How to Paint Furniture to Look Primitive

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Things You'll Need

  • Heavy weight sandpaper

  • Light weight sandpaper

  • Water based acrylic based primer

  • Water based acrylic paint (2)

  • Paint brushes

  • Tack cloth

primitive paint

A coat of paint can breathe new life into an old, worn out piece of furniture. But what if you want to make a new piece of furniture look old? It's as easy making a trip to your favorite hardware store and choosing two complimentary colors of paint. Painting furniture to look primitive or distressed is a matter of painting one color onto the piece as a base, and a second color on as an overlay. The trick is knowing how to make the base color show through the overlay in strategic areas, to give the piece an antiqued look.

Step 1

Remove any hardware that is on the furniture piece. For a true primitive affect you will be sanding in the areas where the hardware would normally age or place wear and tear on the cabinet, this will be better accomplished if the hardware is removed first.

Step 2

Sand the furniture piece down with heavy duty sandpaper. The sanding will help to even out any surface damage and give the primer something to adhere to. Use a tack cloth to remove any dust that has accumulated on the furniture piece before moving on.

Step 3

Add a coat of primer to the furniture piece. Primer is not a necessity but it is a good idea to apply a coat before painting to give the paint something to adhere to. Allow the primer to dry thoroughly before moving on to the next step. Acrylic based primers dry relatively quickly and one coat should dry within a half hour.

Step 4

Apply the base color. Furniture that has a primitive look to it usually has another color peeking through the top layer giving it an aged or distressed look. In this step you will be painting on the under layer of color. Allow the base color to dry for approximately one hour.

Step 5

Paint on the outer layer of color. This layer of paint will be the main color of the furniture piece. You may need two coats to completely cover the base color of paint. Allow the paint to dry thoroughly before moving on to the next step. Acrylic paint dries to the touch within 30 minutes, so waiting the half hour in between coats is a good idea. But, before the sanding process you should allow the piece to dry overnight. The extra wait time will ensure that the acrylic paint is completely hardened.

Step 6

Lightly sand the dried paint layers with a mid weight sand paper. Now this is where the magic happens. A gently sanding over corners, around the areas where the hardware attaches and along decorative inlays will give your piece the primitive look you are trying to achieve. You may want to apply a bit more pressure when sanding in some areas than others for a genuine look.


It is a good idea to add a layer of polyurethane over the furniture piece to preserve it, but that is a matter of taste. If you prefer a duller finish to your piece you may not appreciate the shine of the polyurethane. You may want to try painting over a layer of polyurethane in an area that will go unnoticed and see if you like the look. If not, skip it.


It may take a complete 24 hour period for all of the paint layers to dry thoroughly. If the furniture piece feels tacky to the touch, do not sand it. Waiting until the paint completely dries and hardens will make sanding it much easier, and it will also give a better distressed effect.


Jonae Fredericks

Jonae Fredericks started writing in 2007. She also has a background as a licensed cosmetologist and certified skin-care specialist. Jonae Fredericks is a certified paraeducator, presently working in the public education system.