Old has never looked so good.
When it comes to DIY home decor, vintage is definitely in right now. People go out of their way to take newer items and mar them to look older and well-worn. Years ago, the term “distressed” implied that a piece of furniture had been moved and scratched so many times that the paint had eventually worn off. Now it’s a look we intentionally create.
If you have an old wooden cabinet or desk stored away in your basement, you, too, can get in on this trend with these easy wood projects! Distressing wood furniture from a thrift store or charity shop works too.
To learn how to distress furniture and add a vintage-looking piece to your entryway or living room, keep reading.
Going Vintage: How to Distress Furniture
- Piece of furniture to be distressed (dresser, table, chair, wooden picture frame, etc.)
- Medium-grade steel wool
- One or two colors of latex paint
- Painting tools (rollers, brushes, or foam applicators)
- Candle wax
- Tack cloth
- Clear polyurethane or wood stain (optional)
- Wipe off the piece of furniture and remove or cover the hardware (metal handles and knobs). To make the wood look older, hammer the corners and edges to look like they’ve been worn down. Keep in mind that some woods are softer than others. For example, pine is softer than cherry or oak.
- Sand down the surface of your DIY wood project to remove any paint or varnish that had been previously applied. Tip: Use a sander for the large portions of wood and a piece of sandpaper for smaller details.
- Apply primer to the wood with a roller and a brush.
- Decide on the paint. If you want to see the raw wood through your design, you need only one paint color. If you want to cover the wood entirely, you’ll need two colors. Since you want your furniture to look old, don’t use anything with a glossy finish. Tip: Painting a neutral color on top of a bright base really makes your pattern pop, since the bright color will be more noticeable through the distressed areas.
- Paint this easy wood project with a traditional or foam brush and let it dry (see the back of the paint can for more details). Since you want it to look worn, it’s okay if some of the wood shows through.
- If you’re going for the bare-wood distressed look: Any easy way to make DIY distressed wood is to rub sandpaper on areas that would naturally be touched or nicked (including the edges and corners). This way, the distressed parts will look natural instead of random. Then wipe down the entire thing with tack cloth to remove the bits of paint and wood that came off during sanding. Tip: Make sure to cover the entire thing when distressing wood furniture, not just the front.
- If you’re going for the colored distressed look: Rub dry candle wax against the areas that you plan on distressing (this is where the underlying color will show through). Don’t forget to do the sides and back. Then use your second color to paint over the first coat of paint and the wax. Once the second coat is dry, use a piece of medium-grade steel wool to distress the parts that you had covered with wax. Since the wood is meant to be distressed, it’s okay to use the steel wool on other areas while looking for the waxed parts (it’s not meant to be perfect). Use sandpaper to distress anything else you want. Wipe down the entire piece of DIY distressed furniture with tack cloth.
- Apply clear polyurethane over the wood to preserve the color. A second option is to apply a stain that will mute the colors a bit. Add a second coat of the stain to get a deeper color. Then paint polyurethane on top.
- Once the top layer is dry, replace or uncover the handles and knobs.
- Enjoy your new “vintage” piece of distressed furniture!