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Damsels who distress: How to distress anything

Maris Callahan is the author of "In Good Taste," and, as an avid self-taught home cook, is widely knowledgeable about all things culinary. She is especially passionate about helping women on-the-go cook healthy, delicious meals and snack...

If you have a piece of furniture that looks a little past its prime, one of the best ways to liven it up is to make it look even older. Whether youÂ’re an antique aficionado and refinish furniture as a hobby, or you have an end table that looks a little past its prime, you can turn any piece of furniture into a treasured relic by distressing it on purpose.

distressed furniture

Distressing furniture is the art of using a variety of techniques to refinish your gently (or even not-so-gently) used furniture and make it look even older. Whether you consider yourself a do-it-yourself diva or not, you can distress just about anything by following a few simple steps.

Start by sanding

While wood is a popular material to distress, you can apply these techniques to vinyl, cabinetry, or even upholstery. If you're starting with a wooden piece such as a hutch or end table, you might already think you're working with a smooth surface; however, it's still important to sand it with fine sandpaper before getting started. Crafter Michele Beschen, creator of the B Original series, told the DIY Network that sanding could even yield decorative results. "Vary the pressure you apply to the sander and the way it is positioned," she says. "Sand down to the bare wood here and there for an additional spot of color."

Clean, clean, clean

When you've finished sanding, clean your piece with a tack cloth, (available for $3, HomeDepot.com). This step removes all of the dust from the sanding process so that your finished piece will be smooth and refined.

Prime, paint, repeat

Although you certainly don't have to paint your piece for a distressed look, painting with various layers and colors is a perfect way to coordinate with the other colors in your home. If you use a unique household object, such as a spatula, or work with different sized brushes, the random breaks in the color of the piece will be enhanced when sanded down. Start with primer for a more cohesive look, then move on to colors, alternating two or three shades until you're happy with the look.

Ways to distress

Once the paint on your piece has dried, it's time for the fun part. There are a few techniques that you can use to distress your piece. While some designers opt to beat furniture with hammers or chains, others swear by gentler methods for distressing. "Distressing does wonders for the richness and old world flavor of a piece," says interior designer Pamela Farnsworth Smith of Avallon Design in San Francisco, California. "I personally would have a hard time using a hammer or chain to beat anything—including a piece of furniture."

If you want to distress your piece with a more subtle technique, you can employ a number of methods including: sanding the edges of the piece to remove any sharp corners and simulate wear; use an ice pick or nail to simulate wormholes or insect damage; use a screwdriver to add holes and depressions to a piece; or, add a decorative stencil or lettering and then sand it back off slightly to give it a worn, aged appearance.

Sand again, clean again

Once you're satisfied with the distressed appearance of your new-old piece of furniture, sand it one more time and give it another once over with a clean tack cloth. While you want your distressed furniture to look aged and worn, you don't want it to look rugged and dusty.

Stain it

To give your piece a completed appearance, paint it with a coat of shellac or varnish and let it dry in a well-ventilated area before using it. Beschen recommends "mixing the old with new" so adding a few modern paint touches to distressed pieces is a way to add unexpected punches of color to your piece while adding years to your home decor.

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