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Chalk Paint, a Quick and Versatile DIY Option


  • Courtesy Of Brooke Bousquet

As many an interior decorator will attest, a simple way to update your living space is to switch up the color of your furniture. A fresh coat of paint brings new life to an old table or cabinet; even a brightly hued small piece can transform a room.

The thing is, priming, painting, finishing and waiting for all those layers to dry can take all day or longer. That's not practical if you're updating the kitchen table or that footstool you rely on after work. Plus, let's face it: Do-it-yourself projects are often better in theory than in practice. Rarely does something made at home look as gorgeous as the item you spotted on Pinterest.

I'm not the craftiest person, but, nearing the quarter-century mark, I'm due to get swept up in the DIY craze. Recently, I learned of a new decorating medium that's arrived in select Vermont stores: chalk paint. Developed by an artist in the UK, Annie Sloan Chalk Paint is a line of colorful pigments, brushes and soft waxes with which even the unskilled can, reportedly, get lovely results.

The paint can be applied to wood, metal or plastic without using primer. Fun fact: Chalk paint doesn't actually contain any chalk. The name refers to the matte, smooth finish, and possibly to the fact that a chalk-painted surface could be used as a chalkboard.

The Annie Sloan website and posts in the DIY blogosphere make the stuff sound too good to be true. Want a sheer wash of color? Just add water to dilute the paint. Want a vintage look? The company sells a solution to produce a "crackled" effect, and its two options of finishing wax can be applied to create worn, glossy or varnished looks. Just want clean, bold color? One coat of chalk paint, applied with a big, fluffy brush, should do the trick.

I was still dubious. Luckily, Annie Sloan only sells its products through small, independent businesses and requires at least one person at each store to be trained in using the paint. Once retailers have completed training, they can offer chalk-painting classes to the public. A handful of Vermont businesses (listed here) stock the Annie Sloan line and offer training.

To test chalk paint's cred — and my own DIY prowess — I nabbed one of Seven Days' retired newspaper racks and headed to Burlington's Vintage Inspired Lifestyle Marketplace. There, owner Mary Heinrich Aloi walked me and a fellow student, 64-year-old Tom Coutermarsh of Colchester, through the process.

I figured if this nifty paint could transform a ratty, faded-turquoise wooden stand that had been languishing in a storage room for years, anything was possible.

The first thing we did was prep our furniture with a light sanding. Heinrich Aloi noted that sanding isn't strictly necessary with Annie Sloan paints, but it never hurts.

Next, we applied the first layer of paint. I decided to paint the rack a bright Barcelona Orange. Coutermarsh, working on a dark blue antique chair that had belonged to his grandmother, was using a deep violet-gray shade called Graphite. His paint was dark enough to require only one layer.

  • Matthew Thorsen

Most light-on-light, dark-on-dark or dark-on-light combinations of chalk paint take just one coat and dry within minutes. However, I'd chosen a difficult color combination; I brushed on loads of Barcelona Orange, but still the turquoise poked through and dulled the effect. Coutermarsh waited patiently while I added a second layer, Heinrich Aloi standing at the ready with a hairdryer to speed up the process.

For more ambitious DIYers, the painting stage offers a variety of options. The various colors in Annie Sloan's line are designed to be layered and blended over one another in complementary ways; the washes range from a sheer white (which is flattering over unvarnished wood) to bold, bright colors such as the one I chose. On weathered or worn furniture items, the paint settles into the cracks for an antique look.

Next came the waxing stage. Instead of using polyurethane to seal the paint, Annie Sloan offers a clear, soft wax to finish and protect furniture. We cleaned our big, fluffy brushes of paint and used them to spread on the wax — in the same direction as the wood grain — then wiped off the excess with lint-free cloths.

From here, the waxing options are also varied. Heinrich Aloi took some sandpaper to the edges of the rack, gently wearing down areas that would naturally wear, allowing some of the turquoise to come through. You can also use the clear wax to create more texture on a surface. For yet another look, you can dab dark wax over the clear. I tried the last option and got a burnished effect that brought out the warm tones in the Barcelona Orange.

Finally, to achieve a glossy finish, we gently buffed our pieces with clean, lint-free cloths. The full curing time for the wax is 30 days, Heinrich Aloi told us, but you can still use your furniture within hours.

Sure enough, less than two hours after we'd begun our class, Coutermarsh and I headed home with our newly jazzed-up furniture. Maybe my wax job wasn't Pinterest-perfect, but I was sold on the versatility of chalk paint. Now I'm thinking of taking a brush to furniture I actually own.

Local Chalk-Paint Retailers

Just Paint! at Clementine, Middlebury, 388-4442.
Melánge on Main, Burlington, 497-2816.
The Uncommon Home, White River Junction, 295-9404.
Vintage Inspired Lifestyle Marketplace, Burlington, 488-5766.
The original print version of this article was headlined "Paint for the Uncrafty"