When it comes to the world of decorative furniture painting, Annie Sloan is the unofficial queen. Over the past few decades, the British design maven has written more than 20 books on the subject, run workshops across Europe and in the U.S., and launched her own paint line.
She’s seen trends and colours come and go, but the urge to do DIY painting is as strong as she’s ever seen it.
“We’re living in an age where everything looks clean and slick, and one hotel room looks like another,” the Oxford-based artist says, speaking from one of those very rooms in Montreal while on a cross-Canada tour. “You go to IKEA in any country you like now, and it looks the same. My son lives in China, and we went to the biggest IKEA in Beijing. So we’re all lusting after something that’s mine and mine only; something unique to me.”
Having been in the decorative paint business for the past quarter-century, Sloan isn’t expecting it to die off anytime soon. “I’m certain it’s here to stay, it just changes its clothes now and then,” she says.
But there is clearly extra appeal in these tough economic times, with the knowledge that you can often get a used or antique piece of furniture for less than the cost of something new—and yet it may be of much better quality.
“Maybe you have a mid-century-modern piece—maybe it’s not a great piece, but you can paint it and make it look amazing,” she says. “Or maybe it has 18th-century cabriole legs but maybe it’s not very nice wood, and you can paint it and make it look really, really lovely.”
Sloan will demonstrate her techniques and sign copies of her new book, Color Recipes for Painted Furniture and More (CICO Books), at the Vancouver Home and Design Show, which runs Thursday to Sunday (October 17 to 20) at B.C. Place. The appeal of her Chalk Paint decorative paint by Annie Sloan is that it’s simple and multifunctional, and it can be used on a variety of surfaces: you can brush it onto everything from wood to metal and even adapt it as a dye for fabrics. And when it comes to old furniture, you won’t have to prime it first.
“The big thing is you just start painting,” Sloan says. “If you have to sand it down, by the time you finish stripping it you’re bored, aren’t you?”
At the home show, the onetime art master’s student will probably apply a little of her Chalk Paint Wax after coating a flea-market find, perhaps rubbing it down with a bit of sandpaper to reveal a colour underneath, distressing it and giving it a feeling of age.
Lately she’s been doing a lot of that same kind of work at her centuries-old second home, a farmhouse in Normandy, France, where the furniture is the focus of much of her new book. On one project, she used a dry cloth and wax to drag and wipe over the complementary grey shades of paint on a giant, classical armoire, painting the entire inside (visible through curving glass doors) a gorgeous Greek blue. In another, she adds the subtlest possible brass leaf to the scrolling wood arms of a rococo chair painted in her Chalk Paint’s Aubusson and Duck Egg blue—one she’s upholstered in classic toile.
Sloan is all too aware that many of us, even far away on the West Coast, long to add a little French elegance to our décor—and she offers plenty in her book.
“The thing about French style: it’s got restrained colours,” she advises. “You’ll get one piece of furniture that is absolutely stunning—it’ll be a beautiful armoire or have that gentle cabriole leg.
“It’s not fussy,” she warns. “It does have lots and lots of layers, a lot like French food—one piece of meat beautifully cooked and a little bit of vegetables. It’s that kind of restrained elegance of things beautifully done. There’s maybe a little bit of gilding from the chateaux, or something more in the style of the French farmhouse.”
Ah, oui. But Sloan, a woman of the world who was born in Australia to a Scottish father and Fijian mother and has lived everywhere from England to South Africa to Cuba, also draws on many other sources for inspiration. Her book even features chapters on Boho Chic (think a matte-painted, multicoloured chandelier) and Modern Contemporary (a marble-topped chest of drawers painted in vivid stripes).
And she’s not averse to colour trends. At the moment, she’s loving any combination of blue and green—ideally her own regal Louis blue with Chalk Paint’s bright Antibes green.
“We’re still in a recession, and what we like are things that cool you down and relax you,” she tells the Straight.
You may crave those cool colours and long to update that bedside or end table with its tired wood finish, but the sight of a paintbrush may also strike fear into you. Relax, says Sloan. It’s easy.
“Everybody can paint, and I always aim everything to beginners, as if you don’t know anything,” she says of her demos. “It is not just for professionals, and that’s why people love it.” And then she adds: “There is even talk of some people becoming addicted.”