Wood veneer furniture is manufactured by placing a thin layer of wood over a particleboard or plywood base to create the appearance of solid wood furniture. You can identify veneer by examining the end joints of the wood pieces. If you can see the end grain, it's solid wood. If the end is capped, then generally you have a veneer. You can transform wood veneer furniture into the shabby chic style, just like solid wood furniture, by sanding back areas of paint to create a worn look.
Sand the entire piece of furniture. Take out all drawers, and take off any hardware that the furniture may have. Wipe the piece down with a soft cloth to remove the dust from sanding.
Paint a coat of primer over the furniture piece using the paintbrush or roller. Make sure you are in a well-ventilated area. Allow to dry per the instructions on the primer before proceeding.
Apply your first coat of paint with the paintbrush or roller. Apply a grey first coat if you plan on painting the piece white. That way, you can sand the white down to the grey colour for the shabby chic look. If you are using a darker final colour, apply a lighter shade for the first coat so that you can sand back to the lighter colour. Let the first coat dry completely.
Paint a second coat in your final colour of choice. Let dry.
Apply your third and final coat of paint in the same colour as the second coat. Let dry completely.
Sand various areas of the furniture piece down to the first coat of paint. Assess the piece of furniture for where wear and tear would most likely happen. If it is a table, for instance, the edges and surface would have wear marks. A drawer would have wear marks around the handle, around the edges and on top of the unit.
Stand back from the furniture regularly to assess the overall look. Sand little parts at a time, then see how the piece looks from a distance before proceeding. Keep sanding off little portions at a time until you reach your desired shabby chic look.
Make sure that all the wood veneer is secure before sanding and priming. Glue down and dry any sheets of veneer that look like they are coming apart from the board underneath them before proceeding. Only sanding down to the first layer of paint helps protect the underlying furniture by keeping the wood concealed. If you prefer sanding back to expose the wood, a different colour paint for the first layer is not necessary.