Shabby Chic or Smartly Restored?

We are in the process of redecorating our late 19th Century cottage and something is happening to me as I get older. Something quite disturbing! I’m going to stick my neck right out on this one.

For as long as I can remember I’ve been a fan of the Bauhaus movement, the Eames style and very clean cut lines and surfaces. I briefly explain my passion for Bang & Olufsen here. For many years I dreamt of a white room with Bauhaus furniture and a classic Le Corbusier chair. Yes, this is all very designer and not that easy to live with – just my personal taste.

I’ll get to the furniture restoration shortly…

Now the disturbing bit. I’m warming to the idea of decorating our cottage in a traditional way. Dare I say it, f fl flo flor okay, floral. Oh no, floral. Ahhhh. Well, having been a designer for many years has taught me an important lesson. As long as something is executed well then it has merit, regardless of your own personal taste. I am a big fan of objectivity which is why I love Swiss design and minimal styles.

Cath Kidston Electric Flowers

My wife loves Cath Kidston and I have to say that the majority of the Kidston range is designed very well. It’s just great graphic design and printing. So, I’ve sort of absolved myself of the floral stigma and swapped it for well designed fabric. What is happening to me? Next, I’ll be organising cushions based on size, plumpness and colourway order!

Internally, we have painted the cottage mostly white – great and almost my dream of white rooms. We have chosen traditional furniture to complement the country cottage “look”. Some of it is basic pine stuff we had to get us started and other stuff is much higher quality oak (albeit rough, old and not antique). Then we thought about how we could smarten up the furniture. Should we create a shabby chic look and distress it or should we smartly restore it? We elected to restore some of the woodwork and paint the remaining areas of the furniture in a light cream / linen colour. The decision was made to avoid the rubbed down, over worn look of Shabby Chic furniture.

The results are very good and I did it properly! It was all rubbed down, filled (where necessary), etcher primed and then painted with lot’s of water based wood paint. Finally, new handles were added and two coats of wax. This may not be to my taste but I have to say, it does look really good.


Smart Shabby Chic Chest Of Drawers


Smart Shabby Chic Chest Of Drawers Completed

Smart Shabby Chic Chest Of Drawers Completed 2

So, here’s the process for my Smart Shabby Chic chest of drawers:

  • Remove old handles that had been added at some point. They were old copper arts and crafts style but not original and not good quality.
  • Fill all old handle holes and repair any damage.
  • Wear a good quality fine particulate dust mask.
  • Rub down, fill again and sand smooth.
  • Now open the windows.
  • For the oak, clean down with white spirit. Allow to evaporate.
  • Wash down with water and detergent and allow to air dry or wipe down with a dry cloth. Ensure it is totally dry.
  • Brush paint / roller paint with a water based etcher primer / sealer / undercoat. I used Zinsser Bulls Eye 1•2•3. This is not the easiest paint to work with but the results are excellent if you are patient. Allow this to dry / harden for a minimum of 24 hours. Don’t be tempted to starting painting your top coats after an hour or two.
  • Lightly sand any nibs or obvious brush marks from the primer. Use a medium to fine glass paper or fine wire wool.
  • Paint or roller your top coats (three if you can be bothered, two minimum). I used Crown Satin for Wood and Metal – really good stuff and goes on well. Not as hardy as an oil based paint, but, being water based, it’s much better for your health and environment. Please, please, please, never buy cheap paint. If it’s cheap it’s either rubbish or way past it’s shelf life (heavily discounted).
  • Allow each top coat to dry / harden as per the instructions. If you are painting outside in the sun with a breeze then the paint will dry very quickly. Keep in mind that when painting outside, flies love fresh paint and there will be lots of dust around. One tip, you don’t have to watch the paint dry 😉
  • One of our cupboards was quite battered and I left it this way. After it was painted it looked great because of the natural wear to the wood.
  • Wax your furniture with two or three coats of liquid beeswax, wax paste or similar. Allow each coat to dry before applying the next. Buff smooth between coats.
  • Remember to wax your draw runners and the sides of drawers / doors. This prevents sticking and makes everything run smoothly.
  • Fit your handles; we got ours from Secret Garden and they arrived very quickly. For the price, the quality is great but keep in mind that each handle will be slightly different – especially the glass type.
  • Hacksaw off the remainder of the bolt that sticks out at the back of your drawers or doors. A junior hacksaw is good for this. Just cut half way through and then work upwards and downwards gently with some pliers until snaps off. Finish off the nut (inside the drawer) with a small cap to avoid ripping clothing or catching on your hands. If you have a hot glue gun then you could run some glue around the bolt, wait until it cools slightly and then mould around the bolt with your fingers. Be careful, you do have to know what you are doing with this technique, otherwise, ouch!
  • Do all this and you should end up with a smart piece of furniture that will be hardy and age naturally.
  • If you want to paint your furniture again then strip the wax back using a wax stripping liquid, methylated spirit, white spirit or rubbing alcohol. Always test on a hidden part of paintwork to ensure it is not too aggressive. If you apply enough coats then your water based paint should survive quite well.

My final thoughts are this… I genuinely enjoyed the work on the chest of drawers and cabinet. Whilst they may be not be my ideal taste in furniture, they do look very good and appear to exceed their quality. They also fit perfectly into our cottage decoration. Beforehand, both pieces of furniture had just looked very ordinary and quite dowdy. And that word again, fl flo fl floral. See, I said it!