Friday, June 27, 2014

Drab to Fab Piano Transformation using Chalk Paint and Gel Stain


My husband inherited his great-grandma's piano years ago and we have loved having the family heirloom. She used to play for the silent movies, so having her piano was even more neat. For years we moved the piano from home to home, dealing with the un-sightly poop color that didn't match anything in our house. It even had white paint on the front of it from who knows when.  

Well like I always do after I have a baby, I get on a creative rampage when the baby reaches 3 months old. I looked at the piano and couldn't deal with it dictating the look of our family room any longer.
I got my husband's permission to make a change, and then looked all over Pinterest to see other piano transformations. I settled on combining two different products: chalk paint and gel stain because:
  • Chalk Paint does not require sanding prior to painting (no dust in piano keys, etc)
  • Chalk Paint is non-toxic and thus can be used indoors (no heavy lifting to move piano)
  • Gel Stain adds beauty and is very durable (great for the top of the piano and bench where there will be lots of wear and tear)
The process turned out to be fairly easy and took only 4 days to complete.  It gets soooooo many compliments and now I don't mind that it is a focal piece in our living room. Here is how you can give your piano (and living room) a major face-lift!

What you Need

These supplies are fairly pricey up front, but you only use a fraction of each of the small cans so you will have plenty of leftovers for future projects. I personally did not want to go with the knock-off, cheap, or homemade versions of each because I was dealing with a family heirloom. You need:
  1. General Finishes Java Gel Stain: around $30 for a quart. The consistency is like pudding, and it is a lot of fun to use. General Finishes brand is not sold in most stores. You will have to visit their site and find a location near you, or order off of Amazon. I did a ton of research on other gel stains and none came close to the level of quality and ease of use. It does smell somewhat toxic, but you only do one coat on the lids of the piano and piano bench, so doing it at night with the windows open didn't harm any of us breathing in the fumes.
  2. General Finishes Gel Topcoat (Satin): a little less money than the Gel Stain. I am guessing on these prices because I bought this a couple years ago when I re-did all of our bedroom furniture. If you want a really glossy look then don't go with the "Satin" top-coat.
  3. Annie Sloan Chalk Paint (Old White): $38 pint. This paint is hard to find in retail stores, but if you ask around at local paint stores, you will eventually be pointed in the right direction. Fortunately I have A Simpler Time close by to me, but I think if you visit their link, it will also link you to other Annie Sloan chalk paint distributors. For the piano I did 3 coats of this, and I still have over 1/2 the pint left. I chose chalk paint because it has literally no smell, is non-toxic, doesn't require you to sand the surface you are putting it on, and because it isn't dangerous to breathe I was able to paint our piano indoors, (cause who likes moving pianos?!) Update 6/15/15: I have since made homemade versions of chalk paint and love working with it more than the Annie Sloan version (they're cheaper and require less coats to look good); however, the other versions are using latex paint which has a strong smell and isn't as ideal as Annie Sloan's chalk paint when working indoors, which you will be doing when it comes to a piano).
  4. Annie Sloan Soft Wax: $32? I kind of hate working with this wax, but from what I have read, so does almost everyone else. I still think there is a major learning curve that I haven't fully gone through yet, but you need this to seal in the paint and really make the color pop/shine. You barely use any wax so this goes a really long way.
  5. You will also need paint brushes for the chalk paint, (I tried some foam brushes and liked using a regular big paint brush for the big areas, and a small brush to get get in the smaller areas better), a couple old socks when dealing with the stain and gel topcoat, and cheesecloth (or Annie Sloan polishing brush) for the wax.
  6. Lastly, a hideous piano.


Steps to Transformation
  1. Get family members approval. So many people say how much they would love to change their piano, but their "{fill in older family member's name} would kill them". Better ask first if you will be creating bad blood by changing the heirloom. 
  2. Lightly sand the lids of the piano and piano bench. Seriously, you are just barely sanding them (knicking them up) so any grit sandpaper should be fine. You only need to do this on the area you are applying the gel stain. The beauty of chalk paint is that the area does not need to be prepped in any way.
  3. Take a barely wet cloth and wipe down all surfaces of the piano to remove any dust.
  4. Protect the floor underneath the piano. I shoved old moving boxes under the edges of the piano and under the bench.
  5. Remove hardware. I took off the area where you place your sheet music and the two little knobs on the front. I then taped the pedals and wheels (on the bottom of the piano legs). I taped the keys area, but then ended up removing that and just painted that area carefully.
  6. Shake the Chalk Paint can vigorously upside down (instructions also on the paint can), and open up and get started! Start with whatever area you want and paint away. Don't get crazy and make sure there are no drips. Chalk paint dries relatively quickly so don't be sloppy. Also go right to left, rather than up and down, when painting the large portions of the piano. Make sure you also paint fronts, backs, and sides well of any legs, because it is very easy to miss sections and that is a pain when you go to apply the second or third coat and notice that you didn't get even coverage everywhere. Read the can's instructions, but allow several hours of dry time before applying subsequent coats. After the first coat your piano will look like a crazy person took primer to it. Don't be scared, this is totally normal. It looks AWFUL! Your family will look at you and think (or say) "WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!" Tell them to have faith in you for Pete's sakes and tell them to get lost. I did 3 coats of paint because with the dark wood underneath and the light color paint, it needed those coats to look good. You might be able to get away with two. I did not sand in between coats, but if you notice any areas that look sloppy, lightly sand them down before applying the next coat. Your piano will probably now look somewhat like this... (you can tell I worked a lot at night...when no toddlers, or older boys would be tempted to touch the wet paint)
  7. Wipe on gel stain. Can I just say how much I love gel stain! SO much better than paint or regular stain in my book. It is just so amazing how it works and looks! (I should be a spokesperson for General Finishes Gel stain cause I am their biggest fan, and nothing else I have tried is nearly as amazing). But let's move on to how to apply it: I put a small grocery bag on my right hand and then one of my husband's old socks over that. I make sure the stitching for the toes is on the top of my fingers so that I have a smooth sock where I will be wiping on the stain. I shake up the stain a little bit, then take a small dab of stain on my sock covered fingertips and wipe it on the surface, going in the direction of the grain. Start at one end of your work area, and try to go as far as you can to the other side. When you lift up your hand to get more stain on it, try to keep the stain line going parallel with the surface (meaning you don't want curvy smear marks). Do this over the whole area of the each lid, and make sure to get the edges too. I feel like this is a very relaxing process, and do it slowly and methodically. It is like wiping pudding on something and you can fix areas that get goopy, or any areas you don't like the line you created, etc. You will be wiping off a lot as you go, it should look smooth, but be creating neat "wood-like" lines. I was going to do another coat or two, but loved how the ugly brown showed through and created a neat look. If you want a more solid espresso look then you just need to wait for the stain to dry (about 6 hours) and re-apply another coat (or two). This is what the piano bench looked like after the one (and only) coat of gel stain I used.
  8. Apply gel top-coat. Just like with the stain, I used another grocery bag and an old, but clean sock. (Make sure you throw away whatever you use to apply either the stain or top-coat because these are now highly flammable. After one coat you will need to throw them away and get a new sock for each subsequent coat). Same application as the stain. Since piano bench seats get a lot of wear and tear, you probably should do 2 coats of the top coat to give it the added protection.
  9. Apply the Annie Sloan wax over the chalk paint area. I used cheesecloth to do this, but if you are willing to spend money, you might want to buy one of these wax brushes since they seem like they do a much better job. You can find one on Etsy here or buy from another retailer. They are typically in the $30 range. 
    What I did was get a paper plate and a plastic spoon, scooped out some wax and put it on the plate. With my cheesecloth, I got a dab of the wax and wiped it on the chalk paint. (The plate idea makes it so you aren't contaminating the wax with cheesecloth bits or the color of your paint). Also, make sure you apply thin amounts on top of your paint!! I mean so thin that if you rubbed your finger over the wax after you have wiped it on, there is no goop that gets on your finger. One coat should be enough, but I did 2 coats of the wax in areas that I noticed weren't waxed well (oops), or would get a lot of handling (the lid of the piano above the keys, where the piano books get placed, etc). After a day or two I then buffed it with panty hose to make it smooth. Supposedly you can make it shine if you buff it a lot, but like I mentioned way earlier in this post, I'm not a huge fan of this step and feel like I am far from an expert.
  10. Now you can remove any floor protection you put down, put your hardware back on, take off any tape, and stand back and admire. Oh and don't forget to call in all of those family members or friends that exclaimed (or thought) that you were a crazy person after you applied the first coat of paint. They will be in awe of your masterpiece (and abilities).

    Because your piano will be so amazingly different you will probably want to re-do your whole room's decor! Check out the before:
    and the After:


Do you have a family heirloom that makes you sick looking at it but you don't have the heart to give it away or throw it out? Maybe it is time that you give it a makeover! I'd love to hear some success stories or if you need encouragement or ideas please comment below! I love hearing from you!

Thanks!

18 comments:

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    1. Coming from someone as magical as you means a lot ;)

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  2. Mimi I love this! It's even better in person. I'm so glad you posted your blogg so I could find it!

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  3. Mimi I love this! It's even better in person. I'm so glad you posted your blogg so I could find it!

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  4. Constant it is so good to hear from you! Thanks for coming to the blog. I hope to see you back often ;) . Can't wait to see what projects you do in your future!

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  5. Do you think it would be easy to mess up this tutorial? I have been wanting to do something like this with my piano for a very long time. I'm just afraid of messing this up and making a huge mistake. Also, was the gel stain in a certain shade? I LOVED the gel stain! Thank you! :D

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    1. So sorry Kira for my delay, I'm just now seeing your question! This was my first real furniture project so to be honest it would be hard to mess it up anymore than I did :). In fact another reader attempted doing the same thing to her piano after following this tutorial and hers turned out beautifully! (and she never does furniture redos). Chalk paint and gel stain are very forgiving, but chalk paint and painting a piano can be time consuming so it just requires patience. The gel stain was in Java by General Finishes. I love their gel stain and it goes a really long way so you will have a ton left to use on future projects. It really is beautiful. Good luck and please contact me anytime along the way and I can answer any questions!

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  6. This is the most beautiful piano! I've used homemade chalk paint on my own projects, but I wasn't in love with the "recipe" I used. What's your favorite recipe for homemade chalk paint? I'd like to attempt this on my old beat up piano. :)

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    1. Thank you so much Jessica! Although I used Annie Sloan's old white chalk paint for this piano, I have since used a homemade version that I love more on many pieces including this hutch (http://www.mimiberrycreations.com/2015/04/fixer-upper-inspired-farmhouse-hutch.html) . If you visit that link the recipe I use and love is at the beginning of that post. Best of luck in transforming your piano! If you use the recipe let me know what you think of it. Plus I would love for you to share the before and after pictures of your piano with all of us! Thanks

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  8. Love this post! I bought an old piano as a surprise for my daughter's Christmas present and want to paint it. Reading your blog inspired me to go for it! I have just ordered my Annie Sloan paint and can't wait for it to arrive so I can get started! Thanks for the motivation!!!

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    1. Thank you so much for sharing! I started this blog since so many individuals asked how I changed our piano and needed the step by step. Knowing that this provided you the motivation and know how to do it makes my day. Best of luck with your piano!

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  9. Love what you did with your piano! Question: how do you think it would look if you did the gel stain all over the piano? Considering trying it as I'd like a walnut colored piano. Or do you think I should just sand and stain?

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    1. Thanks for the question Cheryl. I actually really contemplated doing all gel stain. I am pretty sure my sister actually did her entire piano with the java gel stain. Since gel stain only requires a light pre-sanding with 220 grit, it wouldn't make too much of a mess that you'd have to worry about gunk getting in the piano mechanisms, but I would definitely tape things off so that you don't get the fine dust inside your piano or keys. But then wiping on the gel stain would be easy and would look rich and lovely. Best of luck to you!

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  10. I love this so much! I am also in love with General Finishes gel stain. Maybe they can take on two spokespeople?! I did my bathroom vanity with the antique walnut - and then my whole kitchen - http://www.justmeasuringup.com/blog/kitchen-cabinet-makeover. I have been wanting to do our piano, but have been nervous about messing it up. I've looked at so many piano tutorials, and I just LOVE yours. I love how you used gel stain and chalk paint. I was thinking about using all gel stain, but it gets so smelly. I've never used chalk paint before... should I try a smaller project first? Thanks so much!

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    1. Thanks so much for your comment Eileen! I've been curious about how the walnut gel stain would look on large surfaces so thank you for sharing! My sister did all gel stain on her piano and it turned out nicely so that is definitely a good way to go too. This piano was my first experience with chalk paint so don't worry about trying a smaller project first, go for it! I did find that a lot of coats of the chalk paint was needed, and that got annoying, but other then that it wasn't tricky at all. I do say there is a learning curve with the Annie Sloan clear wax. Remember to apply very thin coats of it and the buffing is tricky but after practicing you'll get the hang of it. Now I love the AS clear wax!

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  11. Thank you for sharing this tutorial! Your piano looks amazing, way better than others I've perused! I am wanting to paint our heirloom piano. I would like it to have a bit of a sheen. Do you know if the gel stain comes in clear and can be used over the chalk paint? Or if you would just use more wax to get a good sheen? I have Annie Sloan Chalk paint that I am going to use for my chairs, but I was just wondering about the sheen for the piano.

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    1. Great question KaileyJo. You would not want to use the gel topcoat on top of chalk paint. It would yellow it tremendously, and they really aren't meant to go together. AS Chalk Paint is definitely a better topcoat to use in this situation. When I first started using the wax, (when doing this piano and a few other projects thereafter), I hated working with the stuff. Now I have learned to love it and it's versatility and strength. You want to make sure you apply it in very thin coats. After 2-3 coats, (no. of coats needed depends on how much usage/traffic this piano sees), you will then be able to buff the wax and make it as shiny as you like. Expert wax users can get this to a high gloss look, and make it look like you bought the piece from a store. I am still working on perfecting my skills :). If you will be doing a lot of projects with chalk paint and wax, I would suggest looking into a wax buffer available on Amazon, or at a store that sells chalk paint. There are even ones that will hook onto your drill and you can easily buff your piece to a shine. Best of luck and thanks for the compliments and question!

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