How to paint laminate furniture [without sanding]

Years ago, when I read Abigail Ahern’s book A Girl’s Guide to Decorating, I loved (among many other ideas) how she achieved a striking look with simple wardrobes by using extra long handles painted in a bright colour, shown below. The idea always stayed with me as I wanted to recreate something like that one day given the chance.

Inspiration: Abigail Ahern

My chance came while decorating my toddler’s bedroom. He needed a new wardrobe and I wanted to get something that would provide all the clothing storage he would need for as long as he lives here. I’m a big fan of IKEA PAX wardrobes as they offer lots of flexibility with the interior fittings which allows us to set up a kid-friendly layout inside that can be easily altered in future. The cost is also a huge bonus: they’re great value for money.

When we bought the wardrobe, the choice for door colours was limited so we went with plain white doors. But when the room was painted dark blue I felt a big white boxy wardrobe would jar, so it needed a makeover. Painting laminate/melamine furniture is not difficult provided you use quality materials and follow the steps, but it can take a while due to the drying times between coats, so only do it when you have the time and space to devote to it. Here’s the fool-proof way to paint laminate furniture:

Step 1: Clean

Wipe down all surfaces to be painted with white spirit using a lint free cloth. (It’s a good idea to wear gloves.)
This step is important because new furniture may have a thin film of oil to aid the manufacturing/packaging process. And oil is no good if you want paint to stick to your surface.

Step 2: Prime

Roll on 2 coats of a shellac based primer (check drying times between coats on the tin). I prefer Zinsser BIN primer-sealer: it is amazing, it sticks to most surfaces. Using a good primer is essential. Don’t skimp on the primer. Buy the good stuff.
I found rolling a very quick process and the finish was free of brush strokes – lovely! You could use a brush, and you may need to if your furniture has grooves that a roller can’t get into, but if you want to preserve your brush, you’ll need Zinsser BIN brush cleaner and restorer, or similar, to clean your brushes. Alternatively, you can use the spray version of the Zinsser primer. Whether you roll, brush or spray, be careful to paint in thin coats or the primer will drag.

Step 3: Paint with emulsion of choice

Roll on 2 coats of your chosen emulsion paint. I generally prefer eggshell for furniture (I can very highly recommend Little Greene’s Oil Eggshell paint), in which case you can skip step 4, but if you have a matte emulsion lying around, as I did, you can use this too. I used Little Greene French Grey Dark 163. This, in my opinion, is the loveliest mid-toned warm grey paint. Pat yourself on the back for choosing a wonderful colour.

Step 4: Varnish

(This photo was taken under fluorescent light in the garage and that has somehow resulted in some sort of red glow around the photo – sorry!)
If using a matte emulsion in step 3, always finish with a coat or two of quality varnish for durability. I rolled 2 coats of Polyvine Decorators Varnish in Satin finish.

Step 5: Wait for the eggshell or varnish to cure and harden. Leave the painted surfaces alone for several days. The longer the better.

Finally, assemble your furniture (if required). Amidst the above painting, I also spray painted the longest wardrobe handles I could find on the internet. The steps were pretty identical to the above, except in spray form. First I wiped them down with white spirit, then sprayed 2 coats of Zinsser Cover Stain Primer Sealer spray, followed by 2 coats of Montana Gold in Blood Orange (a bright, almost neon, red), followed by 2 coats of Montana Gold Semi Gloss Varnish, and left them undisturbed for several days for the varnish to cure and harden.

Step 6: Admire your project.

I’m pretty happy with how it’s turned out and the finish feels really durable. We built the wardrobe about a week after the varnishing was finished, and although we were very careful, we felt comfortable handling it without fear of chipping any paint. 2 little kids open and close it several times a day and it is holding up just fine. I’m absolutely delighted with it! (More photos of this space coming soon… stay tuned for other posts about this room!)

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  1. 16 September 2016 / 9:08 pm

    I have an Ikea shoe cabinet that I’ve been wanting to paint pink (or something – not quite decided yet) – I am definitely going to give it a go! Great tutorial. 🙂

    • Meera
      17 September 2016 / 8:40 pm

      Delighted to have inspired, Lizzie! This method has never failed me 🙂

  2. 11 September 2018 / 9:20 pm

    This is amazing I may have to implement this technique!

    • Meera
      12 September 2018 / 10:08 am

      Thank you Jumi! I have used this method on other things too, it always works for me! xx

  3. sarah griffiths
    17 September 2018 / 6:51 pm

    I’m going to try this on my t.v. unit and side board

    • Meera
      18 September 2018 / 3:20 pm


  4. Rukhsana
    2 March 2019 / 11:53 pm

    Hi there I would like a house doctor to come give my home a new interior decor and furniture at reasonable price is there anyone living around my area who can help me please im from Coatbridge Lanarkshire Scotland

  5. 30 October 2019 / 2:31 pm

    Hi, very nice project and result!!

    I’d like to do it on Ikea kitchen cupboards with eggshell finish.

    how is it aging on your Ikea furniture? scratch proof ? 🙂

    • Meera
      17 November 2019 / 7:39 pm

      Hi Symon, it is a fairly durable finish. My young kids play around it and use the wardrobe all the time and there aren’t any chips in the paint yet. They’re not rough though, they know not to bash toys into furniture! Good luck with your painting your kitchen cupboards xx

  6. Shaun Hill
    12 November 2019 / 8:04 am

    Is the paint finish flat? Is there a specific technique for applying with the roller when applying the primer and is the technique any different for the other paints? I’ve used foam rollers before and always get a stipple finish but want it flat.

    • Meera
      17 November 2019 / 7:40 pm

      It is a very slightly stippled finish. If you want a totally flat finish, you would need to spray it.

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