Pastel colors are typical for cottage-style decor.

How to Paint Furniture for the Cottage Look

by Lisa McQuerrey

Cottage-style furniture can give a home or a particular room in your house a warm and welcoming feel. Traditionally a palette of light neutrals, creams and floral elements, cottage-style furniture can look crisp or weathered, depending on your personal style and taste. Start with unfinished furniture or repurpose a flea market find.


Paint wooden furniture such as chairs and tables a light pastel shade such as cream, pale grey or off-white. Use craft paint for small projects or latex paint in semigloss for larger scale items. Sand down the existing finish, if necessary, or remove existing paint or stain with a varnish remover. Paint with one coat, and when dry, sand the surface. Use a light grit sandpaper for a subtle weathering or a higher grit for a more dramatic finish. Give extra attention to corners and curves to make the piece look well distressed. Finish and seal with a matte polyurethane spray.

Crisp and Clean

For a more finished, formal cottage look, prepare the wood furniture in the same manner as you would for a distressed look, only use multiple coats of paint to achieve a smooth, flawless finish. Consider cream, off-white, pale blue, light minty green or butter yellow pastels. Seal with a semigloss or matte polyurethane finish. Outfit finished chairs with floral, checkered or calico print chair pads. Add pastel damask runners or crocheted doilies to finished tabletops.

Crackle Finish

Antique your furniture with a crackle paint technique for an old-fashioned flair. Consider this finish for shelving, side tables and fireplace mantels. Paint the surface the shade of your choice and allow to dry. Apply the crackle medium and allow it to set per manufacturer’s guidelines. Apply a second, contrasting color coat to the top and watch the crackling effect take place. Good color combinations for a cottage look include pale and light grey, medium rose and pale pink, or dark cream and eggshell white. Seal with a matte polyurethane finishing coat.

Multiple Styles

Go for an unusual look when painting furniture such as dressers or cabinets with multiple doors or drawers. For example, combine cottage paint styles by painting a dresser frame a matte pastel finish and the drawers a crackle or antiqued finish. Add unusual antique or whitewashed hardware to complete the look.


Add a touch of whimsy by stencil painting on top of finished pieces. If you have a theme to the room, such as floral elements or trailing vines, carry the theme through in the stenciling. Other cottage options include a checkerboard pattern, stripes or fleurs de lis. Subtle texturized painting achieved through texture paint stamps or rollers can also give you an unusual cottage look and feel.

About the Author

Lisa McQuerrey has been a business writer since 1987. In 1994, she launched a full-service marketing and communications firm. McQuerrey's work has garnered awards from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the International Association of Business Communicators and the Associated Press. She is also the author of several nonfiction trade publications, and, in 2012, had her first young-adult novel published by Glass Page Books.

Photo Credits

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