ll need something that’s quite narrow. The trim piece we used is 5/8″ wide. Brad used the miter saw to cut the pieces to size and cut angles on the end for butting them up against each other and then used his finisher nailer to attach them to the piano. Because of the sizing and amount of paint and primer coverage, we did not have to caulk or putty around the trim or nail holes.
I know one big worry with painting furniture, is making sure the paint sticks and doesn’t peel or flake down the line. There are really a few viable options for combatting this. If you’ve read other similar blogs your head may be spinning from the various methods. I want to reassure that there are multiple right ways to do this. The most common techniques used are to either use a solid primer before painting with a regular latex paint or painting with a medium such as chalk or milk paint, which doesn’t require priming beforehand. We chose to primer and then paint mainly because we have successfully completed similar painting projects with our built-ins, so we were familiar with this technique, and because we planned to paint an accent wall the same color, so we wanted to be able to buy one gallon of paint and have it cover both projects. I would love to try chalk paint on a different project in the future and update this post with how the two methods compare.
Like I mentioned, we have had some experience with the primer / paint route including refinishing our kitchen cabinets and refinishing two whole walls of IKEA built-ins, so we were familiar with the paint / primer process. The key when you go this route is to get the right primer. We cannot recommend Zinsser B-I-N primer enough! It is the perfect base for any refinishing project from cabinets to laminate to furniture. You can read in more detail about some of our past painting processes here.
One important tip for priming and then painting, is to get your primer tinted. We have had our B-I-N primer tinted in the past, and it reduces the amount of coats you need to paint on top. Unfortunately we had a stubborn salesperson at the hardware store this time who refused to tint our primer. It definitely added a lot of work painting such a dark color over the white primer. I ended up doing roughly four coats to make get the full effect of the navy paint color.
Another thing to consider when painting a piano is it’s odd shape and nooks and crannies. We ending up taking off the sliding piece that covers the keys and the two large flat panels that we had added the trim to. I will say that depending on the design of your piano, these may be trickier to get back on than you think. It was definitely easier to paint them detached, but we had a very hard time getting them back on. Brad had to sand quite a bit off to get them to fit back into place, we and had to redo several painted spots altogether. If we were to do it again, we would not bother taking any pieces off and just work with the piano as is.
I did tape off the keys and pedals because I am a sloppy painter, but honestly I always regret taping things off because it ends up looking worse when I peel off the tape from drips that get behind the tape. If I were to do over, I would just hold up a piece of stiff cardboard to cover them as I go. To paint behind the keys, you just push them all the way down and paint behind.
I highly recommend getting an arts and crafts paint brush to help with getting the nooks and crannies and around the keys. I snagged this paint brush (the largest one in the pack) from the kid’s craft table, and it was the perfect size! Besides that I had a 4″ foam roller and a high quality 2″ angled brush that I used as well.
The process did end up taking a lot longer than advertised in some of the other blog posts I read. I spent a few hours over multiple nights painting. I mainly blame the painting a dark color over white primer. But one thing no one else mentioned was how hard it is to paint the back of the piano. It has inset and grooved design that makes painting challenging. I ended up finding that the small craft paint brush worked best for the back. It was able to get into all the angled tight spaces and provide good coverage. Once I figured this out instead of trying to make the 2″ angled brush work, it did end up going a a lot smoother (but not much faster since the brush is so small).
Finally after priming and painting, I did put polyurethane over the top to protect it all.
So all in all, the painting process steps were wipe down the piano, prime (two coats into no wood showing, which goes fast because the primer dries super fast), light sand, paint (four coats to get the full dark navy color with light sanding in between coats), and poly (two coats with light, high-grit sanding between).
The last element of the piano that needed revamping was the hardware; the pedals and the knobs on the sliding key cover.
The pedals had definitely seen better days. They were really discolored with almost a greenish caste over most of them. We used some Rub & Buff wax metallic finish in an antique gold (it comes in several finish options, but we thought the gold would really pop against the navy) to refinish them. It’s a super simple product to use. It comes in a tube. You squeeze a little out on to the pedals and use your finger to rub it on making sure everything is well covered. Then wait a couple of minutes and use a clean cloth to rub/buff it out until it looks like a smooth finish. I repeated these steps twice to get a consistent, rich gold look.
The piano was missing its knobs for the sliding key cover when we got it, so we ordered these gold knobs to replace them; otherwise, we would have used the same Rub & Buff we used on the pedals.
After the piano was complete, I had one final idea for adding a special, personalized touch to our piano; a gold monogram. The initials BBH are really meaningful to our family (those are Brad’s and the twins initials and our three kids so far are B, B & H as well), so I ended up ordering custom cut MDF script BBH letters from a website called Craft Cuts, which were extremely reasonably priced (all three custom letters shipped for under $15). We attached to the piano just like we did the trim, and I used the Rub & Buff to give them a gold finish.
We also mounted a picture shelf just above the piano and added a mixture of white, black, and gold framed family photos on the shelf as well as a couple of gold candlesticks and vases on the piano itself.
Brad and I just love how the piano turned out. It not only has become a statement piece and focal point of our study, but a definite heirloom piece to enjoy for many years to come. I cannot wait for the girls to take lessons on the piano when they get a little older! So far Brad and I have taught ourselves Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Maybe we should get lessons too!
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