Old & Tired to Shabby & Chic… in 7 Easy Steps

Let me be clear, this was my first ever furniture restoration project and to be honest, I wasn’t sure if I was gonna love it.

But…apart from literally having to wait and watch paint dry between coats, I DID LOVE IT!

Here’s what I did to get this shabby-chic-vintage look:

First I needed tools for the job. Which wasn’t an easy job considering I live in France making the purchase of the right products harder than normal! I also have to thank a good friend who gifted me her sanders!

You will need:

  1. Goggles (to protect your eyes while sanding – cheap ones will do)
  2. Mask (to protect your airways while sanding and painting)
  3. Brushes (for paint, primer & varnish)
  4. Sander options. I had three : 1)Belt sander (large rectangle one) for the desk top, 2) multi-sander (smaller triangle one) for the legs and sides, 3) a hand block that you can wrap sandpaper around for the grooves and more delicate areas.
  5. White matt paint
  6. White primer
  7. Dark colour varnish gloss
  8. Clear varnish matt
  9. Sponge or rag for applying dark varnish
  10. Latex gloves if you have sensitive skin


Overall Look:

I already knew what look I wanted.  I didn’t want to get too carried away and make it too tricky, so I went pretty neutral. But man I was so surprised with the results and now I know I wouldn’t have done it any other way.  But definitely get some ideas off Pinterest or Instagram or wherever your go-to-craft-mecca is!


Step 1: Sand, Sand Sand

You only really need to get the shiny old paint off and rough it up. But I really went to town on the top of the desk with the belt sander because I didn’t want any of the old colour getting through!

I probably still sanded the sides, legs and draws more than I needed to with the smaller sander, but to be honest, I wasn’t too sure how far to go! I think that in the end I possibly did too much because the paint soaked in a lot on the first coat and so I ended up doing 4 coats. I used the block sander for tricky bits such as the ridging and grooves.

(Remember to remove the existing draw handles before sanding.)

Kiwi Mama of 3 | BLOG
Remove original handles


Step 2: Primer

I accidentally got white primer instead of clear we’ll cll it a lost-in-translation issue!). At first I was annoyed because I was thinking about leaving the wood on the top of the desk in its original condition and just varnishing.  But then I took the gamble that if things worked out, I could get a better look by painting it white anyway – and I was right!

I did one coat of primer on the whole thing including the draws and made sure I got pretty good coverage. Then I waited for it to dry…..and waited.

Kiwi Mama of 3 | BLOG
One coat of primer

Step 3: First Coat

This was the most frustrating part, because I couldn’t really do anything until each coat had dried!

I put the first coat on the body (not the top or draws, I did those at the same time as the 4th coat), and waited for it to dry….again!

Once dried, I used the hand block to sand out any obvious bumps or paint drips. I didn’t go too crazy here because I wasn’t sure if I would damage the work I had already done.

Then I repeated this step, for the 2nd and 3rd coats.

On the 4th coat, I also did the 1st and only coat on the top of the desk and the draws.

So now everything is nice and white.


Step 4: More Sanding

So, now the body is almost completed (Just the varnish to go), I turned my attention to the draws and top.

Both the top and draws are now white.  So I took my smaller sander and started (slowly and hesitantly at first) re-sanding the top trying to press harder in certain areas. The idea was to leave enough of the white paint showing through to give it a natural blending contrast between white and wood as well as to also match the white of the body. (Sorry but I forgot to take a photo of the next 2 steps!!)

Repeat with draws. In retrospect I should’ve sanded the front of the draws down as much as the top because in the finished product you can see the draws are a bit darker than the top – but you live and learn!

If you sand too much away, you can always go back to Step 3.

Step 5: Dark Varnish

When I was happy with the contrast of white and wood, I dipped a sponge in the dark wood varnish and brushed it over the surface.  You have to work quickly here because the varnish will dry fast and leave streaks if you don’t work it in properly.

Keep sponging the desk in even strokes in the same direction until you get the darkness vs light contrast that you want. I almost had to rub it in – but always in the same direction and mostly long strokes. If you are unsure, let it dry and come back to it. You can always reapply more dark but it’s a lot harder to get more white back!

Step 6: Clear Varnish

Apply clear varnish to the body, legs, draws and top once everything is dry to seal the paint and protect your new piece of furniture.

Kiwi Mama of 3 | BLOG
After the final coat of varnish has gone on. Now testing out handles

Step 7: Lining the Draws & Handles

I chose to line the draws with adhesive wallpaper to save time and extra work! I also lined the outside of the draws too so I didn’t have to sand and paint them!

You can chose to clean up the original handles or find some new ones.  I found these wee beauties in my favourite French homeware store ‘Maison du Monde’ and just brushed some of the dark varnish over them to make them more uniform to the look I wanted.


Et Voila! Now I need to refurbish a chair to go with my shabby chic desk!

Au revoir for now…..


Would you have done anything differently? Leave a comment with your thoughts and thanks for reading!!

One thought on “Old & Tired to Shabby & Chic… in 7 Easy Steps

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