How to distress and refinish old furniture

After two years of marriage, Will and I can't really be considered newly-weds anymore, but I still feel like we are in that awkward place of combining our past decorating styles. Part of that combination is the random pieces of furniture that we have both acquired from our college days or from our families. While we totally LOVE that our rooms don't echo with emptiness, it has been hard to decorate with our current eclectic collection. We have slowly started to work room by room to get new pieces that mesh with what we have AND that fit our grown-up style. We decided to start on the guest room with a clean, beachy feel.

The biggest issue we have is with a budget, because I happen to favor expensive Pottery Barn style furniture. I just can't help it! How do they do the whole distressed furniture look and do it in a way that looks polished?!? Total magic... there's no other way. ;)

So, my solution? DIY project. Believe it or not, the below method works amazingly well and was SO easy! The finish is also EXACTLY what we were looking for! Honestly, I really didn't expect the results to work out so well!

What you will need:

  • An old piece of furniture $40
  • Electric sander $30
  • Paint (taupe and a finishing color) $4 + $10
  • Paint brush $4

Total cost = $88

We found this dresser for $40 through a Facebook group that is similar to Craigslist. It was well-built, but needed some serious TLC. We liked this one in particular because it had the peeled paint effect, which would maintain some added texture even after the sanding and refinishing. 

So without further ado, here are the EASY and repeatable steps for refinishing any piece of furniture for that Pottery-Barn distressed look!

1. Remove the furnishings and drawers. In addition to removing the furnishings and drawers, we had to cover the mirrors with painter's tape and clear plastic wrap. It wasn't difficult, just time consuming.  

2. Sand it down. The sanding step basically gives the new paint something to "grab" onto and is an important step. Since you will be painting over it, there is really no reason to go all the way down to the wood. Our goal was to rough it up and smooth some of the rougher areas of the "peeled paint effect." I tried SO hard to avoid this step BUT it actually wasn't that bad and a light electric sander from Home Depot made it super fast. 

3. Clean it off. The sanding will create plenty of residue, so be sure to dust it off and wipe it down before the next step. 

3. Paint with taupe or a dark brown. We choose a taupe spray paint because it was easy to apply and is a good under layer color. Don't be discouraged when everything looks dark, the next step will brighten it all up!

4. Paint with your finishing color (white). I love white furniture, especially since we were going with a beachy theme for our guest room. We used flat white, but this could work with any light color.

5. Sand down the edges to the taupe layer. This step is where it all comes together. As you sand down the edges and anywhere else where you want to show off the distressed look, the taupe color will start showing through. I just about jumped for joy when it started showing through and really had that distressed feel. 

6. Consider a clear finishing coat. We did not add a clear finishing coat, but it is worth considering depending on the type of paint you used in the first steps and how much use the furniture will be getting. The dresser was going in our guest bedroom which does not get a lot of traffic and the white paint we used was meant for outdoor furniture so it had a protective coating built in. If we had finished a coffee table or furniture for our room, we probably would have added this final step. 

7. Add the drawers and furnishings and LOVE it!! Here is our completed project AND a sneak peek into our guest room: