What is Distressed Furniture?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 11 May 2020
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Distressed furniture is newer pieces of furniture that have been conditioned to have the appearance of older pieces that have seen a moderate amount of use. The process for distressing furniture often depends on the style, the amount of distressing that is desired, and whether the piece is painted or stained. Just about any type of wooden furniture can be distressed with relative ease. Even painted furnishings made of metal can be distressed using a couple of specific methods.

The simplest way to create distressed furniture is to make use of small grain sandpaper. With brand new pieces that are sporting an original coat of paint, it is necessary to apply another coat. Painting furniture with another coat of a different color makes it possible to prepare the piece for distressing. Once the new coat is dry, use the sandpaper to gently thin the topcoat around the angles and any carvings in the piece. The idea is to allow the underlying coat to peek through the topcoat here and there, as if the paint were time worn.

The same basic approach can be applied to stained and varnished wood furniture as well. However, instead of painting furniture with a new topcoat, the object is to use steel wool or sandpaper to gently rub away some of the finish at strategic locations around the piece. For example, if the piece has a beveled lip around the surface, that is an ideal place to apply a light sanding and provide an aged look. Carved legs also offer excellent opportunities to use the steel wool or sandpaper to gently age the look of the piece.

Another way to create distressed furniture is to use lengths of chain that are several different sizes. This idea works especially well with wooden pieces such as dining tables, wardrobes, and coffee tables. To create the look of years of accumulated nicks and dents in the surface of the wood, use the length of chain like a whip and strike the surface of the wood. This action will leave small marks in the grain and give the new furniture an appearance of having seen many years of use. The dings can be filled in with stain, which will help to enhance the overall aged look.

It is important to note that in addition to knowing how to distress furniture, it is also a good idea to know when a particular piece is a good candidate for distressing. If the newly produced furniture is styled after furnishings from several decades back, it will probably look natural to distress the piece. However, if the design of the furniture is of more recent vintage, distressing the piece is likely to look artificial and out of place.

Distressed furniture can create a warm feeling in a room by conveying a sense of continuity with the past. However, care must be taken to not overdo the treatment. The idea with distressed furniture is to create a look that appears to be from years of loving use, not the appearance of a piece of furniture that has been greatly abused.

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Post 2

my new bedroom set has holes in some places. when i called the store, they told me it is distressed style. i can't believe it. Is it true? sreelekha

Post 1

I have a dresser, vanity, and stool that I would like to paint white and lightly distress for my daughters room. They are french provincial pieces of thomasville and about 50 years old. They are stained however in some spots it has worn off. The spots that I would like to distress are still well stained (edges, curves and such). How should I go about doing this? Should I prime it or just sand, paint and distress it? When distressing it, should I use wash or just lightly sand those area's. Thanks in advance for any help. I am lost.

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