How to create a French country style paint effect

Transform your furniture with this easy step-by-step guide to getting that always on trend French country style paint effect

Kitchen dresser with a French country style paint effect
(Image credit: Malcolm Menzies)

Looking to upcycle your old furniture? A French country style paint effect can transform even the drabbest, clunkiest, let's just go a head and say it, ugliest furniture out there. And it is a really easy weekend DIY project that won't take you long and won't cost very much either. 

Keep reading to find out how to create this covetable, always on trend, French country style paint effect...

You will need: 

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Step one: Clean your furniture 

Before creating your French country-style paint effect, 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. Allow to dry naturally and if necessary lightly smooth with fine glasspaper.

How to a create French country style paint effect steps 1 and 2

Step two: 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.

How to create a French country style paint effect steps 3 and 4

Step three: 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.

Step four: Create a French country style paint effect with a second coat 

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.

How to create a French country style paint effect steps 5 and 6

Step five: 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.

Step six: 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.

How to create a French country style paint effect steps 7 and 8

Step seven: create a distressed paint effect 

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.

For more tips on how to create vintage paint effects check out our guide. 

Step eight: finish with dark finishing wax

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.

How to create a French country style paint effect

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