Love it or hate it, the farmhouse chic look continues to hold sway in the home decor world—and with it, rustic-looking furniture that feels straight out of a simpler time. But you don’t have to scavenge thrift stores and estate sales to find antique pieces; you can fake the distressed look with a simple coat of paint.
Chalk paint (and we don’t mean chalkboard paint, which is a totally different thing) has become the secret weapon for DIYers who want to give new life to scratched and worn furniture. It is ridiculously easy to use, requires almost no prep work, and dries quickly to an ultra-matte finish.
“From glass, ceramic, brick, enamel, and even metal, it really is versatile,” says Traer Beaudette, co-owner of Feathers in the Nest, a vintage home decor shop in Carlisle, PA. She notes that you can use chalk paint on everything from hutches and backsplashes to mirrors and candlesticks.
And perhaps the best part?
“It takes zero practice,” says Marie Moore, a real estate specialist with Bella Homes in Ashburn, VA. “It’s essentially paint for beginners—the hardest part is waiting for the paint to dry.”
Before you get going, here are a few things you need to know.
This history of chalk paint
Photo by Louis Shanks of Texas
The original Chalk Paint® was created by Annie Sloan in 1990 as a way to revive old furniture without spending a lot of time prepping and priming. Today, several brands have chalk paint lines, including Behr and Magnolia Home by Joanna Gaines.
Each brand makes chalk paint a little differently (you can even find a slew of “recipes” online to make it yourself at home), but it usually consists of latex paint mixed with a powder to create its signature chalky finish. Chalk paint comes in a variety of colors, from neutrals like cream and coco to more vibrant shades, like burgundy and old violet.
Using chalk paint is so easy
Photo by The French Mix Interior Design
It doesn’t take much to get started with chalk paint. In most cases, to prep the furniture, you need invest no more than a quick wipe with a soft cloth, to clean the surface. A light sanding may also be needed.
“I love that chalk paint sticks to any surface—wood, concrete, plastic,” Moore says. “I also love how forgiving it is. If you paint too heavy, sand it down. If you distressed too much, paint over it.”
If you like, try your hand with chalk paint on a garage sale or thrift store find before tackling this upcycling project with your own furniture. Before you begin, be sure to remove all hardware from furniture that you don’t want to paint, like knobs and handles.
The best pieces for chalk paint
Photo by Sean Litchfield Photography
Chalk paint can work all around your home. Try it out on an old dresser in the guest room, or an end table in the family room, or maybe even your kitchen island. Chalk paint also works well on accent pieces, like table lamps and picture frames.
“Use chalk paint on pieces that do not get a lot of daily wear and tear,” advises Cami Weinstein of Cami Weinstein Designs in Greenwich, CT. “A chalk paint piece works in an entryway or in a room you want to brighten that will not see a lot of use.”
“Don’t be afraid to use color,” adds Holly George of Holly George Interior Design in Fredon Township, NJ. “Pieces with panels and relief details especially lend themselves to contrasting colors, for added character.”
Photo by Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery
Chalk paint may be a breeze to use, but there is one thing DIYers should keep in mind when working with it for the first time: The paint needs to be sealed with a water-repellent wax to protect the surface from moisture and scratches.
The most popular sealant wax is a clear wax that helps the piece’s new hue to pop and adds a glossy sheen when given a final buff (although it won’t be as shiny as satin finish). A dark wax, meanwhile, is often used to give added depth and texture. It can also give an antique look.
Photo by Abbey Design Center
Using chalk paint to give your furniture that signature Joanna Gaines distressed look? Just don’t go overboard. You’ll want to distress naturally, as if the piece has been well-loved over the years. Once the piece is painted and waxed, sand the finish around knobs and edges for the most organic look.
If you like the result on your furniture, try taking it to your cabinetry. A chalk paint refresh can offer a new look when you don’t have the budget for a large renovation.
“It’s not hard to transition [from] a dark kitchen to one that is bright and airy with a light chalk paint,” notes Mark Polo of Polo M.A. Inc., an interior design firm in Boonton, NJ. “It is easy to apply, and with a little distressing and new hardware, a dingy kitchen can wait a year or two before a full renovation.”
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