How To Refinish Furniture With A Shabby Chic Finish

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Here's a finish that fits in with the popular "shabby chic look" that is easy, a lot of fun, and can look good on any kind of piece from country rustic to very traditional. This would be great to try on anything that's been laying around the garage, attic, basement, etc., for awhile with no clear direction (inspiration?). Maybe it's picked up a few dings, -that's okay. It can be raw wood or previously finished wood or painted; you can probably figure a way to work in its current look with a good, new look. The really great thing about this kind of look is that you can use the pieces in rough duty, though they look perfectly at home next to immaculately glossy and lacquered pieces. So this might be good for a dining or breakfast table and chairs, or a worktable for kids or hobbies, or the lake house, etc.

I also like it because it doesn't involve the slower drying, stinkier solvent-based products.

The look we're going for here might be suggested by pretending the piece was once nice looking and decently finished, whether with a coat of paint or a natural wood finish. But over the years, the original finish was recoated, (maybe not too nicely done) and later was relegated to the garage or the barn, or even the chicken coop . It was long-neglected, used for rough storage, or for the kids to knock around. Then one day it was discovered by a discerning person (that would be you) as having nice lines with a one-of-a-kind patina, so it was cleaned up, a little work here and there, maybe waxed, and brought into the house where it serves timelessly in a place of honor. You can get some great inspiration for different looks by cruising the antique stores and painted furniture boutiques.

Now you don't have to make up a story or history for a piece, but I find that it helps, and, it's more fun, especially when people ask where/how you found such a wonderful treasure!

Prep your candidate well enough to get a coat of flat latex to mostly stick to it. The neat thing about this is that it can be quite slap-dash; if the paint peels off here and there, so much the better. Pick the color of your choice, but you probably don't want it to be too intense; pastels or grayed colors. This base color could be an already existing paint or wood finish. More layers, partially revealed, will give the appearance of that many more previous incarnations.

When it's dry, coat all or parts of it with hide glue as is demonstrated on the tapes for the crackle finish. When dry, brush on another coat of latex in a color that you feel will look good with the base color. After this coat has cracked and dried, go over it with a wet sponge. You will start to wash away the crackled coat and the glue, and your judgment will be used here. Just before the entire glue/paint mixture wipes away completely, it will leave islands of cracked paint with smooth edges instead of the normally more harsh edges of crackle paint. It looks as if the whole piece were once top-coated in this color, but long ago it began to alligator and then chip and peel off. These old, smooth remnants are all that remain of that last paint job. So take off as much or as little of the crackle coat as you wish. Conversely, you may want to crackle the whole piece or use the finer markings produced by a crackelure finish.

Next, throw some junk on it, or bang on it with something, poke it with an ice pick, blow off a little steam. Follow your distressing with a seal coat of something that isn't water-based. (Otherwise you would re-wet the remaining crackle/glue.) I'd suggest using orange shellac; it dries fast, and will let you continue on with the fun in a few moments. It also adds that quiet amber tone that many old finishes acquire naturally.

You might then wish to follow it with a glaze, probably in a brown or gray, to simulate years of dirt that are stuck in the nooks and crannies, including all the ones you just created with your hardware drawer. You may or may not wish to wipe most of it off, leaving it in the low spots.

Then take some rough sandpaper (say, 80 or 120 grit) and start rubbing the places that would be worn by use; edges, around handles or pulls, tops of carvings, etc. Decide how many layers you want to cut through, or where you might want to cut all the way into the raw wood, rounding over the edges or other details. You may even want to use a power sander if you think you would like a lot of physical wear. Finish up with a higher grit if you want to keep things a little smoother or gentler.

Obviously, each of these steps can be completely controlled by you; indications can be very soft and minimal, or quite drastic. Typically you might expect a simpler shaped piece to receive the rougher handling, while more delicate pieces would have a little less beat-up appearance. You'll be the judge.

After you've exposed any raw wood, take some gray paint and dilute it to a stain quality, brushing it over the raw sections to instantly age them. Don't forget to add some fly specking in the color(s) of your choice, and maybe even a few random smudges of other colors (probably not too brilliant in hue).

Let the whole medley dry overnight and finish off with a little 0000 steel wool and paste wax for a great, "look-what-I-found!" look that you can achieve in an afternoon.

- Dave


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