Friday, January 6, 2012

Antique Ivory

Shabby chic has been trendy for awhile now, and it is the home decor trend that my father least understands.  "But why would you want something to look old and dirty?"  Because it's awesome Dad!  (He also didn't understand why we purposely ripped our jeans in the 90s.)

Nevertheless, as with everything, design elements and principles are at work even in shabby chic.  Essentially, when we "antique" something we are enhancing the lines and features of a form while adding contrast which is why it looks good.  The trick is doing it just right, otherwise my Dad is right, and it does just look old and dirty.

At the top of the most popular DIY shabby chic list is the antique ivory effect.  I have seen this done wrong so many times it drives me crazy!  Here's some tips on how to get it right:


- Sand paper (med grit)
- Palm sander (optional)
- Painting supplies
- Primer
- Ivory paint (semi-gloss)
- Water based stain (or latex paint) in chocolate brown.
- Rags
- Paint Spray gun and air compressor (optional - makes things a lot easier and faster)


1) Choose the right piece of furniture:

The first mistake people make is assuming that anything can achieve the antique ivory effect.  Uh-uh.  First you need to know what pieces of furniture are good candidates for antique ivory and which are not.

To determine this you need to look at the lines and texture of the piece of furniture you would like to apply the antique ivory effect to.  Furniture pieces with a lot of curvy lines, and carved or embossed textures are great candidates, pieces with straight lines and smooth surfaces are not.

Good candidates for antique ivory effect:

This is kind of an extreme example, but these are the kinds of lines and details you want.
 The piece doesn't need to be a real antique, but it should have a more classic, traditional style.  Where I've seen a lot of people get trapped is in vintage waterfall furniture.  Because it is actually antique, they think it should turn out great, but because of the smooth surfaces and straight lines, it just destroys it.  Please don't antique ivory waterfall furniture.  The other place I've seen people get caught is trying to apply the effect to a piece that is just too modern.  The juxtaposition of making a new style look old, just doesn't work.

Not good candidates for antique ivory effect:

Antique waterfall furniture.
Modern / Contemporary furniture.

2) Sand:

Because you will be painting the furniture you only need to do a light sand on all the surfaces.  You do not need to remove the old paint, or finish, you just need to rough up the surface slightly to ensure good adhesion for the new paint. Remove dust and wipe clean with a damp rag when finished.

3) Prime: 

Coat all surfaces evenly with 1 coat of primer. Leave to dry.

4) Paint:

Coat all surfaces evenly with 2-3 coats of a subtle off-white paint.  Allow to dry to touch in between coats.

*Here my recommendation is to choose a very mild off-white, like a true ivory - stay away from the heavier cream tones.

When all painting is complete allow to dry at least 3 days or more, before continuing on to step 5.

5) Sand / Distress:

Lightly run a palm sander (or sand by hand) along the edges and lines of the piece.  You want your paint to be fully dry and at least partially cured before doing this to prevent lifting and tearing of the paint.

I really only do this on the straight lines and edges of the piece that don't have a lot of detail to them. I know some people will beat it with chains, or slash / gauge it with various instruments - I don't. As mentioned earlier, what you want to do with this is enhance the lines and details that already exist in the piece.  Error on the side of too little, as opposed to too much, or you'll loose the Chic and just get shabby.

6) Paint:

Coat the entire piece (one section at a time) in a brown water-based stain, or brown latex paint, then immediately wipe off with a damp rag, allowing small amounts of the brown to remain in any cracks, crevices, lips or edges. 

What you are doing here is adding contrast to the lines and details of the piece which works to enhance them. Again, here I prefer to error on the side of too little as opposed to too much.

7) Leave to dry and cure:

This can take anywhere from 7-30 days.



  1. This is my dream table, love love love it. The white with the dark wood..perfect. Great job Abby.

  2. I am lucky enough to see this table in person the day after you delivered it. Beautiful! I had automatically assumed that is was a pricey table purchased at an expensive furniture store. I was shocked to learn that it was a refinished hand-me-down table, and done by someone I know! Great work!

  3. Great stuff! Now if only I can find a do-it-yourself way to build one of those
    home gyms...

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  6. You said not to sand the furniture down completely before painting, etc. I have a piece that is VERY similar to yours that I want to do this to, but the base color is hunter green. Will the green not show back through when you start the distressing process with the palm sander? I just don't want to mess it up and have to start over. Thanks!

    1. Yes it could. You might want to try it first in an inconspicuous spot and see if/how the green shows after being distressed and glazed. If you're unhappy with it, you could skip the distressing stage, and just use the glazing to give you the antiqued look.

  7. So glad I found your blog! This is exactly what I want to do with our future kitchen table and chairs (currently searching craigslist) but my husband isn't a big fan of white on the chairs. I'm working on him!! lol

    Brie @ Breezy Pink Daisies

  8. Please explain how you got the seat of the chairs and tabletop to look that brilliant!


    1. I used the steps from this tutorial on refinishing wood furniture:

      The only things I did a little differently were that I used an oil-based wood conditioner and stain on the table top & chair seats(I find that water-based stain is okay for little jobs like chair legs, but for bigger projects oil is the way to go). I also used a paint-on varnish (instead of aerosol) and lightly sanded in-between coats of varnish with a super-fine sandpaper. Hope that helps!

    2. Did you do the legs or the top first?

    3. I refinished the table top & chair seats first - then masked them off really well before starting on the legs and backs.

    4. How did you do the chair seats and top? I have the exact same table and I love the contrast you created.

  9. Would you please share what paint you used here? There are too many options for ivory, and I would really love my desk to mirror your table! Thank you!

  10. I have the exact table..can't wait to make it look the same. Summer project now planned.

  11. Hi! I love your tutorial and I've been refinishing a table this week. Did you seal it with anything when you were done? If not, did the chairs hold up well with use over time?

  12. I bought this same table at the restore but it was missing the leaf. Wondering if anyone knows the manufacturer so I can try and find one?

  13. Thank you Abby! Do you mind sharing what paint and stain brand you used? I am going to attempt my first furniture transformation and don't know what kind to buy. TIA

  14. which stain did you there where you wiped it back off the chair?

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