Our upcycling blog series looks at different methods of converting old furniture back into beautiful, useful pieces for your home. This post focuses on the art of distressing.


This technique is also known as shabby chic or antiquing. It gives an aged look that expresses quality, value and timber durability. It is particularly associated with elegant French provincial styles which goes well with many different home décor styles. It’s also great fun to do and very rewarding when you see the results of your labour. Here are the steps you need to take:


Step 1. Preparation

Distressing can be a messy job as you will be stripping off layers of paint, so the first step you should take is to lay down a dust sheet. Also ensure that you are working in a well-ventilated room as you’ll be sanding and there will be a lot of particles in the air. This also means you should wear a dust mask and safety goggles.  

Step 2. clean

Often the furniture you’re working on will be old and possibly bought second hand, so there’s bound to be a layer of grime on it. It’s important to remove this so that you can see exactly what you’re working on and understand what the results will be. To remove dirt we recommend using sugar soap, whilst wearing gloves.

Step 3. Sanding

Now clean, you’ll need to strip off all existing paint or varnish. This will require either sanding sheets or an electric sander, but ideally both so you can get a consistent finish on the smooth parts whilst also getting into all the detail. If you don’t have an electric sanding tool you can use a Sanding Kit with your electric drill. Try not to take off any of the natural wood, but don’t worry if you make it rough when you’re doing it as this will end up giving you a better finish. Brush any loose dust off.

Step 4. Painting

You can use standard emulsion paint but many like to use a chalk-based paint as the finish has that matt, textured look. Once you’ve selected your colour apply a first thick coat, ensuring it doesn’t drip. When it is dry rough it up with some sandpaper to allow the next layer to grip. Then you can add a second layer. Use an angled paint brush for the surface and a precision brush for the detailed areas.

Step 5. Distressing

This is the stage that will make all the difference to your project but requires more sanding. Once the paint is completely dry, carefully scrape away the paint using a putty knife. Focus on the areas that would naturally get worn by general use, i.e. the edges and corners. Use the sandpaper for any large flakes of paint and to smooth off the areas that are rough. Once you are happy with the look take a dry brush to dust off any loose bits.

Step 6. Finishing

Apply one or two coats of either clear varnish or furniture wax to give it a soft finish.