Style Spotlight: Distressed Finishes

It used to be that furniture with visible wear was considered worn out and in need of a new coat of paint. Now, trendy styles like “shabby chic” and “country cottage” are turning blemishes into sought-after traits that enhance furniture’s antique appearance and character.

Of course, you can find genuine antique pieces that acquire these finishes naturally, but so-called “distressed” furniture gets its weathered look from an applied finish.

Natural Wood vs. Painted Distressed Finishes

With regard to wood furniture, achieving a distressed look may begin with a natural or painted surface.

Distressed natural wood finishes often trend more toward rustic- or country-inspired styles and may eschew stain or wood treatment of any kind. Yet, when combined with stains, distressed natural finishes can give wood great depth in terms of texture and color.

Distressed painted finishes, on the other hand, will frequently have a softer feel to their appearance thanks to pastel colors that complement country cottage-styled spaces.

How to Create a Distressed Finish Look

If you’re the type that’s always up for a DIY project, there are several ways to create a distressed finish. For any refinishing project, always make sure you prep your project by sanding away the old finish so the new stain or paint can bond with the wood. Once prepped, you can try some of these techniques to create the perfect distressed look for your piece:

Sanding: This is one of the quickest, easiest ways to distress any finish. Use sandpaper to add wear and tear to a natural or painted piece to make surfaces, edges and corners look a bit more worn. Sanded finishes can also give a piece a unique aesthetic by bringing out whatever color is underneath a painted top coat, creating a two-tone look.

Painting: Using paint to create a distressed finish requires an element of artistic talent, as you are essentially using multiple hues to imitate the appearance of wear that other techniques create. Painted finishes do have a distinct advantage, though, in that they don’t change the texture of the piece, which means you can easily repaint them if you mess up or change your mind about the look.

Milk-Paint and Wet-Rag Sanding: This method uses a special type of paint that, once dry, is able to be partially “sanded” off of the furniture piece with a wet rag. Although this sounds a bit odd, it actually creates a smooth and visually interesting finish that looks almost sun-faded.

Physically Distressing Materials: This technique consists of denting, scraping and generally banging up wood surfaces before you stain them so that the stain will cling to some areas more than others. This will help to achieve a particularly rough “barn wood” sort of finish that would fit nicely in a rustic design.

Dry Brushing: Dry brushing is a painting method that calls for squeezing most of the paint out of your brush before using it. You can add a light, almost sheer layer of paint that looks gently faded by using quick back-and-forth strokes as you paint.

Vaseline Pretreatment: For this technique, you apply Vaseline to specific spots on the wood before painting over the whole piece. The oil in the Vaseline prevents the paint from properly bonding with the wood and (after a light sanding) leaves distressed streaks wherever it was applied.

Antiquing Wax or Glaze: Waxes and glazes are thick stain-like substances that are meant to be applied on top of an already painted surface, and then wiped off again. This process “antiques” the color of the paint and leaves traces of the darker color in all the nooks and crannies of a design, making it appear naturally weathered.

Of course, if refinishing furniture isn’t really your cup of tea, has a great selection of distressed pieces for any room of your home. So either way, you can end up with the perfect furniture to add some charm and character to your space.

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