How To Paint French Provincial Furniture A Perfect White

White is one of the most popular paint choices for painted furniture as it creates an atmosphere that is both soothing and tranquil.

In particular, you are seeing a lot of French provincial furniture pieces beign done in white these days.

White paint gives a fresh crisp new look to old and outdated furniture, transforming it into something modern and new with minimal expense.

You don't need much experience with painting to achieve a professional painted look if you follow the simple steps I list below.  In this article I spill my secrets from years of painting and transforming beautiful pieces of furniture with simple painted finishes.

(Picture Vintage French Provincial White Painted Cottage Server From The Painted Cottage)

Three Steps to The Basics to Painting

First - Clean Painting

The first step and the most important step is to cover your floor.

Cover the area you plan on working in with thick cardboard, newspapers or old sheets. Choose a workspace where you won't be disrupted such as an extra bedroom, a garage or a basement.  You do not need to buy expensive drop cloths unless you plan on painting on the rug. Living in an apartment for many years, I took old bed sheets which I folded in half, and not once did I get anything on the carpet.  You can get them at the thrift store for only a couple dollars.  Wash them before you use them, and the greatest thing, is you can wash them after several uses!  I folded my sheets in half so that the paint wouldn't get through on to the floor. You may want to consider plastic drop sheets which guarantee nothing will end up on the carpet.  Being a careful painter is a good habit to develop, as it will show in the end result.  SO, if you do slip up, that is what the sheets are for.

Second- Sanding

Sanding is a necessity with any sort of furniture painting.You don't need to sand every inch of paint off of the furniture, but rather you need your furniture to have some sort of teeth to grip on to the paint. Do buy the finest, or (close to fine) sandpaper. In the past I have messed up paint finishes by sanding with too coarse of sandpaper.  This usually appears with swirl marks in the paint finish. If this happens, carefully sand it with very fine sandpaper and add another layer of paint.

The trick to sanding is to just sand with fine sandpaper. Sand in the direction of the wooden grains, this way you won't get noticeable swirl marks. DEWALT Sheet Sander, FOAM SANDER

One of the biggest questions I get asked is how to paint over the melamine tops that are common to some of the french provincial furniture.  The simple answer is to sand it with a relatively fine sander.  Apply a coat of flat white oil paint.  Oil paint is extremely durable, and with the flat sheen it acts like a primer.

Third - Priming

I didn't fully appreciate priming until I stumbled upon a fabulous primer that I cannot live without. Every primer is a bit different. With black or darker paint finishes, I would not recommend priming first.  The reason for this is most primers come in white and gray which is basically white with a bit of black in it. Until Behr's most recent Paint and Primer mixed together, white and gray primers were about the only option.

Rust-oleum Black Primer Pack of 6

For a good year when I first started painting I primed my furniture and painted over the white primer in a color paint and it looked terrible when it came to distressing the furniture. I reached out to many painters to tell me their secrets of great distressing and I found very few that would help me with this problem, until one day I just decided to sand more and toss away the primer and It worked!

- (So, now you know that for projects other than white, sand a bit more for the paint to adhere to the surface, or use Behr's paint and primer along with sanding, or use a black flat oil paint with sanding.)

There are situations where priming is a necessity. One of these instances is painting walls. You need to start with a primer. Priming can give you a very good base for any color you plan on using especially if you are painting over wood which sometimes can be especially hard to cover well.

For the longest time, my favorite primer was Gripper as it is a fantastic primer. I first used it to seal a floor that was being painted white in an apartment building.  It held up on apartment floors that dozens of people would walk on daily.  I figured that if it held up on the floors it would do just as great of a job on furniture.

Kilz is another very popular primer. Some people think it is one of the best primers out on the market.  If you do use this brand, consider the spray paint primer.....Kilz Original Primer Spray Paint.  The oil primer is especially thick and very hard to manipulate and I found it very gloppy and extremely hard to work  with.  I have not tried their water-based version, so please don't discount this brand all together.

Since moving to Seattle, I have had to shop at Ace Hardware more often, instead of Home Depot, and I have been pleasantly surprised! Their Ace Brand Name projects are high quality.  Not only are their paint colors beautiful, but I have been able to try out some new brands I wouldn't have otherwise tried.

My biggest secret is a primer I found through Ace, but can be ordered on Amazon or at Home Depot which is called Cover Stain By Zinsser in the oil paint. You can buy this at Home Depot and almost every Hardware Store, and the best part is that this oil based paint is TINTABLE!

High Hide Odorless Oil Primer without Sanding - Odorless Primer

*The most surprising thing is that their oil-based primer is thin rather than thick, and it goes on like butter. Considering it is an oil paint, that is rather shocking.  I prefer to work with oil because it covers well, and it is quite durable.  I do like my paint thick, but perfectly even.  This paint seems to have so many features that I just cannot live without now.

*As it dries it evens itself out compared to other oil paints which show every brush stroke.

*In addition, the paint dries rather quickly. It can be dry within 3 hours, which you can apply another coat. By the next day you can sand, and it sands especially easy compared to any other brand.

*This oil paint has teeth! It grips to almost anything without being scratched.

*Also, it is one of the ONLY oil paints that dries to a matte finish. I often add two coats of the primer, then I seal it with a Polycrylic water-based sealer, and then I add Johnson Paste Wax. It produces a perfect Swedish finish. This OIL paint can be tinted most light colors which makes it a dream to work with. It has rejuvenated my passion for painting and I couldn't be more excited to paint furniture right now.

My Secrets to Professional Finishes:

When a professional painter or woodworker looks at a piece of furniture often the first thing they look for is how even the paint finish is.  There is one painter I heard of who dips her chairs in paint, (which would be extremely costly) but her paint finishes are known to to have drips of paint in many areas of the furniture which I suppose adds character.

How do you achieve this?

A. You can spray your furniture with paint sprayers.

Often times it is not worth investing in a paint sprayer and a compressor just for one or two pieces of furniture that you plan on painting over time.  If you are looking at painting furniture as a business, it would be a wise investment after getting some experience painting finishes by hand.

Another way of spraying furniture is simply to buy paint in a can. This usually works quite well for small projects such as chairs, picture frames or end tables, but it would get quite expensive for larger pieces.

B. Use a foam paint brush.

My friend Nancy in Virginia was the first to teach me this technique.  She gets ALL the credit on this one!!  These foam brushes can be found for every cheap at dollar stores or on amazon.  They can also be found at home depot for a dollar or two.  Although if you plan on painting furniture as a business, get them online or from a dollar store, as they tend to sell them in packs of 10 for only $1.  They are cheap but every effective throw away foam brushes that even out your stokes. 30 Foam Paint Brush, Foam Roller Smooth

2. White Paint Tones.

You almost never see higher end finishes using bright white paint, except for Hollywood regency styles which use glossy whites with modern pieces. I tend to lean towards whites that are tinted towards the beige tones or green undertones as they are closer to the Swedish antique paint finishes. The beige and green tones are some of the original limited paint colors, so your piece will look more antique than modern which then translates into being more expensive looking.

I do enjoy French grays, or really milky white grays rather than white, because it gives it an antique feel which is rich and doesn't look freshly painted.  You don't want your piece to look freshly painted, unless you are going after the Hollywood Regency style.

Some of my favorite colors are:

Martha Stewart- Sandpiper, Fossil, Bedford Gray, Heath, Mourning Dove, Ash Bark, Cityscape, Eiderdown, Tadpole Green, Flagstone

Ace Paints - Hazy Day, French Gray, Heartland, Tahoe, Ramie, Warm Scones, Navajo White, Wooden Spoon, Chinos, Gray Day

3. White Washing- White washing is a spectacular finish where the base coat is beige tones and a lighter color is added on top.  I have found the best colors to work with are those with a brown undertone, such as beige, and adding a creamy white with yellow undertones on top.  White washing is basically adding glaze for a translucent finish.  Paint on the white paint with glaze, and and use a relatively dryer damp cloth and wipe off the cream paint, leaving a wash-like appearance.  It produces a very nice effect.

This beautiful bed is from the very exquisite European House on Ebay

4. Distressing- Distressing can add depth to your furniture giving it a very antique rustic appeal.  You can distress with a hand electric sander, or a hand foam sander which gives more of a delicate worn feel over time than deliberate wear and tear would.

The key to distressing is to sand in areas where worn paint would appear over time.  Locations such as the feet of furniture, sides, the wood around the handles are natural places furniture would wear over time.  For heavy distressing take  a few tools such as a hammer, screwdriver and a chain and rough up the surface of the piece.   The more you rough up the surface the more aged the piece appears.

Adding crackle paint in some areas can give your furniture piece an antique feel.  In addition, Porcelain Crackle Glaze can give a piece of furniture an aged look. The crackle makes it look as though the paint has changed through the years. How this crackle works is that you apply it to areas you wish to age.  Let the paint dry completely, and rub in dark glaze or shoe polish, or brown glaze to expose the lines.


Jansen Distressed White French Vanity Desk By Lakeview Style on Ebay

Henredon French Louis XV Style Marble Top Dressers

Henredon French Louis XV Style Marble Top Dressers

5. Glazing-   A glaze is a translucent binder which less paint pigment is added to produce a look which is somewhat clear with a bit of color.  You can buy glaze mixed together at your local hardware much like ordering paint, or you can buy glaze alone and mix in paint yourself.

The incentive of buying the glaze without paint is you can then use the glaze with a number of other colors without buying a quart of each color you intend to use.  It really comes in handy when you want to use different colors with different furniture.

 Blend & Glaze Decorative Painting Liquid
Ralph Lauren Faux Technique Glaze

How I work with glaze is first to apply it with a chip brush and then take a rag which is slightly damp, (but more towards the dry side), and wipe it off, leaving a faint amount of glaze.

I have found in the past that it is important to really select your rags carefully.  One time I used a black facecloth, and tiny pieces of the black fabric were left behind in the paint.  A white tericloth face cloth doesn't work well either.  The best idea is to use old tee-shirt rags because they wouldn't leave any traces of the fabric behind.  Again, experiment and see what works best for you.

I hope I have inspired you to get your hands dirty and try new techniques.  Have fun with your transformations.  It is amazing what just a simple gallon of paint can do for your home and furniture.  You don't need to spend much to make a big impact.

Huge Blessings!


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  • Trish

    Thank you so much for all the helpful information! I recently acquired a new (to me) bedroom set in that 1960’s French Provincial, but did not know exactly how to give it a fresh look. Now I have several ideas, and cannot wait to start on this project. Thanks again!

  • Laura

    What a well-written and useful article. I have noticed a real difference in how authentic some furniture looks and now I understand why. I am looking forward to applying this knowledge. Thank you!

  • Shirley

    Thank you! I needed this type of information I’m bookmarking this page now.



  • Admin

    You mentioned that you have a solid wood dresser that you are hoping to white wash.

    Basically you want the wood to have some grip to it. Meaning you want to sand the wood enough where the paint has something to latch on to.

    You can buy a pickling white wash, which you apply over the wood. You really cannot mess this finish up.

    You can also go to home depot and buy stain which come in 20 or so colors.

    In this post I reccomend Behr’s deck stain which I have used myself.

    You can get whiter stain colors, as they have a wide range of colors.

    I used this product on a dresser that I wanted to look very distressed and it turned out spectacular.

    Hoping this helps