A Guide to Shabby Chic Furniture Painting

As the saying goes “make do and mend!” I’m a firm believer in up-cycling tired & unwanted furniture, rather than buying new.  With a little bit of graft – probably a lot of sanding – you can customize your own unique piece of furniture.  As a guide here is a sideboard I recently up-cycled for a client.

how to shabby chic - sideboard ready to be upcycled

Once you have your chosen piece of furniture, you will need to prep the surfaces to be painted. First be sure to remove any handles, hinges or metalwork. You’re now ready to start stripping the paint or varnish, to do this I tend to use sandpaper or Nitromors. I find both methods are equally effective and take the same amount of time, but when working with heavy detail Nitromors is best. Nitromors is a chemical substance that removes paint, varnish and skin, so do be careful and wear protective clothing & work in a well ventilated area.

shabby chic furniture painting

Once the item has been stripped and sanded, get rid of any dust by wiping it down with warm water – allow to dry.  A little tip for you; in my photo you will see my dog Ted happily snoozing, make sure when painting that animals stay well away! Their hair will get into the paint and on to your furniture – not a good look!  I also avoid painting outside on a sunny day as bugs find the gleam of the fresh wet paint extremely inviting. Once they bugs have landed they don’t come off without a little help.. this will leave marks.

how to shabby chic

Primer.. I don’t always use primer but depending on the condition of the wood it is sometimes necessary.  This particular sideboard is in a good condition, so instead of a primer I will be apply two coats of white.  I like to use Farrow & Ball paints; for this sideboard I am using Matchstick White as an undercoat, and an Eggshell Pavilion Grey for the topcoat (oil-based eggshells or matt paints are best as a water-based paint won’t sand as well).  When applying the paint always go in the direction of the wood grain, keeping minimal paint on the paintbrush & with nice thin layer.  It’s quality, not quantity.

how to shabby chic

Allow each layer of paint to dry properly before adding the next.  This photo is after one layer of Matchstick White. Keep applying even layers.

how to shabby chic

This sideboard has now had two layers of Matchstick White and two layers of Pavilion grey. I added in some standard black paint to darken the Pavilion grey as it was paler than my client wanted. I tend to leave the piece to thoroughly dry for a minimum of 24 hours before distressing.  Some people do not like the distressed look, so you could always leave it as above and just add a varnish or wax to protect the paint.

how to shabby chic

When distressing the furniture, there are so many routes and degrees of “aging” that you can do.  As this piece is a commission I’ve been asked to not go too crazy, just highlight on areas where, wear and tear would occur. For instance this would be on raised areas, edges, around drawers, handles & the top of detailing. To distress I use 180 grit sandpaper, the trick is to sand in one direction repeatedly. If you want to create extra damage and bruise the furniture, use metal chain or the edge of metal tools to beat the furniture.  I don’t do this often as I feel it’s fairly sacrilege & most often the antiques I paint are well used and slightly battered.

how to shabby chic - the finished result

Once you’re content with the finish, you can either leave as is, or add a coat of beeswax or varnish. This will help protect the wood, but don’t be too overzealous as an overly shiny varnish will not look authentic and shabby chic! If you have any questions or want further tips, please do not hesitate to email me.

Check out my shop for my favourite Shabby Chic pieces


Meet Pippa

Pippa Jameson is an author, tv designer and interiors expert. The previous interior editor on several leading UK titles, Pippa has a wealth of knowledge and experience. Throughout her 25-year career, Pippa’s unique and creative approach has won her commissions for large retail brands and celebrities to deliver exciting and engaging projects. 

She’s written the curriculum for the British College of Interior Design, produced and styled shoots for well-known brands including John Lewis, H&M & Team GB/DFS, worked as an International Stylist for leading paint brands in Asia, consulted on the launch and creative direction of major retail names including George Home and Wren, and most recently, published her first book, The Sensory Home. Pippa possesses expertise unmatched in the interior industry.