How to paint the shabby look

Updated February 21, 2017

Shabby chic decor brings in elements of romance and antiquity. Common in French cottage decorating, the shabby chic style uses light, feminine colours, such as pink and white, and employs faux finishing techniques to give furniture a weathered, shabby appearance. Shabby chic painting looks best on wicker or on antique pieces with ornate carving. Like other faux painting techniques, shabby chic painting uses glaze to make the paint achieve different effects.

Sand away loose paint chips or rough edges from the furniture to create a smooth, even surface. Do not worry about removing all the original finish; primer will cover it up.

Paint a layer of primer over the piece. Allow it to dry completely.

Paint the piece with the darker paint colour. Wipe excess paint from the piece with a clean cotton rag. Allow the paint to dry completely.

Sand corners and areas of the piece that would experience normal wear over time. This will remove the top layer of paint and primer so bare wood is visible underneath.

Apply a coat of crackle glaze over the painted surface, using single brush strokes. Allow this to dry.

Thin white latex paint with water until it is nearly translucent. Test the paint thickness on a scrap of cardboard or plywood to make sure you can see through it. It should give the cardboard or plywood a frosted effect.

Paint the piece with thinned white paint, covering all areas, including the exposed wood. Your brushstrokes should go in the opposite direction of how you applied the crackle glaze. Let this coat dry completely.

Sand areas prone to wear if desired to achieve the effect of worn-away paint.


Each layer must be completely dry before proceeding. Glazing or painting over paint that is still wet can result in clumping. Do one layer each day to provide enough drying time. Thick coats of crackle glaze will result in thicker, more predominant cracks. Crackle glaze applied thinly will produce softer crackling. Use a full brush for every application. The shabby effect comes out best when you use as few strokes as possible.


Do not apply multiple top coats of white paint. It will mask the crackle effect. If you apply too much paint, allow it to dry and apply crackle glaze again.

Things You'll Need

  • Sandpaper
  • Paintbrushes
  • Primer
  • Latex paint, white and another colour
  • Cotton rag
  • Crackle glaze
  • Water
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About the Author

Heather Lacey is a freelance writer who has been specializing in print and Web articles since 2008. She is a regular contributor to "Go Gilbert!," "Scottsdale Health Magazine" and other local publications. Lacey has a professional background in hospitality management and studied journalism at Phoenix College.