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You've probably worn blue jeans that came already broken in from the factory, complete with bald spots in all the right places. Turns out you can take a similar approach to giving wood furniture an aged finish—fast. But instead of pumice stones and bleach, some matte paint and a little sandpaper do the distressing. The trick is to put down two coats of color—ideally a light one followed by a darker one—then selectively sand the edges, corners, and contours where natural wear would occur, revealing the paler base coat. Sand a little more to reveal glimpses of unpainted wood to further the effect.

Step 1

Overview for Faux-Aged Paint Finish

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Here, decorative painter Ingrid Leess used the technique to add depth and interest to a big blank armoire. "It works best when there are finish details, like molding, which suggest the piece has a past," she points out. In other words, it's easy to make an ornate mirror look timeworn but less convincing to turn a streamlined Parsons table into a find with a treasured painted patina.

Another plus: There's no need to prep the surface before you start painting. Any imperfections that could cause the paint to flake off will only add to the piece's authentic history—as faux as it may be.

Shown: Two coats and two colors of paint—Behr's Sonata over White Truffle—cover the exterior of this armoire. Sanding the finish in spots lets the lighter one show through.

Step 2

Finish the Interior

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Wipe down the inside with a damp cloth to remove any dust or dirt. If it's really grimy, use a degreaser. Cover the insides of the doors and cabinet with primer, using a disposable chip brush and short, erratic strokes. Keep the brush pretty dry; you want the undercoat to peek through to give the interior a clean yet worn appearance.

Step 3

Paint Both Coats

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Using a chip brush, paint the entire exterior with a light base-coat color in a flat finish. Go in the direction of the grain, but you don't need to be too fussy about the brushstrokes. Once the base coat is dry, lightly apply a darker top coat, again in a matte finish. Be careful not to overload the brush.

Step 4

Sand to Finish

Photo by Wendell T. Webber

Wait two days to allow the paint to dry completely. Using a medium-grit sanding sponge, scuff corners, edges, and details where the piece would naturally show wear, letting the underlayer of paint—and even a bit of raw wood—peek through in spots. Continue until you get the distressed look you want.

Tip: Unless the piece is destined for a damp location, such as a bathroom or a laundry room, don't clear-coat the painted finish. Any added sheen just takes away from the aged look.