Considering an upcycling project? We asked Annie Sloan, inventor of Chalk Paint™ and a doyenne of the decorative, for her tips on breathing new life into old furniture.

Oxford-based Annie Sloan is a colour expert and the brains behind Chalk Paint™, a decorative paint brand that is distinctive, beautiful and practical. Easy to use, it has a signature textural finish and dries in no time – the latter a consideration that made it especially ideal when she invented it more than 30 years ago while juggling small children with home projects. It has, in short, gone on to revolutionise the world of DIY.

Upcycling has only gained momentum since that time, its appeal expanding beyond those who enjoy craft to encompass the environmentally minded too.

Here Annie gives us her top tips for your next upcycle project. The bottom line? Have fun and give it a go.

Upcycling old pieces – whether those we already have or those we buy – is environmentally friendly and can be really satisfying. What’s the best way to get started for the uninitiated/ daunted?

Have fun! Consider what you’re going to do before you do it; but without overthinking to the point of inertia. Chalk Paint™ can be used to create any effect from Industrial Rustic to bone-inlay effect using my Pearlescent Glaze; decide what style you want before you start and make sure that it suits your home and your personality. Trying to do too much on one piece is an easy mistake to make, planning your upcycling beforehand limits this. One of my favourite tips is to paint something neutral on the outside and then add a flash of vibrant colour on the inside; it’ll make you smile every time you open a drawer or a wardrobe. Colour brings joy so be bold with it!

When choosing a piece of furniture to breathe new life into, is there anything you should you look out for?

Don’t drill holes into anything that doesn’t belong to you but frankly, if it belongs to you, and you have a creative vision, then go for it. If it means you’re going to be able to live with a big piece of furniture that you’ve inherited or that has sentimental value but which you don’t love then yes, make that furniture work for you and earn its place in your home! Obviously, I wouldn’t recommend going out and purchasing an antique piece for the purpose of drilling it but so often we’re told it’s sacrilege to perform any adjustments on furniture that you live with in your home – I’m quite certain your great-grandparents would prefer you to love their old dresser rather than simply lumping it. If you think it may have huge value to somebody else, by all means sell it or get it valued before performing any irreversible alterations.

When using Chalk Paint™, are there any rules to – and any tools/prep that we need to do?

Before you start painting with Chalk Paint™, check the surface you’re intending to paint onto. Most wood furniture won’t need any prep, but there are exceptions. First, if your piece is particularly dusty or grubby, it’s a good idea to give it a wipe down with a damp cloth. You can use soapy water but avoid any harsh chemicals. If you’re painting vintage furniture, check if it’s from the 1930s or 40s. Furniture from that period often has an oil-based finish that will create a stain to bleed through. The same can happen if you’re working with new, untreated pine. As Chalk Paint™ adheres to the surface, it will draw out any oil stains or tannins in wood, even if they aren’t visible to the eye.”

Where traditional paints require sanding before you paint furniture, my Chalk Paint™ will adhere to most surfaces without any sanding first. Chalk Paint™ has incredible sticking power so it really doesn’t need any surface prep in the vast majority of cases. You can even paint directly over hardware, if you wish. The only exception is if you’re dealing with a particularly shiny surface, such as laminate. A light sanding here will ensure the paint has a textured surface to adhere to.

As we enter the autumn/winter, what are your favourite colours of the moment?

This is almost an impossible question for me to answer. I go through phases of colour, but I do tend to always get drawn to my colour Antibes Green. I think I'm drawn to the colours that are deemed as difficult to use. So bright greens and bright reds speak to me!

And colour combinations that you’re especially enjoying?

Pink and orange is a colour combination I have always found so interesting. I love the way these two colours work together. They’re seen to be a bit of a daring combination, and certainly were in the mid-1960s when they were popular because they do slightly clash.


Do you have a favourite item that you have upcycled with paint?

I’m very, very fond of a desk I painted many years ago with my paint, Chalk Paint™ in Old Violet, Emperor’s Silk and Old White. I love the desk itself because it was just a cheap, 1930s desk which nobody wanted – I actually bought eight of them from St Anne’s college here in Oxford. I sold the rest, but I kept this one because I just adore the colour combination. I love it and it ended up being one of the first things I did for my book, Creating The French Look.


You’ve done collaborations with Charleston Farmhouse in the past. How far do the Bloomsbury Set – or any other figures from the past – inspire your work?

Charles Sloan, my father, was my first influence. He was very interested in colour and we talked a lot about it. We had a lot of colourful art by Paul Gauguin around my home when I was growing up and I very influenced by this work. I also find vernacular painting very inspiring, I love seeing the work of untrained artist.

I found out about the Bloomsbury Set and Charleston Farmhouse through old illustrative books which led me to 1930s English artists. I loved their spontaneous and free approach to painting. They pushed boundaries and took chances in an absolutely joyful way, seamlessly blending historical, cultural and modern references. I felt like Charleston was my special secret, it was such a cherished find.

And if anyone were thinking of putting their own stamp on a basic IKEA piece, is there one you think works especially well?

With Chalk Paint™ you can buy almost anything from Ikea and know you’re getting a functional piece of furniture that will fit the space you have perfectly – then paint it so it’s not only utilitarian but unique and beautiful!

Have you any festive projects on the go in the run up to Christmas?

I love making a focal point of the dining table. This is where the coming together of the family happens in my home. Creating a table runner and printing with objects from around the house is a favourite of mine – I love to create a new one every year, it’s one of my traditions. This is something younger family members can join in with too, for added festive cheer. Go for timeless colours such as Aubusson or Old White and use simple shapes, corks, matches, bottle tops, cinnamon sticks, walnut shells – anything you can think of really! I love abstract shapes rather than anything too traditional, but there are also woodblocks available to buy if you prefer. These work wonderfully well with my paint, Chalk Paint™ and can be reused year after year.

Annie Sloan, Colour and Paint Expert,; 01865 803 168

By Nancy Alsop
October 2022

Nancy Alsop


Nancy is a magpie for the best in design and culture.