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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

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  • guest

    This step by step guide is great, thankyou! I am just wondering what brand of beeswax or varnish you would recommend as the final step to protect the wood? nJo

  • Carrie Graham-Clarke

    Beeswax and varnish create two different looks. Varnish gives you a higher sheen and is ideal for those high use items – especially if the item of furniture will be used in a kitchen or bathroom. The varnish I most often use is a polyurethane varnish in matt. I often use Ronseal but do check that the paint you are using is compatible. If it’s the sheen varnish gives that you’re really after, I would suggest using a paint that has a gloss or satin effect.

    My favourite choice though, would be to use beeswax (Briwax Beeswax) or leave the furniture bare. Beeswax adds protection and a slight sheen if you polish it, but in general it just brings out the colour and lightly protects. By leaving the furniture bare, with ware you’ll add to the distressed appearance and it will look even more like an original antique.

    With all the above, do make sure you choose a clear finishing coat or it will affect the colour of the paint. Follow the instructions and always make sure to properly clean your item of furniture before applying the finishing coat.


  • Jackie

    Brilliant guide and the piece looks lovely! u00a0can you clarify what type of paint you used ie emulsion or eggshell? u00a0Jackie

  • Seems to be a resurgence of interest in the shabby chic aesthetic… or perhaps it never went away to begin with?

  • Wow, that looks fabulous Pippa, and in fact a damn site better than the original side board. Bravo.

  • Deeski

    I’ve just painted an old dresser using water based paint (2 coats of primer and 2 of paint)u00a0 The finish is great and I am wondering how I can protect it.u00a0 I thought I would use beeswax but all products I’ve seen contain turpentine and I am concerned that this might not go well with water based paint.u00a0 Any advice?

  • Anonymous

    For furniture care and its management, It is important that use paint always go in the direction of the veins, keeping a minimum of icon & Brush a thin layer of Nice. It is quality, not quantity.

  • Shabby Chic is beautiful when done properly – and this is done properly!

  • Pippa Jameson

    Thanks for all of your comments, Carrie has done a great job with this sideboard.u00a0 We shall be featuring more articles like this soon.

  • nicepost

  • Pippa Jameson

    Thank you x

  • Anonymous

    This information is not to go too crazy, just select the areas where wear occurs. It would be raised at the edges of the areas around the drawers, handles and the top of the store.

  • Anonymous

    Great job on the cabinet. It really turned out to be a shabby chic one. There’ll be a yard sale next week down the block, and I hope to find an old cabinet that I can transform into u00a0chic furniture.nnliving room chairs for sale

  • vogue living

     Absolutely you say right that after chosen piece of
    furniture, you will need to prep the surfaces to be painted. Paint shows the
    great look of furniture. Without painting the furniture can not be long
    lasting. This is lovely post. Thank you for taking time to discuss such type of
    awesome post.

    vogue living

  • Karen

    Thank you for sharing this karen :) xXx I can not wait to have a go :)

  • Jackiebunting7

    excellent guide, thankyou Jacqueline

  • Jo

    brill, going in my fave list. thank you jo.

  • Nucreation

    I’ve done some decorative painting on walls and furniture but am just starting my first shabby chic project. Its a dresser and in good shape. I have a palm sander and was wondering how much sanding was needed to remove the old finish; just enough to remove the shiny topcoat or more? Also, can a glaze be used to accent areas or do you just use paint? Thanks for posting the pics and description of your work; it looks great!

  • lee newsome

    my god what have you done to that beautiful c17 english oak sideboard.the maker of this piece would turn in his grave! leave things be.

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  • Sara

    hello thanks for the help, I have a shabby chic look on my dresser but where it has been worn away its a very dark brown do you know a way that i could achieve this on my wardrobe. I would not be wearing away a lot just on the sides?

  • Demitaylor24

    Great pieces just brought 2 distressed cabinets and matched them with some beautiful Chesterfields Sofa and Chairs from 
     These guys are wonderful and based in London. They also take care of all your needs as well as speedy delivery. My front room looks amazing!

  • Wow, such a great and simple way to do the shabby chic look. I have a fair bit of antique walnut furniture and im gonna paint them all with a pale pink undercoat and white topcoat, im sure they will look ok =o) thanks for this guide, its fab xoxox

  • Hardwood Doors

    Wow.. very nice, it is your all furniture table is unique. hardwood doors

  • Dolceporta

    great really simple hugely effective.. impressed !! which farrow and ball finish did you use ? 

  • Pippa Jameson

    Thank you and good luck with your project! X

  • Sharon Laughlin

    Can you tell me how I can acheive this look on a mahogany chest of drawers, I want it a distressed antique black.

  • I really do love shabby chic furniture. I find it amazing how with a bit f hard work you can make something truly beautiful.

  • serious inspiration !  You are a amazing !

  • Jane Foden

    I found this whilst looking for tips to do up a cheap pine dresser. What a sinful waste of a beautiful piece of furniture that could have been restored to it’s original glory just as easily. A crime against cabinet making IMO!

  • Lyn Fuller

    Hi, I am looking to make do and mend an old laquered pine table and chairs with the ‘shabby chic’ look.  Please can you advise firstly how to deal with the laquer?  Then which paint e.g F&B or who are the best to give the best results.   First time on up cycling a peice of furniture and would like it to work.  Any advice is appreciated.
    Thank a nervous restorer

  • Emma_cassen

    I have a shabby chic chest of drawers which is cream and i tried to get some wax i spilt on it and i ended up burning the top and making it worse, what can i do to cover up the burn mark and scratches.


  • Jameskinloch

    Hi did you use emulsion or eggshell for the top coat?

  • Liscal

     Its a matter of preference……

  • Jillian

    I love everything about this look!  Are there any additional steps needed if I wanted to do this on my bathroom cabinets?

  • stella bessent

    very good  i love  this look and will be doing this when i get my next flat ,,age well a very young 73  going   on 50 ,,,,,started this look in my house hubby died so had to sell ,,,

  • Lilian

    I have an old chest of drawers, and want to protect the wood, would you suggest using a wax on the inside of the drawers and all the bits of wood you don’t see?

  • Antique Lover

    Sorry to say I prefer the original. For the last year I’ve been looking for furniture for my late Victorian house, and time and time again I find pieces that I would have purchased had they not been ruined with a several coats of off white paint. I’ve tried restoring one overmantle and you can never get back the original finish. In the end I took it to a professorial restorer, who told me he liked the trend for painting antique furniture, because it was bringing in quite a bit of work undoing the shabby chic. One piece he had worked on had had thousands of pounds in value knocked off it and even the best restoration was never going to restore the original value.

  • danni

    hi, what type of paint do you use?

  • diogenesagogo

    IT’S A REPRO!!!

  • diogenesagogo

    This is not a Victorian piece. 1930 – 1970 is my guess.

  • lucy malchar

    This was really helpful and your out come was amazing. Could you please tell me if you used egg shell or emulsion? x

  • Callie

    Yes, I also wanted to know what type of paint? You’ve invited us to ask a question, please give us an answer. Lovely job by the way, very clear ( except what type of paint!) Regards

  • Pippa Jameson

    Hello everyone,
    Please accept my apology for not coming back to you sooner, I don’t always get notified when a comment has been left on articles. Firstly, I am thrilled that you have all found this guide useful, we are planning to write a lot more about Shabby Chic in the coming months.

    The paint that has been used on this piece of furniture is Farrow & Balls Matchstick White as an undercoat, and Pavilion Gray 242 for the topcoat. I would recommend the dead flat finish for a piece such as this.

    Please do let me know if you have any more questions and we will be happy to help.

    Pippa xx

  • Anthony

    Hello, what grade of sandpaper do you use for the inital varnish removal??

  • Barbara

    Enjoyed your clear directions. How do you keep the pain thin when the first dip is the heaviest? Thanks.

  • Thanks for the information. I really appreciate the efforts you have made for this post.

  • Pippa Jameson

    Hi, thanks for your question. Could you let me know what you are sanding down? Also, what is the condition of the paint? Thick? Peeling off?
    Once I know this then I can answer your question.

  • Eirwen jones

    Will any make of paint do.?
    is it emulsion or ordinary paint?


    I paint antique funiture in annie sloone paint just as a hobby. Any ideas on how to sell please. I would be most grateful

  • Carl

    I don’t know if anyone answered the ‘which paint?’ question…but I would always use an oil-based eggshell or matt because a water-based paint won’t sand as well – tends to flake. Also if you can’t be bothered doing several coats you can spray all but the final coat, just make sure not to gum up any detailed bits.

  • Pippa Jameson

    Thanks for your advice Carl. We did answer the ‘which paint’ a way back but it keeps getting asked again along the way. Do you do much in the way of furniture painting?

  • Pippa Jameson

    HI Kevin, we love Annie Sloane paint, they have such beautiful colours. There are many ways to sell your furniture online, some suggestions might be:
    -An Amazon shop (very straight forward to set-up)
    -Google Ads on other people blogs
    -Create a simple holding page on a website, you can do this for as little as £200-£300.
    Why don’t you send me some pictures of your work as I’d love to have a look, I might be able to advice some more once I’ve seen it.

  • Jan

    Thanks for the tips and I’m really happy with the result!! I also have a large mirror I want to hang over the sideboard which has a “Mahogany gilt” moulded surround. Because the moulding is not timber, I am not sure just what undercoat to put on because it is high gloss. Have you any suggestions. I can email a photo. Thank. You


  • This is an amazing tutorial. I am 3/4’s from hopefully finishing my very first attempt. I can see where I have gone wrong in some places, but will know now for my next project. Thank you again

  • I just want to say that this is THE MOST HELPFUL guide to shabby chic painting that I have found yet. You gave great detail and now that I have seen what you have done, I am sure I can do this myself. Thank you so much for this. <3

  • Eggshell x

  • Farrow & Ball is always good for distressing and an oil based Eggshell works better than a water based paint.x

  • Hi Danni,
    We have used an oil based Eggshell.x

  • Hi Anthony,
    We used 180 grit sandpaper.

  • Hi,
    We are so pleased you like the guide.
    Good luck with your projects!
    Many thanks,

  • Hi Janice,
    That’s so great to hear!
    We’d love to see your projects once you have finished.
    Good luck!

  • Elisa

    Love your post, thank you for sharing your great ideas, and creations. Keep up the beautiful work you do.

  • Sarah

    Hi, I’m painting my bedroom furniture in F&B French Grey. Here in the states the oil based paint is no longer available. Still in the sanding portion…what finish do you recommend? Do I need to use a primer? The furniture is a white wash oak. Thanks

  • lynne

    What would you recommend to remove a wax coat so that I can correct a painting error. I should have given an extra coat of paint to the top edge of a dresser I’ve just finished….or thought I’d finished!

    many thanks

  • stacy

    Can this be done on a dresser that has a pressed wood and veneer top?

  • Hi Pippa, that was really helpful, it is the distressing part that I needed help with. Do you ever use emulsion as a primer/undercoat?

  • I was wanting to paint my fire place but its MDF with wood effect coating on top, can u still paint up and what paint would u recommend please ? Thanx

  • Hi Clare,
    Thank you for your email.
    I’m afraid I haven’t painted onto wood effect MDF before. I would recommend sanding down the surface first so that you create a surface for the paint to grip. Then buy an MDF primer (ask in a large hardware store for this to make sure you get the right one)–coatings/primers/johnstones-mdf-primer/60?gclid=CLX99qLgtLcCFUzHtAodHHcATA
    and then paint, giving it two coats. Perhaps you could test an area first to make sure that are happy with the results.
    Good luck and let me know how you get on..

  • Hi Stacy, I’m sorry it has taken this long to come back to you. I’m afraid I have been out on a very long shoot and so I am a bit delayed in answering my questions. I was recently asked a similar question by another reader and this was my reply:
    “I’m afraid I haven’t painted onto wood effect MDF before. I would recommend sanding down the surface first so that you create a porous surface for the paint to grip. Then buy an MDF primer (ask in a large hardware store for this to make sure you get the right one) http://www.decoratingwarehouse
    and then paint with your chosen colour, giving it two coats and allowing sufficient drying time between coats. Perhaps test an area first to make sure that are happy with the results.
    Good luck!

  • Hi Debra, Please accept my apologies for the delay in coming back to you. The answer is no, I never use emulsion as a primer. For best results, I always use an actual primer as it creates a better gripping surface.
    I hope this helps and let me know how you got on.
    Many thanks,

  • Shirley

    the chest I am doing has a very musty smell,I have tried leaving baking soda in for 48hrs but they still smell,ant tips please

  • Holly Dixon

    Loving this piece!! Are these wood paints you use, or just regular eggshell/emulsion that you use on walls?? So you do not have to wax/ varnish the finish, does this affect the wear and tear of the piece?? And if I was to do a dining table, would you recommend I wax or varnish the top??
    thank you!

  • Pip Briggs

    all you need to do is basically do 3 coats, 1 oil based undercoat, then 2 of either a water based or oil based egg shell, sand down in the areas you want to look distressed then finish it off with a satin finish clear varnish.

  • Annie Allott

    Hi there, I M about to paint a mahogony coffin table following your guide. Since it is a dining table, should I use egg shell as the top layer, or would you suggest another finish? Thank you – Anne

  • Judy Biarkis

    This looks so easy with an amazing result! Does this work also on furniture that isn’t all wood? ie veneers?

  • Katie B

    I love this colour!! If wasn’t going to distress the the furniture would it still need two coats of primer or base colour?

  • jacqui

    This was just what i needed direct answers ,for a beginner i am about to undertake a dressing table and stool and 2 bedside lockers also 3 door wardrobe very helpfull advice thanks you

  • Lucinda Smith

    Would this method work on a teak side board? Thanks, Lucinda.

  • megan

    stumbled across this looking for tips for painting up an old wardrobe which i havent found yet! i just wondered if you had any idea of what i could expect to pay for an old wardrobe? and am i best going to an antiques fair to find one? thank you!

    ps. love what you did with the sideboard, i’m hoping i might be as successful! :) x

  • Wai

    Hi Pippa. What a brilliant website. I want to paint an old chest of drawers. Do you use a paintbrush or a roller to get an even and smooth coat? Thanks. Wai

  • Tish262

    Hi there I’ve had a breakfast bench made and I want the top to be stain proof what should I use for the finish to achieve this. Cheers Tish

  • lissie

    I have just done this on some fitted wardrobes that were in the house when we moved in and I hated the colour. I used chalk paint, cleaned surfaces first to remove dirt/grease etc. Best results were painting flat ie remove doors etc and lay flat. Its work in progress and I haven’t decided what will be best to use as protection wax or maybe a matt laquer.

  • Maggie Tuczapska

    I love the look of this finished sideboard, I’m quite intrigued on your comment that you don’t always use primer, I tend to do it anytime, never actually tried not using it… I like the clear primers, as for the distressed look I love to show the bare wood from underneath the paint. But I agree, some people prefer painted furniture, as opposed to distressed, I think it looks cleaner and will appeal to more variety of people. I just finished painting the storage cupboard in Buttermilk water based paint – somehow oil based paints are not for me – and left the top bare, as the natural Indonesian pine was simply to pretty to cover it:

  • Leanne Ramnarine

    This was a beautiful piece to start with & I love what you did with it. I just want to put a lot of milk glass on top of it. Gorgeous!

  • Jane

    hi what kind of paint was the top coat please ??
    Thanks Jane

  • Simon

    I would disagree ,painting with anything but waterbased paint is a non starter it takes forever to dry and a lot of people will struggle applying oil based paints , not much shabby chic furniture on the high street shop is painted in oil based, people have moved forward now to chalk paints which are awful !!
    Stick to a good emulsion and a good coat of wax after to achieve a nice authentic period paint look

  • Maddison

    Hi I am in the process of ordering the paint for a small drop leaf table I am going to paint. Could you tell me how much paint you used for the dresser? Thank you. x

  • Stephanie

    Just curious if you could use a paint sprayer instead of brush?

  • Sarah Lonnkvist

    staight forward ,easy to follow,great thanks.sarah

  • Pleasure Sarah, I’m glad you found it useful! x

  • Sorry Stephaine, I’ve only just seen your comment. You could do but it wouldn’t be able to get into the nooks and crannies as well. x

  • So sorry Maddison, I missed your comment! Did you manage to paint the dresser and how does it look? We’d love to see a photo?

  • Thanks you so much for your comment Leanne (which was an age ago!). I’m afraid I am only just seeing them all now!

  • Tom

    I like the idea of reusing and updating older pieces of furniture. But to ruin a beautiful piece like that

  • nigel

    If using eggshell paint would it look shabby chick with a coat of matt acrylic varnish to protect the paint this is my first attempt

  • Alison

    This looks great you are very clever!
    Do you think I could distress my TEAK sideboard?

  • michelle

    Project 1:

    Hiya, I’ve got a mahogany wood table, and chairs, that I want to paint White, I have just sanded it, I’ve got Zinsser Cover Stain, which I believe will block out the hot-pink bleed, that comes through when you paint it white without the cover stain, I am wondering what paint i should use to make the table as durable as it can be, and I want to be able to put plates with hot foods, and not have the paint come off, also i was thinking of using Gloss Paint, Or even Radiator paint, Should I use either of these Paints? (If not what would you recommend?) And if so, Do I still need to Seal it, Or is the Gloss (Or Radiator Paint) enough, If i do need to seal it What do I seal it with,

    Project 2:

    I’m also trying to Paint a Laminate Unit, White, this I was going to Seal with the Zinsser Cover Stain, just the same as the Table, and I would also like to use the same Paint I will be using for Project 1 And then Seal, or not seal, In the same way as Project 1 so whatever you would recommend for Project 1, It would be nice If it worked for Laminate as well,

    the only other thing I’m having a problem Is sanding it, I used 120 Grit sand Paper but that is not Sanding it at all! I have 220 coming soon, but will this be Enough?

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Bad Builders Bang to Rights trailer

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Pippa Jameson appears on BBC2 The Fixer, with Alex Polizzi, offering expert trend and style advice to struggling family business, Alf Onnie, in East Ham. The two owners (brothers) come along to a Heart Home Photoshoot to get some style ideas along with a trend masterclass.

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Pippa Jameson is an experienced Interior Stylist, Art Director, Consultant and TV Designer who has worked in London and abroad for the past 20 years. This site was started as a way for Pippa to share her industry knowledge of current interiors news and trends, whilst having a behind the scenes glimpse of a life in the day of a Stylist.


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