Naturally distressed furniture finishes

While I love elements of Shabby Chic – specifically the acceptance of an eklectic mix of old and new – one thing I haven’t liked is how it has been taken over the top. Everyone does a distressed finish on a new piece and most of the time it just looks like fakey crap!

Here is a recent table I bought ($28) with a natural, distressed finish (click photos to see a closer view). The stain was put on over the bare wood in a sloppy way, probably not left to dry properly, an alligator pattern emerged and brush strokes are evident. This wasn’t “faked” up by someone in their garage and the finished, aged patina is richer for it.

The tabletop surface has a nice, multi-level depth due to natural wear and tear and the initial, poorly done staining job.

I guess people get tired of working on projects, and the inside pocket, where books would go, has even more erratic, sloppy staining (the light difference in the stain is due to the shadow of the pocket not the stain)

Naturally aged or distressed items always have an authenticity to them that artificially produced work just can’t duplicate. Although the popularity of Shabby Chic decorating has raised the prices of these pieces, you can still find them at a reasonable cost. They are also great to mix into a room with newer furniture to give an overall feeling of age and live-in comfort.

Another table (about $35) I found has a lovely soft alligator finish in soft creams. This table was too deep for my intentions, so we took the legs apart, cut off about four inches and then re-glued and fastened the legs back to the surface. It’s color and size has allowed it to be moved around the rooms from entry table, to corner table for a laptop and as a side table to a couch.

And here is another lovely distressed finished – this time, natural rusting of a metal table (about $30). I love the second shelf (great for organizing and displaying) and the slightly curved leg. I ended up using this table in the boy’s room.

Technique: Liming

Liming dates back to 16th century Europe and though similar to pickling it’s older. Designed originally to prevent wormrot to the wood, it gives a white appearance to the wood that is unique and is great for tables, chairs or even picture frames.

Walnut Chair
Walnut Chair

The best material for a liming project, is a hardwood such as oak, elm, or walnut, because of their open grains. Pine is not a good choice for this technique.

First, use a wire brush to open the grain. You are not looking to clean the piece, but to open the grain of the wood so it more readily accepts the Liming Paste.

Next, rub the Liming Paste onto the wood using a brush or your hands. If your piece has grooves or carved pieces you can use a brush, fingertips or rag to work the Liming Paste into all the crevices.

Then wipe off the Liming Paste with rags, leaving a ghostlike, pale surface behind – how pale will depend on the type of wood you used, how good a job you did with your wire brush and the original color of the piece. If it isn’t quite how you like, go back to your wire brush and apply more Liming Paste – if too much rub off more.

Limed Table TopWhen it’s dry, use a coat of Sanding Sealer and let dry. Sand lightly and if desired, coat with a surface sealer such as Poly, Varnish or wax.

I fell in love with this technique when I did it on an oak table top and a walnut chair. I hope you like it too as it is easy and really provides a unique effect and the wood ends up feeling soft and smooth.

Paint: Liming Paste is made by mixing latex, white paint with Plaster of Paris. The consistency should be that of a paste, about the thickness of cake batter/muffin mix.

Tools: Paintbrush, white paint, wirebrush, Plaster of Paris, and rags.

Surfaces: Your piece needs to be stripped of any varnish, glaze or wax. If it has a light stain you can try the technique but the more stain removed to bare wood the piece is the better. It does not work on painted pieces.

Ability: Easy. I mastered this technique without any practice.

Oak Table with Liming Paste
Oak Table with Liming Paste