A trip to France isn't necessary to achieve the French antique look in your decor.

How to Finish Furniture With a French Antiqued Look

by Joanna Hughes

A stroll through a Paris flea market yields a treasure trove of antique French furniture. Elaborately gilded mirrors, intricately carved desks and richly upholstered settees are just a few of the pieces that typify French furniture. While authentic antiques are expensive, hard to find and difficult to transport, you can replicate the French antique of your dreams. Decorative paint techniques transform a plain tag sale or consignment shop find into a custom French antique-inspired work of art.

Primed for Success

Antique French furniture has a casual timeworn appearance that you can replicate. As in any painting job, sand and prime the piece first. If the piece is previously painted, sand it if you can verify that it was painted after 1978; prior to that year, paint contained hazardous lead that is best left undisturbed. One coat of primer should suffice unless the piece you are working with has significant imperfections or you are attempting to cover a dark or heavily saturated paint color.

Colors and Finishes

"Effet chaulet," or whitewashing, is a finish associated with French antiques. In this technique, a coat of white or light paint is layered over a darker coat, which shows through as a result of normal wear over time. Traditional French antiques typically have deep base colors, such as black, brown and dark blue. Topcoat colors, meanwhile, are light pastels, including dove grey, robin's egg blue, ivory and white. Although chalk-based paint is effective in replicating a traditional matte appearance, flat interior paint can provide the same look. Paint the base coat using a standard painting technique; however, when you apply the topcoat, use a method called "dry-brushing" -- in which the paintbrush's bristles are barely covered in paint -- to deliver a thin airy texture on the surface.

Getting the Look

French antiques are prized for their rich history, as evidenced by their weathered appearance, and imperfections and wear only add to their charm and appeal. Distressing techniques can accelerate the process on a newer piece. Using 220 grit sandpaper, focus on areas of the piece that are most exposed and most likely to receive frequent use, such as edges, tops, legs and drawer fronts. Any embellished or carved areas typically wear faster, so these places should also be more aggressively sanded.

The Perfect Patina

When you have achieved the desired level of wear and tear on your piece, apply a clear coat of wax to prevent exposure to further wear and add a dimension that highlights and enhances decorative embellishments. After applying the wax, buff the surface to an even, smooth finish before rubbing away residual wax with a cloth or rag. This finishing technique delivers a gentle patina hinting at a storied past in a French countryside farmhouse or chic Parisian apartment.

About the Author

Joanna Hughes received a Bachelor of Arts from Johns Hopkins and a Master of Fine Arts from Cornell, both in writing. She loves writing about style, fashion, entertainment and home decor, and will take a can of spray paint to just about anything. She has written for "Baltimore Magazine," "Scottsdale Living Magazine" and many others.

Photo Credits

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