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Tips for Distressed Finish on Wood Cabinets

Opposite of high gloss paint, which has a very vivid color, and is smooth and thickly applied, distressed finish is dull, has visible brush marks, and is often very lightly applied. 


Distressed finishing techniques can give your cabinets an antique charm by making them look older than they are. Additionally, a distressed finish will accentuate the shapes of your cabinet and create depth. There are a few main considerations to keep in mind when considering this stylish look for your kitchen – check them out below.

Consider Your Colors

Generally, distressed finishing involves the application of a fresh layer of paint over an old one and then thinning it out, scratching it, or smearing it so the color beneath appears to be worn. If you have white cabinets, you’ll want to opt for a darker shade for the top layer of paint. This will highlight the angles and corners of the cabinets and will show off the shapes of any elevated or recessed panels. On the other hand, if you have dark cabinets, you’ll want a lighter color to create that weathered look. And with gray cabinets, you could go either way, depending on the effect that you want to create.


Consider Milk Paint

This is a product that is frequently used to refinish old furniture. It is a non-toxic, water-based paint that is applied in thin layers so the underlying layers show through, resulting in that antique, distressed appearance. It can be made with milk and lime, which is where it gets the name “milk paint.” It’s not just for cabinets, of course, and you’ve likely seen distressed finishes created with milk paint on walls, headboards, doors, and tables. Don’t let the name mislead you – it comes in white, of course, but almost every other color of the rainbow as well as black. You need to work relatively quickly with milk paint in comparison to an antiquing glaze or antiquing wax because it does not take very long to set and dry. 



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Consider an Antiquing Glaze

Some antiquing glazes offer very specific effects, like driftwood finish, weathered wood, or reclaimed wood finish. It’s possible to use antiquing glazes over stained wood, latex paint, or chalk paint. Glazes are especially easy to work with because they take longer to set, so you have more time to work. They are also thicker than other options such as milk paint, which means that if you would like your brush strokes to be visible, this is a good choice for you.


Consider an Antiquing Wax

With a wax, you have a little more control because it is more solid than a glaze or a paint. Another advantage is that you can work with it as slowly as you like, gradually working it into the surface that is to be receiving the distressed finish. Wax is beneficial for wood cabinets anyway, so it is a good excuse to buff those cabinets, from the crown molding to the toe kick, while simultaneously giving them a makeover!


Remember That Less is More

If this is your first antiquing project, perhaps plan on taking baby steps. Remember that the actual distressing finishes caused by time take several decades, if not centuries, with just a few nicks, cracks, and chips here and there. It’s always a good idea to take a look at other examples for inspiration. On the Internet, there are countless images of professional and amateur antiquing projects, ranging from subtle driftwood finish photo frames to full-size armor with a striking turquoise base color accentuated by a coppery topcoat. Some good places to take a look include Pinterest and Houzz. Who knows – maybe you’ll end up showing off your creative work somewhere soon! 


Consider How the Rest of the Kitchen Matches the Distressed Cabinets

As always, be sure to get a sense of the big picture before making any drastic decisions or changes to your kitchen! If you have a very modern, brushed stainless steel refrigerator, are you certain it will match your antiqued cabinets? When in doubt, you can always get a refrigerator panel or dishwasher panel to make sure your kitchen has a consistent theme. 



This can be a very tricky task. To finish this project without failing, it’s important to get professional advice. You don’t need to hire a professional designer and spend a fortune – a little bit of education and research, as well as some consultations, will do the work. After you do your proper research, contact us at info@nelsonkb.com or just visit our website www.nelsonkb.com to get a free consultation with our experts. We’ll be more than happy to help you!


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Nelson Cabinetry is an online distributor of high quality kitchen and bathroom cabinetry. We pride ourselves in delivering a high quality product via an easy to use, convenient website. Placing your cabinet order has never been easier and you can do so from the comfort of your home, office or job site.


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