If you read about the ugly chair, then you know it was part of a matching pair of, uh, distinctive shag-carpet-era brown chairs. I painted the first one with Annie Sloan chalk paint – a miracle product as far as I’m concerned – at a workshop at Metheny Weir Painted Finishes. A workshop is a great way to go if you can find one in your area, because you don’t need to invest in brushes, paints, and waxes.
This is especially ideal if you suspect your response to painting furniture might be the same as mine upon running my first marathon: “Never again!” Luckily for me, though, I like painting furniture a whole lot more than I like long-distance running.
Since I started painting with chalk paint, I’ve gotten a lot of questions from friends about how it’s done. I’m by no means an expert, which is actually perfect, because you don’t need to be an expert either. You’ll find, if you Google around, that there are different opinions about and methods for almost every aspect of chalk painting – so, of course, I interpret this as “Yay, I can’t screw it up!” Besides, the beauty of a chalk paint finish is often in its imperfections – its lived-in look, if you will.
Another bonus: Chalk painting is a nice fit for those who have small chunks of time to work with over the course of a normal week. Whether you’re a parent at home with small kids who go to preschool or nap (at least occasionally, right?), or you only have a few hours at home each day after a full-time job, this can work for you.
So, my take on chalk painting. To get started at home, you need:
- A place to work. It needn’t be outside, because chalk paint is non-toxic and extremely low odor. The wax (which we’ll get to later) is a little stinky, so you might want to air out a bit then, but it’s not bad and I never even open a window. You also might want somewhere where children and pets won’t touch your work in progress. I once had to clean French Linen off each of my cat’s paws and then repaint a buffet top, which, as you can imagine, neither of us was thrilled about. This buffet, actually, which I painted right in my dining room on a dropcloth:
- Something to paint. Well, of course. The beauty of chalk paint is that you don’t have to do any sanding (unless your piece is really very shiny, and then do just a quick buff with a medium grade sandpaper – like 5 minutes’ worth of sanding). Without worrying about worn spots or old paint, you can just choose something you like.
- Obviously, you’re painting it, so you don’t love it exactly as is, but do pick something with interesting lines or details. My favorite things to paint are typically medium to dark brown wood because, unless they are very high-quality, these pieces tend to look very dated with that dark finish, but you’ll see a huge impact from the paint.
- Where to get something? If not your own house, then try a thrift store, garage sale, or online site like Craigslist or a Facebook sales page. Here’s my buffet above in its “before” state. Classic brown behemoth with potential.
- Two more warnings to consider when choosing furniture. This is where you can learn from my (in)experience: 1) Beware peeling or chipping veneer (veneer is a thin layer of wood that is glued onto the main body of the piece, usually to give it a more luxe appearance on the cheap). Damaged veneer needs repair before painting, and it’s not that easy for an amateur to do well. For this amateur, anyway. You can do it, but it’s hard to make it look pretty, so you might want to avoid this or choose a piece with minimal veneer issues. 2) Beware cigarette smoke odors unless you are game for the extra steps discussed in The Ugly Chair.
- Chalk paint. If it’s a small piece like a stool or light end table, a little sample pot of paint might do the trick. If not, buy a quart. It’s expensive paint, at $30+ per quart, but a quart goes a long way. I just finished my first quart of Old White, and I used it to paint several coats on a dresser and a large chair, as well as a diluted “wash” finish on the buffet above.
- Paint brush. You don’t need a specialized brush for chalk paint. I like to use the 2 inch brush that I normally use for painting edges on my walls. (Like latex paint, chalk paint cleans up with water, so you can go back and forth between projects and use the same brush for both.)
- Wax. Annie Sloan wax is the protective finishing coat that must be applied after the paint. (I guess there has to be a price to pay for not having to sand anything beforehand, right?) You might ultimately want both clear and dark wax, but I think clear is simpler and, thus, the beginner’s friend.
- Wax brush – maybe. I have now invested in an Annie Sloan wax brush, whose cylindrical brush head makes it easy to apply wax in cracks and crevices, and smoothly overall. Actually, I have two, since I also keep one exclusively for dark wax, because I don’t want any dark residue mixing with my clear wax. For starters, though, you can apply wax with paper towels.
- Paper towels. Well, you knew that was coming, didn’t you? I keep meaning to buy those thick, almost-clothlike shop towels that are almost lint-free, but the regular ones work too.
Ok, time to get started. You remember my brown chairs?
I’m now tackling the second one of the pair. Like the first one, I’m painting it with Annie Sloan Old White. This one is slated to be my new office chair, though, so it won’t have a ballerina cushion on it like my daughter’s version.
For starters, I just brushed on an even-ish coat of paint over the whole thing. Don’t worry about the coverage too much because, with white over a dark brown like this, it won’t be the last coat.
On a previous project, I did get away with one coat on this coffee table.
But clearly that’s not going to work on the hot mess of streaks here.
The paint dries pretty quickly – less than an hour? – but I don’t typically have a whole day to work on painting, so I just squeezed in another coat on another day. Actually, I did three coats on this chair (a first for me) because I was hoping for really even coverage. That’s pretty unusual, from what I’ve heard about chalk paint, and I’m honestly not sure it really added a whole lot to the finished look.
What really would have been more helpful than a third coat of paint would have been painting in better light. I regret doing this one in the basement – again, a first – and the dim lighting was not the best for ensuring even coverage. So – prioritize good lighting and save yourself some work!
Next step was the wax. Now, I already said I needed to get out of the basement, and there was some must-see TV on, so I just spread out my dropcloth in the living room and did my waxing. Furniture waxing, that is.
I just dip my brush (or clean paper towel) in a small amount of wax and apply it evenly over a small area. Say, one chair leg. Then, before it dries, use paper towels to simultaneously rub it in and wipe off any excess. It is easy to apply too much, and you don’t want any glommy spots. If you touch a waxed area, it shouldn’t feel wet exactly, but rather satiny smooth. Wipe it more if it feels wet.
If it instead feels chalky, you probably haven’t done that spot yet. (In case you’re like me and sometimes lose track of where you were. Especially on a spindly monstrosity like this one. These chairs really aren’t the ideal beginner project when it comes to waxing. All those nooks and crannies!)
Ok, I finish my waxing before my show is over and look what I find. This chip right on the front leg of the chair – so irritating.
I’m not even sure how it happened – probably some amateur error of mine. But, regardless, not too big a deal. Another advantage of Annie Sloan chalk paint and wax is that you can just paint over them again if you screw something up or just change your mind.
So next day I just dipped one of my kids’ paint brushes in a teensy bit of paint and touched up that spot. Crisis averted.
A little more wax on the touch-up spot, and a bit of extra wax on the arms to protect against the extra wear they will get, and it’s done. Voila! – the first step in my home office reinvention.
Next step: unloading the cheap particle board desk my husband brought to our marriage more than fourteen years ago. Who’s got a gorgeous old desk for me to paint?