Tips to QUICKLY Give Furniture a Distressed Look

posted by Andrea | 11/12/2011

One of my favorite hobbies is to paint and distress furniture — which is interesting, because it’s not something I EVER saw my parents do, and I honestly wouldn’t even consider myself to be overly creative or crafty.

However, my desire for “old farmhouse style” on a very limited budget forced me to get creative and start making my own “distressed furniture” from cheapy Craigslist finds! 

And over the past five years, I’ve become a much better painter, learned many new techniques, and figured out how to REALLY streamline and simplify the whole process — betcha that doesn’t surprise you though :)

 

Here are 3 of my favorite SIMPLE furniture distressing techniques:

1. Stain/Glaze Technique: used on green armoire

I found this armoire on Craigslist and I immediately snatched it up. Yes, I know it’s ugly and made out of particle board, but it was only $20 and I was able to transform it into a make-shift mudroom!

 

INSTRUCTIONS:

1. Clean the wood/board with denatured alcohol to remove any oil, grease, and dirt.

2. Remove doors, hinges, knobs, etc.

3. Paint 2 coats of whatever color you want the cabinet to be. Let Dry!

4. Use an old rag or t shirt to rub a dark brown stain or glaze over the paint

5. Make sure you really work the stain or glaze in with a “random” motion so it doesn’t look too perfect.

NOTE: If you use glaze, it will probably “harden up” quite quickly and then you’re finished. However, if you use stain, it will NOT soak in and will become very sticky. Once it gets sticky, move onto the next step.

6. Use a foam brush to apply one or two coats of polyurethane directly over the sticky stain {The stain will not soak into the paint so unless you do the polyurethane over top, your furniture will stay sticky!}

You can see the difference before {left} and after the glaze. I love the deeper green color after the glaze!

TOTAL TIME: 

About 3 hours plus drying time.

 

2. Dry Brush Technique: used on our changing table

This was another fantastic Craigslist find. It’s an absolutely gorgeous, solid wood, Bassett dresser, and I loved everything about it… except the stain {very yellowy and NOT my style at all.}

However the structure was great, I loved the chunky wooden knobs, and it was literally the perfect size for our nursery — so I painted it red and then distressed it!

INSTRUCTIONS: 

1. Clean the wood/board with denatured alcohol to remove any oil, grease, and dirt.

2. Remove drawers, knobs, etc.

3. Paint 2 coats of your “base color” {mine was red}. Let Dry!

4. Use a VERY dry brush and get a VERY small amount of white or lighter colored paint on the tips of the bristles.

5. With a light “stroking” motion, quickly and gently “dry-brush” the white paint over the base color… always going in the same direction.

6. While the white paint is still a little damp, you can go over it with a steal wool to get an even more distressed look… or just leave it “as is”.

TOTAL TIME: 

About 2 hours plus drying time.

 

3. Steal Wool Technique: used on our nightstand

Sorry, I don’t have any “before” pictures of this one!

This nightstand is another solid wood piece I snatched up for only $10 on Craigslist — and it was already stained a really, really deep brown. I loved the stain color but wanted to lighten it up a bit so it didn’t blend in with our floors.

INSTRUCTIONS: 

1. Clean the wood/board with denatured alcohol to remove any oil, grease, and dirt.

2. Remove drawers, knobs, etc.

3. Choose a contrasting paint color — if your furniture is a light stain, then choose a dark paint. If it’s a dark stain, choose a lighter paint.

4. Paint 2 coats of paint over the entire piece {I obviously left the top unpainted but that was just my choice}.

5. Wait until the paint is ALMOST DRY and then use a piece of steal wool to gently rub off the paint on the corners, around the handles, or anywhere else you want to look distressed.

I used the same technique on this night stand too.

TOTAL TIME: 

About 30 minutes plus drying time.

 

The Materials I Use:

I almost always use Behr paint from Home Depot — and I ALWAYS stock up on Labor Day and Memorial Day because they have great rebates at that time. You can just purchase a bunch of un-tinted paint and then when you’re ready to paint something, go back to the store and have it tinted.

I use semi-gloss or satin for all my furniture projects, and rarely waste the money for primer!

 

I use whatever brushes and rollers I can get free after rebate from Menards — and I’ve never had any issues! I do always look for the 2″ angled brushes for furniture though.

 

For furniture, I use these 4″ foam rollers because they allow me to get into tight places, and they leave a really smooth finish.

And as you can see, I don’t spend a lot of money on paint trays and buckets — just simple paper plates and disposable food containers!

 

See, I told you it was simple!

I know a lot of people are intimidated by painting anything… let alone furniture. But I want to assure you that you can do this!

Just find a piece of furniture for super cheap at a thrift store or on Craigslist and give it a try. If you totally fail, you haven’t wasted much except your time. And I guarantee you’ll get better with every piece you paint!

Have you ever tried painting furniture?

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16 comments

  1. Emily

    11/12/2011

    Awesome!! I have a desk I purchased for $10 at a garage sale. I painted it black and put it in our classroom (we homeschool) but it’s sticky (all my papers stick) and just looks unfinished. I will have to redo it this winter using your tips. Thanks!!

    [Reply]

  2. Amber

    01/18/2012

    Love the distressed look! so thanks for the tips! But what glaze do you use?

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  3. Valerie

    02/03/2012

    Just curious if you sand your furniture first? And if not, do you ever use primer initially? I love this post! I just bought some furniture to refinish and this will be so helpful!

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  4. Lorraine

    09/10/2012

    I have had an island for my kitchen made using parts of my kids old baby bed — lead paint, parts lost, not usable as a bed anymore. I was going to paint everything new, but now that I see it, I want to “old paint aka distress paint” the new parts to match the old parts. Thanks for your tips. I can hardly wait for the cabinet maker to finish it so I can start painting!!

    [Reply]

  5. Beverly

    09/16/2012

    Love your ideas and tips! I am a lazy painter and these will be perfect for my yard sale finds! My husband sells steel wood by the sleeve, so I am set!

    [Reply]

  6. Cheryl

    11/06/2012

    I have some furniture with a clear coat on it. Do I need to do anything to it before I start this process? Thanks

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Cheryl, I have personally painted right over clear coats before — but if you want to be safe, just give it a light sanding first, then wipe it down with the denatured alcohol I mentioned in the post. Good luck :)

    [Reply]

  7. Susan Johnston

    11/09/2012

    Do you remember the name/brand of the paint you used for the armoire?

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  8. Angie Newsom

    12/12/2012

    Great site!!!! Love the pieces you’ve done, they look awesome!!!!

    [Reply]

  9. heather

    01/27/2013

    I love your ideas and tips…I also redo furniture but usually just paint or stain I can’t wait to try these!!

    [Reply]

  10. Doris Schmaljohn

    02/04/2013

    Have a newly stained antique. table. Don’t like stain-so want to paint apron/legs and then wipe off leaving most of stain for distressed look. Top ok as legs are different wood and looks odd. Was thinking of mustard color-flat paint, as colors in room are mustard/red/tan, brown. Will that look ok?

    [Reply]

  11. Shannon

    04/29/2013

    Curious – when you buy paint do you choose only wood paint or will you also use wall paint?

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Shannon, I use “wall paint” — which is the same as “wood paint” :) I always use Behr paint from Home Depot and it’s great for walls, wood, and so many other surfaces!

    [Reply]

  12. Yolanda

    07/21/2013

    what color did you choose for the nightstand?

    [Reply]

  13. Heather

    01/03/2014

    Hi, was wondering what color glaze (light or dark) you used in the green armoire?

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    It was actually a dark brown stain (not sure of the color anymore. sorry!) — and then we went over it with polyurethane so it wouldn’t be tacky. But if you used a glaze, I would go dark.

    [Reply]

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