Give forgotten pieces hidden away in your attic, or newer items that lack the character you want in your home, vintage appeal by giving them a distressed look. The end result is tables, chairs and cabinets that have the appearance of heirloom antiques. Enlist the help of a couple of friends, and spend the weekend creating shabby chic treasures.
Distress the furniture before painting.Use a mallet and a wire brush to lightly distress the wood in places old furniture naturally shows wear. Refrain from trying to distress too much of the wood, or you will run the risk of making it look more like something ready for the trash heap than shabby chic art. Use the mallet to hammer the arms and feet of chairs and rockers. Hammer the feet and tops of tables and dressers. Lightly scrape the wire brush over the rungs and legs and, if working on a cabinet or dresser, a few places on the front of the drawers.
Sand the wood. Sand in the direction of the wood grain. Don't sand down the imperfections you made with the mallet and steel wool. The goal is to achieve a smooth surface to which the paint will adhere.
Apply a primer. Use an oil-based brush-on primer for dark stained wood. Use either oil or water-based primers on varnish or lacquer. If the piece you are distressing is relatively new, a spray primer will suffice. Allow it to dry for 24 hours.
Apply your base coat. Choose a dark color that complements the rest of your decor since it will show through the top coat when you are finished. Brush on the paint in the direction of the wood grain. Allow this coat to dry for 24 hours.
Rub a thin coat of paste wax onto the distressed areas with a rag. Allow it to dry for at least an hour.
Brush on your main color, a white or pastel wood glaze. Paint in the direction of the grain. Allow the final coat to dry for at least 12 hours but no more than 24.
Sand the wood in the areas you already distressed. Sand other places where you want the first color to peep through the glaze. You may want to apply a clear varnish to protect your furniture, but it isn't necessary for your distressed shabby chic look.