What is Decoupage Furniture?

Angela Brady

Decoupage furniture is a piece of furniture that has had paper cutouts glued to its surfaces and sealed. Decoupage is a simple craft to do at home, and is a quick and easy way to liven up old furniture without breaking the bank. Popular in the Victorian era, when people commonly decorated every available surface in the home, decoupage came about as a way for everyday people to emulate the look of custom hand-painted furniture found in the homes of the wealthy. Today, it is simply regarded as a way to customize decor without any particular painting skill.

Precise shapes can be cut from paper for decoupage using a craft blade.
Precise shapes can be cut from paper for decoupage using a craft blade.

Any piece of furniture to be decoupaged must first be completely stripped of its old finish to ensure that the adhesive will properly stick. Most paints can be stripped chemically, but stains are sanded off. Sanding the stripped piece is necessary anyway, as tiny cracks, dents, or other imperfections are usually plainly visible when the paper warps into it. The piece is then wiped clean and painted or stained to the desired color.

Once the piece is dry, paper cutouts are arranged experimentally over the surface until a pleasing design is discovered. This is the creative part of the process, and the cutouts can come from anywhere. Wallpaper, gift wrap, photos, and illustrations are all popular sources, but some people have used fabric, newspaper, greeting cards, and even children's artwork to create a unique look. Once the design is laid out as desired, the back of each piece is coated with adhesive, pressed into place, and allowed to dry.

The entire piece of furniture is then coated with a clear acrylic resin to protect the artwork, but even with this protection, decoupage furniture is more delicate than other types of furniture. An uneven resin or adhesive application can cause the paper to lift or curl at the edges, and heavy use or frequent contact can cause inordinate wear. Direct sunlight can cause the paper artwork to fade, and contact with liquids can cause clouding of the resin and disintegration of any paper the resin does not cover. Decoupage furniture surfaces that will be in frequent use, especially tabletops, should be covered with a sheet of glass to protect the artwork. If this is impractical, the paper designs should be confined to areas of the piece that will not experience heavy friction.

Decoupage furniture is so widely varied in style that it is easy to incorporate into any home. A coffee table decorated with a family photo collage is a great conversation piece, and a large trunk covered with postcards collected from past trips makes a decorative memento. A dresser can look very elegant with graceful designs borrowed from wallpaper creatively arranged on the sides, front, and top, and the addition of a glass top adds a touch of luxury while protecting the art.

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