The problem with dark wood furniture is it sometimes obscures the details of the piece, and also may not fit into modern decorating styles.
When you paint dark wood in a shabby chic style, it brings forward the beauty of the details and also lightens the piece overall so it coordinates with your decor.
You are still preserving a tiny piece of history. And extending it’s useful life too!
Before painting any furniture, it should be cleaned very well. I recommend a TSP-based cleaner called White Lightning. Here are all the supplies I used on this chair.
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- Chair or any dark wood piece (gifted)
- White Lightning
- Mint Julep
- Clear Coat Satin
For additional information on Dixie Belle paint and products, you can check out my Guides –
The Comprehensive Guide to Dixie Belle Paint: Everything You Need to Know
The Comprehensive Guide to Painting Your Kitchen Cabinets with Dixie Belle Paint
You can download either guide free here by clicking the picture:
Prime Your Dark Wood
Any time you are painting dark wood, you will need to prime. The best primer I’ve found to prevent bleed-through is Dixie Belle BOSS (this is an acronym for Blocks Odors Stops Stains and Bleed-Through).
BOSS comes in clear, white or gray. Clear is great to use when you plan to distress the piece and have the original wood show through.
White BOSS is perfect if your paint is light or white in color. And gray BOSS, of course, is for use with dark colors. BOSS is soap and water clean-up too, which is always great!
The longer you can let your BOSS dry, the more protection it offers. I recommend you let the first coat dry an hour, and then paint the second coat and allow it to dry overnight.
Pick a Shabby Chic Paint Color
The shabby chic style mostly uses white and muted pastel colors. There is also usually some distressing to add that aged and worn character.
For this shabby chic chair project, I chose Mint Julep. It coordinated well with the upholstery fabric I’d chosen, and is such a pretty mint green color.
I brushed two coats, allowing it to dry about an hour in between.
Highlight and Soften
Next I chose a warm white color called Fluff to dry brush over the green. For this technique, dip only the tip of your brush into the paint. Then wipe most of the paint off on a paper towel.
With a light hand, pull the brush softly over the high points of your piece’s details. On my chair, this really brought out the carved rose detail on the back and the fluting on the sides. You could use white wax to get roughly the same effect.
Instead of distressing, I got the same effect by not forcing paint down in the deepest crevices. I usually distress, but this is another option.
Make a New Chair Seat
Since the old seat was broken and not salvageable, I had my husband use it as a template to cut a new piece of wood. I got a piece of high density foam at a big box store and cut it to the same size.
Then I took batting and stapled it on the under side of the seat. I cut my fabric with a couple extra inches on each side and ironed it so my chair wouldn’t have wrinkles.
This type of upholstery is by far the easiest, since you are just turning the fabric over the bottom and stapling it in place. The only tricky part is the corners.
I like to do the corners like I’m wrapping a present or doing hospital corners on bed sheets. Before screwing the seat back on, it’s time to finish off the frame with clear coat.
Seal and Protect Your Paint Job
The last step is to seal and protect your paint job with clear coat. I prefer a liquid top coat, but you can certainly use wax if you prefer.
Clear coat is available in Flat, Satin or Gloss. Gloss doesn’t fit as well with the faded and worn shabby chic style. I’d recommend either Flat or Satin, but Satin is my personal preference.
I brushed on two coats of Satin, allowing it to dry an hour each time. Allow about a week for the paint and clear coat to cure completely before using the piece heavily.
How to Shabby Chic Dark Wood Furniture Step-by-Step
1.Clean furniture thoroughly
2. Prime with 2 coats of BOSS
3. Paint with 2 coats of white or muted color
4. Highlight details by dry brushing white paint or waxing
5. Distress (optional)
6. Seal with 2 coats of clear coat or wax
I hope you enjoyed this project, and see ways you can apply these steps to your own dark wood furniture. Here are a few more shabby chic projects to inspire you!
8 thoughts on “How to Shabby Chic Dark Wood Furniture”
Thanks for sharing these great tips. I usually avoid updating dark furniture because it is so hard to cover it up. Your chair came out beautifully. #HomeMattersParty
Thanks, Donna! It’s not that hard with the right primer! xo, Shannon
Great makeover! The color you painted the chair is so pretty, and the fabric is really lovely!
Thanks, T’onna! I love your spring wreath with the crocheted flowers! xo, Shannon
Great job on this chair and all of your projects.
Thanks, Rebecca! Glad you’re here!