How to Paint Furniture In Shabby Chic or Smart Style
How to paint furniture...
Follow our real life project to learn about painting furniture.
A shabby chic look was our aim for this cupboard, but you can adapt these techniques to smarter styles, too...
Snazz up that old furniture. Give tired or unloved furniture a new lease of life with a coat of paint...
Here are some easy instructions for how to paint furniture...
We'll be looking at a project my husband and I recently did for our living room...
Ian starts on our own furniture painting project
It's an old cupboard that had been stood neglected in a corner of the garage for a couple of years now...
We gave it a nice, 'new', shabby chic finish...
(But the instructions on how to paint furniture will cover how to get a smarter painted look, too, if that's what you prefer)...
The cupboard is a real wood, so it's easily suitable for painting.
These days you can pretty much paint any furniture, but you don't use the same kind of paint.
Glossy surfaces such as melamine or metal are a little harder to paint than wood, but if you prepare the piece well (usually with a good primer, fit for that specific purpose) you shouldn't have too many problems.
(They do specialist melamine primers and paints now, and also paints suitable for metals)
These instructions focus on how to paint furniture made of wood
Me, painting furniture sunshine-style - see the sun does sometimes come out in the UK
Here's how to paint furniture
...with a shabby chic finish
Our how to paint furniture project covers the steps we did for our own shabby chic style project. We also cover some useful tips and ideas for how to paint furniture in a different style.
Always check on paint tins, to check the paint and technique you've chosen is suitable for your own furniture painting project.
Check out the condition of the surface you want to paint
You need to see how glossy your surface is. If your furniture has previously been painted with a gloss or satin paint, or a glossy varnish, it is a good idea to give it a light sanding first.
This will help the new paint have something to stick to - basically, if you try to apply new paint over a glossy surface, your paint will just slide off.
Our cupboard had been in the garage for a couple of years, and had even been left out in the rain (we donated it to a charity, once, who were going to collect it, but they never turned up)...
...so, the surface was already pretty roughed-up, and we didn't bother sanding it...
We did make sure it was clean and dry though - this is an essential step! We dusted it down of any bugs and cobwebs, and gave it a good wipe over with warm soapy water - then allowed it to dry in the sun.
You can also use white spirit to wipe down furniture before you paint, or between coats.
Apply a suitable primer
Next, make sure your final coats have a good base by applying a coat of a suitable primer.
We've often been tempted to miss out this step, but it's rarely a good idea - when we've ploughed on through with the final coats, they have started to peel after just a short time - so don't skip this step!
Having said that, if you have previous coats of the same paint finish (matt, gloss, satin, etc) you may be able to miss out the primer stage, and just sand your surface down lightly, before you apply your top coats.
Make sure your primer is suitable for:
The surface you are applying it to (wood, metal, etc)
The paint you want to use (gloss, satin, matt, oil-based, etc)
We like to have some multi-purpose primer in our garage, so that we can get on with most projects without having to go out to buy more - this is suitable for most surfaces (check your tin, to be sure)...
So, we started our project by painting an even coat of primer (not too thick - as with all painting, it's better to paint two thin coats than one thick one).
We choose a dark gray primer, as this would allow us to create the shabby chic finish on our cupboard, by sanding back the top coats a little, so that the gray would show through.
If you don't want to paint your furniture shabby chic style, and would prefer a 'normal' smart finish on your piece, you can choose a color of primer which is a closer color match to your top coats.
Out in the sun, it didn't take too long to dry at all, so we could get on with the next step...
Optional step - sand down the primer
This is an optional step, which we didn't do with this project. If your primer has gone on thickly, or with any runs or imperfections, try a light sanding down, to give you a nice, smooth base for your top coats...
You can wipe again with white spirit, to remove any bits of sanding dust.
Top coat one
Now the top coat. Make sure you have chosen the right paint. We chose an eggshell finish for our cupboard - you might prefer a matt, satin or gloss paint.
Now, simply, paint the piece of furniture. Use long, smooth, even strokes. And (where possible) go in the same direction of any wood grain.
I found it easier to use a paint brush than a small roller - better for getting around tight corners, and fiddly bits of trim.
If you have any glass you don't want to get paint on, you have a few options:
Mask off with masking tape - this is quite time consuming and fiddly. And, unless you're very careful, you can still get paint creeping underneath the masking tape, where it lies unnoticed until the coat is dry and you remove the tape.
Also, with masking tape, there is a possibility that some of your paint will come off as you remove the tape, leaving you with a nasty mark...
So, for these reasons, we tend to avoid masking tape where possible.
Small paint brush approach - this is the method we used to paint our cupboard's glass door. With a small hobby paintbrush my husband ran down the thin window-panes. You need a steady hand for this one...
Glad Ian's got a steady hand, to keep our how to paint furniture project neat!
Although, there is always the last method...
Clean up afterwards - here you would just paint the wood surrounds to the window panes (large or small brush). Do try to be a little careful, as this will mean you have less remedial work to do.
Clean up as you go by wiping with a baby-wipe - very effective at wiping up most kinds of paint (paint must still be wet)...
Or, if the paint has dried, you can carefully remove any paint from the glass with a razor-blade.
Allow to dry
- I know you're keen to get your project finished, but don't put the second coat on before the first coat has dried completely...
My husband always gets impatient and tries to risk it, sometimes messing up the early coat, and making a rough surface that needs sanding down later...
When you try to paint over drying (still partially wet) paint, you 'rough-up' the drying surface, usually leaving a nasty sticky, smudged mark in your paint...
This also applies if you try to touch-up or 'over-paint' paint, that has started to dry whilst you are painting. Some kinds of paint are more susceptible to this - more often gloss and satin finishes. And if it's a hot day, you are more likely to get this happening while you are actually painting.
Optional sanding between coats
In some cases one coat may be enough. Most pieces of furniture will need two (or more) coats of paint.
If there are any rough bits, runs or imperfections, it's a good idea to sand down the surface before you do the final coat.
- paint the final coat as before, taking care to be extra neat and smooth, as this is the one on show.
See, I do do some work - it's not all taking photos!
If you want a standard paint finish on your furniture, you can stop now. (You can also give a light sanding at the end to neaten up, if necessary).
If you want to know how to paint furniture with a shabby chic finish, then read the next step...
How to paint furniture with a shabby chic finish - getting the 'distressed' look
We wanted to give our cupboard a shabby chic finish - mainly to give those boring flat surfaces a more interesting look.
The shabby chic style suits the traditional design of this furniture well, and gives it a more modern look, but still emphasizing the nostalgic feel.
As an additional bonus, the shabby chic finish also helps to disguise any bits of painting that are slightly less-than-perfect! Result!
How to paint furniture with a shabby chic paint finish? What we did to was to sand down our top layers of paint carefully, just along the edges, where wear and tear occur naturally.
Sand back to the undercoat to get a distressed finish - that's how to paint furniture in a shabby chic style
This allows the gray primer we painted on earlier to show through, as a contrast to the top layer of white/cream.
As an alternative distressed finish, you can sand back to the wood beneath. If you like this idea, try putting a bit of furniture wax along the edges you're planning on sanding back to, before you start painting.
Here, the paint won't adhere to the wax, and it makes it much easier to sand back to the wood finish.
You could get creative with the bottom layer of paint, and use a bold color beneath, to add a real element of color and surprise to your furniture painting techniques.
Optional step - varnish or wax
- if your item of furniture is going to be in constant use, and needs to stand up to a fair bit of wear and tear, you can protect the finish with one or more coats of thin varnish.
Or add to the shabby chic, 'distressed' finish with an antiquing wax, applied over the paint, which will help give your new paint that instant 'aged' look, as well as giving it some protection from knocks and scrapes.
So, here's our finished item of furniture painted in shabby chic style...
Finished! Our completed how to paint furniture project
It's now in pride of place in the corner of our lounge...
We've been having a bit of a lounge makeover - it's only part-way through at the moment, but I'll try to take some piccies to show you, soon...
I hope our project has helped you learn how to paint furniture in a shabby chic or smarter style.