Primitive & Proper’s Perfect French Provincial Painted Furniture

Primitive and Proper Painted French Chest

Cassie Bustamante and Theresa Carver now owners of Primitive and Proper, a successful restoration business,met by chance through a Craigslist transaction a number of years ago and wouldn’t consider anything else they would rather do than paint furniture.

One email lead to the next and the two were exchanging ideas and eventually teamed up together refinishing wood furniture, that had once seen better days.

Located in Virginia where antiques surface often, Theresa brings a unique edge growing up in North Yorkshire, England which is known for their antique gems and painted furniture. Both are busy mothers find time to paint after their children go to bed, get their inspiration from their children’s playfulness, and hope to pass on their treasures to moms looking for a creative piece for their growing children’s rooms.

Their selection of painted furniture range from cottage styles, to old world black polished pieces, to French painted furniture.

Primitive and Proper search all over Virginia, DC, and Maryland for their unique furniture finds, but they also work on commission if you want a custom painted piece of furniture. Having a large gallery of pictures, a person can certainly get ideas from their wide selection of sold pieces.


This gorgeous curvy French Provincial dresser was painted by Primitive and Proper. The beautiful blue and distressing really gives an attractive look to this mid size french chest.

Q: How can amateur painters accomplish this beautiful professional finish you achieved with these two nightstands?  Do you have any tips for first time painters wanting a unique look for their furniture using paint?

Cassie- “I would not consider myself a professional painter as in some sense  I use the good ol’ fashioned method.   I do not have a sprayer, as many furniture painters do, and do everything by hand.  With that being said, it is very important to invest in good quality brushes for a smooth look as well as good primer.

I use zinnser, which smells awful, but works beautifully.  I have found with zinnser I only need to lightly sand the piece to be painted.  Once it has been sanded, the primer is brushed on by hand and it is very important to follow the direction of the wood and go in nice straight lines.  You can “feather” as you brush on so that you won’t see where you lifted the brush off of the piece.

Once the primer has dried, you can use another coat of primer, which I do in the case of white pieces.  After the second coat of primer, I begin painting and use just latex paint.

I prefer to use Sherwin  and Williams harmony paint which is low voc, cost efficient, and good quality.

I personally prefer the eggshell finish, which was used on these tables.   Again, follow the same brush strokes as your primer for a smooth and even look.  After the piece has been painted with 2-4 coats of paint, the edges are distressed by hand with 80-120 grit sandpaper.

Some sites will recommend higher grit, but i prefer the lower grit and just move my hands very rapidly as I distress to avoid getting scratchy marks (if you do get these marks, you can touch them up).

Once it has been distressed and wiped clean with a damp paper towel, I sometimes choose to antique it, as was the case with these nightstands, to give it a more old world look.

There are specialty glazes you can purchase, but I use my trusty minwax stain and brush it on, and then wipe off with a rag, again following the lines of the paint.  You can use as many coats of stain as you need to achieve the desired look.”

My French Provincial Pedestal Desk Makeover

French Desk Makeover

French Provincial furniture has been known for their beautiful lines and timeless looks.  Most often vintage french provincial furniture have been produced in sets such as living room sets, dining room sets and bedroom sets, but on the odd occasion, some pieces were manufactured alone.

This desk is unique because I haven’t seen a double pedestal desk in the french provincial style without the wood being painted.  With this piece I really loved the wood, and decided to just improve the look giving it an old world finish which would fit into any European or Tuscan style interior.

I find using a natural fiber chip brush which you can get for 2 dollars at your local hardware store always produces the nicest finishes.  Natural chip brushes will give you best control when painting with this specific oil paint.

How to Achieve the old world stained look with Artists oil paint:

Mix in a bowl, (preferably a throw away bowl) or line it with aluminum foil) artists oil paint, and a little bit of paint thinner.

(Don’t mix them together, just have both in a bowl)

Brush on the oil on to the wood. You will be able to see what looks good and what looks too thick.  If you find the oil is too thick, try using a small (small) amount of paint thinner, on your brush.

(This paint is not meant for furniture, but it produces a spectacular painted old world finish that is hard to attain with regular wood stain.  I have found that I put up with the draw backs for the beautiful finish.  If you decide to try this, know that the paint take an extra long time to dry.  The first time I tried this on my walls, I got impatient and tried to paint a clear plycrylic and I ruined the entire finish, that I had to take paint thinner and scrub it off.  If you decide to try this finish instead of sanding down your project and staining it as usual, do have a room where the piece can dry untouched for a good week or so)

I find working in sections very helpful.  This is a very quickly working finish.  You don’t want to over work the finish, and it helps to have lots of paper towel handy in case you have to wipe the finish down and try again.

It is a dry wipe finish, meaning you are really having to work the brush to spread out the finish on your piece.  Be sure your furniture is LIGHTLY sanded, for the oil to stick well.

After it is finished drying over a weeks period, you will want to spray it with a clear sealer.

It is VERY VERY important your first sealant is a spray.  I made the mistake of touching my furniture too early and it messed up the entire finish.  If you spray your piece, and it isn’t dry, it won’t hurt the finish.

Winton Oil 200ml Burnt Umber, Klean-Strip ”Green” Lacquer Thinner, Quart, Wood Chip Brush — 4 Inch

Minwax 24444 Polycrylic Protective Finish

Minwax Polyurethane Spray – Satin

Minwax Polycrylic, Satin 1/2 Pt

12 Natural China Bristle 3″ Chip Brush

My French Provincial Desk Before the Makeover
My French Provincial Pedestal Desk Make Over After
French Provincial Furniture Makeover
French Provincial Desk Makeover
French Provincial Desk Makeover
My Faux Burl Wood Makeover Painted With Oil
Faux Finished French Provincial Nightstands Dixie Dresser

This nightstand was originally a white dixie Hutch dresser.  I ditched the hutch and just made them into nightstands.   I filled in holes for the original hardware and drilled new holes for these beautiful large french handles.  Check out the entire post here.

Before- Manufacture Finish Dixie Dresser Hutch


My French Provincial Dixie Union Flag Dresser Makeover

French Provincial Dressers are one of the most perfect designed dressers to paint abstract designs. They work so perfectly because painted furniture  was common on Antique Louis XV and XVI furniture, so the look transfers easily to french provincial pieces.

The Union Jack Flag has caught attention of the design crowd, and the geometrical flag has been featured in a number of interior design blogs and magazines and it has even made its way into fashion.

Upholstered furniture is the new trend with these geometrical flags, but can be very tricky because flags are often not sold by the yard or meter at your local fabric store.  Painting a piece of furniture on the other hand can be very easy with any flag pattern.

With my flag dresser, being that I was working with the Union Jack Flag, I painted my piece in white to begin with.  Then I taped the lines of flag, and once the paint was dried, I removed the tape, and added a brown glaze to antique the dresser.

(If I were to do it all over again, I would certainly use a flat paint instead of an oil based color.  The reason for this, is oil paint can be very thick, and working with tape, you want your paint to COVER in one coat (or 2), not making it so heavy that when you pull off your tape there is an obvious ridge where the paint built up against the tape.

Flat paint usually is the best to use when you are working with bright colors.  Learning from experience, it took me about 8 coats of semi gloss paint to paint a wall orange.  In the end, the walls were not perfectly finished because each layer of paint makes your walls imperfect.  You always want that sanded finish that fresh drywall provides.  The lesson I learned that I can pass on, is to make your first coat flat, and if you want a gloss, then paint it after your walls are covered with the flat paint.

So my recommendation after doing this flag dresser is to always sand first, and paint in flat paint for all your colors, and then go over the dresser with a WATER BASED polycrylic clear finish when you are completed. Never use oil based polyurethane on white.  In a year it will turn a ugly yellow, if not in a day.

HOW To Upholster Your Provincial Headboard

French Headboard Featured on Bob Vila

French Headboard Featured on Bob Vila

Buying a French bed is a timeless furniture choice.  Classic French beds have been around for centuries, and are still as much popular as the French style is featured and popularized in the higher end interior design magazines.

French antique beds are normally made from sturdy wooden frames and are often delicately carved which makes them both interesting and elegant.  The workmanship that goes into a carved bed takes patience and skill in order to get the precision and detail which can make them quite a bit more expensive.

Many antique French beds are made from a variety of woods, depending on their particular country and location.  Some of the most common woods found are mahogany, walnut or Black wood.

Often seen in the rococo beds, the footboards are also delicately carved, which makes them highly coveted.  A common signature to French furniture is the curvature of the legs of the furniture.  You will see the circular feet on many footboards, chairs, and chests.

There are a number of great styles when it comes to antique French beds, but if you are on a tight budget and you really want the look of a French home, why not go for the reproduction French provincial beds of the 50’s and 60’s? Many of the beds were made to mimic the antique Louis styles but on lower end scale. The 1960’s French provincial furniture is pretty easy to find, and relatively inexpensive in price.

1. Painting- One way of recreating the antique looks is to paint the frame of the bed. There are three main French styles you can paint.

A) Classic Gold is a very traditional French look. Gold works with every single upholstery as it acts like a neutral, so you are free to choose a variety of fabrics, as gold goes with everything. One very simple way of painting your piece gold is to spray it gold, letting it dry and gold leafing it for a realistic sheen of actual gold. Tips on leafing can be found here. Once the leaf has dried, you can rub on gray and with a damp cloth wipe the excess paint off which will stick in the cracks.

B) Classic cream is always a beautiful French choice. Be sure to get a creamy white with a green undertone. Once your paint has dried, add a brown glaze to add to the antique feel of aged furniture. You can buy glaze at your local home hardware store, or home depot, or Here – Wm Zinsser 04201 Blend & Glaze Decorative Painting Liquid

C) Swedish Grays are always an upscale French look. It is often a grown up style because it is not found on new furniture, but classic antiques. You can get that antique feel with gray and finish it off with a yellow wash. I have tried most of all colors with French furniture, and a cornflower yellow works the best over gray. Like the steps above, (after your gray has dried) paint on the yellow, (doing small sections) and wipe it off using a damp cloth. The muted yellow should give your piece the feel of a white wash but leaving the gray color intact.

2. Upholstery – You can create the rich looks of higher end antique French beds by simply buying the curvy headboard that was popular in the 60’s and upholster them with rich French fabrics. Classic antique French patterns were floral and landscape scenes. It is a relatively easy process to upholster a bed frame, so don’t feel overwhelmed.

You will need 4 major things to complete the task. 1. Batting 2. Fabric 3. A Stapler 4. Nail head trim.

The batting can be found at your local sewing fabric store. Ideally you want to find a flat foam padding, or cotton felt. You can always stuff inside the flat felt if it isn’t fluffy enough, but you will always have a smooth surface when it comes time to upholster. You do not need an industrial upholstery stapler, but they cost just as much as your basic stapler, (check below for links)  . A t-150 will work just fine, which can be purchased at your local hardware store for 20 dollars.   (I have been using a T-150 for years, and haven’t bought a electrical upholtery gun, but after seeing how cheap they are, I might order one!)

When it comes to finishing off your project, I would highly suggest getting nail head trim which you apply with a real nail every 3rd nail head. It gives you a nicer and cleaner appearance, and saves a lot of energy of lining up each nail so it is perfectly straight and in line with the rest. You can buy 30 feet for around the 7-15 dollar mark from Nails to You on ebay.  With that said, you can have your stunning French bed with fractions of the cost of an antique.

Hitachi N3804AB3 1 1/2-Inch 18-Gauge Narrow Crown Finish Stapler

Surebonder 9600 Pneumatic Fine Wire Staple Gun with Carrying Case

Arrow Fastener T25P Wire Staple Gun

Cotton Batting Medium Grade Roll Natural
Hillman Fasteners 122682 Upholstery Nail (Pack of 6)

Today with the convenience of ebay, you can shop around for antiques from all across the nation (and world) from the comfort of your home. Many antique dealers are now listing their inventory online which has made it easier to locate the antique you are after. With all the antiques in one location and the option of comparison shopping, it has made the prices honest, in addition to healthy competition to get the consumers business. Always go with a seller with a strong reputation of positive feedback. Be sure to get shipping quotes before committing to the bid to buy.