How to Make Furniture Look Vintage

Nothing distresses me more than a lack of distressed furniture. With the ubiquitousness of stores like IKEA, there's no shortage of well-designed, stylish, affordable furniture. The other side of this coin, however, is that your apartment ends up looking like a showroom. My wife and I have decorated thoroughly and tastefully, but except for her old socks which hang on every surface, there's nothing about our furniture that suggests age.

If you're like me, you appreciate the look of vintage furniture. It lends an air of sophistication and rustic appeal to any living space. If you're truly like me, you're also aghast at the prices that genuine vintage furniture can demand.

So, what's the best way to full your home with fetchingly vintage furniture without taking out a second mortgage? Why, buy some of the aforementioned quality affordable pieces from IKEA et. al., and make it vintage. Not only is this easy and fun, it leaves a lot of room for personalization. Read through the following steps to create your own, unique "vintage" furniture, and end up having a living space that looks like it belongs to Ernest Hemingway (without the cheetah skin mounted over the bookshelf).

Step 1: Let's Get Soft

Age does the same thing to furniture as it does to everything else: it dulls edges, rounds corners, and generally makes things "softer". With this in mind, there's no better starting point than softening all the hard edges of your piece. Take a hammer and hit all of the corners and edges, including the legs. Next, take some sandpaper (a good rough grain is a good idea at this stage, I recommend 60) and go over all the edges. However, do not do this in a uniform manner. You want the furniture to look weathered, not systematically sanded down. A perfectly even wear is what you want to avoid, so try to go harder on the areas where more action is likely to have occurred, such as leaning one's feet or arms on it.

Step 2: Wham Bam That Furniture Looks Antique Ma'am

This is one of the more enjoyable steps to "vintage-izing" your furniture. Take the hammer that you'd used in Step 1, and drop it a few times from a height of about 15cm all over the piece. Provided you're not using the Gravity Hammer from Halo, this should give the piece some nice nicks, gouges, and scrapes, and suggest that it's of an advanced age. Also, don't be afraid to flip the hammer around and use the claw to add some longer scrapes along the surface of the piece. How hard you drop and scrape depends on the type of wood you're working with, as softer woods like pine will be more easily damaged than cherry or oak.

Step 3: True Colours

This is where most people go wrong when making new furniture look old. They've followed the first two steps, but then they apply some lovely fresh paint. This makes the furniture look poorly made as opposed to vintage. So, how can one avoid this? Choose two contrasting colours, then paint one over the other to make it look as if the original colour has been painted over. The colour choices are up to you, but just be sure to let the first coat dry before you apply the second, as you don't want them blending together. When applying the second colour, don't paint over every inch of the piece. Leave some of the first colour exposed, to give the impression of the paint having been worn down over the years/decades/centuries (how old are you telling people this furniture is, by the way?).

Step 4: The Distress Test

You'll need some sandpaper again, but not the coarse grain from Step 1. Go with a much finer grain (ideally around 220), and lightly go over the entire piece in order to take any lingering "new paint" shine away. Once you've aged the paint job, take the same fine sandpaper and sand down the edges, corners, and any spots that would see more wear (which was also explained in Step 1). You can even sand through to the first coat of paint in order to enhance the whole "this table has been here since the days of Pliny the Elder" feel.

Step 5: The Ol' Wipe-Down

Once you feel that you've truly achieved the vintage look, wipe down the entire piece with a dry cloth to rid it of any lingering dust from sanding. Paste wax is recommended if you want to coat it, but I say skip that altogether and leave it as is. You've just spend the last few hours giving the appearance of wear and tear, why not let things unfold as they may? Any wear and/or damage will just increase the appearance of age and hard use.