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Favorite Makeovers

Natural Furniture Distressing Technique


I love a good furniture makeover. It's one of my favorite things. Today, I'm kicking off the first of the year with this classy rustic black painted nightstand makeover that was painted and distressed without using ANY sandpaper!


This natural furniture distressing technique is one of my FAVORITE go to methods to give a piece a naturally aged and worn look! This technique doesn't leave messy sand paper residue, it doesn't require wax or vaseline or wire brushes.


It's an easy and quick distressing technique that leaves furniture looking naturally distressed each and every time!




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This post contains affiliate links to products I love and use every day. You can view our full disclosure here.



Here's what I had to work with.. a well built nightstand with an orangy-brown stained finish. It had a few dings from normal wear and tear but that's okay! In a minute, I'm going to show you how I embraced those natural worn areas and used them to my advantage. ;)



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The top of the nightstand was worse off.  It looks delicious, right!? ;) Okay enough gross pictures, let's talk distressing...



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"The secret to getting a naturally distressed piece of furniture depends on the amount of paint you put on your brush and the pressure in which you apply it." -Thirty Eighth Street


Natural Furniture Distressing Tutorial


Furniture Distressing Supplies:

(Some of the links below are affiliate links for your shopping convenience. 
Click here for full disclosure.)


- Black Paint 
-Paint Brush (my favorites can be found here and here!)
-Rag or cut up old T-shirt
-Plastic cup with water


Natural Furniture Distressing Technique


The secret to getting a naturally distressed piece of furniture depends on the amount of paint you put on your brush and the pressure in which you apply it. Wait what?! Yes, you read that right.


With this technique, the majority of the distressing process actually takes shape while you're painting the furniture. This technique of distressing has four easy steps and goes rather quickly! Are you ready? Here we go!...


Step 1: Apply A Light Layer Of Paint To Your Clean Piece 


This is a good rule of thumb for painting furniture period. Several light coats of paint will always adhere and look better than one heavy one! But, it's especially important when we're talking about how to naturally distress a piece of furniture.


You want your piece of furniture to receive some light and uneven coverage for the first coat. What do I mean by uneven coverage? I mean that you shouldn't try and cover every inch of your piece with paint.


Leave some of the natural wood tones peaking through AS WELL AS leave some of the areas of your piece completely untouched by any paint.  Edges, corners, raised areas, insets that have details, and imperfections are some really great examples of where "not to paint".



While you're waiting for this first coat to dry meander over and take a quick peak at this Turquoise Painted Bed that I painted to see another example of how this natural distressing technique has been used.



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Step 1 Photo Example: In this first coat, the black paint was applied very lightly. There are some bare spots where the wood finish is exposed as well as large areas where the paint was applied lightly so that traces of the wood finish show through.


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Step 2: Apply Another Light Layer Of Paint To "Focused Areas"


On the second coat, dip your brush so that 1/3 of the paint brush is saturated with paint. Then, scrape the sides of your brush against the edge of the paint can so that your brush isn't dripping with paint. Your brush should have more paint on it then in Step 1 but, it shouldn't be so full that it makes a mess once it leaves the can. 


Here's where we talk about paint brush pressure. This next part is really important! After you've dipped your brush into the paint, your paintbrush will be heavy with paint. Therefore, wherever you place your paintbrush on your piece is where you''ll get the most saturated coverage.


Taking that into account, we can use that to our advantage and be a little bit strategic in our placement. For this step, select 3 random areas within a 2' section of your piece where you want heavier coverage. (There should be space in-between your designated 3 focused areas.)


Using medium pressure, give a paintbrush stroke to each of those 3 areas. With each stroke, the bulk of your paint will begin to leave your brush. After you've finished making your third stroke, go back to the first area and with medium/light pressure give 1-2 brush strokes and smooth out the paint. Do the same for the second brush stroke and then the third without re-dipping your brush back into the paint.




As you're smoothing out these three concentrated stroke areas as more and more paint leaves your paint brushPerfecto! Dont re-dip just yet. That gives you the perfect chance to focus on the surrounding areas where your wood is peaking through. 



Using light pressure, give light dry-brush strokes to the neighboring areas within your 2' square. You want to strike a balance between full coverage, bare wood finish and peak-a-boo areas where the original wood barely shows through.



Select another 2' section and repeat Step 2 until you've covered your entire piece with your "second layer". Wait until the paint is dry before moving on to Step 3.


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Step 2 Photo Example: In this in-progess photo, the following three arrows represent my first three brush strokes. You'll notice that the nightstand is shaded darker in those three areas. Once these areas were blended, I moved to the neighboring areas inside of these arrows and dry brushed over these peak-a-boo areas using whatever paint was left on my paint brush. When you compare this photo to the photo above you can see how I slowly added additional color while still allowing the wood grain to peak through.


Step 3: Wet Distressing


Because most of the natural fade distressing is taking place in steps 1 & 2, this step goes lightning fast! Take a section of your rag and dip it into your water and squeeze out any excess. You want your rag to be damp/wet, not dripping wet. 



Run the damp cloth along the edges and raised surfaces where your piece would naturally get more wear and/or where there are already imperfections... mine as well make use of those, right!?. ;) 



The damp rag will remove the paint easily. If you remove too much paint, that's okay! It's an easy fix in step 4. Additional examples of wet distressing can be found on our french provincial dresser or on this painted mirror.






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Step 3 Photo Example: Here, the arrows represent some of the raised edges/levels where furniture would tend to get scuffed or bumped. These areas were wet distressed.




Step 4: Blending


You've layered the paint so that the undertones are peaking through. Check! You've completed the wet distressing process.. Check. Check! Now, it's time to pull it altogether! This last step requires you to stand back and identify the areas of your piece that could use further blending. The goal in this step is to fade the existing wood finish just a little bit more



You'll accomplish this with just a smidge of paint on your brush. Dip your paint brush so that the first 1/4" of your bristles has paint on it. Scrape the brush against the side of your paint can to remove any excess. You'll use light pressure and long brush strokes to blend and get a nice feathery texture. 





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Step 4 Photo Example: Everything inside of the circle has been blended. The lower part of the nightstand has yet to be blended. You'll notice that by using this distressing technique everything in the top right hand corner looks naturally worn and weathered without having used an ounce of sandpaper!




Here's a side by side comparison of the layering process...




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We're calling this The Linnie Project. Here are a few close ups of it all finished....




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You, of course get to control the amount of wear and distressing that your piece will have! This natural distressing technique works for both minimal and maximum degrees of distressing.



Nightstand makeovers are the perfect sized furniture projects for first time DIY-ers. If you've never painted a piece of furniture before, painting a nightstand is a great place to try your hand at painting and distressing! Be sure to pin this tutorial so you'll have it handy when you're ready to give it a try!





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Would you like to learn more tips & tricks for refinishing furniture? Stop by to see these additional repurposed furniture tutorials from Thirty Eighth Street. Love the weathered look? You'll find several other painted pieces that use our natural furniture distressing techniques here at Thirty Eighth Street!




 I'm excited to announce that each and every 2nd Tuesday of every month you'll get to see SIX additional DIY Furniture Projects from these very talented blogging friends of mine! Today marks the first installment of our Crafty Girls & Furniture Friends share party. 



Click the links below and see what my furniture friends have done with these furniture pieces!



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1. Refreshed Desk Using CeCe Caldwell Paint from On Fern Avenue
2. Mid-century Dresser In Walnut and White from 58 Water Street
3. Vintage White Furniture Co. Nightstands by That Sweet Tea Life 
4. Rescued Relic To Elegant Eggplant Buffet from Whimsy and Wood
5. Using Stain To Tone Wood  from J Burns Design
6. Weathered Gray Painted Jewelry Chest by Just The Woods


Happy "distressing"!
Carrie || Thirty Eighth Street




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64 comments

  1. Great post w/ great informatio ! Thanks for sharing.

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    1. So glad you found it useful, Beth. Thanks for stopping by!

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  2. Excellent tutorial, especially for those who are working indoors and don't have the option of dry sanding to distress! Pinned to share :)

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  3. I've used this technique and love it, it's so natural looking. Thanks for great post :)

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  4. I appreciate seeing your process. When I distress something, I'm quick with the sandpaper or wet distress technique, but I love your system of layering! I hope you have more of these detailed tutorials in store for us!

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    1. I think the layering system is so easy. I mean if you're already painting you might as well... ;) Thanks, Colleen!

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  5. Love this technique. You did such a great job I seriously can't believe the transformation. It looks so natural and not overdone. great work

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    1. Thank your for your kind words! I'm so glad you enjoyed it!

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  6. This is great! My daughter has a dresser that we could do this to for her nursery. Baby due in 4 weeks! Yea!

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    1. Congratulations to you and your family! That is so exciting!!

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  7. Carrie this is really beautiful. I too am a big fan of dark paint and actually did this by mistake on one of my pieces. Love the effect of the time worn look. A lovely piece too. Pinning this!

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    1. I love happy accidents! Thank you for your sweet words, Mary!

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  8. This is a fabulous tutorial! Thank you so much for sharing!!

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  9. Great tips, thanks so much. Now I just need to find something to try it on! LOL.

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    1. I hope you do, Robin! Thanks for stopping by!

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  10. I love this! I tend to get VERY carried away with distressing with sandpaper ;)

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  11. Carrie, great tips! I usually you messy sandpaper technique. Will try your next time! :)

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  12. Great post and tutorial! And perfect for my project that I have! I love the colour!
    Thank you for sharing! #FamilyJoyBlog

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  13. Great article and love how this turned out! I have a very similar piece I've been looking for paint. Did you use a wax or polyacrylic cot to finish it?

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    1. Both! The body was waxed with Country Chic Paint's black wax and the top was sealed with Tough Coat. Best of luck with your project!

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  14. You did such an awesome job with this piece! Thanks for all of the tips!

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  15. This post is just like a V8 commercial! Smacking myself up side the head as we speak. This is life changing. Have no idea why I didn't work though this on my own, but I never realized this and probably wouldn't have without your brilliance! I am doing this on the next piece of furniture I paint, it looks fun and so much simpler. And really, who likes to sand? Not this girl! Whoo Hoo!

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    1. Nikki! You MADE my day with your kind words! I'm so glad that you found this helpful and that it made sense! After you try it out, I hope you'll come back and let me know how it all went. ;)

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  16. This piece turned out gorgeous! Love the method you used to distress. I sure do love chalk paint!!

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  17. Wet distressing sounds pretty cool! The finished product is fantastic. Thanks for sharing at Vintage Charm! xo Kathleen Charm Bracelet Diva {At Home]

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    1. Wet distress = less mess! ;) Thanks so much for stopping by, Kathleen!

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  18. I'm in total awe of transformations like this. I am so clueless with all things DIY that don't involve cooking lol.

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    1. And I envy and admire those that can cook! :)

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  19. What a beautiful sublime soft finish Carrie, with a wonderful tutorial! I will be featuring this project at this weeks Fridays Furniture Fix.

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    1. Thank you for sharing our work and tutorial, Brenda! xoxo

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  20. This pieces turned out beautifully! I'm excited to try this technique. We're featuring your furniture makeover at this week's link party. http://www.thelifeofjenniferdawn.com/2017/01/4-simple-ways-to-refresh-room-weekly.html

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    1. Thank you for featuring our work, Jennifer! It's an honor!

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  21. Wow! Such a transformation! Great tutorial, thanks, makes the process seem easier than I would expect.

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  22. Hi Carrie! Thanks so much for the tutorial--wanted to let you know that you are my feature today at Vintage Charm :)

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    1. Diana, thank you for show casing our tutorial at Vintage Charm!

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  23. Beautiful job and well-done tutorial! So glad Diana featured you this week on Vintage Charm. The finished product immediately drew my attention!
    Rita C at Panoply

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    1. Hi Rita! I'm so glad to hear that you liked it! Thank you for stopping by!

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  24. I have never tried your distressing techniques but they look really pretty. Pinning to remember! Thanks for sharing with us at Sweet Inspiration

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    1. Pili- It's honestly the quickest and most natural way to distress! ;)

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  25. Really great tutorial. I will be featuring this tonight at my Winter Blues Wednesday party that opens at 8pm EST. Please stop by and pick up an I've Been Featured button. Thanks. http://diybydesign.blogspot.com

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    1. Thanks so much for sharing our work with your readers!

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  26. What a gorgeous piece Carrie. But I wouldn't expect anything less. You are so talented. Thanks for the tutorial.

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  27. I inherited a bedroom set from my parents and need to change up the look. This technique is juat what I was looking for. Your step by step turtorial was very clear and super helpful. I'll be trying it out soon. Thanks so much!

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    1. My pleasure! I'm so glad you found this helpful.. Best of luck with your bedroom set!

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  28. Your night stand turned out beautiful! I love the distressing. I have tried this technique on small wood crafts, and signs. But I haven't ever tried it on furniture, I really love the look. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. It really is the easiest way I know to naturally distress furniture. I hope you get an opportunity to try it out on a piece!

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  29. I'm a blogger at centsiblechateau.com and we love projects. To say that I look at a lot of them is an understatement. I love painted furniture, and this could be the best piece I've ever seen. I'm OBSESSED! Just wow!!! I posted it on my FB and Twitter, so glad I found your site!

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    1. Wow! Thank you, Heather! I'm honored. Thanks so much for sharing our work!

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  30. Do you have to sand the piece of furniture prior to painting? Thanks and beautiful work!!

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    1. Hi Natalie! I did not sand this nightstand before painting it. I did give it a really good cleaning first though!

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