How To Get the Vintage Look

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Vintage furniture is in, but it can be hard to find the perfect piece to be placed directly into your home.

Instead, some crafty people will distress an existing piece of furniture, adding imperfections like dings or highlighting layers of paint.

Luckily for DIY amateurs, it’s hard to get this technique wrong. “The great thing about distressing furniture is that if you don’t like the way something looks, you can just sand it off or paint over it to start again,” says Brittany Bailey, who blogs at

While there’s a lot of creative freedom in distressing furniture, there are also some hard and fast rules. A good one is that newbies should stick with solid wood, since sanding and painting laminate requires some skill.

Plus, it’s smart to choose the piece of furniture from a re-sale store or thrift shop rather than pay full price for a product you’re about to remake. “I love the idea of bringing an old piece of wood back to life,” says Mary Beth Wilhelm, owner of Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Darling ‘n Distressed Furniture.

The most important rule though, is to prep your surface. “You have to give the paint something to stick to, so it doesn’t chip over time,” Bailey says.

Use sandpaper to rough up the piece’s surface and remove an existing finish. Wilhelm uses a 60-grit with a palm sander to remove finishes and a 120-grit to distress. Bailey prefers to lightly use 180- to 220-grit to remove the finish.

“That is enough to take off the paint but its not going to gouge the surface,” Bailey says.

Once the surface is ready, the next step is paint choice.  Many distressers like “chalk” paint, which distresses better than typical latex wall paint, doesn’t require a primer, but can be pricey. For that reason, Wilhelm prefers a paint and primer in one.

Then it’s time to pick colors – Bailey recommends layering at least two – and have at it. Play around with glazes, adding one at the corners and other nooks and crannies, which can give furniture a really worn look.

For more texture, beat up the piece with a hammer or chains to add some dents and dings.

Splatter some stain around with foam brush to fake age. Drag a dry brush through wet paint to add texture.

“The main thing is to not be afraid,” Bailey says “Paint is so cheap. If you don’t like it, you can start over. There’s really nothing to lose.”

Tags: DIY, distressed, vintage