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Hacking Annie Sloan

These stools, which have nearly been chucked out several times over the years, have had a radical makeover this weekend. 

But before that, a little back-track about their transformation.

When, recently, I was offered a place on an Annie Sloan painting techniques course by Rigby & Mac, a mini chain of interiors shop local to me in south London, I was intrigued and dubious in equal measure. 

I'm sure most of you have heard of Annie Sloan's chalk paint range. But in case you haven't, a big for the Oxford shopkeeper's own-formulated organic, water-based range, is that you're supposed to be able to slap it straight onto anything from plastic to gloss-painted furniture – to peeling metal stools – without a whiff of sandpaper. 

The no-prep angle is pretty seductive. 
Too good to be true? I was keen, via the workshop, to find out if it was. However, it does sound more plausible when you look at Annie's paint project books. The most recent, Colour Recipes for Painted Furniture and More, is a good-looking tome, though it is packed with shabby chic, upcycled French Provencal country house-style projects with aged-look finishes. Totally not my style. So what, if anything, could the Sloan offer me?

The half-day course took place in an airy side room at a southeast London cafe. Alongside a friendly bunch of fellow paintees, I learned a number of techniques using the paints, and Annie's clear and dark waxes, to give furniture different aged looks. You can see a taster of these above right, completed, and below, in progress (this technique is called the 'one colour aged look').

I won't run through them all as they're very well documented online – for the effects shown here, try googling Annie Sloan along with: 'two-colour aged look'; 'crackling'; 'colour crackling'; 'colour wash', or 'gilding'.

All I wanted to know was whether you could use the paint for a smooth, traditional finish – and still dispense with the arduous prep work. Our teacher said that yes, that was do-able, it would just require watering the paint down a little and, probably, applying a few coats possibly with a roller rather than a brush. I thought of my scabby garden stools...

They have been on my DIY list for about five years. But the thought of grappling with all that peeling paint, priming with special metal paint and the rest provoked serious procrastination. Perhaps this was what Annie Sloan could do for me?

Despite the promise that a non 'distressed' look could be achieved, I still had doubts, and I didn't want garden furniture that looked like it'd been plucked from a repro chateau. So I just bought a tester pot – with some watering down it might even do all three stools, and at just £5.95 (full-size – one litre – pots are £18.95) it was worth a punt. 

I went for Antibes Green, which I'd fallen for in the workshop.

The peeliest parts of the stools got a light scrub with a wire brush; the paint may have stuck to the flakey texture, but that wasn't the effect I was after. 

The paint – mixed with water at about a ratio of 1/8 water to paint – went on quite patchily at first, but it stuck. With two coats, the effect was a little 'aged', but in the garden I could live with that (or give it several more coats). The only problem? It was only at that point that I realised the colour totally clashed with the existing garden furniture... 

Back to Rigby & Mac for a rethink and some new colours. The strong, vibrant pink I had newly decided upon didn't figure on the AS paint chart,but easy paint mixing is another big Annie Sloan selling point: with her trademark effects, colour uniformity is not the aim and so you'll never need to find a shade's exact match. A little trickier if you're trying to pimp in a more vanilla way, but if the painting is so easy I can always start from scratch if they need another revamp. To achieve my fantasy pink, I bought Emperor's Silk and Antoinette – and hoped for the best.

And I quite liked the result...

But first I cheated – and scrimped on the chalk paint – by covering the green with one coat of a home-brew of odds and ends I found in the garage. The result was pink-ish and just meant I wouldn't waste any of the good colour de-greening the stools.

When using chalk paint on exterior surfaces, it's advised that Annie Sloan lacquer is applied to waterproof them. But it only comes in one-litre pots and is nearly £20. I had some outdoor wood varnish in the garage. What harm can it do? There's a chance it might yellow a little, but hopefully it should stick to the paint. We'll see. 

Here's the pre-varnished version anyway, which was all I had time for this weekend. A scabby corner transformed for the better, don't you think?

And they go with my new outdoor rug, a bargain at £14 in the Habitat sale last week. But don't let all that fool you: pan out from the artfully styled decking area and you'll see there's still a bit of work to do elsewhere.

Next project: bidding farewell to my beloved, seventies un-chic crazy paving to make way for some fake grass. Watch this space...

The paint workshop I did takes place regularly in southeast London, and costs £99. It can be booked via

Post by Kate


  1. Wow! Amazing effect. Stools immediately took on the charm. I'm jealous you ideas :)

  2. This is really interesting to read because I have been of the same mindset - I'm not really into the whole aged effect either and so thus far, have given the Annie Sloan paints a miss. The whole no-primer thing does have it's appeal, however, and I really love the colour you ended up with! Will be interested to see how these cute stools fare - definitely off to a good start! xxx