Create your own shabby chic furniture for a cool, funky look. This distressed, worn look is extremely popular but can be very expensive to just buy. One the other hand, it is easy and fun to paint and distress your own pieces. Poke around yard sales, vintage stores, or your own attic to see if you can find old pieces of furniture that would lend themselves well to this look. Just make sure the furniture is solid wood. Pieces that have a veneered surface will not give the same effect.
Step 1 - Prepare the Surface
Make sure the surface you are going to work with is clean first. Remove any drawers or other hardware, wash it with warm, soapy water, and allow it to dry thoroughly. If there are any rough places in the wood you don’t like or wobbly legs, now is the time to fix them. When the repairs are done, sand the surface until it’s ready to accept the finish treatments.
Step 2 - Rub on Wax
If you like the look of cracking or peeling paint, there’s a way you can achieve it without waiting for age to do it. Before you put on your paint, rub a wax candle here and there on your piece of furniture, wherever you want cracking or peeling. The paint will roll and peel where the wax has been applied.
Step 3 - Paint
Most of the time, shabby chic furniture is covered in either a flat paint or satin paint, as high-gloss isn’t the look most want to achieve. Put a good coat of this paint on your piece and allow it to dry. You won't want to use a primer in this case, as wood showing through in places is part of your look, but you can give more than one coat to make sure your color is solid.
If you want a two-tone look, paint one color as the first coat and let it dry. After that, apply more wax and then paint a different color for the second coat. The topcoat will come off in places to give a worn look and show the under-color.
Step 4 - Distress the Surface
After the paint is dry, whether you used the one or two-coat method, it’s time to get the aged or distressed look you desire.
This can be a lot of fun to do. Think about your piece and consider where the wear on it would be if it was used for generations. On a chair, most wear would be on the edge of the arms and edge of the seat, on a chest of drawers, the front edge and around the knobs or handles. Lightly rub away the paint in these areas with your sandpaper or steel wool until you achieve the desired look.
You can also make gouges in the surface with the screwdriver, nails, or a chain. When you’re done gouging, rub tinted wax into these areas to darken them.
TIP: A stain marker is also an option for filling in these areas or adding dark accents into cracks and crevices. It gives you an accent color with the control of a marker.
Step 5 - Peel the Paint
You can get even more peeling if you use a heat gun on a low setting over the entire piece of furniture. This technique works whether you’ve used the one or two-color painting technique. Finish off your project with a coat or two of matte or satin polyacrylic to seal the paint and the “wear.”
Pam Estabrooke, district manager of ProTect Painters, contributed to this article.