How to Paint and Distress Furniture the Easy Way

There are oak-lovers out there who are not going to appreciate this post, but I just couldn’t stand it any longer.

I have an oak reproduction wardrobe in my master bedroom that was purchased in the mid-80’s that I really struggle to look at these days. I lug this monstrosity with me every time I move, and it’s this piece of furniture that is always the “dreaded one” on moving day. I could never bring myself to get rid of it though, because it’s such a useful, well-made piece of furniture, and it was pricey back in the day. In the midst of this love-hate relationship, I’ve been agonizing over whether or not to paint it.

Although it’s not an antique, it is oak, and they say you should never paint over oak. Tell an older person you’re going to paint a piece of oak furniture, and you’re likely to hear a gasp followed by the crack of a cane on your noggin. When the idea first occurred to me, I must admit I experienced a small gasp myself, and it took me another five years post-gasp to go for it. As I myself age, I’m coming to the realization that I shouldn’t let the decorating etiquette of others stifle my creativity. Yolo, as my kids would say.

Wardrobes in small spaces are a fantastic way to climb the walls for storage without taking up valuable floor space. I have a small house, and have a wardrobe in nearly every area—even a bathroom. Until my son moved out recently and took one, I had a total of six of those babies. I’m here to tell you that’s a lot of super-duper space-saving storage. Three of those were actually entertainment centers that I gutted and put shelves in to be used for clothes, linens, etc… Needless to say, this isn’t my first rodeo painting a wardrobe.

Moving along, this post is to show how to paint and distress furniture the simple way. No glaze, no special top coat, no waxing, just a simple, basic method of aging. I did this project start to finish in one day, and holy smokes, what a difference a day makes!

Note: If you prefer a heavier distressed look, click here to see how to get that look using a home made glaze.

I had a hard time making a color choice, but ultimately decided on a simple off-white. I used Duck White #1070 from Sherwin Williams in a satin finish because this is a color that I used to stripe an accent wall in my bedroom where I’ll be using the wardrobe. I chose a satin finish because I knew a semi-gloss would accentuate the grain, and I felt too much sheen wouldn’t be appropriate on a piece that’s supposed to be old and worn-looking.

Here are the before pictures. I almost can’t handle looking at them because all that grain floating all over the place gives me a headache. But as you can see, it is a beautiful piece of furniture.

 How to Paint and Distress Furniture the Easy Way / HomeStagingBloomingtonIL
How to Paint and Distress Furniture the Easy Way / HomeStagingBloomingtonIL
 How to Paint and Distress Furniture the Easy Way / HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

Let’s get right down to it. Step one is to remove all the hardware, and remove the doors and drawers. When removing doors, you’ll want to remove the top hinge last. If you remove the top hinge first, the door will slip and crack you in the head (like the cane, only worse) while you’re trying to remove the bottom hinge. Then you’ll be wondering why you didn’t listen to me.

How to Paint and Distress Furniture the Easy Way / HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

A helpful tip is to put all the screws and hardware into a container with a lid—especially if you have pets or kids in the area. More good advice.

How to Paint and Distress Furniture the Easy Way / HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

Next you’ll need to sand the entire piece to rough it up so your paint will have better adhesion. This is especially important because I prefer not to use primer on pieces that I’m going to distress. This is a no-primer project not only because it’s going to be distressed anyway, but also because it’s going to be in my master bedroom which is a low-traffic area. No drinking glasses, no “scratchy” objects and no feet will ever rest upon this wardrobe.

I decided to use a brush to paint this piece of furniture instead of a roller since the grain was so heavy. Brushing helps get into those tiny, irritating divots. I have filled grain prior to painting before, but I knew on this piece it wasn’t going to be an issue for me so I didn’t take the time to do it. If grain bothers you, and you want advice on how to hide it, you can refer to my post, “Yes You Can Paint Your Oak Kitchen Cabinets”. Make no mistake–the grain will show on painted oak furniture–much less on darker colors, but it does show. But again, since I’m distressing I don’t care about the grain. Distressed furniture is imperfect furniture.

Here’s the brush I’m using in case you’re interested.

How to Paint and Distress Furniture the Easy Way / HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

I started with the doors. I don’t have a basement to work in. And since it was snowing here in Central Illinois the day I painted my little gem, I couldn’t work in my garage. Once again I had to turn my kitchen table into a workbench. I placed wood blocks under the doors to raise them above the surface of the table so I could easily paint the sides without making a mess.

Important tip: Apply a thin coat of paint, and let it dry thoroughly before applying a second coat. You should be able to see through your first coat. If you can’t, you’re putting it on too heavy. And if you apply a second coat before the first coat is completely dry, your furniture will remain tacky forever. No joke.

Yet another important tip: When painting wood furniture, be sure to brush in the direction of the grain!

How to Paint and Distress Furniture the Easy Way / HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

How to Paint and Distress Furniture the Easy Way / HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

After the doors and drawers were painted, I started on one side of the wardrobe, painted the horizontal pieces and then cut in the recessed panel.

How to Paint and Distress Furniture the Easy Way / HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

Next I painted the vertical boards, then painted in the panels and wha la! One side done already. For those of you who are super-observant, and are wondering why the top is of this wardrobe is all caddy-wompus in the photo, it’s not falling apart. Really. The top is removable, and I moved it as I painted so my brush could reach all the surfaces.

 How to Paint and Distress Furniture the Easy Way / HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

How to Paint and Distress Furniture the Easy Way / HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

Next I did the front, again painting the horizontal pieces then the vertical.

How to Paint and Distress Furniture the Easy Way / HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

Then I worked my way around to the other side panel, and in the blink of an eye, the first coat was done!! You’ll need to follow the directions on your paint can regarding drying time before applying a second coat. After the second coat is completely dry, it’s time to distress. If you can stand it, it’s a good idea to let the paint dry overnight. Since my furnace was running full blast, the air in my house was warm and dry, allowing my paint to dry quickly. And as I mentioned earlier, I always apply two thin coats so the paint dries faster.

How to Paint and Distress Furniture the Easy Way / HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

I prefer a piece of sandpaper of 100 to 150 grit wrapped around a block of wood for removing paint when distressing. My elbows also prefer it. With a smoother paper or without a block of wood, you’ll have to work pretty hard to get through two layers of paint. Some people use an electric sander, but I feel like I have more control sanding by hand.

 How to Paint and Distress Furniture the Easy Way / HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

 How to Paint and Distress Furniture the Easy Way / HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

I mostly distress my pieces wherever they would naturally wear over time—edges, ridges, corners, around knobs, etc…

 How to Paint and Distress Furniture the Easy Way / HomeStagingBloomingtonIL
 How to Paint and Distress Furniture the Easy Way / HomeStagingBloomingtonIL
How to Paint and Distress Furniture the Easy Way / HomeStagingBloomingtonIL
 How to Paint and Distress Furniture the Easy Way / HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

My distressed areas didn’t show up as well from a distance as I wanted them to, so I decided to take some stain on a rag and go over the sanded areas to darken them, wiping the excess off right away with a clean cloth. Any brown color will do. (When I’m distressing black furniture, I prefer to use a mahogany-colored stain to accentuate the sanded areas.) I liked the look of this light paint color as is, so I decided not to apply a glaze to further distress the wardrobe. If you’re interested in learning how to apply a glaze to further age and add more depth to your furniture, you can refer to my post, “How to Add a Patina to Furniture With Glaze.”

 How to Paint and Distress Furniture the Easy Way / HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

So here it is in all its glory! My love has been restored for this gorgeous piece of furniture, and now I smile and sigh just a little every time I see it. I love how it turned out, and my bedroom feels much more cozy with this lovely piece of “old” furniture in it. I wish I would have had the nerve to paint it years ago. It went from dated to charming in a single day.

Here are some before and after photos.

How to Paint and Distress Furniture the Easy Way / HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

How to Paint and Distress Furniture the Easy Way / HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

How to Paint and Distress Furniture the Easy Way / HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

 How to Paint and Distress Furniture the Easy Way / HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

 How to Paint and Distress Furniture the Easy Way / HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

 How to Paint and Distress Furniture the Easy Way / HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

 How to Paint and Distress Furniture the Easy Way / HomeStagingBloomingtonIL

I shudder to think of how I’ve looked at this wardrobe with distaste every day for five years or more. I often wished it would spontaneously combust (without burning the carpet) so I could get rid of it without feeling guilty. And, like Dorothy, I had the power to change it all along! I just needed some courage.

This post was written by Tracy Evans who is a Certified Home Stager, Certified Redesigner and Journeyman Painter servicing the Central Illinois area. Feel free to visit her website at www.HelpAtHomeStaging.com to view her portfolio for more before and after pictures of her projects. And if you enjoy gardening, you may want to visit her gardening blog at MyUrbanGardenOasis.

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2 thoughts on “How to Paint and Distress Furniture the Easy Way

  1. Donna says:

    Very pretty! I fully know and understand what you mean about people not wanting oak to be painted. I think it’s beautiful! Congratulations for having the courage to please yourself.

    Like

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