Chalk Paint: It's Still Relevant and It's Still Fun

Go greige with a variety of stylish chalk paints for every budget.

Selznick Gray Chalk Paint

Selznick Gray Chalk Paint

Amy Howard's Selznick Gray chalk paint, as seen on these picture frames, is a lovely neutral.

Photo by: Amy Howard

Amy Howard

Amy Howard's Selznick Gray chalk paint, as seen on these picture frames, is a lovely neutral.

I was a little late to the chalk paint game. That’s a slightly shameful admission coming from an editor at a site that prides itself on DIY initiative and design savvy.

But though I’m late, I’m making up for lost time in embracing this versatile, unbelievably stylish paint, more than a paint, a style, a texture, a look and…a lifestyle.

It all started with a dingy hutch I inherited from my grandmother with that dark-red wood patina that makes me think of palmetto bugs and the 1970s. I needed to transform this hutch fast to be able to tolerate it in my home and a coat of the ur-chalk paint, Annie Sloan was just the ticket. Since I’ve been having a greige moment, I selected French Linen. The color instantly gave the hutch a historic, Williamsburg, Virginia look that I think my William and Mary-grad grandmother would have loved. I did some distressing of key wear-points on the hutch and the effect is perfect. The hutch now serves as a repository for my 16-year-old bibliophile’s ever-growing book collection.

Selznick Gray Frame

Selznick Gray Frame

Amy Howard's Selznick Gray chalk paint is a lovely shade of gray.

Photo by: Amy Howard

Amy Howard

Amy Howard's Selznick Gray chalk paint is a lovely shade of gray.

What I love about chalk paint you can chalk it up (hah!) to pure laziness. The idea of sanding and prepping a piece to ready it for painting fills me with dread. With chalk paint, there’s no need for all of that mess. After a thorough wipe with water and a little cleanser, most pieces of furniture are ready to paint.

That hutch was my gateway drug and greige chalk paint has turned out to be my Kryptonite. It's such a chic neutral and instantly transforms a piece of furniture or accessory with its subdued-but-stylish palette. Luckily, there are lots of companies offering up a host of grays in shades from deep and smoky to soft and light.

Chalk Paint Chest

Chalk Paint Chest

Coated with a layer of Amy Howard Selznick Gray chalk paint, this small chest I keep in my bathroom suddenly had great style.

Coated with a layer of Amy Howard Selznick Gray chalk paint, this small chest I keep in my bathroom suddenly had great style.

I was determined to revitalize a number of pitiful pieces on my home and here’s what I learned along the way. Call them a beginner’s tips for making chalk paint work.

Distressing Rule of Thumb

Selznick Gray

Selznick Gray

Amy Howard Selznick Gray chalk paint.

Photo by: Amy Howard

Amy Howard

Amy Howard Selznick Gray chalk paint.

I discovered, when painting a large wooden chest of drawers that I use as a nightstand next to my bed that distressing works best when what shows through underneath is a darker colored wood than the new coat of paint. This chest was originally white and when I painted it with Rustoleum Chalked Windsor Gray and tried to distress, it ended up looking bashed up and grungy. So I gave the distress marks a touch-up, added some mod gold matte drawer pulls from Target half the price of more high-end pulls and loved the sleek new look of this bedside catchall where I park books, magazines, reading glasses, pens and other essentials.

Play the Field

Annie Sloan is fab, and the grande dame of chalk paint, yes. But there are other kids in town. Though I don’t buy the One Step Paint is-all-you-need line that Amy Howard is selling, her Selznick Gray paint is a gorgeous, gorgeous shade that I used for a small bathroom table, a living room screen, a small porcelain lamp and anything else I could find (and it's generally pretty easy to find at Ace Hardware stores). You can find competitively priced chalk paint from a variety . of different manufacturers beyond these two ladies, like Rustoleum Chalked (their Windsor Gray is lovely) for instance, so don’t be afraid to experiment.

Paint it All

Something I learned from a chalk-painting cousin who had been there before me: you can paint over everything: metal pulls, hinges, do it all and don’t sweat the details of removing hardware to get your job done. One more reason to love chalk painting.

Wax, or Don't

Gray Chest and Mirror

Gray Chest and Mirror

Amy Howard's Selznick Gray chalk paint is stylish and fresh and useful for any number of applications.

Photo by: Amy Howard

Amy Howard

Amy Howard's Selznick Gray chalk paint is stylish and fresh and useful for any number of applications.

For furniture, the final coat of wax gives furniture that aged, beautifully mellow chalk paint finish and acts as a seal to protect your paint. But for things like the ceramic lamp I painted with Amy Howard’s Selznick Gray and a sprinkle of gold dust from the Target home improvement section, polyurethane was the better option. Same with the folding screen I chalk painted, which would have been a nightmare to wax with all of its many nooks and crannies.

Save Money Where You Can

I get it, you fall in love with a certain delicious shade of Annie Sloan paint and pay a small fortune for a couple of cans. When you go to a designated Annie Sloan merchant, they will try and sell you all the specialty, branded brushes. But those same wax brushes are available at Amazon for a fraction of the cost and I would wager, do just as good a job. Some also swear by plain old paintbrushes, so see what works for you and your budget.

Don’t Be Afraid to Mix It Up

Part of the fun of chalk paint is experimenting and trying different color combos. The Internet is full of inventive color combos to help guide you and get the perfect shade.

Chalk Paint Entertainment Center

Chalk Paint Entertainment Center

A combination of Annie Sloan Graphite and French Linen gave this plain wood entertainment center a new lease on life.

A combination of Annie Sloan Graphite and French Linen gave this plain wood entertainment center a new lease on life.

Go Dark

While I love the whitewash-y gray of the Amy Howard and Annie Sloan grays, the darker shades were shockingly gorgeous too and can bring real gravitas to a variety of objects. I loved Annie Sloan’s Graphite and mixed it with French Linen to tame it slightly for an entertainment center redo. I may try just plain Graphite next time.

Make It Last

No matter what the brand, I needed at least two layers of paint for all my projects. In some cases, I could water the paint down for the second coat to make the paint go a bit further.

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