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Le Corbusier at Galerie Half

The Best Distressed Furniture & How to Style In Your Space

A bit shabby, a bit chic, furniture that has seen better days can often shine in your home.
Roxanne Robinson Dec 15, 2020
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Distressed furniture gives new meaning to making the old new again. But in a twist, the goal is to keep just enough 'old' and give it that worn and seen-better-days look. In fact, this look developed into a huge trend in the Nineties and early Aughts called Shabby Chic. This aesthetic mood can also recall a touch of Boho-syle. The movement of distressed furniture (and interiors too!) look is making a comeback. Nest Casa explores how to achieve today's version.

Break It Down: Distressed Furniture

First off, what is distressed furniture? The best way to envision it is to think of a storied country manor in England (though France, Italy, and Spain have versions too.) The generation’s old decor in these estate homes often features worn and faded chintz sofas and drapery; scuffed, chipped, and peeling paintwork, for instance. But it’s clear that these treatments are examples of a restrained style rooted in good taste. 

Distressed furniture is usually painted many times (and colors) over time; but, its multiple veneers have begun to rub away with use, often revealing several colors. As long as you can see down to the original material in spots across the piece, this qualifies as distressed furniture.

However, these pieces don't always achieve this look naturally. Generally, there are several well-tested processes that can be employed to create this look:

  1. Using sandpaper or paint stripper to remove some, but not all of a furniture’s finishes can reveal the layers below.
  2. With new or other vintage furniture pieces that are in decent shape, you can layer on a crackling paint or varnish finish.
  3. You can add dents and scrapes via hammering.
  4. Bleach can add a faded look to pieces made of wood.

Typically speaking, this look may be associated with and desired by Western European countries. But that isn't always the case. In Japan, for instance, there is a movement gaining traction globally called Wabi-Sabi. This Zen-like approach to life and surroundings is rooted in the idea of accepting things in their transience and imperfection. The aesthetic relates to seeing beauty in the "imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete" found in nature. This appreciation of the natural world, and the natural evolution of things, makes characteristics such as roughness, asymmetry, and austerity desirable. The Los Angeles-based, Galerie Half, demonstrates this look in their Instagram post. By far, this example stirs serious design FOMO if you don't currently have the look.

Where To Find Distressed Furniture

Indeed not everyone has a great aunt with a country manor full of goodies or a knack for DIY. There are several places to seek out the ready-to-decorate distressed furniture for those who love the thrill of the hunt.

Nest Casa founder and chief curator, Sara Colombo, highly recommends Les Marche des Puces in Porte de Clignancourt, Paris. “My absolute favorite place in the world to hunt is here!” she enthuses while offering a stateside option. “But closer to home for those who love a good hunt, there is the Roundtop in Texas.”

Of course, your local vintage shop or even the Salvation Army can be a useful resource. Galerie Half in Los Angeles, which carries highly-curated antiques distressed to perfection, is a case in point of the former, and, known as LA's local distressed furniture go-to. Rachel Ashwell, the godmother of Shabby Chic, also has her flagship in LA if you want to source the look. New York hometown favorite Ralph Lauren and ABC Carpet and Home are where East Coasters go to find the best distressed furniture options.

But, Colombo maintains you can seek distressed vintage furniture online too. The digital marketplace 1st Dibs is a mecca for vintage collectible furniture. Therefore, it's also stocked with pieces that tread the fine line of treasure versus trash. Indeed, this site feels like an online auction house, with highly-covetable pieces. Current selections include distressed leather furniture pieces that are very hard to find elsewhere. It is essential to realize that old distressed leather cracks and peels are often too far gone to be considered on the right side of distressed, versus entirely destroyed. Additionally, Chairish, with its mix of vintage and contemporary highly-curated pieces, is another online hotspot for distressed furniture. A game-changer for online furniture shopping, according to Architectural Digest.

How To Style Distressed Furniture

Unless you are trying to achieve an entire Shabby Chic world, aka Rachel Ashwell, there are certain things to consider when hoping to incorporate the look into your space.
First, think of what you have or wish to acquire when it comes to how distressed you want your aesthetic to read on the spectrum. Anything can qualify – wood, carpet (who doesn’t love a worn oriental rug look?), mirrors, the leathers mentioned earlier, and even paint finishes

Colombo’s advice is that the “trick is to mix pieces in.” For instance, in this image from Miles Redd, an accomplished Manhattan decorator, the pieces in this room, that was created in 2000, run the gamut from new to vintage. A major benefit of the distressed furniture look is that, when done correctly, it can stand the test of time.

Another way to add a distressed aesthetic element is via wall treatments. This process melds both an industrial and ancient look into one. In particular, in this room, the walls have embraced their weathered look and been further treated to look super-aged, but in the right way.

When incorporating textiles, linens work well for bedding and upholstery on couches and chairs. Velvet can also be purchased in a washed look - or created at home, but consult the experts first before trying this at home! Similarly, pictures with either an antique subject or frame can also work in nicely with distressed furniture. Likewise, when placed in the center of the room, rugs can cement the distressed tone throughout a room and anchor a bevy of additional pieces.

Editors' Picks

1. 1st Dibs Distressed Paint Patina Four-Door Reed Front Server

1st Dibs

Distressed Paint Patina Four-Door Reed Front Server
$5,990.00 BUY NOW

Weathering the Storm - This seaworthy sideboard has an aged surface that appears washwed by salt water.


2. 1st Dibs Antique Indian Distressed Wooden Cabinet with Hand Rubbed Blue Patina

1st Dibs

Antique Indian Distressed Wooden Cabinet with Hand Rubbed Blue Patina
$4,500.00 BUY NOW

Bygone Blue - This antique Indian carved wooden cabinet was given this aged blue patina through a hand rubbed process.


3. 1st Dibs Exceptional Art Deco Study Leather Chairs

1st Dibs

Exceptional Art Deco Study Leather Chairs
$14,262.03 BUY NOW

A Tough Age - Leather is one of the trickier materials to age properly. These chrome riveted black leather chairs hold equal punk and refined traits.


4. Kelly Wearstler Modern Leather Settee Sofa

Kelly Wearstler

Modern Leather Settee Sofa
$12,950.00 BUY NOW

Time Trael in Teal - Kelly Wearstler's retro-inspired sofa recalls the post-war futuristic style a la The Jetsons.


5. 1st Dibs Ornate Mirror with Original Ultra Distressed Silvering

1st Dibs

Ornate Mirror with Original Ultra Distressed Silvering
$3,800.00 BUY NOW

Mirror, Mirror - This hyper-distressed, presumably French circa 1930s is for fans of the truly distressed. Not recommended for the vain set.


6. ABC Carpet & Home Alchemy Rug

ABC Carpet & Home

Alchemy Rug
$12,900.00 BUY NOW

Faded Glory - This repurposed yarn rug achieves instantly what generally takes decades; a perfectly worn appearance.


7. ABC Carpet & Home Echo Half Moon Table Black

ABC Carpet & Home

Echo Half Moon Table Black
$1,980.00 BUY NOW

Industrial Dreams - The mirrored glass top on this table takes the solar system by distressing a portion to a half-moon shape grounded by a steel base.


8. Chairis Erdos + Ko Bass Rustic Oak Coffee Table

Chairish

Erdos + Ko Bass Rustic Oak Coffee Table
$2,085.00 BUY NOW

Feel the Beat - This drum-style coffee table made from distressed iron rests in a cross-style four-pillar oak wood base.


Roxanne Robinson
Roxanne Robinson is an award-winning Paris-based American journalist covering luxury and fashion industries with over 25 years of experience. I spent over 18 years at WWD, covering sportswear, accessories and fine jewelry. My career witnessed the shift from print media to the digital age. I gained expert knowledge of the design world, wholesale and retail markets as well as the marketing that supports them. I met endless creatives and business people who create luxury from inception to POS with the consumer. My work has appeared in Forbes.com, BoF, The Hollywood Reporter, CRFashionbook.com, The Jewelry Journal as well in-house publications and websites at Bally, Pomellato, Au Depart and Editorialist.com among others.
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