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How to paint 'distressed' furniture

Updated March 23, 2017

Distressed furniture is a way to take newer furniture and make it look old or weathered. This type of look is most often found in shabby chic and French country decor. Many speciality stores and boutiques sell distressed furniture that is highly priced. This type of furniture can easily be reproduced with a little paint and a few techniques.

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  1. Apply painters tape and newspaper to cover fabric or areas that won't be treated. This will prevent staining and damage.

  2. Take the furniture piece and sand lightly. Sand just enough to get the original glossy finish off the piece. This will allow the new paint to adhere well.

  3. Put on safety glasses and a heavy jacket to protect yourself from backlash of any heavy object while swinging and beating.

  4. Fill a large sock or small pillowcase with moderately heavy items such as a handful of nails, nuts and bolts. Different items will create unique dents and dings. Begin to hit or beat the furniture briskly in corners and around edges---this aids in a distressed look.

  5. Distress the furniture piece further with a chisel and wire brush. Take the chisel and add small indents to edges and the top surface. Take the wire brush and create grooves and crevices.

  6. Add a coat of paint by taking the brush and covering the entire piece thoroughly. Allow to dry completely.

  7. Sand the entire piece lightly---sand off more around the edges and corners. Wipe with a damp cloth and allow to dry.

  8. Place a thin coat of tinted wood stain to the entire piece---this will create an antiqued look. Allow to dry.

  9. Tip

    For a more shabby chic look---paint the piece in white or pastel and omit the wood stain finish. If the original colour of the furniture is black or has a dark finish, allow the colour to show through for an antique distressed look. Think of where a piece of furniture would get dinged up the most. The feet, arms, sides and top centre are often the most worn or distressed of well-used furniture. This is a good rule of thumb to keep in mind when trying to accomplish a distressed look. Be careful not to hit the furniture too hard or you will seriously damage it. Use a swift motion---quickly and briskly.


    When distressing the furniture with hard objects, be careful to protect hands and fingers---this will prevent injuries. Use adequate ventilation when painting and using sandpaper. Choosing a spot outdoors in a dry location is good choice.

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Things You'll Need

  • Furniture
  • Painters tape and newspaper
  • Light grade sandpaper
  • Large sock or small pillowcase
  • Hammer, nails, nuts and bolts, chisel and wire brush
  • Safety glasses and jacket
  • Paintbrush
  • 1 gallon of milk paint or latex paint that is watered down to a transparent consistency
  • 1/2 gallon of tinted light brown wood stain

About the Author

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