Let me preface this wee tutorial with a disclaimer: I ain’t claiming to be no painting expert. So please bear that in mind before you send me an email asking a question about a painting project. Generally, I will answer you with: I don’t know. I am very good at researching crap on the interweb. I am also very good at asking questions at my local Benjamin Moore store. I am not afraid to try new things – you shouldn’t be either. However, should you ruin a piece of your furniture whilst attempting to distress/antique it… well, I’m not taking responsibility. Sand ‘er down and try something else. For heaven’s sake, I cannot manage you and the Cat Farm. When in doubt, check with someone who is an expert.
Alright. Moving on. This little how-to guide is for antiquing and distressing with paint. There are many methods out there, and some of it is dependant on whether you are working with a painted piece, natural wood or some man-made product. I was working with pre-fab/painted pieces from Home Sense, thus this tutorial is for working with similar items. So don’t be sending me questions about other types of projects, people. I can’t help you. There are tons of tutorials on distressing and antiquing online. Have a look around, settle on something you like and give ‘er a try. I mixed a couple of methods to find something I was comfortable with and figured I’d get me some awesome results. Also, some tutorials online will guide you through a super distressed (i.e. kick the crap out of your furniture) look. I didn’t want to go that far, so I did not whack my furniture with chains or gauge it with screwdrivers. I just wanted it to look a bit distressed on the edges and corners. You know, cottage chic. You could, should you so desire, hire some neighbourhood kids to really work your table over.
Here’s the before: cat pee yellow, pre-fab tables from Home Sense – aka new master bedroom bedside tables.
Here’s the after: drying in the craft room.
Sand the b*tch. This applies to pretty much any painted project. You want to rough up the surface so your primer will stick to it like peanut butter to the roof of your mouth. You don’t need to use anything too coarse – unless you want the piece to look super rustic. I’d stick with a medium or fine sandpaper – you can ask at your hardware store if you aren’t sure. You can sand by hand or with a sander. Follow the grain of the wood (if possible). For pre-fab surfaces you might have to use your imagination. My pieces, for example, were made of some sort of space-aged material with futuristic paint, so I sanded it following an imaginary grain. Be sure to wipe the sanded furniture down thoroughly with a tack cloth or damp rag – you want to make sure you get rid of all the debris before painting. You can even vacuum the crevices to be extra sure you’re debris-free.
Prime. I like Zinsser 1-2-3 Bulls Eye. It sticks to everything and really stinks up the place. There are many great primers on the market – check around. There are primers for wood, and primers for laminates, etc. Shiny stuff needs good bonding power, so be sure you’re using the appropriate primer if you want your hard work to hold up over time. And make sure you follow the manufacturer’s directions and allow for enough drying time.
Fake it (when necessary). Because my pieces couldn’t be sanded down to wood, I decided to create a fake, wood-like surface. I settled on Benjamin Moore’s Fairview Taupe (because after staring at 500 browns for two weeks the colour bearing the name of my hood – Fairview – seemed appropriate). I used Benjamin Moore Collection 310 Interior Acrylic Latex Paint in a pearl finish. This base colour is what will eventually be revealed when you distress the furniture – like the base coat under a crackle medium. Browns tend to lend themselves to fake, wood-like surfaces. However, you could use brilliant pink for all I care. I applied two coats and allowed for the proper drying time before proceeding to the next step.
Wax on. Using a candle, rub wax onto the surfaces where you’d like to see some of your fake wood exposed. Edges, the bottoms of legs, corners and knobs/handles are all places that would normally see some wear and tear. For these pieces, I did a fair amount of distressing/revealing. I have another piece on the go that will have a lot less fake wood exposed. It’s really a matter of taste. I looked at about a million photos online – favourite blogs and decor sites, and then settled on the look I wanted.
Brush off floofy bits. Use something like a paint brush to gently clean the surface of those waxy bits the candle left behind – they’ll get stuck in your top coat otherwise. Don’t brush to hard – you’re just trying to get the excess bits off.
Paint ‘er up. For my top coat(s) I used Benjamin Moore’s Aura Satin Waterborne Interior Paint in Martha Stewart’s Pure White. I’m just like that. That’s right Benjamin Moore, I’ll take your awesome paint, but I’ll take it Martha style. Aura is a little thicker than other paints and it dries fast – you don’t want to over-work it. It has great coverage – I’ve used it on walls and furniture. You can apply it over and under any other latex paint. The great thing about Aura is that you can retouch months later and the colour should blend perfectly. (That’s what they say anyway.) Granted, with a project like this, re-touching won’t really be an issue, as I’m going for an aged look. I’m just saying Aura is pretty cool. Anyhoo, if you’re nervous about trying Aura, stick to your regular latex. I had to apply three coats of white to cover my dark brown. If I hadn’t planned to apply an antique patina, I probably would have applied a fourth coat.
Remember, you’re better off applying multiple thin coats than a couple of thick, drippy ones. You can apply your paint with a bristled brush, a foam brush or brush and roller – everyone has different preferences. If you go the roller route, edge like you would if you were painting a wall – do the edges, tricky bits and corners first, and then roll the flat surfaces with the roller. Oh, and if you’re using a foam roller, don’t bear down on it – it creates lines and imperfections. Let the piece dry before heading to the next step.
Wax off. Using something like 2.0’s golf ball cheese knife, gently scrape your top coat(s) of paint off your previously waxed areas. This will give you that distressed look. You don’t want to remove your base coat, so scrape gently, my friend. Step back from the piece as you are working. Stop when you’re happy.
Brush off paint bits and sand. Gently sand the exposed fake wood edges.
Antique. Essentially, you’re going to make an antique glaze. Far cheaper than buying glaze, and the results were just as good. I used water. It came from my kitchen tap and was free. I mixed a tiny bit of the Fairview Taupe (dark brown base colour) with a fair amount of water. I made it super runny – probably one part paint to three or four parts water. As I added water I tested the runniness on a piece of cardboard. I really didn’t want anything too thick. The idea of this glaze is to add some patina, not to completely cover the beautiful top coat you’ve just finished. I applied a wee bit at a time with a foam brush to the furniture, and then wiped it down with a lint-free cloth. I followed the grain of the wood and worked in small sections. Brush on, immediately wipe off. Brush, wipe. In some areas I wiped more, in some I wiped less. The secret here is to use a light hand – you can easily apply a second coat to darken it. I ended up using a damp cloth for the wiping to help me achieve the look I wanted. I also used the damp cloth for some of the application. I played around a bit. You can let some of the colour settle into ridges and wood detailing – it will lend itself to an aged look.
Protect. I have been using Minwax’s Polycrylic Protective Finish (water-based) in a satin finish. It is also available in a gloss. I have read a lot of posts on the internet that recommend applying a wipe on poly over painted furniture. However, when I contacted Minwax, they said they couldn’t guarantee there wouldn’t be an interaction between the paint and the poly and that the wipe on stuff can sometimes yellow a bit. (I told you I was good a researching stuff.) You’re very intelligent – you decide. I figured if I was going to spend a week painting the tables in 100% humidity I wasn’t about to try some rubbing on some crap that might ruin my work.
So, if you do as I did, brush a product like the poly (pictured above) on carefully. It’s much runnier than paint, and can drip all over the place. You don’t want to over-work this stuff – you’ll see brush strokes. Some people use foam brushes and rollers, so that’s an option you could explore. Don’t shake the can of poly – it should be stirred so you don’t get bubbles. Also, the poly appears foggy in the can, but it goes on clear. Again, read the can and follow the instructions.
There you go. Now, here’s the tough part. I don’t put anything on my newly painted surfaces for at least 48 hours. This requires an incredible amount of willpower. Then be ginger with it for about a week – watch out when you’re moving the piece around, etc. I think it takes about a month for a piece to be fully cured. But that’s just me.
Note: Some people sand between coats of paint/poly. I didn’t for these pieces, as I was going for an aged look. However, you could lightly sand between each coat of paint and poly with very fine sandpaper if you’d like a really super-awesome finish. Don’t forget to wipe away the sanding debris before applying additional coats of paint and/or poly.