How to paint French-style furniture

Updated February 21, 2017

Chips and worn-away paint confer charm -- and a hefty price tag -- on antique furniture. Give your ordinary wooden furniture the look of a French antique at a fraction of the cost with the faux finishing technique of paint distressing. Use bold colours, such as maroon and mustard, for rustic French country decor and cream and pale pastels for a touch of Parisian chic. For the most authentic imitation, study antique items to see their pattern of natural wear and tear. Take the project a step further by replacing drawer pulls and knobs with historic reproductions.

Protect floors and work surfaces with plastic sheeting. Tape plastic over all parts of the furniture that you will not be painting, such as fabric seat covers.

Sand varnished furniture with a sanding sponge to remove the glossy finish. Wipe the surface off with a tack cloth.

Rub a candle on parts of the furniture where you want the wood to show through. Apply the wax to places that are naturally subjected to wear, such as edges, horizontal surfaces and legs.

Apply latex paint to the furniture with a nylon-polyester brush. Use a 7.5 or 10 cm (3 or 4 inch) brush for big projects and a 3.8 cm (1 1/2 inch) brush for more detailed areas. Use two coats of paint. Allow the paint to dry for a few hours.

Use the steel wool on areas where the wax was applied. Rub until the original wooden surface is visible. Distress other areas with the steel wool, as desired. Sand the painted surface with 220-grit sandpaper for a more worn look. Wipe the furniture with a tack cloth.

Paint the furniture with a tinted wax. Use a stiff natural-bristle brush to apply wax in cracks and corners. Wipe the wax off the furniture with a clean, dry rag after 2 to 3 hours.


Paint rustic decorative designs, which can later be softened and distressed with steel wool.

Things You'll Need

  • Plastic sheeting
  • Tape
  • Sanding sponge
  • Tack cloth
  • Candle
  • Latex paint with eggshell or satin finish
  • Nylon-polyester paintbrush
  • Steel wool
  • 220-grit sandpaper (optional)
  • Tinted wax
  • Natural-bristle brush
  • Clean, dry cloth
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About the Author

Fiona Fearey has an undergraduate degree from Temple University and a master's degree from New York University. She has been a freelance writer and editor for over five years. She has written for Pluck on Demand and various other websites. Other professional experience includes education, the arts and decorative painting.