Wednesday, March 12, 2014


I had a lot of fun painting and distressing furniture for our beach cottage, but just writing this post makes my blood pressure go up as I recall how aggravated I was with this particular table.   It wasn't the table's fault - I was feeling brave after playing around with some light distressing on other projects.  I had this vision of heavy distressing and chipped paint effect - and I had no experience with it.   I went through the process of sanding, painting and distressing multiple layers of paint three times before I was happy with the result.

The frustration with this project started when I had such a hard time finding the table to begin with. I knew I wanted a round table, but everything was either too big or too small, too tall or too short, or way too expensive.  After a couple months of searching online, checking Craigslist, going to various stores - at TJMaxx I found a winner!

Despite my frustration - I learned a lot.  I write this post in hope that others may learn from my mistakes, so that is where I will start . . . my mistakes.

  • Mistake #1 Avoid small, evenly-spaced distressed spots all over your piece.  It's looks ridiculously contrived.

  • Mistake #2 When doing layered chipped paint pieces think carefully about your color choices. I initially went with some pastels that were too bright for the look I wanted.

The sum of the two above mistakes -  my first attempt with this table looked like a leopard print Easter egg.  No joke.  The distressing was too fake, it was too many small areas "randomly" dotting the whole piece.

What NOT to do with distressing - too small evenly spaced distressed areas all over

What NOT to do with distressing - too small evenly spaced distressed areas all over

What NOT to do with distressing - too small evenly spaced distressed all over

SOLUTION #1 Color Choices

I was on a mission to find the right colors.  I tried several combinations around the top surface of the table and I found the one in the photo below to be the best choice.

I ditched the yellow color and went with a deep blue and some pretty aqua colors all by Sherwin Williams.  They are Bracing Blue, Quietude and Rainwashed.  They were applied in that order, so the main color seen on the outside of the final table is Rainwashed. The aqua colors are from the Sherwin Williams "Fundamentally Neutral" section of their fan deck.  They are a grayer version of pastels so I consider them more sophisticated colors - a better choice for the look I wanted.

SOLUTION #2 - How to do Heavy Distressing

Examine pieces you like that have heavy distressing.  Look at photos - here is what I think you will find.  They typically have light distressing on the edges/corners and have a few very large areas of distressing (not tiny spots scattered all over).  I have included some examples of posts from other blogs that I admire, and have included their links here as well.

Example #1 - This first one is one of my favorite examples.  You can see the stained wood is exposed in concentrated large areas as well as some of the corners and edges.  Also, there are two colors of blue paint here (just a subtle contrast with the base of the stained wood offering a higher contrast).

Example #2 - This next one shows a good concentration of distressing on the front top of the table.  Once again - not tiny dots of distressing over the whole piece.

Example #3 - This dresser is a great example from this blogger.  I love the heavy distressing concentrated on the bottom drawer, and the large area on the top left drawer.  Again - not evenly spaced small distressed areas across the entire piece.


Before going any further - understand how the two distressing techniques utilized here work.  Both candlewax and Vaseline prevent paint from adhering properly, but the results provide for different looks.

  • Candlewax - creates a weathered and worn look.  The candlewax is applied to a base coat, then painted over with a top coat.  Once the top coat is dry - you can use sandpaper and go over the areas that had candlewax applied - this will remove the top coat and expose some of the base coat.

  • Vaseline - creates a chipped paint look and more easily exposes larger areas of the base coat.  The Vaseline is applied to a base coat, then painted over with a top coat.  Once the top coat is dry - you can use a plastic scraper and sandpaper to go over the areas that had Vaseline applied -this will remove the top coat and expose the base coat.

Here is how I proceeded to create a piece with three layers of exposed paint.

  • Sandpaper (to prepare surface) (I typically use 80 grit then 120 grit)
  • Primer (if necessary)
  • Paint (I used latex paint samples from Lowe's)
  • Brush to apply paint,  I use a good quality 2" brush. (Purdy makes good brushes)
  • Old Candle (preferably white or cream colored)
  • Chalk (to mark off large areas to apply Vaseline)
  • Vaseline
  • Medium Sized Artist Brush (to apply Vaseline)
  • Plastic Scraper
  • Old Piece of Sandpaper (80 grit) (for distressing after using candlewax and Vaseline)
  • Cleaning Rag (old T-shirt material works great here)
  • All Purpose Cleaner
  • Satin Polyurethane
  • Foam Brush (to apply polyurethane) Or use the type of brush you prefer
  1. Start by lightly sanding the piece and preparing the surface.  You can prime the piece if necessary. If you are exposing the stained finish of a piece - you can obviously skip the priming step.
  2. Apply the base coat color. I did two coats because I wanted to make sure that I did not distress past the blue base coat color.  Let dry.
  3. Use candlewax to prepare for the distressing of edges/corners.  This is as easy as running an old candle along the edge and corners of the piece.
  4. Configure a plan for the chipped paint areas (where the Vaseline will be applied).  Decide where you will have large areas of chipped paint.  I found it useful to mark the table with chalk (outline areas where you want the chipped paint look).  I marked off some large areas and also focused on marking off some select areas of the edges.
  5. Apply the Vaseline to create large "chipped paint" areas.  Keep in mind - wherever you apply the Vaseline the paint will not adhere and will easily scrape off later.  Apply Vaseline in these select areas with a medium sized artist brush.  (I say medium-sized because a tiny brush will take forever to cover the larger areas, and a large brush will make it difficult to cover only the smaller areas you want.)
  6. Paint over the entire table.  Painting over the Vaseline areas is a little disconcerting.  The paint will look "goopy" and you might find yourself wanting to paint over it again and again to try to smooth it out - but DON'T.  This goopy looking paint is your friend - it tells you where the Vaseline is and where you will need to scrape off paint.  Remember, accept the fact that wherever the Vaseline is - the paint will be scraped off and it does not matter that it looks "goopy".  This was very hard for me!
  7. Let the piece dry or let it mostly dry.  First take a plastic scraper and scrape off paint in the areas where the Vaseline was applied.  This should be obvious because of the goopy looking paint. NOTE - I say use a plastic scraper because a metal one might take off more paint than you want and tend to scratch a piece.
  8. Use sandpaper on the edges and Vaseline areas to remove more of the paint.  Your sandpaper will get gooped up with paint and candlewax and Vaseline, so you may want to grab some older pieces that you can just throw away after this process.
  9. Let the piece completely dry.   Clean off the piece using an old t-shirt rag and some all purpose cleaner.  This is necessary to remove any residual residue from the candlewax or particularly the Vaseline.
  10. If you are applying another coat of distressed paint - repeat steps #3-10.
  11. Once finished, you can apply a coat of polyurethane

Here is the final product.   It's not the most perfect paint distressed piece ever, but I think it illustrates the idea of less is more.  To me, what makes this better are the colors I chose, and the larger areas of distressing (as opposed to the many tiny small areas sprinkled all over the table).




Here is the table in its own little vignette in the family room.

Rustic Beach Cottage Decor
If you are interested in a general overview of some DISTRESSING TECHNIQUES, see my post here which covers the use of SANDPAPER, CANDLEWAX and VASELINE.
For more beach cottage posts see my Beach Cottage page.

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