Giving furniture the distressed look


— It's ironic but when William McQueen fixes up a piece of furniture these days it sometimes means pounding dent marks into the piece.

The technique is called distressing and it is one of the steps in transforming something like an out-of-date pine cabinet bought in the early 1990s into a piece of furniture that looks like an antique mahogany cabinet.

McQueen, who works with Interior Designer Irene Nelson, refinishes furniture, recycling what seems like old and worn-out pieces into something new and exciting.

Not only does refinishing furniture save the cost of buying a new piece, it also allows the owners to take a piece of furniture they like and get the look they want.

"There are two things it saves," McQueen said. "One is pieces of furniture. You don't have to go cut down more trees to replace something. You can reuse and recycle. And it takes a piece of good furniture and makes into something which you like."

Distressing furniture has been a technique Irene Nelson has used for almost 30 years. She recalls one of the first times she introduced the idea to Steamboat. It was on the floor of a restaurant and she brought in tire chains run over the wooden floor to age it.

"They about died," Nelson said. "I almost got thrown off the job."

Nelson and McQueen said it does take a while to convince some furniture owners to update a piece of furniture by making it look older, but the end result is usually well received.

"It is giving it some sort of character and life rather than just coming out of a factory," McQueen said.

The first step in creating an old look in a relatively modern day piece of furniture is sanding off the existing finish. To give an older look, McQueen sands the edges, so it looks like a piece of furniture that has had 100 years of wear with people bumping into the sides.

"It is not perfect," McQueen said. "A piece that old could not be perfect."

In one of his techniques to distress furniture, McQueen has a piece of wood with nails connected to it. He sporadically pounds it into furniture to give it the appearance of wormholes and to add texture to the wood. He also puts small dents in the wood.

McQueen advises to be careful and that there is a line between distressing the furniture and damaging it.

If it is an old piece of pine furniture that is begging to be updated to an oak, cherry or deep mahogany, a change can be made by doing a faux wood paint finish.

A faux wood finish is painting on a base coat and adding glazes to make the piece look like a wood grain is showing through. A key to faux finishes is making sure the paint is brushed on the same direction as the natural grain of the wood.

Glazes can go on top of the base. McQueen said that faux finishes could be a better alternative to staining old furniture because staining can lead to a dull finish.

"Wood is such a beautiful living thing, we try to replicate that," he said.

McQueen said to avoid giving the piece of furniture a uniform look. Just like the natural character of wood grains, McQueen said areas should be lighter or darker.

"Think like God," McQueen said. "Be random."

One way to give the piece of furniture a worn antique look is to lightly sand off some of the finish after the paint is dried in areas that would become worn over the years.

Distressing furniture and changing the color of the wood can be especially useful for pieces made from pine in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Colleen Finnley, who works with McQueen, said it is a way to update the pine furniture and cabinets found in many Steamboat condos.

Refinishing furniture comes in particularly handy when talking about kitchen cabinets. Eric Conner, who works with Spiegel and Son, said it could save money.

"Replacing cabinets is very expensive," he said. "Refurnishing them is cheaper than replacing them."

And, giving furniture an older look can happen to brand new pieces. Spiegel and Son has unfinished furniture for sale for do-it-yourselfers to stain and paint.


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