On Linens and Life: Re-Purposing Iron Beds

March 03, 2014

♕ gorgeous iron bed @Nicky Brigance do you think we could paint my old bed frame?!

It's quite common to purchase furniture that suits its purpose beautifully in one house but becomes obsolete in the next. Some times, it's simply a matter of available space. Other times, the new house has a different aesthetic so that beautiful vintage sideboard that looked perfect in the hundred year old character house looks out of place in the contemporary home.   But you don't want to throw out beautiful pieces of furniture and constantly be replacing them.  

We have a lovely old iron bed, black with gold finials that desperately needs a makeover.  An extended renovation left it out in the elements and now, its black rails are showing signs of significant rust and paint flaking.  But can furniture be painted with good results?  The answer is yes, but with a big caveat: don't underestimate the value of preparation.  As much as we want to get on with the job of painting, improper or  insufficient preparation is the greatest obstacle to a successful end product.  Granny was right.  If it's worth doing, it's worth doing well.

Here are the four steps to repainting your iron furniture.

~ First, wash and dry the entire bed to remove all dirt, grease and oil.  You can use soap and water, household cleaner or TSP.  

~ To ensure a smooth finish and better paint adherence, remove any rust/paint chips using sandpaper, steel wool or a wire brush. Wash away this debris and let the bed dry thoroughly. 

~ You can't just paint over rust.  If rust is present, you have to stop the rusting process by dissolving it or converting it into black oxide.  Happily, no laboratory is required as rust-preventative primers specifically made for metal are available in most home building stores.  The phosphoric acid in the primer will penetrate the rust and seal the iron. Let the primer dry thoroughly.

~Finally, finish restoring your bed with a paint made for iron.  Choose your color and then  either paint or spray-on, being careful to get in all the little nooks and crannies.


Most iron beds are painted white or black but I've seen some that have been beautifully redone in lilac and pale blue. The plan for my own iron bed is to reinvent it as a daybed on a covered porch, fill it with pillows and enjoy a siesta on a hot summer day.  It's a lot of work just to take a nap, but I think it'll be worth it.