Okay, this is quite a big one! Knowing the finish that you are striving for will make all the difference in what materials you use, what will work and play well with other finishes and what sort of prep you need to do.
This subject seems to drain people of confidence in tackling their Shabby Chic projects more than anything else so I’m going to outline the basic characteristics of the paints that I favor and what I try to stay away from.
Before I get into specifics though, please note that I have no affiliation with any paint companies so if I mention a brand it’s going to be a non biased opinion based on my own experiences.
Right, when it comes to paint the two main groups are oil based and acrylic. Pretty simple yes!
Oil Based Paints:
The advantages of oil based paint are that they are generally more durable than acrylics, cover stains better and if a gloss finish is needed, offer a lovely gloss over it’s acrylic counterpart.
The disadvantages are long drying times, smelly solvents in the paint and harsh chemicals needed to clean brushes. As these paints are oil based they tend to yellow prematurely as the oil content discolours over time.
The other disadvantage is that generally you need a good undercoat to get a good finish from an oil based top coat (also true of many acrylics, but we’re getting to that!). The undercoat can be an acrylic primer undercoat to save some drying time but as many oil based finishes are quite translucent a good key and a solid undercoat are essential.
You will find it a little harder with oil based paints to scruff back your edges as you are fighting your way through several layers of tough paint. The other thing that oil based paints do very well (get ready for the nerdy bit!) is coagulate.
When paint is drying the molecules start out as separate… er …molecules! As the drying process takes place these molecules coagulate or clump together and bond to create one big membrane. A cold or damp environment slows or stops this chemical process, which is why paint doesn’t dry so well in the cold, the molecules are all looking for blankets and not getting out there and bonding like they should!
Anyway, the end result is that once your membrane has set, particularly with oil based paints, it’s tougher to scratch back and get that authentic time worn look that suits Shabby Chic pieces so well.
In essence, anything that you can clean your brushes out with soap and water after using is an acrylic paint, it’s a fancy way of saying water based.
For many years now paint manufacturers have tried to make their acrylic paints as durable as oil based paints as well as offering the same finish. That said an acrylic gloss will always look a little flatter than a good oil based gloss and acrylic paint is generally less durable, which can be a problem if it’s going in a high traffic area or on something that needs to be scrubbed often.
As a result of this attempt to mimic oil based paints there is a plethora of derivatives to confuse and bemuse! Matt, Satin, Vinyl Matt, Acrylic Eggshell, Estate Eggshell, Kitchen and Bathroom paint, Chalky Matt, Acrylic Gloss, Satinwood, Chalk Paint, Milk Paint and a whole lot more!
They’re all acrylic or water based, all look and behave differently and some are a good fit for Shabby Chic furniture and some not so much.
Whatever we paint onto furniture needs to be hard wearing and offer the right finish, therefore I would avoid the types of paints like Matt Emulsion or things that you would use on your walls. They are generally not tough enough and don’t adhere well to non-porous surfaces like varnished wood. Even with a tough wax or varnish over the top these are likely to flake off and look poorly finished.
Generally speaking, Shabby Chic furniture favors a flat matt or eggshell finish as we’re trying to make our projects look old and time worn.
The fact of the matter is that in times gone by, these fancy paints just didn’t exist, nor did much of the wealth of today so if people wanted to paint a cupboard, especially in a place like rural France then often you would have to make your own paint!
This would be done with some colour pigments and a coagulating agent (remember the molecules!) such as milk or chalk mixed up into a liquid that could be painted on. So if we use the latest acrylic gloss, it’s not going to be in keeping with that period look.
Now a couple of companies have really zeroed in on this segment of the market. There are probably lots I’m not going to mention but the two that I do have experience of here in the UK are Farrow & Ball and Annie Sloan.
I have to say right from the get go that these companies both make great paint, but they are both very different.
Farrow & Ball Estate Eggshell is probably the closest thing you will find to an oil-based eggshell with a water cleanup…period! It offers a great finish and for quite a while it was my go to paint.
It’s durable as it behaves like a traditional Eggshell but with none of the drawbacks, or so I thought. Actually the very fact that it behaves so much like an oil paint is the reason I changed to another brand for most of my projects.
Farrow & Ball Estate Eggshell coagulates just like an oil based eggshell, so I would find that when I’m scrubbing back an edge, large sections of paint would come away at once, almost in a strip.
This could spoil the time worn look I was after.
I would also find that it was quite particular about needing an undercoat. Not just any undercoat but a good quality expensive undercoat. If this step wasn’t used then the topcoat could be extremely fragile and chip easily.
Don’t get me wrong F&B is awesome paint but time is money and having to undercoat sometimes twice or more and having a finish that would take a long time to fully harden are pretty big drawbacks for the serial Shabby Chic’er. Maybe it’s time to see what else is out there.
Slave To Sloan
Annie Sloan paint was a bit of a buzzword that I’d been hearing about for quite a while before I decided to seriously look at it. The reason for that is that I thought it was just another brand and not particularly a different type of paint. So what made me jump in and try it? One massive factor…no prep needed!
Call me lazy, you’re probably right but I thought if I could save a bunch of time and money with undercoats and primers then the extra cost of the AS chalk paint would be worth it, time to give it a go.
Since using Annie Sloan chalk paint it’s pretty much all I use now and there are several reasons for this.
Firstly it really does go straight on without any prep, no undercoating needed. It also dries very, very quickly to a dead flat finish. It sticks to just about anything including handles and hardware (if you choose to paint them instead of removing them) and even covers waxed pine beautifully.
Some of the light colours may need a couple of coats but often the darker colours go over in one coat, which makes this a very efficient paint to use.
It is still necessary to make sure your base surface is sound as stains can still bleed through but we’ll deal with that in a later chapter.
AS paint dries to give the old finish that suits Shabby Chic and doesn’t seem to bind together as other paints do, so when you are sanding your edges or maybe the odd rogue run, what you get is a fine powder or dust rather than strips of paint being removed.
That said it is less messy if you wax or seal this type of paint before you distress, which leads me on to the only real disadvantage to Annie Sloan paint. You have to seal it with something to make it at all durable. Hey, nothing’s perfect right!
Most people will use a brush or wipe on wax to seal this type of paint, which is easy enough to apply and is quite cheap to buy. It is another step though in the process so you will have to decide if doing away with prep saves you more time than adding wax, for me it does but as I said earlier, all of this is just based on my own experiences, yours may differ.
Even with the added waxing I find that I get through my projects much, much quicker. This means more money any way you cut it. Clean up is also so much easier as this paint washes out more easily than any other paint I have used.
Again, I have no affiliation with any brands and these are just my experiences but I hope they help you to decide which paint is for you so you can go on to improve your profits.