Many older pieces of furniture are well-made and can be restored for far less than it costs to buy equivalent new furniture. Here are some tips:
Unpainted wooden furniture that is in good shape can often be brought back to life with furniture polish. For deeper nicks, use crayon-like filler sticks that match the color of the wood.
Completely refinishing wood furniture is a lot of work. Consider having it done professionally. For a natural look, all of the old finish must be removed. This is accomplished with chemicals, steel wool, scrapers, and sand paper.
Before a new finish is applied, all surfaces should be sanded with progressively finer grades of sandpaper until the wood is smooth to the touch.
Test finishes on a hidden part of the furniture before applying to visible areas. Check for color and evenness.
Recovering Dining Chairs
Remove the screws that hold the seat in place. Add or replace any padding as needed. Cut new fabric so that there is enough to cover the padding and wrap around to the underside of the seat. Use the old fabric as a pattern or guide. Use a staple gun to fasten the fabric, being careful to tuck in the corners neatly. Use decorative tacks if you need to attach the fabric in a visible area. Reattach the seat with the screws.
Major Reupholstering or Slip Covers
This is difficult work and is best left to the pros. Slip covers (either ready-made or custom) are a less expensive option. An interior decorator can help you make the best choices.
Caned chairs and wicker furniture are best handled by the pros.