A little sponging adds new life and color to furniture

One of the easiest ways to dramatize furniture with subtle color is a refinishing technique called sponging. Quick and easy, sponging adds infinite surface variety to furniture. Depending on the way the paint is applied, a sponged surface can look dappled and cloudy or marbled.

The materials needed for sponging are a flat-white oil-based paint; universal stainers or artists' oils; white or mineral spirits; a soft lint-free rag; a marine sponge; a stiff-bristled brush; and a stencil brush.

The National Paint and Coatings Association advises that, as with all refinishing projects, the surface of the piece be properly prepared. It should be thoroughly cleaned and any scratches or dents should be repaired.

Then apply coats of flat oil-based paint to the piece. Sand the piece between coats to ensure a smooth surface. Wipe the piece down with flatting oil (six parts mineral or white spirits to one part linseed oil). The film left by this step will help the sponging layer go on smoothly and prevent clotting.

Apply the lighter paint color while the flatting oil is still wet. Pat the paint gently over the piece with a bunched-up rag. This will create a pale, cloudy effect. Then add the original tinting color with the sponge to deepen the color tone and give a more sharply defined pattern.

If this step is done while the first coat is still wet, the effect will be soft and blurry. If the first coat has dried, the sponged layer will be sharper and clearer.

An effective way to achieve the dappled effect is to dip the sponge into paint that is on a large flat surface such as a palette or tray and dab it on the surface being refinished. Another approach is to apply paint as usual and then ''distress'' the wet surface with a clean sponge wrung out in solvent, which creates a granulated, pebble-like effect.

While the surface is still wet, use a stencil brush to ''pounce'' on the piece and drive the paint into any crevices, joints, or ridges. Finish the piece by applying two coats of clear matt or semi-gloss polyurethane finish to protect the paint and the surface.

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