Restore or Paint?
I'm often asked by clients if their piece should be restored or painted. It all depends on numerous factors;
Age: If it's more than 100 years old, it's considered an antique. If it's never been painted and the finish is in relatively good condition, I recommend a good cleaning, minor repairs and a good polishing using products designed to revive the original wood finish. This preserves the value and look of the antique. How do you know it's antique? Look for obvious indicators such as a manufacturer label or date stamp. Other indicators such as dove tail joints, nail free joinery, hand forged nails and solid wood backing can give a good idea of its approximate age.
If it is less than 100 years old but older than 50 years, it's considered vintage. This is where it gets tricky. Although not antique, often times pieces will eventually become antique within a decade or less. This is where I would suggest consulting with a professional to see how best to approach it. Most times I discourage painting, because these pieces were still made with solid wood, good quality, thick veneers and hand finished to reflect the beauty of the wood grain. Contrary to popular belief, veneer damage does not mean all is lost or that painting is the only option. A professional can repair or replace veneer in most cases, thus preserving the piece's beautiful wood look. A full restoration of the finish can make it look as good as the day it left the shop floor decades ago.
Materials and origin: If it's made of beautiful walnut or other solid, carefully chosen old growth wood, or is a designer piece, this is not meant to be painted. Ever. If it's a modern piece made of MDF, melamine or plywood covered in thin veneer, by all means, paint away. These pieces give the painter carte blanche to get creative with paint and create something fun and unique.
Bottom line, if you're unsure, a consultation with an experienced furniture refinishing professional can help you decide what is best for your piece and your tastes.