HOM Attractive furnishings needn't break the bank

Even pieces with character can be easyon the budget

King Features Syndicate

There's an abundance of reasonably priced tables, beds and storage units that make it possible to furnish your first home without breaking the bank. And some of us are content with plain, simple furnishings that have unfettered lines and an unimposing demeanor. But if you prefer pieces with more character or the patina of age, don't despair. You can have this on a budget, too.

Some of my favorite decorating transformations revolve around furniture that was heading for the trash bin. It's a double high, because not only am I recycling and reusing that boring old piece, but I'm also having the fun of playing with paint and plaster finishes.

There are dozens of techniques for aging furniture. Some have secret recipes and take days to complete. I prefer the simpler methods, with few rules to worry about. The idea is for the piece to look like it's been around for decades, and would therefore have some bruises and bumps -- areas would be worn down from use, colors would be faded and old paint would be cracked. There's no right or wrong way to do this; everyone has a different touch, and you're making a one-of-a-kind creation that will please your eye.


One popular method for aging a new, flat surface is to hammer in dents or even nail holes. Then layer on different colors of paint, and sand back some of the paint along edges and around handles. There are crackle varnish kits available at arts-and-crafts stores that make a very authentic-looking finish.

I took a different approach with the dresser featured here. It was part of an old veneer bedroom set that was dated and ready to be discarded. The dresser's new home was to be in a sexy, Moroccan-style bedroom, and I wanted something that would complement the dramatic palette of reds and purples and luscious layers of fabric. The piece called out for more weight and texture, and a deep, lustrous, woody tone. Feeling adventurous, I decided to apply Venetian plaster to the dresser to roughen up the flat surface.

Venetian plaster is a specialty plaster that is smoother than traditional plaster or stucco. If you can't find it, you can use regular plaster, but keep the coats thin. I then painted on a rusty-red base coat and a tinted varnish to highlight the design. Here's how to replicate the look of this stunning future heirloom:

Aways prepare the surface to be painted or plastered, especially when it is veneer or has a glossy finish. Remove the drawers and hardware, and sand the slippery surface to rough it up. Apply a coat of good-quality oil-based primer and let it dry and cure overnight. If you are going to paint with a dark color, you can tint the primer with a bit of the paint. This will save you from having to apply many coats of the dark paint to get solid coverage.

Apply one or two thin coats of Venetian plaster with a wide paintbrush, leaving the surface lightly textured.

To make the raised motifs, take a plastic stencil with your desired design and secure it into position on the drawer with spray adhesive. Use a spatula to cover the stencil opening with more of the Venetian plaster.

Once the plaster is dry, apply two coats of rusty-red paint to the entire surface of the dresser and let dry. Now brush on high-gloss varnish tinted with darker red. The high-gloss sheen will magnify the uneven texture and resonant color. To give the raised motifs the look of antique metal, dab on some gold craft paint with your finger.

If you have never attempted a paint or plaster finish before, experiment on a board or piece of stiff cardboard. Aging techniques are not only fun to play with, the results are both satisfying and impressive. No one will believe you did it yourself, so be ready with a great story.


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