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How to Master the Rustic, Farmhouse Finish for Furniture Make-Overs

Title Image

Let's talk farmhouse.

What is farmhouse? An insanely popular trend, first off, and in my opinion for obvious reasons! It's rustic and comfortable while allowing you to mix and match furniture styles easily and has that undeniably charming character-filled look.

Check out my Farmhouse Pinterest board for inspiration.

Farmhouse Pinterest Board

Personally, my favorite aspect is that it blends flawlessly with other genres - from rustic to modern to industrial. I am a traditional classic sort of girl, so my personal Farmhouse style has a Victorian spin, giving it a touch of elegance.

Living room image
Living room image

And here this is my farmhouse pup Jonah. Ignore the mustard chair...reupholstering it is on my never ending to do.

Coffee table picture

Farmhouse Essentials for Redesigning Furniture

Even though there so many ways to interpret farmhouse, there are a few things for that are musts. To get the perfect farmhouse look you will need:

  • A good balance between wood and paint (which can be either accomplished on one piece or in a room by combining painted pieces and stained pieces)

  • A great, neutral palette incorporating lots of grays and whites and accents of blues and greens

  • Farmhouse hardware

  • Character and charm

And a little shiplap never hurt anyone.

Although there are many variations of farmhouse there are a few elements that I think really define the style when redesigning a piece of furniture:

  • A rustic wood element

  • Great hardware — either bin pulls or simple knobs

  • Soft, neutral palette with accents of blues and greens

  • A flat finish

  • Character and age

Here is how to get that in your next project.

Step 1: Find the Right Piece of Furniture

Of course, as I stated before with the many variations of farmhouse, there is much to interpretation, but a traditional way to go is look for antique pieces or your typical 80-90's "country" furniture. These two styles really work well for farmhouse makeovers.

Antique Buffet

This antique buffet has a great shape, simple details, and beautiful leg all making it a great choice for a farmhouse makeover.

Vintage China Cabinet

This vintage china cabinet has soft lines and is solid pine another perfect choice for a farmhouse makeover.

Step 2: Choose Wood Elements and Farmhouse Stain

I love to look for pieces that have beautiful, unique wood. I almost always begin my design process by deciding what parts of the piece will be wood and, next, how to showcase it in a unique way.

Here are a few examples:

One of my favorite choices for stains is General Finishes Water Based Stain line.

If you have heard of GF, you are probably most familiar with their Gel Stain (oil based) line. These stains are great and easy to work with, however they are not as easy to manipulate. You can mix the colors within the line, but there is a limited range of color saturation. I do love this line for certain projects, but when I am working on a farmhouse finish I prefer their Water Based line.

With their Water Based Stains I have the ability to completely customize the color and saturation. Sheer stains are such a trend in furniture right now, and this allows me to do just that. Here are some different examples of pieces stained with GF custom Water Based stains.

(Stay tuned for tutorials on staining using GF Water Based stains.)

Part of the beauty of the farmhouse aesthetic is that each piece and finish is unique. The stain you use will be a custom mix every time.

Start with a plan - say, 2:1 antique oak to natural - but hold it loosely and let the furniture tell you who it is and what it needs. Adjust as you go.

If you’re not sure where to start, purchase a few colors (pre-stain/natural, walnut, antique oak, weathered gray, and white washed), mix and match small batches, and test on some sample wood boards. Once you are actually working on the project, you will be able to make spontaneous adjustments, as needed, since you know what you’re working with.

This table was stained using GF Antique Oak:

Printer's Cabinet Style Coffee Table

At first, the plan was not to modify, but once I completed the top, and saw it combined with the paint color and hardware, I realize the top was too golden. It needed something. In this case, I used some of General Finishes Dye Stain (also part of their Water Based line) in Medium Brown to tint my top coat. It was just enough to tone down the yellow and give a deep gorgeous color.

Before and After top of Printer's Cabinet Coffee Table

Tip: Never mix water-based products with oil-based products.

Step 3: Stain Your Redesign Project

There are lots of great tutorials on YouTube, so there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Here’s just a quick shopping list and walk-through. You will need:

And here’s the quick-and-dirty process:

  1. Strip the wood.

  2. Sand using the orbital sander and 80 and then 120-grit paper, cleaning between grits to lessen the appearance of orbital marks

  3. Hand-sand using 150-grit paper.

  4. Clean

  5. Stain — If you are using GF Water Based Stain you will need to use their extender, as the stain dries extremely fast.

  6. Allow stain to dry.

  7. Apply top coat.

Step 4: Paint and Color Choice

When working on farmhouse pieces, my go-to is most commonly Miss Mustard Seeds Milk Paint. They have a beautiful line of colors, and since you mix the paint yourself, you have a large range of color and consistency — which results in a completely custom finish. Plus, true Milk Paint is so indicative of farmhouse, it's basically where it all began. I love the authentic, worn, distressed look that is achieved with this line.

But there are times when I use different styles of paints. Here are a few more favorites:

Again, when choosing colors, stay in the neutral/light palette of whites and grays, with accents of blues and greens. Both Annie Sloan and Pure and Original have gorgeous color palettes.

Step 5: Finish Your Furniture

Now this may be an unpopular thing to say, but for this project we are going to put our satin polyurethane style top coats away. A gorgeous matte finish is essential for a farmhouse redesign, especially over paint.

Waxes and oils are my favorite choices. They seal and protect while giving you a rich, flat finish that is just not possible with brush-on type sealers.

On occasion I have a project where the finish is either very chippy or will be in high use. For these instances I would choose from Miss Mustard Seeds Tough coat, like here:

Step 6: Add Character with Distressing, Shiplap, and Antiquing Wax

Hopefully you landed on a furniture piece full of natural aged character. Incorporate those details! Even enhance them with distressing and antiquing waxes. They tell a story and show the authenticity of a piece. Here are some examples:

Distress along the raised details and moldings, and along edges and corners. Basically, you want to imagine where natural wear would occur over time. Edges and corners of furniture get bumped, and places like edges of drawers get more handling etc. Avoid distressing a piece in the center of a door or drawer. This can make your finish look unnatural.

But what about a newer piece? In cases like this I try to add character via shiplap, tile, antiquing wax, etc.

Shiplap China Cabinet

This piece gets a character boost from some shiplap added to the back.

Farmhouse Entertainment Center

This furniture redesign used a tile-inspired back to add character.

Redesigned Roll Top Desk

Antiquing wax adds an aging effect to this desk redesign.

Step 7: Use Great Hardware

I am a huge fan of keeping original hardware (on antique pieces) when possible. In fact, I go to great lengths to restore missing and broken hardware.

Etsy is a great place to search for salvaged hardware. I have also purchased from Dawn at Dawn at Rustic Warriors — she is so sweet and helpful. Here are some pieces I purchased from her:

Now if I am going new, D. Lawless has some great bin pull options:

Redesigning Furniture: Farmhouse Edition

Now that you have all the right farmhouse elements for your design it's time to get started! The great thing about the farmhouse aesthetic is that it’s distinct, but also flexible enough - from the furniture piece you choose, to the tint of the paint and stain - to make your own.

If you already have a piece, start by choosing the wood elements you’ll keep and feature. If not, keep an eye out for something with good wood and lots of character!



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