Don’t Distress…It’s Just Distressing

Oh how I love, love, love that distressed antique look on furniture: shabby yet classy. That’s totally my style! There’s something about a distressed piece of furniture that screams, “I have a history!” and this is such an attention-grabber.

I have been feeling that our den is missing that touch of “shabbiness” of which I have grown so fond. What better place that to add this little touch than with a distressed coffee table (which we are in desperate need of anyway…)?

Try as I may, I have yet to find a coffee table of Craigslist that doesn’t ooze an ordinary style. So, I decided to build one…Yet another project that makes use of my very unskillful woodworking skills. I really wanted the table to look like it came right out of a century old house. My initial idea was to build the table and then use a stain to make the wood look like it was weathered. It was a good try, but there is something that just doesn’t look right when a brand-new, perfect piece of lumber has a gray tint mixed in with the bright golden brown of the fresh wood. It didn’t look natural. It looked…exactly like what it was. A new piece of stained wood. However, the weathered color (courtesy of a can of Rustoleum “sunbleached” stain)

became a great base color for take number 2.

When all else fails, pull out a can of trusty white paint… After painting the whole top of the table in white,

the fun really begins.

After the white paint dried, I took a 80 grit sanding block and started to distress. Let me rephrase.  I didn’t distress, but the finish on the table distressed nicely.

It doesn’t take a lot of elbow-grease. If the paint doesn’t sand off fairly easily, that spot probably wouldn’t be a candidate for distress in the natural world (which means you don’t want to distress it!) Knots in the wood (as in the picture above),


screw or nail holes,

and textured areas

are all prime spots for artificial distressing.

Did you notice how the gray weathered color showed through instead of the golden color of the natural wood? The fake-looking stain wasn’t a complete waste. It actually ended up adding to the authentic look of the table.

The great thing about the distressing method is that mess-ups only add to the character of the table. The whole point of distressing is to make a piece seem antique and used. Very few piece of heavily used, antique furniture come out looking brand new 50 years later. I actually used a screwdriver and drill to add scratches and empty screw holes to the table. Crazy, eh? Now, when a 2-year-old decides to drag something down the middle of the table, it’s no big deal. It just “adds to the character!”

The next obvious step is to add the distressed legs to the table top, but I’m afraid that will wait for another day. After the whole table is distressed and assembled, the exposed surfaces will receive 2-3 good coats of polyurethane to keep the white paint from staining

Have you guys ever distressed a brand new piece of furniture? Ever distressed a piece only to find it looked a bit cheesy? Did you find the process simple or difficult? Leave a comment…We’d love to know!


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