How to Get a Distressed Look Without Stressing – Distressed Faux Finish Made Easy

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Talk about a distressing situation! We are expecting our second child, a girl, in the beginning of August. Thank you very much. In case you were wondering, yes we did register at several places;, and Anyway, our first child, a boy, is now old enough to move out of the crib and into a real bed. So, my wife went down to a ‘professional’ yard saler who has a lot/carport/shop just down the road from us. This woman buys anything and everything that she can from yard sales and auctions, and then sells the stuff to others for profit. I’m not sure if you’ve ever heard of a racket similar to this one, but apparently it’s a pretty good system of business. With that said, my wife bought an old twin sized sleigh style headboard for about twelve bucks. This thing had a little water damage and was missing most of the bolt button caps but otherwise was in great shape. All it really needed was a new paint job and voilà – good as new-ish.

However, why paint it one color and be done, when you can paint it two colors and put a faux finish on it? Enter the diSTRESSED look. If you don’t know what a distressed finish looks like, go to an antique store and look at a chair that has been used for about 40 years. The finish has hints of wear, and the ‘previous’ color peeks through. In actuality, all a faux finish does is speed up time on your wall or furniture, making it look older than it is, but happy wife happy life.

First Steps to Creating a Distressed Faux Finish

I used the faux finish painting technique.  To get started, I first cleaned and sanded all headboards to get rid of any dirt and cobwebs and to prep the surface for the new paint. I like to use TSP (tri-sodium phosphate) when I clean walls or older furniture before I repaint them. There is also a phosphate-free version for those of you who are worried about that sort of thing.  (It’s called TSP-PF.  I know, it looks like some bizarre math problem.) After the scrub, I wiped the headboard down with clean water and let it dry.

After the base coat. I know - pretty nice.

Now it was time for sanding. When sanding for refinishing purposes, you don’t need to take it down to the bare wood.  All you need is a roughed surface so the paint will adhere. You can use a medium grit with a hand sander or a sponge sander (like I did), or try out a soft sander.

Next, put on a solid coat of your base paint. I recommend a contrasting color for the base coat. For the headboard we used “soul chocolate” Mmm… mmm… mmm. Put your base coat on thick, but don’t glob it on. You want a solid coverage with this base coat, to hide any imperfections in the furniture and to cover any original paint.

Finished piece. Purists, avert your eyes.

Now For the Top Coat

Let this coat fully dry before adding your top coat. Your top coat (I know, it’s repetitive but…) should be a contrasting color to the base coat. Here’s where it gets a little tricky. When you apply your top coat, apply it lightly and brush it out hard and fast. You’ll want to cover most of the piece as you go brushing the paint as thinly as you can. This brushing creates the wear marks throughout the headboard, especially around the edges and corners where wearing would occur most. Also, be sure to make your brush strokes all go in the same direction. You don’t want to make it look like this happened on purpose.

A close-up of the edge.

By fanning the paint out this way, you avoid any extra sanding to show the undercoat and you create the look of just old wear marks! If you are interested in trying to distress furniture the harder way, check out the video below. (Skip the first minute or so if you’d like to avoid the sales pitch.)

The Typical Result of My Efforts and Craftsmanship

UPDATE: One week after I finished the headboard, my wife and parent went crazy shopping at IKEA while I was working. Typical result: They bought a brand new bed! Ugh, well at least you can try it.

Photo of author

About Leroy

LeRoy was born into a long line of contractors/carpenters/missing links which maybe why he fell naturally into tools and fishing with his paws, errr, bare hands. He has since punctured, stabbed or electrocuted every appendage that can be discussed in mixed company. Given his natural fur vest, he has never been cold. In his parallel life he is a mild mannered environmental scientist where he builds, destroys and builds again. Which let’s face it is much cooler than Superman’s parallel life.

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1 thought on “How to Get a Distressed Look Without Stressing – Distressed Faux Finish Made Easy”

  1. HAHA!!
    loved the “voilà – good as new-ish.” it’s that ISH that gets you!
    and IKEA… mmmmmmm, must be Scandinavian for “I got your money!!”
    Some good stuff there. I’d say best of the flat box lot; but i still feel better they are a 3 hour drive minimum.

    Congrats on the new addition!


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