Decorative Paint Techniques for Furniture

By Edriaan Koening

A fresh coat of paint, even with regular painting techniques, can give new life to old furniture. Decorative paint techniques help you achieve a dramatically different look. You may make a plain furniture surface look like an expensive marble surface or an old family heirloom, or apply faux texture.

Lime Wash

Traditionally, people use lime over wood furniture to get a flat, chalky white coating through which you can still see the wood grain. However, results from this method do not last long, especially if you place the piece of furniture outdoors. Achieve a similar look by diluting flat latex paint with water. Choose an off-white color and add as much water as it takes to obtain the opacity level you want. The more water you add, the more transparent the paint will look.


Painting furniture to look like it's made of marble requires moderate to advanced painting skills. Start by painting the entire surface with an off-white paint in an eggshell finish. After it dries, apply a second color using a smaller brush, making squiggly lines to imitate marble veins. Add the third color using the same method. The colors you use depend on the marble you want to mimic. For example, use black and yellow to create a faux carrara marble finish. Blend the colors with a dry brush, then wipe the surface with a damp rag. Finish with a coat of varnish to protect the surface.


Several tools can help you achieve a textured appearance. Apply a base color on the piece of furniture, then dip a rag in paint of a different color. Roll the rag all over the surface, reloading the paint when the rag becomes dry. Repeat until you get the coverage you want. A piece of sea sponge obtains a different texture. After applying a base color, dip the sea sponge in a different paint, then press the sponge repeatedly to the painted surface.


Distressing a piece of furniture gives it an old, weathered look. Start by randomly making dents and holes in the material by hitting it with a chain, a hammer or nails. After sanding the piece of furniture using a handheld oscillating tool equipped with a sanding accessory, apply a coat of dark-colored latex paint in an eggshell finish. When the paint dries, rub beeswax against areas where you want the base coat of paint to show through. Apply the second coat of paint and let it dry. Rub the waxed areas to remove some of the second paint color. Sand some parts of the furniture with the oscillating tool and sanding accessory to further distress it.

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