Distressed Furniture for Relaxed Design and Style

With the craze for farmhouse style running unabated, the hunt for distressed furniture continues. While farmhouse may be the most popular design style utilizing distressed furniture at the moment, this style of furniture looks lovely with boho, eclectic, and rustic style as well.

Distressed Furniture
My Vintage Front Porch

We are going to take you through the process of how to distress furniture yourself as well as a lookbook of some interesting distressed furniture for you to consider.

Distressed furniture

Distressed Furniture

Distressing furniture is a technique to make furniture look weathered in order to give it a vintage and cozy look. This is a popular style because many people crave the comfort of “lived-in” spaces rather than pristine areas that have never been touched. There are a variety of distressing techniques that use paint, sandpaper, hemp oil, stain, and dark wax.  

Distressing furniture

Distressing furniture
Home Life

Distressing furniture is the perfect DIY project because you can achieve beautiful results with just a little skill and a few hours of effort. Using chalk paint is one of the easiest ways to distress furniture because chalk paint adheres to almost any surface.

This includes furniture that is already painted or stained unfinished furniture, and other surfaces than wood like metal and glass. Also, because of its flat sheen, you can remove some of the paint easier than paint with a higher gloss sheen. 

How to distress furniture with chalk paint

  1. First, gather your tools and materials for distressing furniture including a piece of furniture, chalk paint in the desired color, a paint brush, sandpaper, dark wax, and a top coat like a polyurethane.
  2. Next, clean the furniture of any dust or dirt with warm water and soap. If you need a heavy duty degreaser, use trisodium phosphate (TSP). Allow it to dry completely.
  3. Paint the entire piece of furniture with a layer of paint. If you want a more opaque look for your distressed piece, paint a second coat of paint. Allow this to dry.
  4. For this next stage, you must decide how worn you want your furniture to appear. For a very weathered look, you will sand it down more. However, if you want a more slight patina, you will lightly sand the corners and edges while leaving the flat areas untouched.
  5. Take sandpaper and rub in one direction across the area where you want to remove paint. Move in a slow manner and evaluate the wood peeking through the paint color as you proceed to make sure you don’t remove too much paint.
  6. Once the sanding is complete, take a tack cloth to remove any dust from sanding. Once this is done, get a rag and wipe a coat of dark wax on to the surface. This will weather the surface and give it more patina.
  7. It is optional to add a coat of polyurethane to seal the piece. However, this will provide a more durable finish than just wax.

How to distress painted furniture

If you are starting with a piece of furniture that already has a thick coat of paint, the technique is different. Instead of beginning with sandpaper, apply paint stripper to certain areas where you want to remove the paint. Allow it to sit and then rub the paint off to expose wood. Smooth out any rough spots with sandpaper. Apply other coats of paint stripper if needed until you create the desired color. Clean and apply a top coat if wanted.

White distressed furniture

Cabinets, sideboards and dressers are really easy to distress

White distressed furniture is one of the most popular of all colors. Consider this white painted cabinet. It has an opaque finish with uniform areas of wear overall. The style and hardware of this cabinet make this the perfect piece for a rustic country or beach setting. Further, this piece works well for decorating a house with children as the weathered look makes it more durable against wear and tear.

Adding paint to a natural piece

Adjust your distressing technique according to the design and structure of the piece you're transforming
Wood is not the only material that you can distress so don't stop there

These pieces are an example of furniture with a natural finish. Unlike other distressed pieces, there is just a slight weathering on these cabinets. There is paint added around small details like at the edges of the louvered doors or at the edges of glass doors. Again, these pieces would look right at home in a rustic or beach space.

It's easy to get carried away when distressing furniture or accent pieces so check your progress regularly

This is a beautiful example of a weathered light. It has an aged white finish with a rustic rope style hanger. The final result is a light that will bring a warm texture to any room.

Distressed colored furniture

Some old furniture pieces are worth preserving and in such a case a worn look suits them best
Something completely new can be made to look old if the right techniques are used

We love the look of this dining room set with the round dining table and the dining chairs and the side tables that have touches of turquoise blue. Distressed turquoise furniture is a favorite with many because this color adds bright interest to the distressed piece and balances the overall neutral room designs where distressed furniture is popular.

Black distressed furniture

Black distressed furniture
Miss Mustard Seed

The blogger Miss Mustard Seed shows us how to distress a dresser with paint and a hemp oil finish. While you can experiment with different top coats, hemp oil can achieve a finish that has depth and does not get cloudy over time. Notice that the distressing is subtle on this piece but that is all you need to create depth on the dresser.

Distressed desk

A few little rough spots are enough to offer character to an already beautiful piece of furniture

This desk has a classic shabby chic style. This style incorporates pieces that have a comfortable look that would look at home in a cottage. Look at the details of this desk. It is distressed on the outside with painted floral details on the inside.

Distressed painted furniture

When distressing furniture, it's important to know where and how to use sandpaper to get an authentic look

This furniture has a two tone style that is common in distressed furniture. Notice the white painting on the chairs and the bottom of the table and the dark stained top of the table. This gives the set a rustic tone that works well in farmhouse style.

Distressed bedroom furniture

If your furniture piece has carved details then just lightly sand those spots to reveal some of the paint or finish underneath

A restful vibe in a bedroom is important for good sleep and relaxation. Distressed beds look their best with big comfy pillows and blankets that don’t look perfect. Together, they create the perfect undone look.

Distressed blue furniture

Not everything has to be distressed if you want to create a shabby chic decor

Light blue like turquoise is a popular color for aged furniture. Many people find light blue more approachable than turquoise or teal distressed furniture. However, it still brings some colorful interest to a neutral space.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)FAQ

How can I distress furniture without sanding?

A fairly simple way to distress pieces without sandpaper is by painting it with a flat paint like chalk paint or milk paint. Don’t apply too many coats, but instead, brush one coat allowing the underlayer to come through. Also, before it is dry, you can take a wet rag and take off paint from the edges or around the hardware to weather these areas more.

How should I distress already painted furniture?

This depends on the look you want and the color of the painted piece. If you want a less aged style for lighter colored pieces, try adding a layer of dark wax to just give the piece some patina. However, if there is dark paint on the furniture, you will need to either lightly sand it. You can also apply paint stripper to the area where you want to take the color off.

How can I distress furniture with multiple colors?

For this technique, the idea is to have a top layer of paint over the but allow multiple colors to come through to the surface. First, simply paint the entire piece with one color. Next, apply a second coat of another color. Then rub some of the second coat off to allow the first to come through. Last, apply a third coat of the final color and wipe areas off to allow both of the bottom colors to be visible.

How can I distress furniture with stain?

This technique works the best with pieces that have been painted in a light color like white or light blue. Begin by lightly sanding the edges of the piece of furniture. Remove dust with a tack cloth. Take another cloth and dip it in the stain and apply. Then, remove by rubbing it away before it has had the chance to dry. Some of the stain will stay in the crevices and edges giving the piece an aged look.

How can I distress furniture with Vaseline?

This technique utilizes paint and a petroleum jelly product like Vaseline. Before you paint your piece, consider the natural surfaces where weathering would occur like edges and corners. Rub these areas with Vaseline before painting. Next, paint the whole piece and allow it to dry. Once it is dry, wipe down the areas where you applied the Vaseline. The paint will come off in the areas where you put the Vaseline giving the piece an aged look.


Comfortable and simple spaces are attractive in this modern era. Distressed furniture is perfect in these settings as it is already worn so its finish is durable for kids and adults alike. Further, there are multiple distressing techniques that are doable for anyone with a willingness to try. It is a way to take an old piece and give it some new life and to learn something along the way.