At Period Living, we are often asked how to upcycle dark brown furniture using a distressed paint effect to evoke French country style.
Dark brown wooden furniture – that tribe of low-value, clunky pieces dating from the late-19th and early-20th centuries – suffers from an image problem. With today’s preference for light, airy and uncluttered interiors, ordinary brown furniture can be hard to work into a room scheme. As a result, perfectly serviceable pieces of Victorian, Edwardian and early-20th-century furniture are often chopped up into firewood or thrown into a skip.
However, if you like the basic design of a piece and have use for it, then it can be uplifted, upcycled and transformed with a bit of imagination and several layers of paint.
To create a French country style paint effect, you will need…
- Sugar soap
- Primer – we used Owatrol ESP (Easy Surface Preparation)
- Chalk or water-based paints – we used Annie Sloan Chalk Paint in three different shades for an aged, distressed effect: Old White for the first coat, Paris Grey for the second coat, and Country Grey for the top coat
- Wood finishing wax
- Scourer, sponge and cloths
- Work gloves
- Face mask
1. Clean up the wood: Remove any loose or flaking paint or varnish. Scrub the table with sugar soap and hot water to get rid of grease and dirt. Mop up the surplus water as you work or it may raise the grain of the wood. Rinse with clean water and wipe dry with rags. Allow to dry naturally and if necessary lightly smooth with fine glasspaper.
2. Prepare the surface: The primer we used, Owatrol ESP, prepares shiny surfaces for painting, so you don’t have the laborious job of stripping or sanding back paint or varnish. Using a clean dry cloth, wash the table with a generous amount of ESP. Leave to dry for a minimum of two hours. When dry, the surface will be dull and slightly grainy.
3. Apply the first coat of paint: Unlike most water-based paints, Annie Sloan Chalk Paint can be applied straight on to the wood without using a primer. Stir the paint for the first coat – we used Old White. If it’s too thick, add a little water. Apply with a synthetic-mix bristle brush big enough to cover efficiently, but without overloading the brush or applying too thickly.
4. Create depth and shading: Once the first coat is dry use a narrow brush to apply the second coat – we used Paris Grey – to the legs and to the edge of the table. Painting brown furniture draws attention to the shape and emphasises mouldings, so highlighting some areas will produce a greater depth when distressing and ageing the finish.
5. Apply the final coat of paint: Next brush on the top coat of paint – we used Country Grey for perfect French country style- over the whole piece. Leave it for a couple of hours to dry. A note of caution: when emulsion paints are applied to a non-porous finish, such as ESP, they will take longer to completely cure – up to 30 days, so treat furniture very carefully after it’s been painted.
6. Apply a layer of wax: Apply a thorough coating of clear wax using a brush, cloth or sponge. Use a wood-finishing wax made from natural ingredients, such as beeswax, rubbed in with a sponge using a firm circular motion. The wax will be absorbed into the water-based paint making it easier to distress and reveal the colour beneath.
7. Create faux wear and tear: Now the paint is softened, rub away patches with glasspaper or steel wool in areas that would naturally show wear through use and time. You can produce different effects with various grades of glasspaper and steel wool. You may want to practise first by experimenting on some painted and waxed wood off-cuts.
8. Add an antique patina: To create an antique patina reminiscent of French country style, rub in wood-finishing wax (dark), using a circular motion, and push the wax firmly into the paint. Rub lightly with glasspaper and apply more wax until you achieve the desired finish. Finally, apply more wax all over. Leave to harden overnight and buff to a sheen.