Faux Finishes and Specialty Painting

Use paint to add character, style, and detail

Faux paint finishes for walls and furniture

(10/05) Though faux finishes are very popular now, both mundane and exotic paint finishes have been with us for millenia. Though many of the techniques date back to Egyptian and early Greek cultures, it was the Renaissance Italians who mastered the art and copied a variety of wood, stone, and metal materials so successfully that from a modest distance even the most discerning viewer is fooled. Until the middle of the 1900s, skilled craftsmen in Europe and America created beautiful interior paint effects in simple cottages and palatial estates.

In the last 150 years, many arts and crafts have been neglected. However, in the last generation, specialty paint finishes have been rediscovered and are within reach of anyone who can hold a paint brush. There is virtually no limitation to what you can do with paint, glaze, and your choice of tool to create a completely unique look in your home.

A few types of faux finishes

Antiqued Crackle

The crackled finish on old, weathered pieces can be reproduced using a paint product specifically made for the purpose. Every combination of base paint color, crackle medium, and surface material yields a different result. If a particular look or color is important, experimenting is a good idea.

  1. Read crackle medium product instructions and assemble materials.
  2. Apply a base coat. Let dry.
  3. Brush crackle medium over entire surface. (Note: For big cracks use a thick coat of medium.) Let dry.
  4. Apply top coat over the crackle medium. Let dry.
  5. Protect with a coat of clear polyurethane.

Creating a distressed "antique"

To distress a piece of furniture or cabinetry, take a good look at an old piece of furniture. Look at the way chair rungs and corners are worn and have lost their finish. Notice where repeated handling or touching has worn the finish as well as where scuff marks or dings occur.

You can use any tool or means to mimic the wear on the piece you want to age. You can use an old canvas bag full of miscellaneous bolts and such to beat your piece and leave some well-placed dents and bruises.

To create an "antique" finish on a new piece, try painting with a milk paint. Milk paint is a traditional paint made from milk casein, clay, lime, and natural pigments. It's safe to use and has the same soft, powdery character you might see on a genuine antique with its original finish intact. Don't let the softness of the color fool you though; it's a very durable finish. Several manufacturers offer the powdered paint; all you have to do is add water and stir. Just plan your project so you can use up as much as you mix, because milk paint doesn't keep. Another advantage is you don't have to prime first.

Apply the paint fairly thickly. When it has dried, use super-fine steel wool to sand surfaces down to suit your taste, but remember to focus on areas that would have received the most wear.

For authentic-looking antique finishes, try using other faux techniques like combing using only milk paint. Another way to add extra character is by adding a painted motif on panels or dry brushing gold paint to just the tips of carved detail or molding.

Finish pieces, like tables and chairs, with a good satin-finish varnish to protect the paint if it will get a lot of use.

Glazing and effects

Adding special effects is easy using a semi-transparent colored paint glaze over a base coat. Various effects result when a glaze is applied over the dried base coat then removed by ragging, sponging, or combing, for example.

Apply glaze over a base coat using a variety of implements to create texture or patterns. Or let the glaze set until partially dry, then wipe off for a rubbed effect that resembles parchment. You can also dilute the glaze for "color washing" and apply with a brush.

There are many different effects you can get with rags, sponges, and combs when applying paint finishes.

Some effects, such as wood graining, are among some of the most challenging and combine several different techniques including brush work detail.


Gilding is an interesting and easy way to add character to accessories in particular. Using gold, silver, or copper leaf you can create an instant heirloom. It's a little expensive, especially with gold, but not especially difficult. You can gild baby shoes, sea shells, picture frames, and lamps. You could gild entire pieces of furniture if you want, though it might tax your financial resources. The materials required include a small, soft brush; the metal leaf; sizing; and your object. All materials are usually available at the craft store.

Leaf is so thin that it requires special handling. Don't try picking it up with your fingers; use a brush instead. What makes it ideal when applied to carved or detailed finishes, also makes it tricky to work with. The up side is that it doesn't take much to cover your item.

To gild a garage sale find like a small picture frame, start by cleaning the frame well. Make sure it is thoroughly dry before starting.

  1. Paint the frame on all sides except the back with gold sizing. When it is tacky to the touch, it's ready to leaf.
  2. Cut your leaf into small, manageable pieces.
  3. Pick up a single leaf with your brush and place it on the frame.
  4. Use the brush to feather the leaf onto the frame.
  5. Add the next piece with a small overlap. Brush the leaf into place. (The metal is so thin it fuses to the pieces already laid down creating a seamless finish.)
  6. Continue adding each piece until you have completely gilded the entire piece.
  7. Allow it to sit over night to dry completely before framing your art work.

By combining other techniques like trompe l'oiel, stenciling, or tole painting, you can create rooms and furnishings that are one of a kind.


If you want someone else to create your faux paint effects, Contractor Nexus has qualified, professional painters who can handle your project with expertise and craftsmanship.

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