accessoriesbarb blairbefore & after basics

before and after basics: adding paper details to furniture

by Barb

When you hear the word decoupage, what do you think of? Um, yeah . . . about that! Let’s hold those thoughts because today on Before & After Basics, I hope to show you a fresh take on using paper to add character and fun to furniture design. We’ll start with a simple design plan and see what beautiful things transpire. — Barb

CLICK HERE for the full how-to after the jump!


  • piece of furniture (painted)
  • scissors
  • paper designs
  • acrylic varnish
  • paintbrush
  • rags


1. Make sure that the piece you are adding detail to is painted and ready to accept the paper. If you need painting tips, you can read my painting furniture post.

2. Plan out your design carefully! This is almost as important as the actual process; placement is the difference between a crafty fail and fantastic! Cut out all the pieces that you plan to incorporate into the design so that they are ready to go. I chose a flower that is outlined in black so that it would blend in nicely with the black paint on the piece. My personal goal when working on projects like this is to make it as clean and seamless as possible.

3. Apply Mod Podge or acrylic varnish to the back of your paper with a brush, making sure that it is applied in a thin, even coat. You do not want to saturate the paper or create ridges with excess adhesive. Typically, I use Mod Podge to apply paper and am really comfortable with that method, but I was recently challenged to try something new, so I applied the acrylic varnish to the back of the paper for this project and it was amazing!

4. Make sure that you do not have any glue/varnish on your hands as you place your paper where you want it on the piece. This is really important especially if your paper is white or at all light — it shows everything! Have a clean rag on hand for wiping and keeping the surface of your paper clean.

5. Use your clean, dry cloth to smooth the entire surface of the paper that you just applied. I can’t stress enough how important this step is. Be careful not to rub too hard and damage the surface of your paper, but you want to make sure that all of the air bubbles are worked out and your design is nice and smooth. Don’t worry if the paper becomes a bit transparent when wet, it will dry and be just fine!

6. Once you have placed all the designs on the piece, let them dry. Once dry, apply two to three coats of polyurethane to the entire surface of the piece using a brush. If you are worried about brush strokes, you can use a roller as well, and I recommend a mohair or short-nap roller for poly applications. Nice and smooth is the name of the game, my friends!

This is a nice and easy starter project that will get your feet wet in the decoupage world if you have not yet ventured there! If you are a seasoned decoupage queen, then by all means, cover the entire piece in flowers, newspaper, book pages, posters or maps because the possibilities are endless!

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  • Please give me a resource for the glass pieces in the adding paper details to furniture before and after. They are beautiful!

  • oooh… I can imagine this with painting just the top which is really heavily worn. I would paint it a nice dusty pink and then use just smaller dots elsewhere in the same dusty pink… either paint or paper…

  • Brilliant!! I am totally inspired to try this technique in my daughter’s room!! thanks so much for sharing , Grace…you always feature the best DIY projects!! xx meenal

  • I did this on a small table with real pressed leaves, I love it every day. And torn kraft paper layered on plywood, glued, then stained made a beautiful backdrop for a mission headboard we made from scratch. Not your grandma’s modge podge!

  • I’ve paper covered the tops of dressers and I like to use epoxy. I know that paper isn’t going anywhere. You have to be careful though because epoxy will make whites in paper clear so think through your bottom paint and paper selection first.

  • Ah ha! Just moments before I was to begin stenciling the top of my daughter’s peony pink table I saw this post! Just wondering how thick the paper should be? Is it best to use wrapping paper thin stuff or could one use scrapbook paper or wallpaper? It sort of seems like really think would leave the least bumoy edge, especially on top of a table. Thanks! Great idea!

  • I like this project, but I was sort of taken aback by the first couple of lines. Do people really have such a limited view or unfavorable image of decoupage? It’s popular with everyone from renaissance Masters to Richard Rauschenberg…is it really not cool or something? Maybe I’m off-trend. Wouldn’t be the first time :)
    Good job. Hooray for decoupage!

  • I’m with Peaces above about decoupage. There’s fab artists in every period who’ve used the technique. Anyway–My friend & artist Tina Tarnoff at Thought Patterns does amazing things with steamer trunks & so on. Anyone who wants to see some fab style should check out her blog. This is really cute, as well. Tina’s in a bit more sophisticated stripes. Both are really attractive. Thanks.

  • Thanks for the how-to post! I’m curious… would this technique work with photographs? I would love to give it a try but worry about ruining them if I don’t know for sure. Thanks very much!

  • I ♥ Mod Podge! I love the big bold flowers you chose for this piece. I do a lot of decoupage but haven’t done anything similar to this, am definitely going to try it. Thanks Barb, you are amazing!

    • Hello everyone! I’m glad this project has inspired some of you! I can’t wait to see what you all come up with!

      Caroline C, I would suggest that you have copies made of your photographs onto paper, that way you are not worried about ruining them and the paper will mesh a little bit better with the piece of furniture.

      Susan and Peaches, There are AMAZING pieces of decoupage out there and I am not knocking it at all. I do it for a living…..but just like with every DIY or craft project you have the really good press and the bad press. Decoupage has had its shares of “highs and lows” and I was mainly being silly as I reached out to those who might react negatively to the word decoupage……. Susan, I am actually quite a fan of Tina Tarnoff and own one of her paper cuts! It hangs in my den, and I love it.

      Brittany at mommy words, you can use whatever kind of paper you want. I have used scrapbook paper , wrapping paper, wallpaper, newspaper, book pages…..for this particular project where I was not covering the entire piece I used a thinner wrapping paper to keep it as flat as possible.

      Dottie, I have the vases if you would like to email me barb@knackstudios.com

      Thanks guys!
      xo Barb Blair

  • I have been experimenting with wrapping paper to decoupage and am having trouble with the paper wrinkling. Wallpaper, on the other hand, is thick enough not to wrinkle. I have tried rolling with a rubber roller, thick and thin coatings of Modge Podge, etc. What’s the trick?

    • Lisa, Wrapping paper can be very tricky because it is really thin. I try to pick a thicker wrapping paper or handmade paper that will be a little bit more durable. Wallpaper is by far much easier to work with but depending on the look you are going for it may be too thick sometimes! I suggest that you not use too much adhesive on your wrapping paper when adhering it to the piece, and make sure that your smooth it out as you lay it down to get all of the air out….then use a soft cloth or rag to smooth out the entire surface once it is applied.

      Belfast Kate, the polyurethane is very hard wearing and works great!

      Karen Berg, that might be a bit too much! You just want to make sure you have a thin even amount spread on your paper. Having too much on the paper will cause lumps as it dries and make it impossible to get smooth. Try not to saturate the paper but rather paint on a very light coat.

      Meredith, check the instructions for your wallpaper…but in most cases you can apply wallpaper paste directly to the piece and apply the wallpaper as you would to a wall. With the heaviness of a grass cloth paper I don’t think it will work well with mod podge, and mod podge does not give you the wiggle room that you need when applying wallpaper. You need that mobility to match up your seams.

      Holly Do, acrylic latex varnish is a high quality water based polyurethane that I used by Benjamin Moore.

      Thanks guys! Hope you have great fun with your projects! xo

  • I don’t know why I get a negative fix in my head when I hear ‘decoupage’. 9 out of 10 I love, love, love the results. Thanks for the inspiration!

  • Even though I scan/photoshop/illustrator like a pro, I l frequently to take a pile of vintage scarves/fabrics/clothes to Kinkos (easy/fast/cheap/no running out of ink!) and make a pile of color copies to have on hand for ModPodge projects. Love Love Love!

  • Thanks so much for this. I have been researching what is the best way for attaching paper to furniture. Is the polyurethane hard wearing?

  • I love to decoupage, but I think I may have been using too much, is half a bottle too much? These are great tips. Thinking now about what is getting some cool little designs on it for my next project. As alwasy Barbara, so helful!

    PS Love those vases!

  • I’ve been wanting to cover a small table in grasscloth wallpaper. What would be the best way to do this? I was thinking modge podge but I’ve never used it before. Any tips would be great, thank you!

  • Question… What exactly is acrylic varnish. I looked it up but can’t quite figure it out. So excited to learn something new!

  • Thanks for the great ideas and the tut! I have
    decoupaged tons of this and thats but it never crossed my mind to do it on normal everyday furniture! I have a crappy desk just crying out for something more than a paint job.

    I love your idea, mixette! I’m on my way tomorrow to copy some fab fabric!

    Grace, I LOVE this site! Thanks again to all!

  • Love the wallpaper plus paint! I’m having a hard time finding a water base polyurethane with a real satin finish. The ones I use are too shiny and show brushstrokes. Thanks Courtney

    • Courtney, General finishes makes a matte polyurethane that you can try. I use it all the time and love it! Also with the shinier water based polyurethanes you can apply with a mohair roller for a smoother finish. The water based polyurethane dries so fast that application has to be smooth from the very beginning. Hope that helps!

  • I just decoupaged a stepping stool for my kids and made a reference to this post (because I’m new at it and a bad example on how to do it the right way, lol). Thanks for posting this!

  • What kind of product should you use over the the paper? I would like to do a map on top of a table but I feel like someone will put down a cold glass and it will be ruined. Any advice?

  • Try West End in Jackson Mississippi. They have multiple sizes in green and clear/Google them & look at their on line catalog I recently purchased the gree n and love it! Good luck!