Distressed looking furniture that seems to be the product of years of neglect can really add a lot of charm and character to certain decorating styles, such as Old World, country, cottage, French provincial or shabby chic. Distressed painting is fairly easy to do,and can be very authentic looking. One technique is inexpensive and simple, and requires nothing more than basic painting supplies and a candle.
Selecting and Preparing Furniture
Plain, solid wood furniture is usually the easiest to paint and looks most authentic when distressed since old furniture is commonly made of wood. Stained or previously painted wood pieces need not be stripped or primed, but they should be sanded first. Old wood furniture should be thoroughly cleaned with a mixture of one part ammonia to three parts water to remove any dust or grease that may have built up over the years.
Distressed paint jobs can be successfully applied to furniture that is veneered, Formica or even plastic with a little more effort and preparation. The key to making non-wood furniture work is a good, heavy sanding of all surfaces first to give the item a "tooth" so it will accept paint. After sanding and cleaning with a damp rag, the piece is given a coat or two of a good primer such as Kilz, which is allowed to dry before proceeding.
The Base Coat
Two to three latex paint colors are needed to achieve this technique, as the technique can be done with two to three layers of paint. Contrasting or complimentary colors help the piece look more dramatic and stand out more than shades that are similar. Whichever color is chosen for the top coat will be the most dominant in the piece, the others will merely act as accent colors, peeking out from underneath distressed topcoats. Whichever is chosen for the base coat will be least visible.
The base coat should be applied first over the furniture, either directly over the solid wood or over primer, then allowed to dry thoroughly for at least 24 hours.
The piece is then rubbed in random areas that would naturally be more worn after years of use. Corners and edges are common places to first show the signs of wear, or where feet may have gone, up or; for chairs, where backs, arms and backsides may have rubbed. The candle should be rubbed firmly to leave streaks of wax behind on the piece wherever it might have worn out naturally.
Layering Subsequent Coats
The second, different color coat of paint is applied over the first, and as it dries, the waxy areas underneath become evident. The wax prevents the paint from taking to the furniture. Once the second coat is completely dry, the waxed areas are sanded off with sand paper, exposing the base coat below. Wood furniture can be sanded further so that some of the wood underneath the base coat is exposed as well, but furniture made of other non-wood materials that have been primed should only expose the base coat .
At that point, the piece may be wiped clean with a rag and considered finished. However even more depth and texture can be added by doing a third coat of paint. After the second coat dries, the piece should again be rubbed with the candle, in some new places and over some of the previously sanded and exposed areas. A third coat of paint in a different color is applied and allowed to dry. Again, the waxy areas are sanded, and the piece is finally wiped clean with a damp rag.