// ]]>Have you ever wondered how to paint shabby chic furniture like a pro? Well you're in luck because I have a fun and easy, in depth, step-by-step tutorial on how to paint "Shabby Chic." I've included pictures along the way, so it will be easy enough to follow. I've also included some great examples at the end.

How To Paint Shabby Chic

Step One: Find a piece of furniture! You can have a lot of success on Craigslist, or you can visit different thrift stores and yard sales. If you want to make it easy on yourself, some things to look at when you are furniture shopping are: Is it made from real wood? Does it have major problems (broken drawers, big scratches, dog bite marks (we've brought home chairs before without looking too carefully at them and found HUGE chewing marks))? Are you able and willing to fix these problems?

You should also try to look past a few things such as color, knobs or pulls, and superficial scratches, as these can all be fixed easily.

This chair is part of a dining set my husband and I bought recently.

This chair is part of a dining set my husband and I bought recently.

Step Two: Choose a paint type and color! There are lots of different kinds of paint out there, acrylic, latex, chalk paint, and milk paint (to name a few). Personally, I'm in love with chalk paint - but I'm not in love with the price. I only use my  Annie Sloan Chalk Paint or my Cece Caldwell paint when it is something I am keeping. Selfish? Maybe. If I am painting a piece I plan on selling then I use latex paint (from Lowes or Home Depot) and they work just fine! They are also half the price - and I am all about that! Choosing a color is the fun part. Your piece of furniture can be in any color, as Shabby Chic refers more to the style than the color.

How To Paint Shabby Chic

For my chair I've decided to use Behr's "Creamy White" from Home Depot.

Step Three: Prepare your furniture! One of the great things about chalk paint is you don't have to do anything to prime or prep. For those of us using other types of paint, this can mean a couple of things. You should make sure you are working with a clean piece of furniture, so wipe it down with a wet rag to get all the dust and gunk off (an important step if you're purchasing from a thrift store. who knows what's on there?!) If the furniture has any holes or scratches and you plan to fill them using wood filler or putty, now is the time to do so. Lastly, latex paint can sometimes peel if painted onto too smooth a surface. On the off chance that your piece of furniture has any type of finish or sealer on it, it is best to sand all over the piece of furniture. This gives the paint something to "grip" to.

I am using a sanding block to rough up the painting surface.

I am using a sanding block to rough up the painting surface.

Step Four: Start painting! This is a fun part, at least I think so! It is likely to take more than one coat. Just make sure you have full coverage and that you let it dry fully between coats. Remember, it is better to paint 2-3 thin coats than 1 thick one!

How To Paint Shabby Chic

This is my chair after the first coat. You can almost see straight through it!

How To Paint Shabby Chic

Coat number two. Almost there, just a few touch-up areas!

How To Paint Shabby Chic

Complete coverage! Perfect.

Step Five: Distress the heck out of it! Or just a little. This step is really up to you! How shabby do you want it? Or would you prefer it to look a little more chic? You can distress just the edges lightly, or you can make it look two hundred years old! It all just depends on your preference. Depending on which paint I've used, I either use a sanding sponge, sanding block, or the scratchy part on the back of a sponge dipped in water (this works very nicely for chalk paint).

How To Paint Shabby Chic

Using my same sanding block.

Step Six: Once you have distressed to your liking, it is time to seal it! You can use shellac, polycrilic (my favorite), rub on polyurethane, or clear furniture wax (my other favorite). Just make sure to read the back of the container because some of these finishes can discolor light colored paint (they will turn it yellow-ish).

How To Paint Shabby Chic

I decided that I would rather distress this one lightly. I tried to only take paint off where it might naturally happen.

Step Seven: Stand back and look at what you have accomplished! It's amazing and so are you!

Here is a little before/after action for ya!

Here is a little before/after action for ya!


Okay, now here are some other examples from all over the internet! I wanted to show you a variety of colors and also how it looks with varying levels of distress.

Made For A King

Made For A King

How To Paint Shabby Chic

The Golden Sycamore

Stiltskin Studios

Stiltskin Studios

Miss Mustard Seed

Miss Mustard Seed

Paint Me White

Paint Me White

Stiltskin Studios

Stiltskin Studios

How To Paint Shabby Chic

The Turquoise Iris

Liz Marie Blog

Liz Marie Blog

Made For A King

Made For A King

And there you have it! I hope that was enough inspiration to get you started! If you have any questions, post them in the comment section and I will get back to you right away! Painting Shabby Chic is fun and easy, you'll see!

Also, be sure to check back and see how my dining set turns out! It should be done pretty soon.

Have a great day!

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62 Responses to How To Paint Shabby Chic

  1. Jill says:

    Thanks so much for the advice! I’m taking my mom’s bedroom set with me when I move out and I have exactly this in mind! Thanks again!

  2. Helle says:

    Thank you so much for a great tutorial! You’ve got some lovely things there …

  3. Nicole says:

    I am a new follower from southern charm! I love your look! I would love for you to stop by and hopefully you will want to follow me back! Happy weekend, Nicole!

  4. This was a great tutorial, thanks for sharing


    Creative raisins

  5. Melissa says:

    Great tutorial Kirsten. I’m thinking about doing this style in my guest room. You’re post will be a big help. :0)

  6. Stacey says:

    Great tips – chalk paint is so easy to distress! Love the white pieces!
    Thanks for sharing!
    Stacey of Embracing Change

  7. Rachel says:

    Thanks for the tutorial. This is great! I’ve just found Annie Sloan, and like you, I love it but not the price. I have two questions.
    1. Do you ever use dark wax (like AS) on latex?
    2. I’ve read that waxing (like AS), while beautiful, is not durable long-term. Have you ever polyurethaned a piece you’ve painted with AS? What were the results?

    • made4aking says:

      Thanks, Rachel!
      1. Yes, I have used dark wax on latex. I used AS wax on the antique dresser I refinished – that was almost a year ago and it is still holding up really well. It took a little while to cure, but once it was completely dry (not tacky anymore) I found it to be very durable.
      2. That being said, I’ve noticed that AS wax (or any other kind) is less durable than polycrylic or polyurethane. I use wax on the pieces that won’t get as much use. Or, like on the dresser, I used it on the drawers and the sides but I used polycrylic on the top because I knew that the top could get scratched and dinged more easily.
      I am refinishing a kitchen table right now, and I wouldn’t use wax on the top because I think of all the plates and utensils and serving dishes that will come into contact with the top. I did clear wax the legs, though!

  8. Debbie says:

    I want to paint my wooden cabinets in my bathroom, with a base coat of a teal, a creamy white over it. I believe I have to use a semi gloss paint for the bathroom. My question is how many coats of each and after what should I use to seal it? As it will be in the bathroom & I don’t want it to yellow, so what should I use and do I just to it once or should I touch up yearly or what. I love your items you painted. Very pretty.

    • made4aking says:

      I think that the number of coats depends on the coverage you want, but I wouldn’t do less than two. As for sealing it, you definitely don’t want to use any polyurethane or shellac because they WILL turn it yellow. You will want a waterproof seal, so I would recommend using either Furniture Paste Wax or Polycrylic. The wax is ideal because it leaves a nice finish and you won’t be able to see any brushstrokes, but if it is a high traffic bathroom (like a kids bathroom) then I would use the Polycrylic. They also have a spray, so if you took the cabinet doors off and outside then you wouldn’t see the brushstrokes either. With either of these options you would only touch up as needed. I waxed a piece of furniture over a year ago and it is holding up great. I also used Polycrylic on the top of my coffee table and it is not showing any wear yet!
      Thanks for you sweet comments, Debbie! I hope this helped!

  9. Jade says:

    Hi! I am VERY new to this so your tutorial helped tremendously! This may be a dumb question, but what kind of brush do you use? And do you ever use like a spray paint on anything? Thanks!!

    • made4aking says:

      Not a dumb question! Just a dumb answer, I got some new brushes for Christmas and my dad got them from a discount store. The ones I was using before that (and still use sometimes) are just from Home Depot. I didn’t get the cheapest but I also didn’t spring for the most expensive either.
      I have some spray paint, but I mostly use it on smaller items (lamp bases, thrift store figurines) I haven’t ever used it on furniture because I don’t like the color selection as well.

  10. Jacquie says:

    When using latex paint what finish do you use? ie.flat, semigloss, glossy.
    Also when using 2 colors, do you always put the dark color on first example brown and white over top.


    • made4aking says:

      I prefer flat paint – I always get the flattest one (eggshell?) but that doesn’t mean you can’t do whichever you prefer. With the colors, because shabby chic is meant to look old and worn, having the light over the dark achieves a certain aging quality. Also, I think a lot of times it is easier to SEE the dark showing through the light – but I’m sure some people have switched them. For instance, if you are going to paint something black and distress it then the wood would show through and be lighter than the paint. It just isn’t something that is usually done.

      Thanks for your question! I hope this helped.

  11. Zee says:

    what colors would i need to use to get the turquoise iris look on my dark brown coffee table? And would I use the same procedure?

    • made4aking says:

      Zee, I just looked on her website and she doesn’t tell the colors that she uses on anything. Even when people straight up ask in the comments. I don’t know why.. I think that is kind of rude.
      If you wanted to duplicate that look then you would simply need to go to Sherwin Williams, Lowes or Home Depot (or wherever sells paint) and pick a turquoise that you like. I can tell that she distressed it HEAVILY and that she also used some kind of dark wax or antiquing glaze. Same procedure, yes. Just go a little more heavy with the sandpaper.

  12. Caroline says:

    Thank you for the tutorial Kirsten! I’m re-decorating on a budget at the moment so am definitely going to have a go! Just wanted to ask a bit of advise, I have a small set of drawers, and the inside of the draws need a bit of tlc too, is there any kind of paint/fabric or wallpaper etc you can recommend as it will be for clothing so don’t want it to rub off or anything.
    Thanks again :) x

    • made4aking says:

      That is so great, Caroline! Okay, for the inside of drawers I have done a couple of things and I’ve also seen people do a couple of things.
      1. Regular paint! It works just fine, but if there are stains in the drawer it might be necessary that you prime it first. I would also seal with some polycrylic.
      2. Contact paper! Like for your cabinets? The designs can even match and compliment the outside.
      3. I’ve seen some people line drawers with fabric and mod podge? Never done it. Really, it seems like so much work.
      4. If you want to just protect the clothes but don’t care what the drawers look like you can always just seal it with wax or polycrylic. If they are allowed the time to dry they won’t damage the clothes.
      Hope this helped :)

  13. Danielle says:

    this was a great tutorial, thankyou for your knowledge. :)

  14. Jules says:

    Does it matter what grain of sand paper? Also, do you find a specific brand of paint works better than any other? And finally, how do I prep a piece that has already been painted. I don’t like the color, and I notice that when they painted it, there are few knots that bled through. Any suggestions?

    • made4aking says:

      Okay Julie!
      The grain of sandpaper does matter, if it is too fine of a grit, like 220, then it will take FOREVER to sand off the paint. If it is too rough, like 60, then it can scratch the paint and take off the stain as well. I typically go for 120.
      This can be done with any paint, I usually do latex just because of the price but my favorite will always be Annie Sloan Chalk Paint. When it comes to latex, I don’t care so much about the brand (though some people might) I just care about the color.
      If it has already been painted then you DEFINITELY want to prime it. This helps the new layer of paint stick and it will also make sure that the knots don’t bleed through. If you really wanted to you could strip the paint off, but I find that it isn’t typically necessary. Prime it, paint it, sand it with 120 or so!
      Hope that helps!

  15. Kellie Baynton says:

    Hi, just embarking on my new project!! I am attempting to do my dining table and chairs, what would you recommend to seal the top for the best protection? I’m in Australia so not sure if the names will be any different for the products but I was either thinking a wax or varnish what do u think?
    Thanks in advance I’m hoping its as easy as you make it sound/look :)

    • made4aking says:

      Australia! That is so cool!
      Okay, as far as sealing the top, I would probably use a water based varnish. READ THE BACK because some finishes turn yellow. Using a wax wouldn’t give you as much protection because it is much softer. The finish that I use on high-traffic pieces is Polycrylic (because it is water based and it says that it doesn’t turn yellow in the sun)
      Hope that helps!

  16. Lorraine Forster says:

    Hi Just love what you have done to real wood can you achieve this look with veener or laminate furniture?
    Thank you :)

    • made4aking says:

      Thanks! You absolutely can!
      I would just recommend not going so heavy on the distressing, or if you decide to then make sure that you do so very gently. It would be unfortunate to take off the veneer and be stuck with whatever’s underneath showing.
      The blue nightstand that I painted isn’t real wood, so I just made sure to sand lightly and not have a ton show through.

  17. Angie Newsom says:

    You do an amazing job!!! I love, love, love it!!!

  18. Roxanne says:

    Thank you for the great website!

    I have a question:

    I have a dresser that is already white and has chips of paint removed in different part, down to the wood. Is there a way to just create the shabby look without stripping, painting and then distressing. It’s already distressed. I just want it to look fresh. How would I do this?


    • made4aking says:

      Well if you like where it is already chipping, I would just continue distressing it with a sander and once it is distressed to your liking, polishing it off with furniture wax could help it look fresh!

  19. Judy Boyer says:

    Hi Kirsten,
    Thanks a million for all of your wonderful knowledge on how to shabby chic. I already did…or I should say…my husband painted over a stained piece of furniture and it peeled! Also, I’ve totally sanded a piece down to the bare wood….what a ton of work! Now…after reading your wonderful tutorial I’m ready to hit again with your shared knowledge. You’ve saved me tons of work for now and in the future. I can’t wait to get back and get started with a new project for our home.
    Thank you so much! So many people do not want to share their hard learned techniques and you are so appreciated.

    • made4aking says:

      Judy, this has to be the sweetest comment I’ve ever received. Thank you so much! I am really glad that this helped you, and I’m so glad that you’re going to try again! Be sure to comment or email me if you have any questions during the process. And thanks again, you made my day!

  20. Helena says:

    love this tutorial thanks you.
    Would you treat a veneer surface before painting and if so how?
    I have a few veneer things I don’t want to throw out but re-cycle like this instead.
    many thanks
    Lena :-)

    • made4aking says:

      Thanks, Lena!!
      I have painted and distressed a few veneered surfaces.. If you are using chalk paint then you wouldn’t need to do anything to treat it but if you aren’t then I would prime it before painting! It will help the paint to stick. That’s it! Pretty easy :)

      Hope this helped!

  21. Gail Goines says:

    I am so excited to get started on my shabby chic furniture painting projects. Have a couple of questions. When you say chalk paint. Are you referring the chalkboard paint? If I use the chalk paint when you say use a sponge with a rough side. Are you referring to a kitchen sponge/scrub pad or the ones in the painting section? Thanks, Gail

    • made4aking says:

      That’s so great, Gail!!
      Okay, so when I say chalk paint I am NOT referring to chalkboard paint. There are a few brands of chalk paint out there, Annie Sloan is one and Cece Caldwell is another, and they make paint that is specifically for this type of thing. They are easy to distress, they don’t require any prep work (they’re supposed to be able to stick to anything), and they are a little expensive. You can google how to DIY your own chalk paint (it usually involves latex paint and either baking soda or plaster of paris).
      When I say sponge with a rough side I am referring to a kitchen sponge with a scrub pad! Before latex paint is fully dry, or whenever with chalk paint, water can help to create the shabby chic look. (I sometimes just use a wet rag) So using a scrubbing sponge is like using sandpaper but so much easier!
      I hope that helps!

  22. Richard says:

    Can you please tell me where you got the picture for the fourth example or any information on it. I love that color and need to know the name of it. Thank you.

    • made4aking says:

      Yeah, no problem.
      So the color is Annie Sloan Chalk Paint in Aubusson Blue, with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint in Old White.
      The reason that both of the colors are so rich is because she used dark wax on top!
      (Miss Mustard Seed = Incredible)

  23. Tina Kirschner says:

    Do you prime the furniture prior to painting. I will use latex paint. Love your work!

  24. Lindsay says:

    Hi I have a question
    I have purchased 4 dining chairs and I would like to achieve the white distressed antique look. But 2 of the chairs are painted red and the other 2 are painted black. I do not want the red or the black to show through when distressing. I am using old white in chalk paint. Do I sand or strip all the color off than stain the color that I want to pop through or do I just paint over it….. But wouldn’t the red and blk show? I’m so confused can you please help me

    • made4aking says:

      If you paint them white and distress, then yes, the red and black would show through.
      So if you want brown natural wood, I think you are looking at stripping and staining. Another option would be painting the chairs brown so that it is a wood color that shows through? It will take some work, though.

  25. Lara says:

    Hi, great information!

    I am bit confused about my furniture I want to redo tho. Do you always have to use a primer for the paint to stick? My dresser has wood veneer with high gloss…should I sand it and use a primer?


  26. Drew says:

    I have been painting bedroom sets with a latex satin white and ive sanded down my pieces. Why am i getting some spots on my furniture that turn a yellowish? Seem like i can put 30 coats on it and it wont cover over it! Thanks

    • made4aking says:

      This has happened to me before, and the only reason I could figure was because I didn’t prime it. There were weird yellow spots that I covered over and over and it didn’t matter, it would just keep happening. I took a spray primer and primed the areas where I had that problem and I painted again and it was no longer an issue.
      I hope that helped! If you did prime it then I really don’t know.

  27. Mary says:

    I can’t wait to try this! I am getting married this September and bought a desk that I am planning on doing this to. I will be using it for my cake table. Also bought a chair (both of these items from Goodwill for $37 combined – can’t beat it!) that I am hoping to use in posed pictures. Hope I can find some pretty damask fabric to recover the chair after I paint it. Our wedding will be in our backyard and very small and personal.

    One question I have – is it necessary to seal the piece after using milk paint? I don’t want it to be slick and shiny, but I don’t want the paint to fall off every time something bumps it either.


    • made4aking says:

      Mary that sounds so lovely! Congratulations!
      As for the milk paint – I’ve never used it but everything that I had read on the subject suggests that you don’t need to seal it. The milk paint chips as it is drying, but once it is dry it is supposed to stick completely. I have milk paint in three different colors and I am just dying for a chance to use them, so let me know how it goes! Also, I’d love pictures :)

  28. Lynne Leeke says:

    Hi My hubby and I have just “shabby chic-ed” an old dressing table, love it and I’m really into it now!! We have a bedside cabinet that has been waxed (pine) can you just rub it down and prime then paint or do you have to remove all the wax entirely? Thanks in advance

    • made4aking says:

      You can usually just sand it down to rough it up and then prime. I’ve never had any problems with paint sticking when I don’t take absolutely everything off. The only time I have trouble with paint sticking is when it is laminate crap furniture. So you should be good!

  29. Julie says:

    Hi Kirsten I love the shabby chic look and tried out my first piece today , is there any chance I could send you a picture so you could tell me what you think to it .

  30. Julie says:

    Me again sorry ! When you say you use the back of a sponge? Do you mean the scouring part.

  31. Pam says:

    What can I do if I used the wrong sealant and it turned yellow?

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