Last year, I found and fell in love with a show on HGTV called Fixer Upper, which follows Chip and Joanna Gaines as they buy and renovate homes for their clients in the Waco, Texas area. They do a wonderful job mixing rustic farmhouse elements with modern amenities. Plus, they have great chemistry with each other and their customers. Now, I have never been a “rustic” personal and (given an unlimited decorating budget) would much prefer polished chrome and cool marble to distressed wood and weathered metal but there’s something to be said for the cozy nostalgia of sitting around a farmhouse table.
Colour washing (it doesn’t have to be white though that is the most popular) wood is a great way to DIY a rustic look at home. It’s a simple way to lighten up dark woods (which can look heavy in a small space) without covering up the natural grain and beauty of your material like a solid coat of paint would. It’s the perfect weekend project but here are some things to consider before you get started.
First of all, if you’re whitewashing wood, consider that wood species will have variations in colour and different background colours will change the final look. If you have light woods, you may want to consider giving them a stain first (check out our staining tips here) to make them richer, then apply a whitewash after the stain has dried.
What should you use for a whitewash? When we grey washed out palettes for the craft room wall, I used Chalk Paint By Annie Sloan in Paris Grey, (have fun experimenting with colours) thinned 50/50 with water and it worked amazing. You can also use a ready mixed whitewash like the one by General Finishes (more info here). If you don’t have access to either one of those, a high quality latex paint thinned with water will also work in a pinch. Remember that the more you thin you paint, the more transparent it will be. I have found that 50/50 is a thinning ratio that works for me but you can try less or more water depending on how much or how little wood grain you would like to see.
When it comes to applying whitewash, I have found that a brushing it on and wiping it off (right away) with a cotton rag works best for me and leaves the surface smooth without any brush marks. If you’re working with rough materials like palette wood you might want to put on some gloves to protect against splinters or rough spots incase the rag slips. If you’re whitewashing larger areas like floors, consider a paint pad. Glide it in the direction of the wood kind of like you were carefully washing the floor.
If you want your wood to look like it’s been around for a while, after the whitewash has dried you might want to take out the sandpaper. A grit like 180-240 is rough enough to take off some of the paint but not harsh enough to leave sanding marks in all your hard work. Distress in areas that would naturally get the most wear like corners, edges or areas around knobs and pulls.
To make your finish last, especially if you’re painting something like the dining room table, you’ll need to seal your whitewash. I would stay away from oil based varnishes since they not only have a strong smell and take a long time to dry (not to mention you’ll need paint thinner for clean up) but also since they will discolour over time and turn your white into muddy yellow. Try a waterbased finish instead and look for one that stays crystal clear like Annie Sloan’s Matte Floor Lacquer or General Finishes High Performance Clear. To keep your piece looking natural skip the high gloss and opt for a flat or satin sheen instead. Also, remember that even though today’s waterbased varnishes are just as durable as the old fashioned oils, they do take around 4 weeks to cure so use a coaster or place mat for the first few weeks.
Need some inspiration? Below are some great examples of whitewash, not only on wood but also on brick. Click on each image for more and don’t forget to Pin your favourites.