How to paint a dresser to look shabby chic

Updated March 23, 2017

The shabby chic look is a popular form of interior design that has been made popular by fashion designer and author Rachel Ashwell. This theme combines soft colours with antiques, set in a pale colour design. The look is inspired by furniture styles that were popular between the early to mid 1900's. In order to transform a regular dresser into shabby chic, all that is needed is a few tools, some paint and a sturdy piece of furniture.

Choose a dresser that will accommodate the look to match your room. Popular shabby chic finds are generally well worn used wooden dressers. These can be found at estate sales, flea markets or antique shops. It does not matter if the piece is not the desired colour that you are looking for or has a lacquered finish---do not let that be a determent from obtaining the piece. Inspect the overall structure and function of the piece. Make sure the legs are solid and the drawers are in good working order.

Pick out a paint colour. Popular shabby chic colours are pale and faint. Choose light colours such as mint, pink, off-white and a very light yellow. A base coat in white is recommended so that it will cover up any dark colours in the grain of the wood.

Prepare the dresser. This should be done by wiping the piece down with a damp cloth then drying completely. Remove all knobs and hardware. Sand off the original finish and work your way down to the bare wood. Wipe off any remaining sawdust.

Apply the paint. Start off by applying the primer or a coat of white paint. Allow the primer to dry completely. Proceed to add the primary colour. Use light brush strokes. Apply two coats if necessary. Allow to dry completely. Make sure to cover the entire piece for uniformity.

Distress the piece. Once the paint has dried, begin to make the piece look slightly used and weathered. Do this by lightly sanding down certain areas of the dresser such as the top, sides and corners. Use a flathead screwdriver to add weathered wedges to the corners and sides of the dresser---this will give it a distressed look. Sand lightly and allow the white paint and the natural finish of the dresser to come through.


You can have dressers and other furniture that do not match. The shabby chic design concept is based on unique decor items that hold character and warmth. Sand a little more for a vintage look or refrain from sanding for a soft feminine look to the dresser.


Follow standard safety precautions if using a hand sander. Wear goggles and protect your eyes. Paint in a well ventilated area to avoid inhaling fumes.

Things You'll Need

  • 1 solid wood dresser (avoid veneer and wood inlay furniture)
  • 4.5 litres (1 gallon) white primer
  • 4.5 litres (1 gallon) pastel paint in colour of your choice
  • Hand sander
  • Paintbrush
  • Washcloth
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