Monday, April 26, 2010

Pros Share Their Tips: "How to Unbrown Your Furniture"

Hold your horses . . .  don't be in such a hurry to discard that old mirror, chest, door or chair for something new just because it's looking a bit tired!  Merri Pruitt and Jimmy Littleton -- owners of Pruitt-Littleton Decorative Painters -- are about to brighten our day with a show-and-tell of how to get something as spectacular and wanting as this piece:
A trumeau mirror -- a sampling of some of the pieces Merri and Jimmy plan to sell at their new vendor space, beginning in May, at Memorial Antiques & Interiors in Houston (8719 Katy Frwy). 

OK, so you might not have a trumeau mirror buried somewhere in the attic. No worries . . . The Pruitt-Littleton techniques will class-up just about anything, any style. For their demonstration with us, they're using a mirror a customer brought into their studio (because some of us prefer the pros apply such sought-after transformational magic). However, if you want to try your hand at it, here we go. First, find the piece you wish to transform. Like a brown mirror, for instance .  . . .

The Brown Mirror

Before:  Modify if needed. They chipped off some of the applique on top for
 a cleaner look. Be sure to glue any loose parts.

Step 1: Clean with Krud-Kutter Gloss-Off Prepaint Surface Preparation.  Scrub with rag and toothbrush. Let Dry.

Step 2:  Prime with white primer. Merri and Jimmy like Bin Primer which is also tintable.  If the primer is streaky and some or the wood shows through, that is OK.
Step 3: Ready to paint-basecoat. They chose and recommend Benjamin Moore's  Coastal Fog- AC#1 as a base color in Eggshell finish latex.  According to Merri and Jimmy, it's a great neutral with a wonderful slightly greenish cast. They brushed and then blotted the paint with a rag here and there. Let dry.

Step 4:  Next they chose to glaze the molding (raised parts) with a slightly darker color. Using Benjamin Moore Latex glaze clear they added it a small amount of  2142-10 Mediterranean Olive eggshell latex to the Glaze and taped off the molding. Brush the green glaze onto the molding and then rub it off with a rag.
The finished project drying in the garden:

What do you think? Do you plan to try it? I certainly do!!! And I will show off my own little master piece (positive thinking here) when it happens. If you try Merri and Jimmy's techniques, let me know or, better yet, share your projects with me. If I get a few, I will post them here for all to see!

Another Before and After project of theirs -- for inspiration:

Thanks to Judy Thompson, a realtor in Houston, who contacted me about this talented and very generous husband-wife team. She sold them this cute little bungalow (circa 1925):

I think I see a glimpse of their studio in back, down the driveway.

Merri says Jimmy likes to take a break on occasion and enjoy his "secret garden."

When Judy contacted me, she had written a nice albeit heart-wrenching story about Merri and Jimmy's arrival to Houston. Here is an excerpt:
"Decorative artists Merri Pruitt and Jimmy Littleton
have found success at a very high level wherever they have worked: adding
decorative flourishes to the iconic structures of New Orleans or the mansions of Houston’s River Oaks and Memorial neighborhoods. But their admiring Houston clientele knows little about the dramatic life change that occurred when they ended up in Houston. Like so many New Orleanians, it began
with Hurricane Katrina. The day after the storm, Merri and Jimmy had to abandon their 1905 cypress cottage and art studio to floodwater. After 25 years of work and accomplishment in the Crescent City, it was all gone—the portfolio, patterns, samples, everything. Little did they know what the future
held for them that day: Starting their business over in a new city where they had few contacts.
 Merri and Jimmy left their house in a boat and biked to I‐10, eventually hitchhiking their way to Laplace, LA, where her brother Randy picked them up and took them in. Their new home turned out to be Kemah, TX (on Galveston Bay near Houston). It was there that they decided not to return to New Orleans, except to ready their house for sale. Within weeks they were busy with work from members of the nearby Texas Corinthian Yacht Club. They met local designers Carol Glasser, Eleanor Cummings, and Marilyn Phillips who provided additional projects...."

You may already know Merri Pruitt and Jimmy Littleton's work from the pages of Southern Accents and Veranda. You can contact Merri and Jimmy at 281.857.7975 or via their Web site: 

I am participating today in Between Naps on the Porch's:

19 Responses to “Pros Share Their Tips: "How to Unbrown Your Furniture"”

Perfect timing, Susan! I met with a client last week who asked me if I could transform a frame around a painting she really likes to make it into something lighter and less "oak-y". Of course I said "Yes!" all the while wondering how on earth I would do that. This treatment will work perfectly. Thanks!

Thanks so much for sharing this wonderful story. The work is beautiful and the couple are so talented. I agree that brown is highly overrated!


GrannySue said...

What a great post. I'd love to do this to my bedroom furniture, but it seems a little overwhelming right now. That wardrobe is an inspiration. I'm looking everywhere for a wooden mirror today! I can't wait to see more projects. Thank you so much for the inspiration and instruction.

Houston has inherited so much of New Orleans talent. I am glad that their story had a happy end here. I will go check them out in May at the Memoria Antiques and Interiors. Thanks for the info.

I am dying to paint a large cabinet in my family room, but just dread all the work... these look so good, I am getting in the mood. thanks

Housewife Bliss said...

My mother is gifted at restoring wooden furniture, I for one am not and loved learning from you. The MM transformation is stunning. I am also in love with the living wall in the last set of pictures. stunning!

Have a great week ahead.

Allison Shops said...

Love the mirror transformation, but I cringed at the armoire - I hope it was new and not old!

I sent you an email, after reading your comment on AtticMag. If you do not get, you can email me at

I had given your a personal one via email.


What a great tutorial. I will definitely have to give this a try. The mirror looks fabulous. Can't wait to see yours. Hugs, Marty

great tutorial! ...and beautiful pieces! I have become a follower and would be honored if you choose to do the same! until later...

Janine Marshall said...

Hi Susan,

Yes, well this post makes me want to whip out the paint brush and just start painting something. Actually, in a local shop here they do have one of those trumeau mirrors and that is a really dark, heavy wood. As far as I know it hasn't sold yet, but it is really beautiful with carvings and everything. Some of the products that you have mentioned I haven't heard of before here, but the bin primer I have used and it is fantastic. I used it on the pantry shelves when I was painting and didn't want to sand between the coats of gloss paint. Fabulous stuff...I kept asking the paint guy if he was sure I didn't need to sand between coats, he must of thought I was so thick, but it did sound too good to be true!!! Can't wait to see how your project turns out. Hope you and your family are well.
Take care
Tasmania, Australia

I've spent a good deal of time doing faux finish work and painting furniture, and I can tell you that guys like Merri and Jimmie are true artisans. They do great work (I've seen some of their other things). They make it look really easy! thanks for sharing their story.

Perfect timing for me, too! I have a Victorian dresser I bought for $100 years ago that looks yucky. We are totally cleaning out this house since the flood - yes, we are in Rhode Island, 6" in the finished basement. So, I get to redo a ton of stuff. (also a blessing - I got to throw out my husbands college textbooks and other 'don't touch that, I might need it someday, stuff' !!) This is #1 on my list. Thanks for the hints!

Linda Q said...

Great post, inspiring! what can be done to change something already beautiful but give them new life.

Fantastic tutorial! I am bookmarking this one for later!

Maya said...

That bungalow is a gem! And the hedge wall with the door, honestly, that's my dream..., total privacy!!

Maya @ Completely Coastal

Kate said...

Fabulous post Susan. I am ready to "un-brown" something even if it means I'll have to go flea market hunting to find something that needs a facelift. Thank you for the step-by-step guidance and the great pics of the bungalow and garden.

Nancy said...

Wow, I have been searching for some good directions--thank you so much! I have an old mirror to paint and would like try something on the beigey gray side--any paint color suggestions?

Thanks again,

Lindy said...

I just happen to have a very tired, drab mirror in need of "something". I just read this post and YEAH! I found the something I can do with this piece.


First time I have heard about the Krud Kutter stuff. Great post.
Mary Ann

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