Christen Bensten discovered chalk paint only last year, after doing a lot of experimenting with milk paint. She switched to Annie Sloan Chalk Paint, a British line of water-based paints that require no priming, sanding or removing of old paint. She buys it at Stifel & Capra in Falls Church ($35.95 per quart).

Milk paints, with and without milk, have been used for centuries to copy the look of antique furniture finishes. Bensten says she made the switch from milk paint primarily because of the time factor. “Milk paint is a powder-based product that you mix yourself, adding water and adhesive,” Bensten explains. “It’s a more complicated prep process; you need to sand everything beforehand. It just used to take me much more time to complete something.”

Chalk paint is sometimes called “miracle in a can.” Bensten says, “You can apply chalk paint over anything. There is absolutely no preparation. The product dries to a matte, chalky finish and gives a real French look with the colors of gray, beige and pale blue.”

She has used it on wood furniture, metal lamps, wrought-iron candleholders and outdoor benches.

Her list of basic supplies from Annie Sloan: chalk paint, clear wax and dark wax; basic paintbrushes; oval wax brushes; steel wool in grades 3 and 4; sandpaper in 100 grade.

An old chest Christen Bensten painted in a blue Union Jack theme residesin her son Reid’s bedroom. (Katherine Frey/THE WASHINGTON POST)
Bensten’s technique

1. Choose a base coat. Christen’s usual go-to choices are Old White or Cream. Use a two-inch brush. Apply lightly. “I coat the whole piece, but don’t worry about total coverage. It’s okay if a bit of wood still shows,” Bensten says. Let dry 24 hours.

2. Apply one thick coat of another color. She prefers French Linen or Paris Gray. Wait 24 hours and apply a second coat. The wood should be totally covered.

3. Brush on a coat of Annie Sloan Clear Wax using a special wax brush. The piece will get darker and smoother, taking on a new look. Let dry at least 30 minutes. Then using sandpaper and Grade 3 steel wool, rub and distress it until it has an aged, worn look. Concentrate on corners, edges and legs, especially working over keyholes, finials, handles and carvings.

4. Brush on Annie Sloan Dark Wax. This wax gives a smooth, satin finish and highlights details. “You must be careful not to use too much of this, as the piece can get very muddy or look sloppy,” Bensten says. Then use Grade 1 steel wool as the last step, to take off excess wax until you get the look you want. At the end, Bensten says, “your piece should look like it’s old and special and one-of-a-kind, like you bought it at a Paris flea market.”

Jura Koncius