Hand Painting Furniture - A DIY guide to re-creating the Shabby Chic look

Which paint do I use?, water based or oil based?

For the sake of the enviroment we should all really be using water based acrylic eggshell paint to paint our furniture, waterbased paint dries in half of the time and gives off far fewer noxious odours. Oil eggshell in my experience, does tend to be harder wearing and seems to adhere to slighly ropier surfaces a little better but on the downside, it very smelly and takes ages to dry and cleaning up is a pain.
If it doesn't say of the front of the paint tin, the brush cleaning instructions will give you a hint, if you clean the paintbrushes in white spirit then its likely to be oil based.
Farrow and Ball paints always tend to get the thumbs up for a good selection of aged colours well pigmented and are available as oil based or water based Eggshell paint, though the oil based paints are a little harder to paint with. I also like the Crown Fashion For Walls Range also, the non drip matt for woodwork (waterbased and a little more contemporary than shabby chic). Read through the guide before you rush off and buy the paint it is advisable to either use an undercoat and water based paint or oil based paint on any item prevously painted in gloss or old paint.

I have heard lots of positive things about Annie Sloans Chalk paint too, particularly for its coverage of previously waxed furniture.

You will need:


Paint Water based Acrylic or oil based eggshell possibly an acrylic based primer/undercoat

A dust free workspace

2 quality paint brushes a small ish 1 1/2" and a 3 or 4" brush or a foam roller for large flat areas (invest in some very fat fluffy professional brushes and you won't regret it!)

Medium and Medium to fine Sandpaper(an 80 and a 120 grit will probably be sufficient, its labelled usually on the back)

White Spirit

Cleaning cloths

A candle

Dust Mask

What are you planning to paint?

Firstly if the piece of furniture that you are planning to paint is valuable or expensive, practice on a couple of inexpensive pieces of furniture first, until your technique is refined and you get the finish that you want

Preparation is dull but it really is important, How you prepare the item of furniture to be painted depends on the existing finish...

Below are instructions for four different types of finish

-laquered or previously varnished or painted surfaces

-Previously waxed pine or wood

-Unfinished Wood

Painting a previously painted, varnished or laquered piece of furniture

If the surface in hard and glassy, its likely that it's been laquered, check that the surface that you're planning to paint is sound, if you can run your fingernails across it without disturbing the finish its likely to be sound. Remove all handles, give it a really thorough rubbing down with medium fine sandpaper, (this is especially important if you're using water based paint) until there are no shiny surfaces left. If the surface is flaky or you can scratch it off with your fingernail, keep sanding until you have a stable surface to work off.

It your piece of furniture is painted in gloss paint again keep sanding until all the shine has gone, you may need to use an oil based paint.

Dampen a clean rag with white spirit and wipe down all sanded surfaces of the furniture you are planning to paint, removing all dust, allow to dry for ten minutes.

Check the piece of furniture over if there are any old holes etc that need filling, do so now, use ready mixed sandable wood filler and a filling knife, fill any holes until level, wait for it to dry thoroughly and sand until it is level, take care not to try and match the texture of the filled area to the wood that you are filling, otherwise it will be noticeable under the paint. touch up the filled in area with a little primer or at a push a thinned down coat of the paint that you are planning to use (this is to seal the filler and stop it leaching the moisture out the top coat)

If you want a shabby chic distressed look to your furniture, stand well back take a look at the piece of furniture that you are planning to paint. Imagine it to be 100 years old and where it may naturally have accquired a few knocks, scrapes and general wear and tear, on chest of drawers it may around the handles, on the top lip, on the edges, corners and tops of the drawers. On chairs it will be round the bottom of legs on the back and end of the arms, you get my drift... take a candle, rub it on the parts where the paint should be distressed (the point is to stop the paint adhering fully to these parts) commit to memory or draw a sketch of where you've rubbed the wax.

Starting at the top and working your way down, paint mouldings or detail first, using the small brush, the underside of table edges and lip, get into all of the nooks and crannies, do not overload the paintbrush (you won't need to if you bought a decent brush) keep the paint moving, if you need to stop, finish painting the leg, panel or area first to avoid visible joints in paintwork.

When painting a large flat area or large panels, use the larger brush or a good quality foam roller, thin the paint a little (see tin)and move the brush or roller in long sweeping strokes. Again don't stop part way through painting a table top.

Allow the first coat to dry thoroughly (see paint tin, don't rush this bit!) lightly sand to remove any blemishes or imperfections and apply second coat of paint to your piece of furniture and allow to dry. Any imperfections, again, can be smoothed out with fine sandpaper dampened slightly. You may need a third coat if you have used a roller.

Take a piece of fine wire wool or fine sandpaper and rub back the paint on the areas to which you have applied the wax, take a step back and look to check that you are getting the desired effect, its easy to get carried away!

Voila! A piece of handpainted furniture, my personal preference for finishing is a nice quality clear beeswax polish, you can also use tinted antique beeswax polish for an aged look, or non-yellowing varnish, paint up an old piece of wood to experiment on if you're not confident...

Finish with some handpainted drawer pulls from The Secret Garden! www.secretg.co.uk

Tips for painting previously waxed pine or wood furniture

Annie Sloan and Autentico Chalk paints do claim to cover previously waxed and painted furniture, I've heard lots of good reports and both ranges offer between them fab colour choices.

Sorry to break it to you, but though it is not impossible to paint over previously waxed furniture, it is not a pleasant task, not sure if it's waxed? run your fingernail over the surface if the surface is soft and collects under your nail, the chances are it has been waxed.
You will need lots of medium wire wool, wax or finish remover, rubber gloves, lots of elbow grease.

It is advisable to work outdoors as the solvents are pretty strong, follow the instructions on the bottle. Keep turning the wire wool over as you work and discard (dispose of it carefully, as is can self combust!) once it starts to get clogged, keep at it until all of the wax is dissolved.

Ideally you should prime bare wood with Primer/Undercoat (buy a 2 in 1 product) first before you paint, however this can cause a few problems if you are planning on rubbing back the paintwork to distress the finish as the primer will show through rather than the wood. If both the primer and topcoat are similar colour, no problem, if not and providing they are both waterbased try decanting a little of each and mixing them both together so that you soften the colour of the primer and the colour differences are not so startling.

Give the item of furniture that you are planning to paint a quick rub down with some medium/fine sandpaper follow the main instructions above from filling holes. Follow rest of instructions above.

Painting previously unpainted wood furniture

Sand lightly, prime and continue with instructions above.


Good luck and send me your photos of your finished hand painted furniture...


© 2009 Helen Bundy |The Secret Garden| Conwy

Here are a few customer photos to help get your creative juices flowing, thanks to everyone for sharing your photos, follow me on Pintrest for lots more furniture painting ideas!

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