How to create a French country style paint effect

Transform a plain console table into an elegant piece with a beautiful French style paint effect in this simple step-by-step upcycling project from Helaine Clare

TODO alt text

A French country style paint effect can transform dark brown wooden furniture – that tribe of low-value, clunky pieces dating from the late-19th and early-20th centuries – into pieces that are desirable and fashionable. With today’s preference for light, airy and uncluttered interiors, ordinary brown furniture can be hard to work into a room scheme. As a result, perfectly serviceable pieces of Victorian, Edwardian and early-20th-century furniture are often chopped up into firewood or thrown into a skip.

However, if you like the basic design of a piece and have use for it, then it can be uplifted, upcycled and transformed into a French country-style furniture piece with a bit of imagination and several layers of paint.

Find our how to create this effect, then check out our in-depth guide to painting furniture.

 To create a French country style paint effect, you will need…

1. Clean up the wood

Remove any loose or flaking paint or varnish. Scrub the table with sugar soap and hot water to get rid of grease and dirt. Mop up the surplus water as you work or it may raise the grain of the wood. Rinse with clean water and wipe dry with rags. Allow to dry naturally and if necessary lightly smooth with fine glasspaper.

Creating a French country look paint effect steps 1 and 2

2. Prepare the surface

The primer we used, Owatrol ESP, prepares shiny surfaces for painting, so you don’t have the laborious job of stripping or sanding back paint or varnish. Using a clean dry cloth, wash the table with a generous amount of ESP. Leave to dry for a minimum of two hours. When dry, the surface will be dull and slightly grainy.

Creating a French country look paint effect steps 3 and 4

3. Apply the first coat of paint

Unlike most water-based paints, Annie Sloan Chalk Paint can be applied straight on to the wood without using a primer. Stir the paint for the first coat – we used Old White. If it’s too thick, add a little water. Apply with a synthetic-mix bristle brush big enough to cover efficiently, but without overloading the brush or applying too thickly.

4. Create depth and shading

Once the first coat is dry use a narrow brush to apply the second coat – we used Paris Grey – to the legs and to the edge of the table. Painting brown furniture draws attention to the shape and emphasises mouldings, so highlighting some areas will produce a greater depth when distressing and ageing the finish.

Creating a French country look paint effect steps 5 and 6

5. Apply the final coat of paint

Next brush on the top coat of paint – we used Country Grey for perfect French country style effect over the whole piece. Leave it for a couple of hours to dry. A note of caution: when emulsion paints are applied to a non-porous finish, such as ESP, they will take longer to completely cure – up to 30 days, so treat furniture very carefully after it’s been painted.

6. Apply a layer of wax

Apply a thorough coating of clear wax using a brush, cloth or sponge. Use a wood-finishing wax made from natural ingredients, such as beeswax, rubbed in with a sponge using a firm circular motion. The wax will be absorbed into the water-based paint making it easier to distress and reveal the colour beneath.

Creating a French country look paint effect steps 7 and 8

7. Create faux wear and tear

Now the paint is softened, rub away patches with glasspaper or steel wool in areas that would naturally show wear through use and time. You can produce different effects with various grades of glasspaper and steel wool. You may want to practise first by experimenting on some painted and waxed wood off-cuts.

8. Add an antique patina

To create an antique patina reminiscent of French country style, rub in wood-finishing wax (dark), using a circular motion, and push the wax firmly into the paint. Rub lightly with glasspaper and apply more wax until you achieve the desired finish. Finally, apply more wax all over. Leave to harden overnight and buff to a sheen.

Creating a French country look paint effect

Read more about painting  and upcycling furniture: