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How To Shabby Chic Furniture on the Cheap

By Edited Oct 1, 2016 1 1

 One brilliant way to repurpose furniture is to go shabby chic, and what this means is to simply look “slightly distressed” or worn, or what some people would call “comfortable” furniture.

This is a great way to take those old pieces you have around the house or something you have found at garage sales or thrift shops, and turn them into something that suits your space and your personality.

If you can look past that typical old brown coffee table with the coffee mug stains on it, and vision it in muted or pastel colours then you can create your own furniture for very little money.

Many people stay away from furniture refinishing because they think it involves hours of paint stripping and sanding, which is not true.  If you prefer furniture to look perfect then maybe that is the way to do it, but if you simply want this piece to look original, slightly distressed then you do not need to go down the road of paint stripping and hours of sanding.

You can even add art or paint something primitive for interest using acrylic paints.  I painted this old wood hall table to look distressed and then painted the picture of a half window for interest.

Shabby Chic Furniture(136796)

How to Do Shabby Chic Furniture Painting

Start with something small if this is your first attempt, such as an end table or coffee table, or picture frame and then you can experiment with colours and finishes.

But here are a few steps to get you started:

Step 1 – Clean your wooden furniture piece or frame or whatever you have chosen with a good cleaner such as an all-purpose spray cleaner.  This gets any grease, wax or oil off the wood.  Use a damp cloth and rinse off the cleaner and then dry with a cloth.

Step 2 – Lightly Sand – If your piece has a high gloss varnish on it, you will need to knock some of that shine off with a fine to medium grit sandpaper.  This is a good step if it has any kind of finish on it.  Finish off with a fine grit so as to leave the surface smooth.  Don’t sand too deep, you just want to knock the shine off.

Step 3 – Take a damp cloth and wipe away any excess sanding bits, especially in the corners.  You could also do this job with a tack cloth which is designed to clean the surface of sanding dust.

Step 4 – Start with a good high adhesion primer, and coat your piece with at least one coat of this primer and let dry.  I personally have found the Zinsser brand to stick to anything, which helps your painted finishes stay on the furniture!

Rust-Oleum 2004 Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 White Water-Based Interior/Exterior Primer Sealer, 1-Quart
Amazon Price: $9.49 $7.41 Buy Now
(price as of Oct 1, 2016)
I use this primer on any surface to create a "tooth" for my paint.

Step 5 – First coat of acrylic paint – If you are going for a lighter piece and would like slightly white worn edges to show through then your first coat of acrylic paint should be white.  This is when you decide your colours.  (You can do this opposite as well with the darker colour underneath and the lighter colour on top, think about the look you are going for).

Many of the shabby chic furniture styles are using white as the base coat.  But make sure to do a coat of primer first so that all the paint will stay stuck to your piece of furniture.  High adhesion primer is designed to stick to any surface included high gloss, so you don’t want to spill it anywhere, but it is a good base for your project.

Step 6 – Main Colour – After the first coat of white acrylic is completely dry, and then you can paint on your main colour.  This will be the main colour of the furniture.  Totally cover the entire piece with one coat, and don’t worry about getting brush strokes completely smoothed out as this can add to the effect.  Let the piece dry completely before continuing.

Step 7 – Steel Wool or Very Fine Sandpaper for the Effect – I prefer fine steel wool because I feel like I have more control especially in the corners as the steel wool is flexible, but your choice.

Take your steel wool and a spray bottle of water.  Lightly spray the edges of the furniture of wherever you want a “distressed” look or slightly worn look to happen.  Then take your steel wool and lightly rub the area.  The wool loosens the paint slightly, and then with a clean cloth rub the area harder and you will see the paint come off slightly and you should see the white paint underneath coming through.

This is why you don’t want to rub too hard with the steel wool as you don’t want to remove the undercoats of paint.  This will take a bit of patience but worth it in the end product.

Step 8 – Wax or Varnish – Once you are happy with your piece and it has been allowed to dry completely for at least a day or two, then you can protect the finish and in some cases add more depth to the finish with darker finishing wax. 

Minwax Paste Finishing Wax, Special (Dark) 78600, 1-Pound
Amazon Price: $6.18 Buy Now
(price as of Oct 1, 2016)
Minwax is the perfect product for putting a finishing touch to your piece. By using the dark paste wax you will add more depth and age.

You can get furniture wax in a tin, and you can also get dark wood wax which will add a bit more depth and darker hues especially to the corners and crevices, if that is the look you want.

Note:  If you find that the piece just needs to look a bit darker in crevices, then another way to add this aged look is to take a dry artists dabbing brush and dip lightly in black acrylic paint and then rub the brush on a paper towel until there is barely any left on the brush, then rub the brush into the corners.  This will give a slightly darker hue.  You can play around with this to get the right look.

Then wax the piece, or another good protection for the shabby look is to use a matt varnish.  This is a water based varnish with no shine, but offers protection for your furniture so that it can be dusted and wiped with a damp cloth without damage to your project. 

If you choose the wax route, you will need to reapply the wax at least once a year, or more if the piece is to be used on a regular basis such as with a table.

shabby chic furniture(136798)

Repurposing Shabby Chic Furniture is the Perfect Way to Create Originality

This is the perfect way to put your stamp on your space.  It will end up being an original piece of art, as no one else will have the same finished piece as you.  You can go a step further and paint on the piece to add interest. 

I did this with a coffee table that I found for 10 dollars in the thrift store.  As you can see in the picture I changed the old brown colour to an ivory and slightly darker colour then using steel wool lightly sanded the edges for a distressed look and then added a mural in the center of the table, then used matt varnish for protection.

Purchase Solid Wood Frames to Create Shabby

Frames are another item that gets overlooked in the thrift stores.  You can get fantastic deals on good wood frames if you can see past their dated finishes, and using this shabby chic finish is a great way to dress them up.

Check out the video and see what an affordable way it is to frame your pictures or mirrors.  You can also use multiple colours of paint to add interest.

The most important part is to have fun, there are no rules here, just get started with shabby chic.  You might get the shabby chic bug and want to repurpose other pieces, so why not check out  How to Repurpose Window Frames and shutters for more ideas.

Shabby Chic
Amazon Price: $24.99 $0.48 Buy Now
(price as of Oct 1, 2016)
This book will give you more great ideas on shabby chic decor with lots of projects.


Apr 16, 2013 10:27pm
Excellent tips and your coffee table with the mural is gorgeous, well done! You're so right about just having fun, it really shows in your work.
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