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Painting Furniture To Look Like Denim

Update a piece of furniture using a classic paint color wash! Color washing furniture is a colorful way to imitate the look of a wood stain. This technique adds subtle color while allowing the natural beauty of the wood to show through. Try it on unfinished pieces and seal in the beauty of the wood with a dark wax or use white wax as I did to create the look of denim on a small night table.

I have a furniture makeover story to share with you. One that took some effort, threw me for a loop and that I almost gave up on, but didn’t. Instead I tried to keep in mind that… “Persistence guarantees that good results are inevitable”

I kept this in the back of my mind for the two weeks that it took me to bring a small night table a new look. Now that is is complete, it has become one of my favorite furniture makeovers for two reasons… it has a unique finish and fits the room decor perfectly.

Creating a color wash of paint on furniture and then adding white wax to make the finish look like denim. It is the perfect dark blue finish for waterside or coastal decorated rooms.

After a lot of trial and error,  I color washed the table and sealed it with clear and white wax. It kind of took on the casual look of denim. 

How to paint furniture without any artistic skills
Table BEFORE

I made over this table 4 years ago as a post for the Glidden website, My Colortopia. I used latex paint and polka dot gift wrap back then. I loved it, but when I updated my bedroom recently I saw that the gift wrap was yellowing, so I decided to give the table a new look.

How This Night Table Became One of My Favorite Furniture Makeovers

This isn’t just any ole furniture painting makeover, but one where trial and error gave me a win. I hope it inspires you not to give up when a project doesn’t turn out the way you planned the first time. 

how to Strip painted furniture

My first idea for the night table was to strip the table and simply add clear wax over it. I like the look of certain lighter wood tones of unpainted wood furniture. It is trending in the decor world and I thought seeing the wood would be a nice change in my bedroom.

I knew from experience that stripping furniture is not a fun job. It is the worst DIY project to ever take on. It can even be dangerous if you use toxic chemical strippers and the process creates quite a mess.

Small table just stripped of paint
When I stripped the table, I liked the pattern of the woodgrain. Unfortunately, the color of the wood was too orange and not the right color for the bedroom. I needed to think of something else to do to update the table.

My next ideas was to apply Sunbleached wood stain over the wood to alter the orange tone. I tested a small section on the back of the table using the stain and didn’t like it…. at all.

Time for another idea… I liked seeing the wood grain on the table, just not the color of the wood. I also didn’t want to buy new paint to try something different so I headed to my furniture painting stash in my Studioffice to see what I could find.

I had a sample bag of Miss Mustard Seed’s Milk Paint in the color, Flow Blue and decided to try it. I thought it would be a Delft blue color, but it dried to a teal green color. Not the color I was after either. 

At this point I was ready to toss the night table in the trash and buy a new one, really I was. I bought the night table many years ago at thrift store.  In my previous house, it was painted a light pale green. But since I liked the table and it fits nicely by the bed, my thrifty self told me to keep trying and to come up with another kind of decorative treatment.

Since I liked the look of the milk paint, just not the color, I decided to make a color wash of paint using leftover Fusion Mineral Paint I had in the color Liberty Blue.  I used this paint to stencil the walls in the upstairs bathroom and on Ed’s desk. 

I watered down the little bit of leftover paint in one jar and mixed it well. It was about 2 tablespoons of paint to 6 tablespoons of water.

I started to brush it on the table… and YUCK! It looked blue as I brushed it on, but as it dried, it looked like mud. I wiped it off and then tried adding another coat as I had nothing to lose at this point. So I added another coat of the watered down color wash and wiped the excess away with a damp rag. It still looked like mud so I gave up… threw in the towel and went to bed.

The next morning when I came out to the foyer where I was working on the table, there sat a pretty blue night table. All dry and the color not looking like mud anymore, but a perfect blue for my bedroom. FINALLY a win, but I still had some finishing to do. 

What is Color Washing?

Color washing involves diluting a flat water-based paint or chalk paint with water, mixing it well and brushing it onto unfinished wood—the deepness of the color depends on how many coats you use and how much water you add to the paint.

What I like about color washing is that it is easy to apply and doesn’t require any skilled technique.  You simply mix your desired shade of paint with water and layer it on a little at a time. When it dries, your furniture will have a coat of translucent color with the wood grain showing through.

  • Color washing can also be use as a stain to cover up old and outdated wood finishes.

supplies needed:

Fusion Mineral Paint in Liberty Blue used to color wash a wood table.

  1. In a container, mix paint and water. A 1:1 ratio is a good place to start, but you can add more or less water or paint depending on how opaque you want the color to be. For my table, I used 2 tablespoons of paint to 6 tablespoons of water.

How to Apply a Color Wash of Paint to Wood Furniture

Citra-Strip paint stripper

Start with an unsealed surface. Color washes are designed to set into the wood. For this reason, the furniture you paint should either be unfinished or have been stripped beforehand. 

  • Color Washes are intended to soak into the wood rather than resting on the surface. This makes the tones of the pigment look more ingrained.

A night table with furniture stripper on it.

  • Treat previously-painted furniture with a paint stripper and sand it thoroughly to remove all traces of the original color if you plan on finishing it in a different hue.

  • Clean the stripped surface well with a damp rag so it is free from dust, dirt, and oils. Let dry.

How to color wash furniture

1. Dip your paint brush into the diluted paint and brush it over a small section of your piece. If your piece has a distinct wood grain, then brush in that direction. Then, using a damp lint-free rag, lightly wipe some of the paint off.

  • If the color isn’t as intense as you’d like, increase the concentration of paint in the wash mixture by a few teaspoons, then stir and try again.

How wood furniture looks after color washing is dry and before adding a layer of poly or wax for protective sealer.

Continue doing brushing on the color wash on another small section and repeat until the entire piece as been covered. Make sure that the color wash is rubbed in and that there aren’t any drips. I used two coats on the table.

  • To use your color wash as a stain, dip your lint free cloth into your 1:1 paint/water (or your ratio) solution and rub the cloth over your piece. 

How To Add a Protective Finish on a Color Washed Piece of Furniture

Allow the piece to dry overnight. Once fully dry, you can seal and protect the color washed finish with polyurethane or wax. I used white wax to create the casual look of denim. 

To seal and protect your color washed surface, you can use water-based polyurethane like Minwax Polycrylic or clear, dark or white wax and buff it to a subtle sheen.

The best white wax for furniture. Miss Mustard Seed's Soft White Wax

For my table, I liked that I could see the wood grain a little, but the color needed some character. It was too flat for my liking. I found just what it needed when I went back to one of my favorite Miss Mustard Seed paint products – White Wax.

How to Use White Wax Over Painted Furniture

How wood furniture looks after color washing is dry and before adding a layer of poly or wax for protective sealer.

  1. When using white wax over painted furniture, it is best to lay on a very thin coat of clear wax first. Doing this allows you to move the white wax easier and get it right where you want it – to bring out the details like carvings and edges and in the case of my table into the grain in the wood.

How to apply white wax over a piece of paint color washed furniture

2. Once I had a thin layer of clear wax on the surface of the table, I rubbed in the white wax all over it. 

How to rub in clear wax on a dark blue color washed piece of furniture so the finish will have protection and a subtle sheen.

3. I let it sit for about 5 minutes, then using a blue Shop Towel (soft paper towel), I buffed over the surface with another thin coat of clear wax to even out the white wax and add a subtle layer of protection and sheen.

TIP: When buffing wax, rub a soft lint-free cloth over the layer of wax until the cloth slides across the surface easily.

Annie Sloan clear wax is the best to use when sealing paint color washed wood. It is a sealer that also buffs to a subtle sheen.

 

creating a color wash effect on furniture

I didn’t distress the table with sandpaper, I simply let the white wax add the character to the color washed painted finish. 

Creating a color wash of paint on furniture and then adding white wax to make the finish look like denim. It is the perfect dark blue finish for waterside or coastal decorated rooms.

I hope I can keep inspiring you to take a chance and try something new, like creating a color wash effect on a piece of furniture, photo frame or anything made of wood.

Try an idea you have on something small first. Even if you fail, you have learned something that may make you come up with even a better idea to create a truly unique painted finish. 

creating a color wash effect on furniture

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30 Comments

  1. Diane – I am amazed looking back on this post to see the dark color pop through. It doesn’t look like a 2 step process. Please assure me this was just watered down Liberty Blue and white wax right? I love this look to update & freshen dining area for a pop of color on the sideboard.

    1. Hi Laura- To get the denim look, all I used was the watered down paint and one thin layer of clear wax, buffed. Getting the clear wax on first will help the white wax go on evenly across the surface. Then add the layer of white wax. When the white wax is rubbed in and buffed well it has an overall lightening effect.

  2. You did such a beautiful job on this nightstand! You also have a great looking bedroom. You are so creative and I really enjoy your blog.

  3. Thank you for giving so much detail in how to color wash. I think I can do it!! The table is beautiful!!

    1. Hi Susan – The process of painting is pretty easy. The hardest part is just getting the confidence to start. I am happy to hear that my post has helped you. Even if you don’t like your results on a first try – remember it is just paint and you can paint over it and start again or do something completely different. :-)

  4. Wow, this style of painting furniture is cool and awesome! The table really looks like denim! Thank you for being thoughtful and preciseful on sharing this very interesting style of painting furnitures especially on wood textures!

  5. Wow, that turned out surprisingly well! Good job and good information. Thanks, Diane.

  6. Nice, it looks great! Question for you: Would it help to use white wax over white chalk painted furniture , even after you Already waxed it? I’m asking because I painted a bedroom set with white chalk paint and some areas don’t look as white as others and I have already waxed it.

    1. Hi Gail –

      What brand of chalk paint did you use? I know that with Annie Sloan, once the wax is fully dry and cured you can paint right over it using their chalk paint.

      The white wax may help. Try applying a dab in an area that is not as white and see what happens. If you need some to try it out, I can send you some. Let me know.

  7. Your little table reminds me of a great pair of comfy blue jeans. I had never heard of this technique, so thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi Pj – I didn’t start out to make the finish look like denim… it was just a happy outcome of my experimenting. I know many years ago when faux finishes were the trend, Ralph Lauren sold a paint and tools to make paint look like a pair of jeans, other than this I have never seen the technique done before.

  8. I love the look of that table and I would say it is perfect in that room! So glad you do these things, I can appreciate them without doing it myself, LOL!

  9. ANOTHER gorgeous project Diane! I wish I had time to do anything around the house. My job and my commute are draining.

    One day…one day…

    1. Thanks Lisa Marie – I can totally understand about your job and commute draining your energy. They don’t leave you much time to do projects. I am sure you have many ideas and when one day comes you will be ready.

  10. I’m glad you didn’t give up, looks awesome!! I bet it would look pretty in white as well. I have two white end tables in my living room that I adore.

  11. I love the finished night table! I used a similar technique to refinish the top of my dining room table. There were some chips in the varnish so I used Citre-Strip to remove the old finish. I was going to paint the apron and legs with ASCP so I didn’t bother to strip them. I used General Finishes Gel in Java to redo the tabletop. I loved the look and topped it off with a poly varnish so it was well protected. When the table/chairs were finished I realized it looked to “new”! The table sits across from an armoire with a gray antique looking finish and the contrast of the perfect tabletop finish was just not working for me. My solution was to add a wash of gray chalk paint! The tabletop now reminds me of old barn wood. I also sanded some of the edges of the chairs and overall the table/chairs have a time-worn but well cared for look. It’s a horrible feeling when you realize you’ve spent a lot of time and effort updating a piece and then you don’t like it! My experience taught me to keep trying till you get it right :)

    1. Hi Nancy –

      You are my kindred spirit seeing what doesn’t quite go together and finding a DIY way to make it so it does. Never stop trying, right? I have never used General Finishes products. I will have to give them a try soon as I always hear good things about them.

  12. Hello,
    Thank you for the tips. They gave me ideas for a few pieces of furniture!
    And your table looks great!

  13. Oh WOW, Diane! You did a great job. I know how frustrating projects can get and how you just want to dump the whole thing. So glad you didn’t give up on this one. Kudos!