How distressed do you want it? Examples of distressing antique French furniture

Distressed antique French furniture

Lots of people love the aged, old, battered, shabby chic look on French furniture, something that gives the piece a used feeling to it.

For those antique furniture items that do not already have this with it, either because they are too new or they are too pristine, the look can be created in lots of different ways. The term used for making something look older or more worn, is one I absolutely adore, it is called ‘distressing’. Hence, I often end up asking the intriguing question to a customer, “how distressed would you like your French armoire/buffet/bed?”.

This is not a new phenomenon, items that were old in the late 1800’s were made to look even older by bashing coal into them, smacking them with bags of stone and artistically abusing them with a range of different stains.

Rubbing painted furniture down to give nicks and wear is one of Frenchfinds specialities and something that is very popular. However, distressing antiques and vintage furniture is a really subjective activity. Having distressed many items over the last 8 years and to varying specifications we have come up with what we reckon as a standardised scale of distress!

See below for examples and photos of distressed French furniture…

Here’s the original

Original French furniture before distressing French Furniture








1) Light distress

Small nicks on corners or features of a piece only through to the undercoat

Light distress French antique furnitureLight distress French antique buffet close up

2) medium distress

More numerous nicks and wear on edges and features. A mix of some through to the undercoat and others through to the wood

Medium distress French antique furniture

medium distress French antique buffet close up



3) heavy distress

Wear comprehensively across the whole piece of furniture. Features and edges definitively worn. Heavy application taking the paint off through to the wood in most instances, occasionally showing undercoat.

Heavy distressed French antique furnitureHeavy distress French antique buffet close up


4) knackered!

The item is really stripped of its coat. Usually, this works best with something that has had several to many coats of paint applied.

Antique French settle full
Antique French settle distressed front






By building up different coloured paint layers underneath the piece of French antique furniture, you can end up with a real interesting range of colours as you deliberately ware it away again. This can be done either by sanding it down with different levels of force or by removing layers with paint strippers such as Nitromorse.

Picking a complementary colour for the undercoat to the top layer e.g. pink and grey you can subliminally reinforce colour schemes by distressing the furniture.

Distressed antique French furniture - two colours Two colour distressed furniture close up


Make it look dirty!

By using a dark wax to finish a piece, bright colours can be dulled down and changed to give it a dirty (yet clean) finish. Quite often this can help to bring out the pattern of the wood underneath adding to the piece.

Combining a heavy distressing and a dark wax finish you can create a really nice old worn feel to an item.

French Armoire distressed with dirty waxFrench armoire before distressing front
French armoire before distressing finialFrench armoire distress close up
French armoire before distressing close upDistressed French armoire with wax

distressed antique crestFrench armoire before distressing - crest