Painting furniture is one of my FAVORITE projects, and I'm glad you're taking the time to find out how to do it the right way. I speak from experience after ruining a darling dresser with below-par prep work and cheap paint. My advice: Take a photo of your furniture into a paint store. And not just any paint store, but one where the professionals shop. The folks who work there are seasoned experts when it comes to painting, and they should be able to provide you with a detailed step-by-step process to creating the look you want, especially as you go from dark-colored furniture to something much lighter.
Best of luck!