Friday, 8 February 2013

Creating an old French farmhouse look on a dresser

My dresser - after
The old French farmhouse look (shabby chic distressed look) is very popular these days. My favourite thing about this look is that if we move house and it gets bashed around a bit, it just adds to the look. No more worrying that the furniture is "ruined" because of a big scratch down one side.

There are two main ways (that I know of) to achieve this wonderful antique look. Both involve sanding back the edges to create a worn look.

1. diluting your paint 50% and painting a wash over the furniture to create the impression that the furniture has been faded by the sun over the years. This look uses a lot less paint, and it allows the natural timber grain to show through the paint wash. You can still rub a darker paint stain or other colour into the exposed edges.

2. applying two coats of paint and once its dried and sanded, work a darker colour into the "scars" (sanded bits). Or alternatively, paint the darker colour first, then the lighter colour, then sand gently to expose the first layer. This way uses more paint than using a colour wash and it will hide your natural wood grain, but the advantage is that your piece of furniture doesn't have to be real timber - MDF can be painted white and then sanded to make it appear like there is real wood underneath.
Close-up of the new look

I've used the paint wash technique on an old pine dresser that I bought when I was a poor graduate. Its cheaper to buy timber furniture that is unfinished, so I thought I'd stain it myself when I got it home, but that was almost 10 years ago.

I already had paint left over in "Buttery White" (an off-white colour) so I decided to use that, and I purchased these new handles from the hardware store for $4.30 each:

- an old rag. I've used a microfibre cleaning cloth because I find the softness of the microfibre works the paint in well.
- sandpaper. I've used 150 grit (fine), but if you'd like a stronger distressed look, you'll also need a medium or coarse sandpaper.
- paint of your choice. I've used a water-based off-white. If you want that dirtier distressed look on the edges, then you'll also need a brown paint or a paint stain.
- new handles for your draws or doors (if applicable).
- a finishing sealer to protect it and give it some shine. I've used an oil-based satin polyurethane, but please note that all polyurethanes will cause a yellowed finish on white. Oil-based is worse than water-based, but both will yellow white paint a bit. I wasn't too worried about this because I'm going for the "old" look anyway, but if you really don't want your lovely creamy white paint tainted by a yellowish tinge then you'll need to choose a varnish or something else to finish it with (some people use tung oil, Danish oil, shellac etc).
- a good quality paint brush to apply the sealer. Don't use a cheap brush or the bristles will fall out and ruin the finish.

1. First I removed the old wooden handles and then sanded the dresser with the 150 grit sandpaper to create a clean, even surface to paint.

2. I mixed my water-based paint 50/50 with water. If you're using an oil-based paint, then you'll need to add 50% turps instead of water.

3. I rubbed the paint wash into the timber using the microfibre cloth, working it into the grain. I've left little patches here and there to give the appearance that the paint has flaked off in parts.

4. After letting the paint completely dry, I took the 150 grit sandpaper and rubbed along the edges and also sanded a few random places on the surface of the new paint coat to give it the appearance that it had been scuffed. My dresser is already old so it had many scratches and bumps on it, but you can easily create more distressed parts with medium to coarse sandpaper or even take it further by dragging the claw end of a hammer along some edges.

5. This is the point where you would rub very diluted brown paint or stain into the scarred bits (the sanded and bruised bits). I've chosen not to do this on my dresser because the room that it lives in is already a bit dark so I wanted to keep the look a bit lighter.

6. This is the hardest part. Apply the polyurethane using long, sweeping brush strokes along the timber grain. This has to be done thinly and evenly or you end up with stronger yellowish patches where the finish has been applied more thickly. If this happens, you can sand the worst bits back down using fine sandpaper once it has dried, but it is best to avoid this in the first place. You can add 10% turps to an oil-based polyurethane to thin it down a little if preferred (or add water if it is water-based).
The instructions on mine say to add two coats, but that would ruin the white paint (it will look sickly yellow instead) so only use one thin coat. Be careful not to shake the can vigorously beforehand to avoid air bubbles on the finish.
I find polyurethane makes me feel light headed due to the strong chemical smell, so I only apply it outside, but you should find it is ok to apply it in the garage with the garage door open.

7. After the sealer had dried, I added the new handles. Mine came with a screw that needed to be trimmed to the right length. This is easy using bolt cutters, but make sure you cut on the groove.

And here is the finished dresser. I then completed the French farmhouse look with a few accessories that I already had - an old candle, a vintage tea cup and saucer, a doily and a crystal vase tied with a pink ribbon and filled with dried lavender and a couple of fresh lavender flowers that I picked from my garden.

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