How to Create Shabby Chic Painted Furniture

Your old stuff, or someone else's, gets a new lease on life when you transform it from shabby-awful to shabby-chic with the help of a little paint and sandpaper. Chairs, tables, dressers and cabinets look worn and wonderful once they're whitewashed and lightly distressed. The bland and featureless gain character and charm -- and you save money to spend on a vintage chandelier or antique linens to round out the room.

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Ready for Rustic

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Prepare the cast-off or hopelessly dated piece by cleaning it all over and sanding off any protective finish. If you are using a thick chalk paint, you don't have to sand. But removing gloss does give paint a better grip, especially when you plan to expose paint layers as part of the distressing. Remove all drawers and hardware before painting the first coat. To end up with a high-contrast worn-away finish, use a dark color for the first coat of paint. Paint a second coat in a lighter shade and sand the edges of the piece where natural wear would occur to reveal the paint below.

Crazed and Cream-Colored

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Shabby-chic-style uses lots of white -- whitewashed, distressed white and various shades of white paint on the same pieces or on different pieces in the same room. Another way to create visible distress on a chair, table, mirror frame or cupboard is to coat parts of the piece with crackle glaze after the initial paint dries. When the glaze gets tacky, apply the white final coat, which will crack and craze like old paint as it dries. The fissures in the white finish show the darker color paint beneath and emphasize the appearance of age. Experiment with crackle glaze and snow-white on pedestal table legs and a slightly grayed white on the tabletop. Paint mismatched wood dining chairs different shades of ivory, misty gray, oyster white, cloud, cream and vanilla for a shabby "vintage" dining room.

Change of Venue

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Move an old dresser from the bedroom to a place of honor in the dining room after a simple shabby makeover. Clean it up, take it apart -- drawers out, hardware off -- and line the cleaned drawers with interesting wallpaper, glued down with hobby adhesive and sealed with clear lacquer. Sand the dresser and drawer panels to create a better surface for the new paint to grip -- you don't want to remove all the old dark paint or stain. Apply a thin coat of white primer, and, once it dries, sand again with fine sandpaper and give the wood a thin coat of robin's-egg-blue or creamy apricot flat acrylic. Another quick sanding, a final coat of colored paint, and you're ready to sand the edges for wear before protecting your new sideboard with a good coat of furniture wax. Tinted wax adds an extra patina of age. Attach reproduction antique hardware to drawers and cabinet doors.

Pale Paintbox

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A shabby porch is an inviting retreat on a lemonade-in-the-shade afternoon. Collect old wicker porch pieces and create a shabby abode in faded confectionary colors. Clean the wicker to remove dust and dirt so the paint will stick. Then dry-brush a different pastel hue on each chair, stool and table -- ice-blue, faded lilac, barely blush-pink, a hint of creamsicle, pale lemon and mint. Dry-brushing lets the old color of the wicker show, but you can also spray each piece -- lightly -- and sand the exposed corners, chair arms and edges to simulate wear. Whitewash and crackle glaze a wooden porch swing and sew cushion covers from pastel striped cotton canvas.