Knowing how to distress furniture comes in handy when you want to blend new or handmade furnishings with vintage or antique furnishings. Specific DIY distressing techniques provide nearly unlimited alternatives to sprucing up old pieces, customizing garage or estate sale finds and upcycling thrift store or free-on-the-curb furniture. If you want to add a timeless air to your own belongings, this guide helps you get the makeover results you want by defining different distressing styles and providing step-by-step guidance for how to distress furniture.
Defining Distressed Furniture
Distressed furniture refers to pieces that have been deliberately weathered or damaged to give them an older appearance. Many methods exist for adding the look of wear and tear, with some requiring sandpaper, paint strippers and various distressing mediums. Finished pieces typically exude vintage flair in cottage or shabby-chic rooms or bring rustic beauty to farmhouse or country-style spaces. Additionally, distressed furniture techniques imbue furnishings with one-of-a-kind style to help you personalize your home decor. While wood proves especially well-suited to distressing techniques, other materials also handle it well, including:
Styles Well-Suited to Distressing
Many styles of furniture take well to distressing techniques, making them a flexible way to enhance furnishings. Simple weathered wood frames offer a beautiful way to accent old-fashioned photographs, while primitive buffets and sideboards fit flawlessly with lodge-style home decor. Adding signs of wear to newly built mid-century modern tables helps them pair perfectly with the real deal, and imbuing antique bedroom suites with a patina helps them mesh well with treasured family heirlooms. Distressed furniture runs the gamut from farmhouse and country to rustic and nautical, providing nearly limitless options for customizing your living space.
Decorating with Distressed Furniture
Decorating with distressed furnishings can be as elaborate as entire rooms filled with themed furniture or as simple as adding an accent piece to contemporary home decor. For example, farmhouse kitchens benefit from wire-brushed bakers racks and whitewashed or pickled cabinets, while sitting rooms may only require a crackle-finished urn to complete a classic look. Whether you want to make over your whole home or just bring a touch of hominess to certain spaces, learning how to distress furniture and furnishings adds a useful skill to your home decor tool belt.
How to Distress Furniture
The steps you use when learning how to distress furniture are fairly simple and straightforward. Typically, this DIY project begins like any other with preparing your space and cleaning your piece, but actual distressing techniques vary, depending on how you want your final result to look. This furniture distressing tutorial walks you through many common techniques so you can decide what’s best for your DIY project.
Preparing Your Work Area
Before you start your DIY distressed furniture project, you need to prepare your work area. First, tape off any portion of the piece of furniture you’re distressing with masking or painters tape, then put down a tarp or drop cloth to protect your flooring.
Cleaning and Sanding the Surface
Once you’ve prepared your space, it’s time to clean the wall, object or piece of furniture you wish to distress. An easy way to remove all the dirt and grime, especially on actual old pieces, is by using Tri-Sodium Phosphate. When you’ve wiped the surface down completely, fill any holes and sand down any rough spots that don’t work with your distressing aesthetic. If you spot any metal stains and want to remove them, consider using Oxalic Wood Bleach by the Real Milk Paint Co. before you move on to the furniture painting step.
Distressing Wood Via Damage
While many furniture distressing techniques are designed for use after painting, most makeovers require damaging the surface before you paint. You can start by using imperfect wood for DIY projects that’s already distressed to a degree, or you can choose woods that mar easily and damage them yourself. Soft woods in particular take well to wire brushing, and you can do this by attaching a wire brush to an electric drill and using it to create deeper grooves in the surface to mimic the look of weathered barn wood. Other techniques include beating the wood with a chain to leave subtle indentations or hitting it with a rag filled with sharp nails to add small yet deep divots. When you get the results you require, move on to the painting phase.