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How to create a shabby chic paint effect

Shabby chic furniture has become very popular over recent years. Also referred to as distressed or aged, shabby chic is a type of interior design where furniture is selected for its signs of agedness, wear and tear. People are now seeking out vintage or retro furniture and getting creative with their interiors by giving these acquired items a shabby chic paint effect. Alternatively, new furniture is bought and purposefully distressed to give the items an antique appearance. Here is a list of some items you could add a shabby chic paint effect to:

  • Chest of drawers
  • Wardrobes
  • Picture frames
  • Chests or kists
  • Tables
  • Chairs
  • Mirrors
  • Boxes and other storage items
  • Wooden fences or panelled walls
  • Doors

You can add the shabby chic effect to just about anything! It’s a clever way of adding some personality to your furniture and making your house more homely. Plus, you can have lots of DIY fun. But where do you begin once you have the items that you want to paint? Follow these simple steps to create your own shabby chic paint effect:

1.Choose your shabby chic colours

When choosing your paint colours, remember to consider how the item will fit in with the interior design of your home and, more specifically, the room or area it will live in. Shabby chic traditionally uses pale and pastel colours. Colours like natural white, soft pink, creamy brown, subtle peach, delicate grey and mint green are very trendy. But there aren’t really any rules these days, so you might prefer to go bright. Why not consider different combinations, likes blues and greens or whites and browns. Let your imagination have fun!

2. Prepare the item

How much you need to do before you bring out the paintbrushes will depend on whether the item is old or new and what finishing it currently has. Preparation is key. If the item has a layer of varnish, wax or paint then it will need to be removed using varnish remover, wire wool and paint stripper / turpentine. Ideally, it should then be sanded down so that fresh coats of paint will effectively stick to the furniture. Before moving on to the next step, wipe the surface of your item with a soft, slightly damp cloth to remove dust.

3. Prime it

Applying a thin coat of primer will give the furniture a smoother finish, which makes it easier to work with. Allow the primer to dry completely before beginning to paint.

4. Start painting

Apply a coat of your chosen paint colour using a paintbrush or roller and let it dry completely before moving onto the next step. For a smooth finish you can very finely sand the first coat of paint.

5. Get distressed


Apply a second layer of paint, either the same colour as your first coat or a different colour if you are doing a combination. Once the paint is dry, you rub away the second layer of paint in selected places to reveal the first layer.


After allowing your first coat of paint to dry completely, dab on streaks of furniture wax with a paintbrush, sponge, cloth or even your finger. The trick is to add the wax only in the places where you want the wood to look distressed. This is done because the wax will repel the second layer of paint. Paint over the whole item again and let it dry, then wipe a soft cotton cloth over the areas with wax. This will allow the base colour to show through. Alternatively, you can also use soap or petroleum jelly.

Sanding / wiring / scraping

If you would like to distress your furniture even more, you can use sandpaper, wire wool, nails or a hammer to scrape away the layers of paint to create a time-worn feel. If you get it wrong, just try again. The key to creating a shabby chic paint effect is to make it random, which makes it hard to get it wrong. You are basically just replicating the knocks, scrapes and scratches that an item of furniture would take after being around for a decade or more.

6. Apply polish

Once you are satisfied with your shabby chic paint effect, you can simply apply some clear wax furniture polish to protect the surface and give it a gentle sheen. There is no need to apply varnish.

The result is a “new” furniture piece with charming character that will inevitably rejuvenate your home’s interior. Why not give it a try?

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