DIY : From Mundane to Magnificent, DIY Distressing Can Make a New Mirror Look Like a Beautiful Antique

Why would we want to mess up a perfectly good, brand new piece of furniture?

For that matter, why did distressed or shabby chic style become so insanely popular?

Shabby chic, barn style, country decor— all these beat up, messed up styles come from a love of having an “original”. Those of us who love that worn out look usually have a desire to put our personal imprint or a unique look into our homes. Farm house, country french, industrial chic — the opposite of bright, shiny new all impart a warm, lived in look to a home.

Any home item lends itself to distressing. I’ve created the look with tables, chairs, bookcases, frames and more. But mirrors can be THE ideal piece to give this DIY technique a try if you’re a newbie. A mirror is, also, a simple decor touch that can transform a room. Distressing is an easy, inexpensive way to make your home look rich! Yes, the semi-destroyed can look pricey if done right.

It’s also cost-effective. A fabulous antique Louis Phillippe mirror has a pretty price tag. Even a basic mirror from your local home store can be costly. But, with distressing, any cheap, second-hand, or boring mirror can be converted into something gorgeous! All it takes is a few layers of chalk paint, easy sanding and, perhaps, a bit of gilding and dark wax.

“Don’t throw the past away
You might need it some rainy day
Dreams can come true again
When everything old is new again”

— Peter Allen & Carole Bayer Sager, song lyrics — Everything Old is New Again, 1974

Why do we love antique furniture?

Or, it’s distant cousin — antiqued and distressed furniture? What makes something so old, so precious? Three words — uniqueness, beauty, and scarcity.

Antiques Are Unique

The country of origin, age, era, condition, and historical significance all play a role in scarcity and value.

As a rule, a true antique is a one-of-a-kind. In the past, furniture was handmade, not mass produced or machine made. Each piece is different, unique. For example, done by hand, an artisan’s hand carving would be different on each piece. The grain of the wood, paint or stain and embellishments would vary from piece to piece. An antique cannot be “cookie-cutter”.

Whereas, specific pieces ordered from a catalog or, even, the most exclusive interiors store are supposed to look exactly alike. You expect it. You chose it because you like the exact way it looks. You don’t want it to vary from the picture or showroom.

Antiques are Valuable


Because they’re one-of-a-kind and old they can become valuable by reason of scarcity.

A good antique’s handmade status makes them a work of art. One reason, is the concept of time. It could take days, weeks or months to obtain the materials, hand cut sections, and put the pieces together using rudimentary (and also handmade) tools. That’s right — no electricity. If metal was used for hardware or joints, it would be hand forged.

If the piece has been maintained in good condition, this also increases value. Along with rarity, if the craftsman signed the piece this, too, can increase value. And if that person was a famous historical figure add a few more decimal places to that price tag. Artisans weren’t able to craft huge numbers of pieces by hand during their lifetime. Whereas, today, machines can produce an almost unlimited number and at a rapid pace. Not mentioning the new concept of 3D printing of items, large and small in scale.

Often, antiques have broken elements. If repairs are made using new materials or modern processes, it can decrease in value. When a fix is performed using original methods, or old, reclaimed materials, it can retain value. The best repair artists use old wood and metal. They incorporate historical furniture-making techniques like dovetail joints, tongue and groove, and old stains

Scratches and patina are expected when items are lovingly used. But the better the condition, the greater the value. There’s a beauty and historical significance to crafts of long-gone eras. There are endless categories of antique collectibles — Tiffany lamps, Duncan Phyfe drop leaf tables, silver Revere bowls made by THE Paul Revere, country french furniture, old Paris porcelain, Cristolfe silver flatware and more.

Antiques Retain their Value


Time marches on and pieces get older and fewer. Inevitably, more items get damaged or destroyed. Scarcity becomes increased by the effects of time.

An antique can be an investment which new pieces rarely are (excepting the afore-mentioned famed modern designers). Have you tried to sell expensive but new, jewelry or furniture? If you get half the price paid for it you’re lucky. The mark up on retail can rarely be recouped.

Antiques are Irreplaceable


A one-of-a-kind, or rare piece, is irreplaceable. You may find a similar piece. But it can never be an exact replica — when created by hand or using obsolete methods.

Over time, the bulk of an artisan’s pieces won’t survive — due to war, fire, insects, and rot. The older the era, the greater the chances are that fewer of a craftsman’s pieces will exist.

Antiques Have a Patina


The definition of patina, when it comes to antiques, has two meanings — both having to do with loveliness. The green color that copper or bronze develops with age is one definition of patina. There are easy DIY distressing technique to induce an artificial patina and create that gorgeous, greenish copper color. I’ll explain these in a later post.

The second patina is the fine etch-work of scratches, swirls, and sheen from polishing and daily wear and tear. Pearls, silver, and furniture all develop a patina from loving use and time. DIY distressing or “antiquing” a new piece can give it a semblance of the knocks, layers, and depth of color gathered by age and function. In other words — distressing mimics the unique beauty of an antique. Patina, the aging of use — is the “story” of the piece.

“Patina — the surface appearance of something grown especially beautiful with age or use.”

— Merriam Webster Dictionary

We can never know the exact history of a particular piece. Most valuable pieces were crafted before cameras were invented. If someone didn’t paint, draw or write about it, then its history can only be inferred. We can make an educated guess as to how a crystal goblet, a buffet, or a dining table was used. We can pinpoint the era and region from whence it came. And, we can know the tales and lore of that time. The rest of the romance comes from our imagination.

Go From Mundane to Magnificent: Distressing or Antiquing New Pieces

Back to the excellent reasons why distressing new objects enhances interior decor. We distress pieces to give the wear and depth of layers that an antique would naturally acquire through age and use. That worn and used look is desirable and interesting. It gives a piece complexity and variety. In other words — distressing mimics the unique beauty of an antique.

Reasons We Love The Distressed Look

Distressing helps the:

  • Inexpensive piece look expensive.
  • New piece incorporate your signature style or home decor
  • Mass produced piece appear unique.
  • Mismatched piece blend better into a room or interior design.
  • Ugly piece become a thing of beauty.
  • Unbecoming object acquire a distinctive flair that draws the eye to the piece.
  • Common object become a work of art.
  • Clumsy — you will never worry about knocking around or scratching up a distressed piece — the more dents, the better.
  • Non-artistic among us — these DIY mistakes are easily fixed. It’s difficult to mess up. Hey, it’s supposed to look worn out and imperfect!

AND BEST OF ALL: You can’t scratch or dent a distressed piece…It’s already been messed up, on purpose!

Distressing a New Mirror — an Easy Way to Transform a Room

In a post on my blog I show the ultimate distressing DIY challenge. The item I use is an inexpensive, nondescript, boring full-length mirror. Using simple, easy DIY distressing and antiquing techniques I transformed it into a thing of beauty. You can see the step-by-step instructions with images as well as the final result at

Final Thoughts on LIVING BETTER at Home

It’s easy to distress a new mirror to give it more character. You can take an inexpensive mirror and make it look more costly. Unlike the plain mirror you can see in the post on my blog distressing or antiquing, works best on a mirror whose frame has some molding or carving. The paint and wax can pick up the design and give it more depth and aging. I use some before and after photos of my bathroom mirrors. But any mirror, even the one I used with very little detailing can benefit from this simple technique. See it all at


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