Shabby Chic Furniture: How to Paint and Distress

Things you need:

  1. Sandpaper or steel wool
  2. Cleaning Towels
  3. White or colorless candle or wax
  4. Pastel Colored Paints and Paintbrushes
  5. Screwdrivers and Nails
  6. Hot Glue Gun
  7. Stain Marker


Create your own shabby chic furniture for a cool, funky look. The shabby chic style is very popular, but can be a bit pricey to buy. On the other hand, it is easy and fun to paint and distress your own pieces. Look all around yard sales, thrift stores and other people’s garages and attics to find old and vintage pieces of furniture that you could use for this shabby chic look. Always choose solid wood pieces, not laminate. Pieces that have a veneered surface will not give the same effect.

Step 1: Surfaces need to be prepared

Make sure the surface you are going to work with is clean first. All drawers and hardware needs to be removed first, then wash it with some warm, soapy water and dry completely. If there are any rough places in the wood you don’t like or wobbly legs, now is the time to fix them. When the repairs are done, sand the surface until it’s ready to accept the finish treatments.

Step 2 – Rub on Wax

The look of peeled and cracked paint can be achieved with other means than age. Before you put on your paint, rub a wax candle here and there on your piece of furniture, wherever you want cracking or peeling. The paint will roll and peel where the wax has been applied.

Step 3: Apply the Paint

Stay away from gloss paints, and choose flat paints or satin paints for a shabby chic look. Put a good coat of this paint on your piece and allow it to dry. You won’t want to use a primer in this case, as wood showing through in places is part of your look, but you can give more than one coat to make sure your color is solid. If you want a two-tone look, paint one color as the first coat and let it dry. Next, put another coat of wax on the piece, and then use a different color as the second coat of paint. The top coat will come off in places to give a worn look and show the under-color.

Step 4: Distress the surface

When the paint has dried, it will be time to achieve the distressed look that you are after. This can be a lot of fun to do. Consider the piece you have chosen, and imagine where the piece would be worn if it had been used for generations. For example, if your piece is a chair, a lot of wear would be on the arms and the edges of the seat, and on a dresser it would be around the top and the drawer pulls. Next, use sandpaper or some steel wool to scratch some markings into the furniture in the desired areas to make it look worn. You can also make gouges in the surface with the screwdriver, nails, or a chain. When you’re done gouging, rub tinted wax into these areas to darken them.

TIP: A stain marker is also an option for filling in these areas or adding dark accents into cracks and crevices. It gives you an accent color with the control of a marker.

Step 5: Paint needs to peel

You can get even more peeling if you use a heat gun on a low setting over the entire piece of furniture. This technique works whether you’ve used the one or two-color painting technique. Finish off your project with a coat or two of matte or satin polycrylic to seal the paint and the “wear.”

This is how easy it is to create your own shabby chic furniture: enjoy!