Furniture Rehab 301 – A Distressing Technique

by Kimba on September 21, 2008

in Furniture Rehab

Here we are just 12 short weeks since our last installment in our Furniture Rehab Tutorial series and I’m finally ready for a new installment. If you would like to catch up and read the previous posts, you can find them here:

Furniture Rehab 101 – A simple chair painting project

Furniture Rehab 201 – Painting and recovering a piano bench

Today we’ll cover a technique for distressing furniture using two different colors of paint. Here is the before picture.

Two beat-up thrift store chairs that I found for $3 each.

And here is the after…

I wanted to try a technique where you have a different color of paint peeking through the distressed areas. In this case the chair is black with blue in the distressed areas.

These chairs had been painted numerous times before so they needed a lot of sanding to smooth down the chipped areas and get them ready for a new coat. I’m sure you shabby girls would have thought they were perfect as-is. And they were.

For this project, I got out the power hand sander. Wooooooooo doggies!!! So much faster than trying to do it all by hand. I still had to do the rungs and spindles by hand but the power sander still cut way down on the work.

Look at all the colors under there…white, green, red and yellow. These chairs have been around for a while. Once they were smooth enough, I gave them a couple of good coats of primer. Of course, I forgot to take a picture of this step, so you’ll have to take my word for it. 🙂

Now starts the fun part. Since I want the distressed areas to be blue, that has to be my first coat of paint. I used Kilz Calling Bird blue paint for the base coat. I was so tempted to leave them this beautiful blue color.

Since this color is going to be covered up by our top coat, I didn’t worry too much about making this color perfect. I just made sure the get the areas that I was going to distress.

After the base color was completely dry I took a wax candle and rubbed it over the areas of the chair where you would normally see distressing from everyday use…the edge of the seat, the top of the rungs and the edges of the back.

This step will prevent the topcoat from sticking to the blue color and will make it easy to sand off. You can do as much or as little as you want. The more you wax, the more distressed your piece will be.

Next comes the topcoat of color. I used Kilz black in a satin finish. Each chair got two good coats with the spray paint. As you’re painting, you may notice that the paint starts to bead up on the areas with the wax. This is fine.

Once the black paint was completely dry, I came back with a very fine grit sandpaper and lightly rubbed it over the areas where I put the wax. The top coat of black came right off revealing the pretty blue underneath.

Wait a minute! Did an itty-bitty birdie leave an itty-bitty poo on my chair while it was drying? Gross!!!

And that’s it! I didn’t put on a clear protective coat because I don’t mind if they become even more distressed with use. But if you want more protection for the finish, you could use a spray polyurethane topcoat. I would choose a satin finish so that it’s not too shiny.

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1 Lisa @ Stop and Smell the Chocolates September 21, 2008 at 10:45 pm

That looks so great! I love it. And I like the shade of blue you chose.

2 sarah @ a beach cottage September 21, 2008 at 11:41 pm

oh yeah Kimba, what a great tute!

I love how they were to start with, love the blue in the middle but the finished result does look amazingly good doesn’t it?

those chairs must have been around a bit to have all those different layers on, so good when you find things like that for that price, one of the reasons I like to thrift so much…

i love seeing befores and afters, thanks for the inspiration


3 MaryCatherine September 21, 2008 at 11:49 pm

Oh wow! I absolutely love the finished product. What a great idea! I’m so excited to have stumbled upon such a great blog!

4 Gray Matters September 22, 2008 at 2:37 am

Beautiful! Was that blue color a spray paint as well – if so – the world of spray painting is bigger than I thought.

5 Sarah Kate September 22, 2008 at 3:26 am

I really like it. It is great for when you can’t decide the color. I never thought of using wax. I painted a lot of furniture this weekend and didn’t think of distressing, maybe I will try it.

6 Darlene September 22, 2008 at 3:39 am

Good Morning Kimba,

Another great tutorial!! Those chairs look FABULOUS as does everything you do!!!

7 Brown-Eyes September 22, 2008 at 4:21 am

Now that you have given me the “how to” all I need is the “want to”…LOL…It seems like my energy is becoming more stubborn everyday and just gives me enough of it for the bare essentials… 😉 Bo

8 Julie September 22, 2008 at 5:05 am

I love this! The blue color is great.

9 Stacey @ The Blessed Nest September 22, 2008 at 5:37 am

That looks SO cool! Great tutorial, I’ll have to try the candle trick!


10 Marie September 22, 2008 at 5:49 am

The chairs look great! I love the blue color peeking through. :O)

11 Rhoda @ Southern Hospitality September 22, 2008 at 6:04 am

Very nice, Kimba…I've seen this method before & it looks like it works great. Now I wonder where these chairs are going?

12 Shannon September 22, 2008 at 6:08 am

I have always wondered how to do this! Thanks for the candle tip!

They look great!

13 Inspired Kara September 22, 2008 at 6:12 am

I’ve seen this done wtih vasaline too.

Question, I’ve never spray painted anything in my home (i know). Do you use satin finish on all of your paint jobs?

14 Jessica September 22, 2008 at 6:13 am

So great! You are a pro at everything you do. I love your blog and look forward to every post. Have a great day.

15 AliceAnderson September 22, 2008 at 6:31 am

Lovely! I’m on the hunt now for chairs that I can refinish. I have 3 spots just waiting for one. 🙂

16 Caren September 22, 2008 at 6:42 am

They look great. I love the candle wax idea, never would have thought of that.

17 Jerri Lynn @ Southern Sassyness September 22, 2008 at 6:55 am

Love this – so helpful! Cute chairs!

18 Kendra September 22, 2008 at 7:03 am

Love the bird poo. Life happens, right? Great tip on the wax! I never would’ve thought about that. My mom is a queen distresser, and between you and her, I should be able to do this in my house successfully. Thanks for the tutorial. Aaand I’m still excited about the possibility of a class with you and your sister!! 🙂

19 queenbee September 22, 2008 at 7:08 am

Very cool technique. I have been afraid to distress, but with this tutorial I just might give it a try in the future. First I need to tackle my oak kitchen table and chairs with a nice coat of black spray paint. My chairs have spindles as well, were they hard to get to with the paint? What type of sander and staple gun do you use?

20 Jen - Balancing beauty and bedlam September 22, 2008 at 7:10 am

Yea – and here’s my dilemma. I already have 4 things that I have stolen (well bought) at yards sales…haven’t painted them. Came across a GORGEOUS, antique dining room table this past SAt. with 5 chairs. 2 are great, 3 need work, plus table needs to be painted. Passed them up, but gave her my number in case she didn’t sell them. She didn’t…now she will give them all to me for $20. Do you know how fabulous it will be painted black and used as a study table? My sons are screaming NO!! Paint what you have!!! OHHHH…what to do? 🙂

21 Sarah Mae September 22, 2008 at 7:16 am

Wow, you are seriously so darn creative! I think I need to master rehab 101 before I venture to distressing! Beautiful work! 🙂

22 Nikki September 22, 2008 at 7:18 am

I love the blue peaking through! Great color choices.

23 Wendy September 22, 2008 at 7:22 am

You learn something new everyday. I didn’t know the wax trick! Thanks for the tutorial…now I have a new technique in my bag of tricks! 🙂

24 My Three Girls (The A girls) September 22, 2008 at 7:22 am

Looks great. I can not keep up with you and your little projects. Great ideas.

I would love it if you would post your front door so I can see the black door with the white trim.

25 HeathahLee September 22, 2008 at 7:30 am

They are beautiful! I’ve been wondering if I could do the same with my dining room chairs. They were my grandmother’s, so I’m reeeeeeally nervous to try this on them, even though they are looking really worn.

26 Songbirdtiff September 22, 2008 at 7:37 am

Your chairs look great! Thanks for the wax tip, I haven’t heard that before.

Are you familiar with spray stripper? This stuff is awesome! You just spray it on like a foam and it totally separates paint from wood. You just scrape it off.

27 aunties September 22, 2008 at 8:16 am

I agree with Sarah, Kimba it was a wonderful tute!
The blue peaks through perfectly and to think you used a candle to get that effect. You are sooo clever!

28 Valarie September 22, 2008 at 8:26 am

Oh I love that!!! Feel free to use that idea on any other projects you might be working on. hint hint 😉 That is if you have not already started on any certain other projects. 🙂

29 Amanda September 22, 2008 at 8:55 am

Oh Kimba!!! I love the blue and the black. The chairs look amazing and I will be using your wax trick very soon! Thank you for sharing.

30 Deb September 22, 2008 at 9:32 am

The candle is such a good idea. I’ve heard of using vaseline so that the paint doesn’t adhere to certain areas, but the way from the candle is brilliant. I’m going to use that technique on my daughter’s dresser I’m planning on painting. Beautiful result.

31 my thrifty victorian home September 22, 2008 at 9:35 am

What pretty-shabby chairs! Love the tutorial!!

Blessings to you and yours,

32 Tausha September 22, 2008 at 9:36 am

I love them. I love the sky blue under the black-i would have never thought to do that.
Ok-I just had to share a thought-i never prime anything. espescially with two different colors of spray paint. i only prime-if it’s metal. Just a thought to save you a couple of mins when you paint. I know that you are a pro painter-but i just wanted to share what works for me. i actually feel kind of stupid sharing painting tips with you-kind of like telling the queen how to rule her people! 🙂
Hope that you will still love me! or at least like me! 🙂
try it and let me know!

33 Katie September 22, 2008 at 9:53 am

Awesome, great job!

34 Reynie September 22, 2008 at 9:53 am

What is it with the birds? I was doing a distressing project this weekend and went outside to see how the drying was coming along and what do you think was on my chair? You guessed it, a big bird POO! ugh! Entire yard to poo in and they have to select my chair. All well.

It looks great, btw!

35 Jo - To a Pretty Life September 22, 2008 at 11:02 am

Wow, that looks great! The blue and black look perfect together.

36 Amber September 22, 2008 at 12:04 pm

Kimba – The chairs look awesome! What an inexpensive re-do!

37 new every morning September 22, 2008 at 12:33 pm

Thank you, thank you! I’ve done some painting, distressing and staining, but I didn’t know how to do the waxing part. I’d heard of it, but never knew the technique!

38 angie September 22, 2008 at 1:19 pm

They look incredible. I would have never known to use wax.

39 Empty Nest Full Life September 22, 2008 at 2:32 pm

Great chairs, great price, great tutorial! Jackie

40 darling September 22, 2008 at 2:33 pm

Those are fabulous! And you make it sound so easy that I may just run out and try something like that myself.

41 Lorie September 22, 2008 at 2:58 pm

They turned out very nice! And thanks for the trick about the candle wax!!

42 Nen September 22, 2008 at 4:00 pm

this is so neat! glad i stumbled upon your page!! thanks for sharing!

43 Shirley September 22, 2008 at 4:20 pm

Those chairs look so good! I’ve done a little distressing but didn’t know about using the wax. I’ll have to try that next time. It makes sense that it would work good. Thanks for the wonderful ideas. I really enjoy your site.

44 Buzzings of a Queen Bee! September 22, 2008 at 4:49 pm

I love that blue shade! But of course I love the black too. Those look so great! I am always seeing great chairs at thrift shops but I have run out of places to put more chairs, darn it! Those are so cute I wish I had somewhere to copy you!

45 stacy September 22, 2008 at 5:21 pm

oooooooooohhhhhh!! thanks so much for showing us. they turned out so pretty. now i need an old chair 😉

46 Blissful Nikki September 22, 2008 at 6:43 pm

I love this technique. you would think I had done this one my computer chair, but I just sit in it too much and it looks like this! 🙂 hehe!! Thanks so much for the tutorial.

47 Kelly September 22, 2008 at 7:37 pm

Thanks Kimba for doing this. I learned something new today. Will give this technique a shot in the near future.

48 Evi September 22, 2008 at 8:45 pm

Gorgeous, that’s all I can say!

49 salpetitt September 22, 2008 at 9:45 pm

Thanks for the tutorial. That looks nice. I’m a rookie at the spray painting, and I’ve been wanting to try the two color thing. Thanks for showing me how!

50 Laura September 23, 2008 at 4:33 am

Great job – thanks for the tutorial!

51 amina November 13, 2008 at 2:31 am

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52 Denise July 9, 2009 at 8:51 am


Thanks so very much. You're a life saver. I have hunted high and low to figure this out. I have to do eight chairs. They are dark now and I want antique white with a antique oak peeking through. Now I think I'm ready. If this works, on to the china cabinet. Fingers crossed.

Again, thanks.


53 Cindy July 12, 2009 at 7:16 pm

That is lovely! So much classier than what I do. I paint the whole piece then go at it blindly with a sander…no thought no self control. Sort of like the way I've lead my life. Don't judge me!

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