Decorating Tips: How to Antique French Furniture!



We spend so much time remodeling Paris apartments that our own living room has become neglected! I enjoyed the deep yellow textured walls with matching silk curtains for the past fifteen years, but my tastes have shifted from strong colors to a softer French country look.

Philippe protested mightily as the colors brighten up a winter’s day in London, but when the silk curtains started to shred from the sunlight, the decision made itself.

First step: Antique the large French 19th century mirrors sitting on the two fireplaces!

We found the pair of mirrors fifteen years ago at the Paris flea market, or Puces. They are a rare matching pair dating from the 1800’s and Philippe negotiated hard from the dealer to buy them. My mother-in-law didn’tt approve of my covering up the gold leaf, but the expense to buy new ones and time required to find replacements, then figure out what to do with this pair … merci, mais non.


Antique Gold Mirror Needs a Softer Look

I’ve antiqued several pieces of furniture with modest success, and learned the hard way that shortcuts don’t work. I discovered a French company that specializes in decorative paint effects called Liberon. There are tons of decorative effects you can apply to wood, metal and glass!

I like the following: We simply applied Liberon’s cream colored wax to the oak desk at our Sancerre Paris rental below:


We used it in our Sancerre Paris Rental to create an antique look for the old oak desk

Simply buy their white wax or cream-colored wax in a can and apply and buff.  If you can’t find it in the US, my sister Pat simply stirred cream colored paint into a can of furniture paste wax, rubbed it on the furniture and it worked a charm.

Effet Chaule’: This means whitewashed and here is an example, using a darker coat of paint before applying white on top.  Before the white is completely dry, you wipe it with a damp cloth in areas that would normally show wear, and the dark paint peeks through.  It creates a nice, aged look.


Whitewashed Table

Effet Patine’: Giving an old patina to a new piece of furniture using paint and wax. Requires undercoat, your choice of under-colors that peek through and a final coat in cream colored paint or other.  Then a coat of satin acrylic or lots of wax.  This is the look I wanted for the mirrors.


Paint and Wax Finish


French mirror before shot: Formal living room, rich colours



  • 3 colors of paint:
    • Deep red paint
    • Green moss colored paint ‘Vert de gris’ by Liberon
    • Taupe/beige paint called ‘Ficelle’ by Liberon meaning ‘String’ color
  • Ochre-colored wax by Liberon
  • Optional:  acrylic satin gloss or clear wax to give an old waxed look

Three colors of paint to antique the mirror


Ochre Colored Wax

How to antique furniture: Step One!

Employ college sophomore son who is looking for work to tape up the glass and apply undercoat. He did a great job, inheriting dad’s cardiac surgery genes. Careful job, no paint leaked onto the mirrors.


Step 1 – Employ College-aged Son to Tape Mirrors

Step 2: Tips on how to create an antique look to furniture

Paint the mirrors with a water-based white undercoat.  This blocks the old paint and gold leaf, makes  next layers of paint stick. This is important; I made the mistake of applying paint directly to other furniture and the paint doesn’t stick or comes off in patches, when you’re trying to wipe off the final layer.

Step 3: Creating a French country look to furniture

Lightly sand mirror to remove globs of undercoat.

Step 4: How to give your furniture that antique look

Red Paint: Old mirrors have a layer of red under their gold leaf.  Apply a deep red layer, especially to all angles and corners.  Dry for 2 hours.


Apply an undercoat of red paint


Paint red to create worn look

Step 5

Paint green moss-colored paint all over.  Liked it so much that I repainted to lights in the entryway in the same ‘vert de gris’ or sage green color.  Brass was a stylish finish in the mid 1990’s, but I decided it was time for a change. Why buy new lights, when we can simply repaint the old?  Use a layer of undercoat first, then the color you want to show — from dark browns, to creams, greens, blues, yellows or other.  Dry for 2 hours.


Here are the lights in their brass finish



I liked the green paint so much I repainted the entryway lights!


Finished lights in pale green give a softer look to the entryway

Step 6

Ok, that was the green layer of paint and now back to the mirrors.  Apply the cream or beige colored paint for your final layer.  Apply carefully, everywhere. Be careful with your color choice.  I tested several colors and was going to go with a cream until I tested it.  Way too pale.  Tried the darker ‘ficelle’ or taupe color and although the sample sheet looked very dark, it worked beautifully.

Step 7

Important:  As soon as the paint is dry to the touch, about an hour and a half later, get a wet cloth and start to rub off the paint on all corners and wear points.  Don’t wait too long or you’ll be doing a lot of rubbing.  Try a little bit after an hour and if too much paint comes off on the rag, re-apply to that spot and wait another half hour.

Aging the furniture:  Use a damp cloth or sponge and rinse frequently.  Rub along the edges, which is where furniture gets most of its wear and tear.  The earlier paint colors start to show through; reds, green coats painted earlier.  Rubber harder and the gold leaf started to show through in a few places.  Not too hard I learned as even the gold started to come off!  The furniture had finally taken on an antique finish.


Rub off paint for antique effect


Rubbing off beige to show green and red

Step 8

Streak ochre colored wax sparingly in between curves to add a touch of dirt and age.  Be careful to add sparingly; step back and see how you like it.  This is one of the secrets of how to antique furniture  – look at the before and after pictures of the carved detail. The color contrast was nice, but a little too stark until I added the ochre wax and rubbed it in.


Start to apply ochre wax


Soft, antique look after wax has been rubbed in

Step 9

Wait overnight.  Wax and polish your furniture or apply a water-based satin varnish to give a soft, rubbed luster.  I’ve tried to apply wax for that soft aged shine — and rubbed like crazy, reapplying frequently — but some of the paint rubbed off and I could only get the sheen after applying a coat of water-based satin varnish.


Final wax

Step 10

Stand back and admire the finished product!  With the tests of paint colors for the walls and electrical wires running along the walls, it’s hard to appreciate new look until we’ve finished painting the living room. I will post final pictures when the living room is finally done!


The finished product!

The living room begins to take shape….tried loads of paint samples on the back wall.


Living room starts to come together; pale tan walls and darker brown inside bookshelves

Several months have gone by and the living room still isn’t finished, but it’s getting there!  We used a calico cream color by Dulux on the walls and a darker color by Farrow and Ball in the bookshelves.


Almost finished living room! Fireplace mirrors with an antique French cream finish


Almost finished living room Natural Calico walls and Farrow and Ball in bookshelves

What a transformation! Looking at the before picture, I really overdid the deep colors and patterns. Philippe didn’t want anything to change because the room felt warm and welcoming during the cold, dark days of winter. But I tried too hard. Things like the pink polka dot armchairs — lovely fabric by Jane Churchill — were charming, but the look tires quickly. Same with the contrasting striped cushions.  This room had a lot going on!!


Deep yellows, polka pinks and a lot of color marked our old living room

We didn’t want to spend money buying on new furniture, so kept the sofas and simply changed cushions. We re-covered the beautiful French armchairs in a pale beige check by Ian Mankin. We used the fake wooden books which used to serve as side tables — as bases for a new coffee table, to lighten the feel. Had a big place of glass cut  and a new coffee table was made. As the English say, ‘Bob’s your uncle!’  Used cotton ticking in beige and white for the curtains; prefer the big eyelet style curtains to the fancy ones we had before. We definitely need to add more color via cushions and accessories, but I think Philippe will be able to take long winter naps in the new look living room as well!

Transforming a living room with paint and color…


Living room towards patio garden

23 Responses to “Decorating Tips: How to Antique French Furniture!”

  1. La Z Boy says:

    Thanks for the antiquing tips. The wax gives a nice look to these pieces.

  2. Leigh Baird says:

    Thank you for sharing this project……I am now inspired to do something similar. Alas, no college age son to assist. Continuing to look forward to your newsletter.

  3. Erin says:

    Just love this look. I am about to take an old shop as a studio and may look at some of your ideas for it.
    The mirror looks glorious.

  4. Rio says:

    Madelyn ,you truly are a renaissance woman.So multi talented.We can’t wait to stay in your beautiful apartments in September and again next April,Blessings,Rio

  5. Susan says:

    Hello from Houston! Thank you for your detailed directions on how to antique!! I’m about to start my bedroom furniture. What I’m not clear on was your sister’s way of using paint and wax? did she mix them together and rub onto furniture?


  6. jck101 says:

    Thank you, your post is fine & your site.

    That’s a great line of products, I haven’t tried it but some friends of mine did and they were really excited about it.

  7. madelyn says:

    Hi Susan,
    My sister stirred the paint into wax itself. She used an ochre or kind of mustard brown into furniture wax.. Then she lightly rubbed it on to the furniture — in places where you would expect dust and old wax to accumulate — to give an old look. Worked a charm. I hope that helps and don’t hesitate if you’ve any other questions!

  8. madelyn says:

    Thank you Erin!
    Kind regards, Madelyn

  9. The Merlot Apartment in Paris: Before, After & After Again! « Paris Perfect Blog says:

    […] We softened the colors of the master bedroom, replacing the Venetian style headboard with an antiqued white one. I antiqued it myself early one morning with white wax. For more information on how to antique furniture, click here. […]

  10. Shabby Chic Furniture says:

    Beautiful transformation, really well done!
    Love the effect on the mirror. It always seems more satisfying doing something yourself rather than buying a product as it is – I always love to customise my things!

  11. custom furniture upholstery denver says:

    i admire your guts doing away with tradition and painting away all or most of your antiques… your entrylights is most interesting, that really is a brass underneath huh..

  12. JUDE says:

    hi, we have an antiques barn in south africa. i did a paint tecnique course but we are battling to find wax in south africa. can on just use ordinary floor polish wax? or is it bees wax? i really want to paint furniture with a white gold effect but dont know what to use. thanks Jude

  13. chichi furniture says:

    Love your mirrors, a decent size mirror in your room just seems to bring new angles and dimensions and improve light levels.

  14. vogue living says:

    Thanks for the antiquing tips. The wax gives a nice look to these pieces. Beautiful transformation, love the effect on the mirror. It always seems more satisfying doing something yourself rather than buying a product as it is – I always love to customize my things! I will definitely try it . Continuing to look forward to your newsletter

  15. Amanda Eck says:

    Found your blog & site through KathySue from Good Life of Design. My husband & I will be visiting London at the end of April & taking the train over for a 2 day stay in Paris. So wish we had time to stay in one of your apartments!! next time!!! I am an Interior Designer and absolutely LOVE the changes you made to your own personal home. I would LOVE to feature your home on my blog if you are interested. I would of course link back to you & your website.

  16. french furniture says:

    You are a multi talented women ,God bless you always.

  17. Barbara says:

    Hi there, from California!,
    I don’t know if I would have the guts to paint those gorgeous mirrors…but why not!? I’ve done some painting yet never seen the colored waxes. Very nice! Great tips!

  18. Madelyn says:

    Thanks Barbara, my husband wasn’t overly keen on painting the mirrors but the end result looks great!

  19. Linda Leyble says:

    Hi – enjoyed you post very much! The cream/white wax added to an oak piece of furniture – great tip! And all of your other advice.recipe – really terrific. Loved the one about getting your 18 year old college son to apply the tape – that’s priceless, especillay since he inherited your husband’s great hands as a surgeon!! Loved that! I need a son like that!

    Your blog is a wonderful resource!!


    PS – come visit mine as well. I am a decorative artist/designer in the US

  20. Madelyn says:

    I’m so happy you enjoy our stories, photos and recipes on the Paris Perfect Blog, Linda. Thank you for sharing your design blog and for your lovely comment!

  21. Bate Furniture says:

    Thank you for your information. The distress finish look so nice.

  22. Jamie Potlock says:

    Madelyn, you are an artist! I love how you decorate all of your apartments! Exquisite taste!
    All our best to Philippe.

  23. Home Design 101: Creating a Chateau-Inspired Room says:

    […] classical style. This is especially true if you’re thinking of buying a collection of antique French furnishings to complement the overall look. To get an idea about how much you’ll have to spend, browse over a […]

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