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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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  • 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?

Bad Builders Bang to Rights trailer BBC2 The Fixer with Alex Polizzi Command™ Picture Hanging Strips How to get the Luce look

Bad Builders Bang to Rights trailer

Episode 1 trailer on iTV

BBC2 The Fixer with Alex Polizzi

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.

Command™ Picture Hanging Strips

Pippa Jameson shows how to put together a creative display with 'no nails' using the Command™ Picture Hanging Strips. No more nail holes in the wall and great for rental properties.

How to get the Luce look

Pippa Jameson gives advice on kitchen designs and style using the LUCE collection from Hotpoint

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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