shabby chic
image: PetitPlat

Taking a cue from vintage style, the shabby chic look lets the age and imperfections of furniture shine in all its worn glory. Instead of fretting over a nick in the leg of a chair or the faded paint on a dresser, the point of this decorating look is for furniture to show off a little wear and tear.

You’ve probably seen elements of this trendy style in stores—vintage-inspired bedspreads, purposely scruff-ified new furniture, retro-patterned dishes. But why buy new when you can find or create the real deal for yourself? With a little know-how, giving your duds the shabby chic look will craft furniture with faded finesse, not outdated style. Find out how.

1. Find Vintage Furniture

Mixing in the eco component with this decorating style requires starting with a clean (aka green) slate. That means, not just-off-the-assembly-line furniture. Often if you look past the quirks of pre-owned furniture (picture seriously outdated drawer handles and what-were-they-thinking paint), you can find unique pieces at garage sales, antique malls and thrift stores. Plus, vintage furniture will likely be of far better quality than any probably-made-from-cheap-particleboard brand spanking new furniture.

When searching for furniture to bestow with your shabby chic makeover, look for pieces with character. Utilitarian dressers, desks and end tables don’t lend themselves well to distressing. In fact, modern-style furniture will look darn weird all scuffed up. Instead, scope out tables with interesting legs or carved features, or dressers and desks with distinctive silhouettes. These characteristics will enhance the vintage-ified look.

2. Coat It

shabby room
image: The Shopping Sherpa

Once you have your furniture, it’s time to paint. If you don’t want to repaint the piece, then move on to the next step. If you pass go, collect $200. (Oops, not Monopoly. You can have 200 decorating points instead.)

Creating an aged look is a great way to use up your extra household paint. Yay for no waste! Slick on layers of paint in complementary color combinations. You can sand parts away later if you wish. If you don’t have any leftover paint, you could buy the inexpensive sample sizes of various hues of the same color. Painting furniture in slightly different shades of the same color can give a piece a weathered feel.

If you want the original color or the wood to show through your new coats of paint, here’s a little trick. Before painting, rub a wax crayon or candle along the areas where you want the color or wood to play peek-a-boo, such as along the corners, edges or legs. Then gently brush off the excess wax with a paintbrush. When you paint the next layers, the paint won’t stick to the waxed areas.

Be sure to use a low- or zero-VOC paint on your eco-stylish furniture. Volatile organic compounds in regular paints can cause a range of health issues including respiratory problems, headache, itchy eyes and nausea. Some have even been linked to cancer and kidney and liver problems.

3. Sand ‘er Down

The last step to finish your shabby chic makeover is to sand the furniture. Use a sander or various grits of sandpaper to create different levels of distress. Expose your layers of color by gently sanding various areas of each surface. To really give the piece an aged look, scrape off paint along the edges, legs and handles—where furniture normally gets the most worn down. Use sandpaper or a knife, depending on how much paint you want to remove. It may help you de-stress to take out the day’s worries by distressing your furniture, but you don’t want to go overboard. Step back and look over your work every so often. Stop when you’ve achieved the look you want. 

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