Should You Refinish or Restore That Piece of Furniture? Here’s What to Know

Audrey Bruno
Written by Audrey Bruno
Updated October 19, 2021
Interior view of German house dating from 1820
Andreas von Einsiedel/Corbis Documentary via Getty Images

Make that old armchair look like new

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Maybe you found a gorgeous side table at a local antique store, or maybe you have a lounge chair that’s been in the family for generations. However you come across that gorgeous piece of old furniture, you need to make a decision: to restore or refinish? While you might have thought of these processes as one and the same, they’re actually different. 

Here’s what you need to know before restoring or refinishing your furniture, and how to pick the method that best suits you.

Furniture Restoration: The Process, Pros, and Cons

Woman sanding chair at home
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Furniture restoration generally involves light cleaning and cosmetic repairs, like sanding away scratches, repolishing wood, and washing fabric. 

Think of your job as making that thrift store chair look fresh-off-the-shelf again—during restoration, you’re not making any dramatic changes or adjustments to your furniture. Instead, you’re preserving its original integrity and appearance.


If you’re looking for a quick DIY with a big effect, there’s a lot to love about restoration.

  • Fast: Fewer changes mean that furniture restoration projects take less time to complete than refinishing projects.

  • DIY-friendly: You can easily re-polish your favorite wood dining table with a store-bought polish (or even an all-natural one made from ingredients in your pantry).

  • Inexpensive: Simple furniture upholstery cleaning can cost as little as $10, even if you do decide to hire a pro. Some refinishing, like deep cleaning a couch to liven up the fabric, is totally possible with a steamer.


Though it has a lot of perks, there are some reasons why restoration might not be the best choice.

  • Not effective enough: For some pieces of furniture with lots of wear and tear, restoration might not be enough to truly revive it. If the cushion on your favorite armchair has totally disintegrated, you’ll need more than a quick fix to restore it to its original state.

  • Hard-to-find specialty items: Some pieces might need a part that isn’t exactly easy to track down, like an antique table leg or a special knob for a dresser. Finding these specialty items can take extra time, but securing them will ensure the whole piece looks as good as it did when you first found it.

Furniture Refinishing: The Process, Pros, and Cons

Woman refurbishing armchair in workshop
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Compared to furniture restoration, furniture refinishing is a more involved and complex process, requiring more time and effort. Refinishing uses the bones of a piece of furniture to create something entirely new, rather than trying to restore it to its original look.


If you’re a DIY aficionado, there’s a lot to love about refinishing.

  • Longer-lasting results: The process of stripping, sanding, and staining an entire furnishing will ensure that you’re able to enjoy it for years to come.

  • More opportunities for personalization: Restoration is a great way to add something brand new to a piece of furniture you’ve owned for ages. You can give that dresser a new stain job, reupholster that chaise lounge with a brand new fabric, or repaint your outdoor furniture an entirely different color.


But there are some cons to consider before refinishing furniture as well.

  • Extensive work: Refinishing furniture involves high-quality products and advanced techniques.

  • More expensive: Because restoration requires more work and often more materials, your wallet will feel the impact more.

Furniture Restoration vs. Refinishing

So should you refinish or restore that ottoman? Here are some things to consider before beginning either project.


Restoration and refinishing processes produce entirely different results; the former conserves the original appearance and the latter updates it for modern times. Both options are visually appealing and the one that you opt for will depend entirely on your preference. 

Most visually appealing: Both! It depends on the look you’re trying to achieve.


Restoration is easy to do with common household items. On the other hand, refinishing is a project that’s better left to experienced DIYers because it involves a lot of materials you might not have, plus advanced techniques like stripping and reupholstering. 

Easiest to DIY: Restoration


The cost to hire a local pro to refinish or restore furniture is relatively the same. You can expect to pay between $400 and $3,800 for most refinishing jobs and $300 to $5,000 for restoration projects.

But if you’re DIYing the job, it’ll be significantly more affordable to restore a piece of furniture. And if you’re using products that you already have, you might not have to spend anything at all.

Most affordable: Restoration

Length of Life

Though furniture restoration is quicker and more DIY-friendly, it may not be enough to guarantee your furniture stands the test of time. The more complex process of furniture restoration may be more expensive and time-consuming, but it tacks on years (even decades) to the life of an object. 

Whether or not you’re willing to make the investment depends on how much a piece means to you. If it’s something you hope to someday pass down, then refinishing is the best way to seal the deal. 

Most long-lasting: Refinishing

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