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Dress up your home with chalk paint

This decorative trend is poised to last another year and it’s not just for distressed furniture

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Photo by Mélanie Paulin

When Sally LeBlanc’s bed and breakfast suffered a bad flood last winter, she took the opportunity to complement the substantial renovations by refreshing old furniture. Using decorative paint, “the old becomes new again,” says LeBlanc, who operates the Gabrièle Inn in Shediac, New Brunswick.

LeBlanc used chalk-style paint on tables, chairs, and nightstands. “I have a lot of antiques in my house and am starting to get sick of that,” says LeBlanc. “I wanted to refurbish some pieces.” She hunts for gems at yard and liquidation sales, refinishes pieces, and finds them a new home. She says, “Either I bring them to the B&B, to our cottage, house, my porch…”

  • This piece features Annie Sloan Antibes Green lightened to mint by mixing in Old White. Use two coats painted with a slightly damp natural bristle brush to obtain a nice even finish, then sealed with Clear Soft Wax.
  • Mix colours to find your favourite combination.
  • Click to the next picture to see how Mélanie Paulin transformed this vintage sofa into something truly unique.
  • This sofa features a custom colour mix of Napoleonic Blue and Emperor’s Silk by Annie Sloan. Mélanie Paulin misted the fabric with water before painting to thin down the paint and improve absorption. Once dry, she sealed the fabric with Clear Soft Wax, giving it a nice leather feel and making it easy to clean.
  • This painted floor features a base coat of Pure White, washed with Paris Grey, sealed with Annie Sloan water-based lacquer.
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LeBlanc loves the ease of working with this user-friendly paint known for its high matte finish. “No sanding, no priming, no mess,” she says. “It’s quick. You can easily do a piece in a morning, or a morning for one coat and a second in the afternoon. It’s very easy to do a project in a weekend. I find it very relaxing.”

Chalk Paint decorative paint by Annie Sloan is one of the most popular decorative paints on the market. “The main draw is that it’s a waterbased, non-toxic paint with organic pigments,” says Sandra MacKenzie, owner of Rusty Hinges, a Halifax antique and vintage shop that carries the well-known brand.

Milk paints and other products are similar. “They often start with a latex base,” says MacKenzie. “It’s chalk-like paint, meaning it has that matte finish. But there’s a huge difference because latex can chip and peel.” Because chalk-style paint is water-based it adheres to just about every surface without sanding, stripping, or priming. “You can paint anything,” says MacKenzie. “Metal lamps, candlesticks, picture frames. If you name it, you can paint it.” It’s also an inexpensive way to give a facelift to oak, particleboard, and MDF kitchen cabinets.

“A big misconception is that it’s for retro furniture or you can only get that rustic look,” says MacKenzie. “You don’t have to distress something, that’s just one technique. You can take kitchen cupboards that are midcentury modern style à la Mad Men and make them look like glass. A beat-up weathered finish is not what the paint does. It’s just one technique.”

Most decorative and chalk-style paints dry to the touch in about 20 minutes. Projects take one to three coats, depending on the look you want.

Next apply a soft clear or dark wax finish with a brush or cloth, and buff off the excess. The paint is matte and very porous, so combined with the wax it offers a durable finish with a warm and earthy feel. The dark wax is great for pieces with more character. Use lacquer, not wax, for added strength to finish surfaces that will see a lot of wear, like stairs and floors. Outdoor projects don’t require wax at all.

Mélanie Paulin, owner of Carte Blanche Upcycled Furniture & Accessories in Moncton, N.B., likes a mid-century modern style with a clean line and a smooth finish.

“You can easily distress something,” Paulin says. “The most basic finish is to sand the paint back to reveal wood or another colour underneath.”

This lampshade, base, and record cabinet were all painted with Chalk Paint by Annie Sloan and sealed with Clear Soft Wax and a bit of Dark Soft Wax.

This lampshade, base, and record cabinet were all painted with Chalk Paint by Annie Sloan and sealed with Clear Soft Wax and a bit of Dark Soft Wax.Photo by Mélanie Paulin

You can also mix colour washes. Paulin painted a hutch in her store with a taupe/grey base coat and a second wash of a charcoal/black. For the wash, dilute the paint with equal parts water, brush it on and once dry, wipe it off to leave just a hint of the colour. “It’s one of the most popular finishes, and it’s easy,” she says. She painted her living room floors white with a grey wash to create a driftwood effect.

“There are so many surfaces you can paint on,” says Paulin. One of her customers painted a vintage metal fridge turquoise, and another painted and stenciled her vinyl bathroom floor using a mauve/grey base coat and stenciled a lacy, scalloped design on top in white.

Paulin owns a big Victorian sofa with a heavy brocade fabric that she painted with a custom created purple colour, thinning the paint with water to help the fabric absorb it. She’s even painted a pair of leather boots.

Both Carte Blanche and Rusty Hinges offer regular workshops on the various techniques. “You become addicted and literally want to paint everything that you see,” says LeBlanc, who participated in a recent Carte Blanche workshop. “It’s dangerous.”