The Secret to Simple and Mess-free Distressed Furniture

4 Materials
5 Hours

Distressing furniture is messy. This makeover is how to create mess-free distressed furniture with a simple household item. It’s so easy you’ll be able to do it before you can say ‘shabby chic’.

I found this wine cabinet while I was doing a furniture painting course. It was £10 in a charity shop next door and I somehow waddled it back to my car.

I actually bought it to keep but it didn’t ever fit in my home. But for £10 and the lovely quality that it is, it was still a great find.


The top had some strange circular dings in it. They were so regular that I think that they must be from use rather than by accident. Possibly a corkscrew or something being used against the wood.

To smooth them out, I applied Polyfilla so that the bulk of the dents wouldn’t be obvious after it was painted.

As I was going for a distressed, aged-look, I didn’t mind some dents but not so many that it looked in poor condition.

After it was dry, I sanded off the excess with 180 grit sandpaper to get a smooth surface.

Base colour

I planned to paint the piece white to make the wood on the inside stand out well.

To contrast that light colour, I painted a coat of grey chalk paint around the trim. I put this on the edges where a piece would naturally show wear and tear over time.

After distressing, this grey would peek through the light paint, and give it more impact.

Mess-free distressing

Now, what’s the secret to mess-free distressed furniture?


I added a thin layer of Vaseline to the places where I wanted the cabinet to look distressed. Paint doesn’t stick to Vaseline as it creates a barrier so you can easily paint straight over it.

I then applied a coat of Zinsser BIN primer to even out the wood tone before the white paint.

You can see where I’ve applied Vaseline as the primer didn’t stick to it.

You can either wipe back the fresh paint with a cloth to reveal a soft distressed look or wait until it’s dry and be more aggressive with a cloth on it.

Of course, you can get a distressed look with sandpaper also. But if you have several layers of paint on a piece, this creates a barrier just over the colour you don’t want to cover up.

I painted a couple of coats of Grace Mary’s Portland Stone which is a bright white. It didn’t need too many coats because the primer gave it the base to help reduce the darkness of the wood beneath.

I played around with it until I got the look and contrast I was aiming for.

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Making a stencil

I edited a stencil design to make it relevant to my theme and cut it out using my Cricut Explore Air 2.

Some areas had disconnected sections like the loops and the &. As a picture, it works fine. But as a stencil, it creates gaps in the image.

Check out the solution to these holes in my lessons learned mirror stencil post.

In this case, I simply glued the loose holes into place before painting, to complete the image.

Measure twice…

I measured the middle of the cabinet top so I would know where to place the stencil. Frog tape is great as corner markers as it doesn’t pull the paint up after removing it.

I have made the mistake before of thinking my stencil was perfectly centred and it wasn’t because the stencil wasn’t centred on the plastic initially. If you make your own stencil, check this so you know where the true centre is before painting.

I used stencil spray to lightly glue the stencil to the piece before painting. This keeps it in place more securely than holding it by hand, where it risks slipping. The glue is weak enough that it doesn’t take any paint off after it’s removed.

The key to stencilling well is having a very little amount of paint on the sponge. Too much paint and it bleeds under the stencil and can’t create a clean line.

I dab off excess paint onto a tissue or paper plate until there’s barely any left.

It’s better going slowly, rather than having to fix it later.

I wasn’t worried about it being perfect because I was going to sand it to add to the distressed appearance. If there are gaps though, you can touch it up with a small detail brush.

I sealed the whole piece with Polyvine’s Wax Finish Varnish, to give it more durability.

Aged, like a fine wine.

I like the contrast of the white against the dark wood of the inside. It’s certainly an easy way to distress the paint without the mess of sanding.

I think it would be charming in a little cottage kitchen.

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Suggested materials:

  • Stencil plastic   (Amazon)
  • Vaseline   (Supermarket)
  • Paint   (Amazon)
See all materials

Want more details about this and other DIY projects? Check out my blog post!

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3 of 7 comments
  • Sassycoupleok Sassycoupleok on Nov 06, 2021

    Very creative !!

  • Tchapman92115 Tchapman92115 on Nov 11, 2021

    Great idea with the vaseline. Just curious does the Vaseline stick to the brush. Id like to try but I’m worried the Vaseline will spread with the brush.

    • Rachel Rachel on Nov 11, 2021

      I used my fingers but a brush would be fine as long as you only use it for that and not the painting after.