GRN Reports

Achieving a shabby chic look for furniture is easy. It helps to know a bit about paint, paint removers, mineral spirits and de-glossers.

Turning something old into something new, but that looks old, also can be a great way to upcycle your own furniture.

We did it with our kitchen chairs. We realized after 15 years that these sturdy chairs weren’t going to collapse on us (well, one did, but gorilla glue and a C-clamp took care of that). So it was wonderful, and cheap, to redo them in a turquoise. Not for you? Go more subdued. There’re as many ways at these projects as you can dream up.

Our latest target was a table. This table proved troubling because it was finished in a dark stain, just like the majority of our better pieces around the house. We wanted to lighten the look.

Step 1: De-gloss. We use a “greener” de-glosser that we found at our local hardware store. It won’t hurt your skin (much anyway) like harsh strippers or mineral spirits and it doesn’t take a toll on the environment when you toss out the used product. Just rub it on and scrub it in. Use a scratchy from the kitchen or the very lightest sandpaper (a 400-grade or more) to buff down the varnish. The goal is not to get rid of the finish but simply to make it receptive to new paint.

Note: Wear gloves.

Step 2: Paint the undercoat. We went with a dark red, planning for white on the top. Then wipe off some of the paint and scuff it (use a quality latex) before it dries. This will expose the wood below and give you a dual-dimension for the undercoat. Let it dry at least a couple hours if not overnight.table Redo whole table

Step 3: Paint the topcoat. Here we used an off-white, and probably could have gone even more ivory. Before the paint is dry, wipe some off in uneven patches all over. Here’s where the art of the technique matters. Step back to see the net effect and wipe in short or longer swipes. Some or even a lot of the undercoat should show through.


Note: The topcoat can be a matte or soft gloss finish. Matte will give you the typical “shabby chic” look, and a softer look. A soft gloss or satin finish enamel latex also can be a good top and give more durability.

Step 4: Distress. We sanded corners and ridges in areas where paint would naturally wear off. You can sand a lot or a little. (See video.) Study furniture that’s been crafted to look antique and you’ll see many pieces sanded in parts to the raw wood. You can do that, but make it look natural by letting undercoat colors show as well. Also if your piece is not really old that bare wood layer may not look like you want. You can always test on the back or underneath.

Table Redo Detail

Step 4A: Oops, we didn’t love our first effect, so we painted a second top coat (see video), rolled it on for greater smoothness, and then got more aggressive with the wiping and sanding.

Step 5: Let the paint dry down. Sand in spots where you want more exposure of the undercoat, if needed. Brush off. You’re done!

What’s old is new, or rather, old, again.

(Now we need HGTV to paint the wall behind the table!)