Distress a Picture Frame to Shabby Chic Perfection

Transform a picture frame into a great "shabby chic" decorating accent for your home in just a few easy steps. Before getting started, let’s identify what "shabby chic" really is.

The very nature of the design trend makes defining it more a matter of elimination.

Shabby chic items are NOT:


  • Completely worn out
  • Dirty
  • Messy
  • Non-functional

Shabby chic items “clean up nicely,” revitalizing to gracefulness and beauty. The term describes designs that paint mental pictures such as:


  • Impoverished gentry
  • Rode hard and put up wet
  • Elegantly scruffy
  • Shabby chic is embodied by worn out or dated items that still have a touch of class.

Choose a Look

A more pronounced distressed look requires a brighter or deeper color as the first paint coat. The brighter color will show through the other layers after sanding better than a paler hue. For a subtler look, use pastels or neutrals.


The Tools Needed

Choose a good frame, not a cheap, junky one. Shabby chic highlights a piece’s past and future glories, so make sure it’s a frame you’re proud to display. Achieving this look also requires:





Tack Cloth



Paint Brushes



An Old Candle



Finish Paints


Once you have all your tools and the frame ready, start on the first step to create a shabby chic frame.


  1. Prepare the Frame

    Sand the frame, roughing up any glossy areas. Additionally, sand any sharp protruding areas, both for safety’s sake and because future snags may damage the finish you worked so hard to achieve. Wipe the frame with the tack cloth to remove dust and grit.

  2. Put on the Paint, Part One

    Pick a paint color and apply it to the frame using a brush. The application need not be perfect, but try to cover all areas of the frame. Let the first coat dry for about a half hour.

  3. Waxing On

    How distressed looking a frame do you want? Since paint adheres poorly to wax, rubbing on a lot of wax means more “missing paint” later, lending a more disused flair. Smaller amounts applied just at the corners and edges results in more genteel shabbiness.
    Rub the candle (or crayon) wherever you want wear marks. Don’t be afraid to go a little crazy with the wax—getting the right look requires a fair amount of the stuff!

  4. Put on the Paint, Part Two

    Use another brush and apply the second paint color over the first. Perfection is neither required nor advisable. Let the paint dry. This will likely take an hour or two (or more), depending upon the humidity in the air.

  5. Sanding the Wax

    Fold a piece of the coarse sandpaper so that it has a nice rigid edge. Using the folded edge, rub away the wax-coated areas. When you start to see the first paint color coming through, stop sanding. Smooth out the edges of the areas with fine sandpaper. Avoid over-sanding areas, as that can remove the first coat of paint.

  6. Add More Wax

    Grab your wax implement of choice and rub it over exposed areas of the initial paint coat. Forget neatness and precision: slather it on so that it also goes onto the second paint coat surrounding the exposed first coat.

  7. Apply More Paint

    The true shabby chic look becomes apparent with the application of white paint. Coat all surfaces of the frame with white paint. Let the paint dry completely (each successive paint layer takes longer to dry).

  8. Sanding for the Perfect Distress Level

    Using sandpaper, work off the waxed areas beneath the white paint to expose the other paint colors beneath. Avoid removing the first layer! Once the desired amount of color shows through, switch to the fine sandpaper to remove any really rough edges and borders. Wipe the frame lightly with the tack cloth.
    If desired, preserve it with a light layer of a clear satin acrylic sealer.

  9. Nailing It to the Wall

    How and where a frame hangs and what it encases are big parts of pulling off the shabby chic vibe. If the frame will have artwork within it, don’t worry about being too “matchy-matchy.” Consider color, style, and try different options; you may be surprised at what work! You could also consider framing a mirror for a completely different look and function.




Remember: colors can look different depending upon light, so consider the location if you’d like the frame’s color to be consistent or highlighted by sunlight. However, if there is a valuable photograph or print with the frame, use the correct type of UV glazing to protect the piece. Having a shabby chic frame is great, but shabby-looking artwork—not so much.
Shabby chic décor embraces imperfection as a means of bringing out the beauty of a piece. Shabby never means shoddy, and chic always denotes style.

About the author


Mark Rogers is an amateur photographer and the founder of Frame Destination, Inc. In 2004 Mark realized the framing industry was not keeping up with the evolution of photography via new digital technology and started Frame Destination in his garage. Now his company has thousands of do-it-yourself framing customers across the US that it helps with its 11,000 square feet production facility in Dallas, TX.

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