Having lived in France for over 10 years, I am very familiar with authentic provincial furniture and the distressed look it often has. I hadn’t realised how fashionable recreating this look was, until a client of mine called me to paint their old wooden furniture in the ‘shabby chic’ style. After days of research I was introduced to Annie Sloan Chalk Paints and the world of Shabby Chic.
In my opinion, there is a fine line between rustic shabby chic and badly executed, tacky painting. For me, this look is about studying individual pieces of furniture and enhancing their beauty to fit in with more modern surroundings. I feel that modern tastes have become tired of the imposing, dark, heavily-varnished wood of prior decades. However, there is still a desire for, and a great respect of, hand-made, solid furniture. It is therefore important to treat the furniture in such a way that it retains its initial authentic character while assuming a new and more accommodating look.
When it comes to paint, I am very conservative. I use traditional methods and abide by the rules. 80% of the work as a decorative painter is the preparation; this is true for furniture as much as it is for walls and exteriors. Think of the many decades of use – you can imagine how much grime builds up on the arm of a chair, or near the handles on a chest of drawers! It is critically important to remove this grime before painting, otherwise the paint is merely being applied to the dirt, and not actually bonding with the surface. Of course, it’s possible to apply practically any paint to any surface, but will it stay? Probably not. It surprises me when some paints are sold stating that no preparation is needed. I personally believe that this is just for commercial purposes.
Lime and chalk paints have been used for centuries, and are traditionally very weak products. They are most commonly applied in thin coats to porous surfaces and brush stokes are often visible. With paints such as Annie Sloan there is a strong acrylic binder that has been added, which enables the paint to adhere much more than it would normally. That said, even this enhanced chalk paint will come off easily over time if it is not protected with a wax or varnish. This is why this paint is useful when trying to create the shabby chic look – the whole point is that the paint looks like it’s coming off…
The following images are of a pair of oak bedside tables I transformed. I used Annie Sloan paints after removing the varnish and sanding them down. The first coat is Scandinavian Pink and the second Graphite mixed with Original. Once these two coats had been left to dry, I then sanded the tables with a medium sandpaper making the first coat come through. A mixture of Dark and Transparent wax was then applied to give them a natural patina. Shabby chic is about creating an illusion.