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Graphic designer Sara Prebble takes us through the keyhole at her Hersham home

PUBLISHED: 17:44 04 June 2013 | UPDATED: 17:44 04 June 2013

Stamp patterned pillows

Stamp patterned pillows


Graphic designer Sara Prebble has used her flair for painting to restore furniture and gives unloved chairs, tables and chests a new lease of life. The artist showed Janet Donin around her Hersham home

When did you become interested in painting furniture?

I come from Cumbria and my mother painted furniture, having learned from the doyen of the craft, Jocasta Innes. So I was interested from a very early age. I actually graduated from uni as a graphic designer and had a lovely job in packaging design, which took me all over the world. But when I had my daughter Bea, 18 months ago, I decided to make painted furniture my business.

Can you remember the first piece you painted?

It was a huge kitchen dresser that I bought for my first home. It was a labour of love but the result was brilliant, so I went on to furnish the rest of the house in the same way. Many of the pieces have travelled with me and I still have some today. And if I get bored with the colour, I just change it.

What is it that attracts you to painting furniture?

I love the whole idea of recycling, or upcycling as it’s now called, because it’s environmentally friendly and, to me, older pieces of furniture are so much more interesting than modern, square designs.

Where do you find your pieces?

I go to antique fairs and charity shops or buy from some of the many new websites that specialise in recycling. Friends and family give me pieces, too, and clients often want their own furniture restored and painted.

What do you look for when buying?

My choice is governed by price, which usually means the piece needs a lot of work but I quite like that. Interesting features are important like mouldings, carvings or turned legs.

Tell us about your style of painting?

I use the distressing technique. This simply means that the top coat of paint is rubbed off in places revealing a darker undercoat to give it a new look to suit the current style of French shabby chic and the Gustavian distressed look. I also paint furniture for children’s rooms.

So can you talk us through the distressing technique…

I start by thoroughly cleaning the piece, then I sand off the old varnish to get an even tone, which is the boring but essential part of the job. A dark matt emulsion base coat or two goes on next, which will be revealed in the finished effect. Then I’ll apply candle wax to highlight interesting features, as this resists the top coat of paint. I usually apply three or four topcoats in a pale satin finish paint, rubbing down and rewaxing between each application. Finally, I coat with Briwax in a black Jacobean colour. It sounds horrific but when it’s dry and wiped down with white sprit the colour is removed and the topcoat looks magically aged.

What has been the most challenging commission so far?

A mahogany round table and eight chairs, which I had to work on in the client’s house. As you can imagine, there were loads of surfaces so it took ages but the furniture had lovely features that I could pick out in the distressing. It was quite an accomplishment!

Do you have any other design strings to your bow?

I have a range of greetings cards and children related stationery, which I designed a couple of years ago for my company Squashed Rainbows. The cards are quite simple but they are also environmentally friendly as the envelopes are recycled paper and the packaging biodegradable. I also make paper garlands, fabric bunting and a range of fun cushions.

What’s the best thing about the job?

I get to be creative every day, which is fun, relaxing and invigorating all at the same time.

And your favourite thing about living in Surrey?

I lived in nine homes before moving to Hersham when we had our daughter. I love this area; it’s leafy and friendly and the perfect location for exploring lots of new places.

• For more information about Sara Prebble Design, pay a visit to her website at

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