Impress with the distressed look

In our grandparents’ day, if furniture was ‘distressed’ it meant the furniture had been around for so long that the paint had been worn off through years of loving use. In our day, the shabby-chic look is highly sought-after.

Don’t pay what vintage furniture boutiques charge, or wait around for years for pieces to get the effect naturally. Simply do-it-yourself.

Step 1

Begin with furniture that’s clean and finish-free. Lightly sand your item, but don’t be too thorough. You want an uneven texture so that some areas absorb more paint than others.

Step 2

Apply your first coat of paint in a thin layer, so you still see some of the wood’s texture shining through.

Step 3

Once your base coat has dried, paint your top coat. Don’t use a glossy paint, as it doesn’t add to the ‘aged’ look.

Step 4

Use fine grit sandpaper for the actual distressing. Don’t be too even with your sanding, because not all areas will wear away at the same rate. You want that natural, textured look, so imperfections are alright. Put in some extra elbow grease around the corners and edges, which are the areas that would wear down faster.

Additional tips

Depending on how thickly you paint your coats, and how heavy a hand you have with the sandpaper, very different looks can be achieved. Perhaps test out what you like best with a scrap piece of wood first.

Distressing isn’t only something you can do with old furniture lying around. If you are so inclined, you can make your own furniture out of low-cost materials like chipboard or MDF, and use the distressing technique to enhance them with a more vintage look.

When choosing your two colours, you can use contrasting colours, with the brighter colour as your base coat. On the other hand, if you keep the base colour a similar colour as the top coat, but darker, it gives a lovely sense of depth.

If you’d like to see the wood grain peeking through, you only need one layer of paint.

Breathing new life into your old furniture (even if it’s to make them look older) is good for the environment, kind on your wallet, and heaps of creative fun. Just don’t go overboard with this look. While a few well-placed distressed items look great, it’s not something you want to see everywhere you turn.


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