How to Decorate Old Furniture

Written by julie mcmurchie
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How to Decorate Old Furniture
Decorate old furniture with a distressed look. (rocking chair image by Photoeyes from

The trend of revitalising old pieces has moved beyond the antique collector phase into an eclectic style of decorating that has caught the attention of professionals and do-it-yourselfers. Affordability makes rehabbing old pieces very appealing for home decorating projects. That, however, is not the only appeal. There is just something about old furniture that lends itself to creative touches, such as a distressed look, that can turn an old, shabby piece of junk into a one-of-a-kind, shabby-chic treasure.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

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Things you need

  • Dust sheet
  • Sandpaper
  • Tack cloth
  • Cutter
  • Moulding
  • Medallions
  • Finish nails
  • Construction glue
  • Paintbrushes
  • Paint trays
  • Primer
  • Wax
  • Flat, latex paint in two colours
  • Polyurethane

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  1. 1

    Select furniture that is structurally sound. Check for stability in the legs and joints and for rotting or warped wood. If it is rotting, it probably is not a good buy. Look for inexpensive pieces like chairs, tables and old dressers that can be painted and put to use in the home, patio or garden.

  2. 2

    Place the furniture on a dust sheet and lightly sand unfinished pieces with extra-fine sandpaper. Wipe down with a tack cloth to remove all of the sanding dust. If the piece is already painted, wipe it down with a tack cloth. Light sanding may be necessary to smooth out chipping or cracked paint but don't go too far. Imperfections in the existing finish will complement the new distressed look.

  3. 3

    Add moulding or medallions that will be painted. Cut lengths of moulding to dress up the front of drawers or underneath dresser or table tops. These can be attached with finish nails or with construction glue. Decorative wood medallions are available at many home improvement stores in the moulding section. These can be applied to drawer fronts or the sides of cabinets with finish nails or a liquid nail adhesive.

  4. 4

    Select two colours of flat, latex paint. One colour will be for the base coat, which will peek through the top coat after it is finished. The distressed look mimics wear that often reveals a previous coat of paint. Choose colours that appeal to you and that will go well with your existing decor. An olive green or light- to medium-blue base coat with an off-white or white top coat will give you that shabby-chic look. Bolder colours like red and blue will work well, too.

  5. 5

    Paint the base coat onto painted furniture or apply a coat of primer to unfinished furniture before painting the base coat. If the furniture has a glossy finish, it may be necessary to apply primer so that the paint will have something to stick to. Bare wood should always be primed before painting. Allow the primer to dry completely before painting. Allow the base coat of paint to completely dry.

  6. 6

    Rub wax, which can be purchased from a craft supply, onto the dried base coat, going with the grain of the wood. Concentrate on areas where natural wear would occur for a more authentic look. Corners and edges will naturally have more wear, so apply more wax in those spots.

  7. 7

    Paint the top coat and allow it to dry completely. Use exterior latex paint for outdoor use. Indoor latex paint can be used for pieces that are protected from the elements.

  8. 8

    Sand over the top coat with medium-grade sandpaper until the distressed look is achieved.

  9. 9

    Finish the piece with two coats of clear polyurethane. You can choose whatever finish you desire, from satin to high gloss. Apply one coat at a time. Allow the first coat to dry. Sand it lightly with extra-fine sandpaper to smooth out any bubbles or drips. Wipe it with a tack cloth to remove all sanding residue before applying the second coat. Allow the second coat to dry completely before using the furniture.

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