Buffalo artist Hayley Carrow is mad for mid-century modern furniture. Last winter, she set aside time to reupholster an old Eames-style Plycraft lounge chair, replacing the original brown leather with silvery blue matte leather she bought for about $100 at a fabric closeout.

“I’d work on it every time I had a spare moment,” said Carrow, who co-owns Reimagine vintage furniture at 732 Elmwood Ave. with Cortney Morrison-Taylor (

She found the chair about a year ago at a flea market and doesn’t recall how much she paid for it. The chair, now complete, is a focal point of her living room – and it’s comfortable, she said.

Whether it’s a lounge chair, bookcase or accent table, many people live with furniture with a past.

These aren’t rare 19th century antiques we’re talking about. They may be family pieces, castoffs or garage sale finds worth keeping for their design, usefulness, quality and, sometimes, sentiment. Doing so also is less expensive than going out and buying new.

Everyone is not always completely at home with the idea, however. Many wonder how, when and if they should update old pieces, especially when the furniture is tired-looking. Old furniture can have flaws – but also possibilities.

That’s what Kim Hazelet saw when she decided to breathe new life into the china cabinet she inherited from her grandparents.

“I didn’t want it as it was, but I didn’t want to give it away, either. So I just updated it by painting it a light sage-green,” she said.

Sentiment played a role in taking on the piece. “We all sat around my grandparents’ table for Sunday dinner for years, and we were always backing our chairs into that china cabinet. I didn’t try to make it perfect; the dings are all still there. The dings bring back fond memories,” said Hazelet, an interior designer and owner of Accentric, a home accent specialty shop at 1424 Hertel Ave.

Hazelet believes in embracing such pieces but also in personalizing and refreshing them.

“People may get upset over painting over wood, but I’d rather keep a piece that is part of my family history and make it my own,” she said.

The china cabinet came free. Supplies? About $30 for the water-base paint and dark furniture wax. The time? Six hours so far.

“It’s still a work in progress,” Hazelet said.

Whether you do the updates yourself (learning how online or from other resources), tap a handy friend or hire a professional (wood refinisher, upholsterer, etc.), here are some ideas:

• Refresh seat covers. Cover the old seat covers on Aunt Hattie’s vintage dining room set with fresh fabric, suggested Sandy Hertel, owner of Elmwood Village Fabrics, 543 Franklin St., which stocks heavy and lightweight modern fabrics for $18 per yard or less.

“The 54-inch-wide fabrics cover two typical size dining seat covers with only , yard,” she said.“The 45-inch-wide fabrics are even less expensive and offer up even more choices if the seating is ‘just for show’ or you don’t expect long-term heavy use.”

Laminated cotton fabrics are easy to keep clean for families with young kids, said Hertel, adding that special-order fabrics are an option as well.

Other fabric fixes: Recover pillows or cushions. Throw a fabric square over the marred or ugly top of a side table.

“You can even hem it yourself with iron-on tape if you don’t know how to sew,” said Hertel, whose shop is beginning to offer basic sewing classes (www.elmwood

Customers also buy fabric to put at the backs of bookcases or china cabinets to brighten up dark wood backgrounds or ugly paint.

• Revitalize hardware. “Spray-painting knobs and handles in a new color is a very inexpensive way to freshen up your kitchen cabinets, said Julie Dana, owner of the Home Stylist and a local interior “redesigner.” Carrow recommends doing the same with furniture handles.

• For painting furniture, Dana and others are fans of Chalk Paint by Annie Sloan, which is available locally for $38 per quart at Blue Sky Design Supply, 95 Perry St. ( The big deal? Not only is the paint environmentally friendly, it can be applied without priming or sanding (see

Blue Sky is offering free Chalk Paint demonstrations from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday. A hands-on workshop, An Affair With a Chair, will follow from 2 to 4; participants will redesign their own chair, learning and practicing various techniques using Chalk Paint. Preregistration required; $80 per person (852-1680).

• Hire a decorative painter to give new life to old pieces. Or upgrade your own decorative painting skills. Western New York is home to more than 125 members of the Society of Decorative Painters. Some of them teach the skills; others are designers, authors and hobbyists. Furniture and decorative accessories are just a few items that work as their canvases. For more information, visit the website,

• Wondering whether a piece is worth reupholstering? Here is Hazelet’s rule of thumb: “If you like the lines of the sofa and it is a good solid frame that is well made, it is worth upholstering,” she said. Padding can be changed. Springs re-tied. But you need that good frame, she said.

• Finally, wallpaper can freshen up furniture, often a single roll or less. The Better Homes and Gardens’ website,, is just one online resource for finding ideas and instructions for dressing up bookcases, headboards, drawer fronts and more with wallpaper.