How to Distress Furniture for a Laidback Vintage Look

Learn how to instantly age a piece of furniture using sandpaper and this easy distressing technique.

diy distressed white side table
Photo: Brie Passano
Project Overview
  • Working Time: 2 hours
  • Total Time: 6 hours
  • Skill Level: Kid-friendly

Antique furniture often bears its age through chipped paint or a well-worn patina. This imperfect finish adds texture and character to old furnishings, and you can easily replicate the effect on new furniture with paint and a bit of sanding. In the steps below, we'll show you how to paint and sand wood furniture, so it looks beautifully aged. This painting project is a great way to refresh basic furniture you already own or re-create a vintage look without the steep price. Plus, the distressed white paint finish that we chose will disguise any watermarks or minor scratches, so it works well for thrifted furniture that's not quite in pristine condition.

Choose a piece of solid wood furniture that's the right size and style for your room. Then select two colors of latex paint: one for the top coat and another for the base, which will peek through from underneath. Once the paint is dry, you'll use sandpaper to distress the surface to your liking. Follow the steps below to learn how to paint wood furniture with a gorgeous distressed finish.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Sandpaper
  • Tack cloth
  • Paintbrush
  • Drop cloth


  • Wooden bench
  • Primer
  • Paint, 2-3 colors
  • Wax
  • Clear polyurethane


  1. diy distressing removing white paint with tack cloth
    Brie Passano

    Prep Furniture

    Select a piece of painted or unfinished wood furniture. If it's unfinished, sand and prime, then paint the base color. If it's painted, wipe with a tack cloth and paint the base color. Or, prime again and paint the base color. Let dry. Rub wax over the base coat, going with the grain. For an authentic look, concentrate on edges and areas of natural wear.

  2. diy distressing begin painting white base color
    Brie Passano

    Paint Bench

    Paint the top coat, and let dry. If the piece will be used outdoors, choose exterior latex paint to avoid fading. Interior latex is fine if the piece is in a protected area.

  3. diy distressing rub wax over areas of base coat
    Brie Passano

    Distress Surface

    Place the piece on a drop cloth. Sand with medium-grade sandpaper until you achieve the distressed effect. Repeat waxing, painting, and sanding for a third color if you wish. Wipe bench with a tack cloth, and seal with two coats of polyurethane.

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