We Americans have a funny way of decorating our homes. At the same time that we are looking to buy the latest new gadget, we are also attempting to decorate in some sort of vintage style. Along those same lines, we seem to have a collective obsession with the distressed look. What’s up with that?
The distressed look is nothing new. You can watch old episodes of This Old House and see master craftsman building brand-new furniture pieces only to purposely make them look like antiques. They purposely distress the wood, for example. But why? Why take a brand-new table built by a master carpenter and make it look like something from 18th century Europe?
Lots of Ways to Distress
We are so obsessed with the distressed look that we have come up with a ton of ways to achieve it. You no longer have to be a master craftsman to create the look. You do not even need to be an artist, per se. All you need are the right materials and a bit of elbow grease.
A favorite way to make furniture look distressed is to use something known as chalk paint. Jami Ray Vintage, a Utah company that specializes in vintage furnishings and DIY projects, says chalk paint is actually an additive that you combine with regular latex paint to create a distressed look.
Jami Ray Vintage focuses heavily on farmhouse vintage and modern farmhouse designs. So it’s not unusual for them to use white chalk paint on older furniture pieces. They mix the additive with white paint, then apply the mixture to a piece of furniture. They may or may not choose to wipe the piece down. Either way, the chalk additive crates a look and texture that says old.
You can distress furniture with chalk paint, wood stain, or something else entirely. You can take a perfectly smooth surface and ding it up with a few hand tools prior to finishing. The point is to make your piece look like it is much older than it really is.
A Romantic View of the Past
Having so many ways to create the distressed look takes us back to the central question of why. Why are we so obsessed with the look? Why is it so appealing? Perhaps it has something to do with our romantic views of the past.
We tend to look back on the past fondly. We have a habit of thinking that life was so much simpler before we were born. In reality, what we remember are Hollywood and storybook versions of the past. We don’t know much about the reality because we didn’t live it.
It is fun to imagine a late 19th century farmhouse and the supposedly simple life that went with it. The farmer would get up with the sun, tend to his animals, then work out in the field all day. Meanwhile, his wife would spend the day cleaning house and making fresh apple pie. Evenings were spent in a cozy living room with a good book or some interesting conversation.
It is all so romantic. Unfortunately, such imaginations leave out the hard work inherent to farming. Imagination leaves out droughts, storms, family illnesses and devastating deaths. We think mainly on the positive, and we want our distressed furniture to reinforce those positive images.
A lot of people are obsessed with the distressed look. Whether it’s vintage farmhouse or vintage seaside, the distressed look is as popular today as it ever was. Some of us cannot understand why that is. But then again, there is nothing new about our confusion either.