How to upcycle thrift store vases into rustic, antique earthenware vases

One of the big trends right now in home décor is the use of rustic or antique-looking earthenware or terra cotta vases. Unfortunately, these vases can be very expensive. In this post, I share with you how I upcycled thrift store vases into rustic, antique earthenware vases.

My upcycled vases and tissue box cover
My upcycled vases (and tissue box cover)

Overview

You can find this trend all over social media. Some of my favorite rustic vases are from Potterybarn (here, here, and here) and McGee & Co. (here and here). These vases can go for as much as $500. I just can’t justify spending that much money on a vase. What if it breaks?!?! 

So I did some research online to get some ideas for how to get this look. Some people who did similar projects spray painted their pieces with primer first. Some didn’t. One person used a stone-like textured finish spray paint. Some people used baking soda in their paint to add texture. Others used plaster or joint compound. Many used dirt (yes, actual dirt from their backyard). Many involved sanding. Some sealed with a clear coat; some didn’t. There doesn’t seem to be one right way to achieve this look, but after reviewing the approaches and finished projects of others, I decided to go with the method below.

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Project preparation

The original vases and tissue box cover
The original vases (and tissue box cover)

For this project, I found two vases and a tissue cover at the local thrift store that I decided to try this finish out on. Because I didn’t spend more than $3 on any piece, and I used materials that I already had, this was a fairly low-stakes project. To start, I cleaned each piece thoroughly. I then decided to cover each piece in primer. I did not want the original colors of the pieces showing through my paint. I applied three thin coats of the Krylon Colormaster Paint + Primer in flat white. Next, I applied three thin layers of Krylon Fine Stone Textured Finish Spray Paint in Pebble. I like the texture and color this step added and thought that it would add to the aged look after sanding.

I then covered each piece in a different color of chalk paint. I decided to use the paint I already had on hand and blended some colors to achieve the final color combinations that I was looking for. Once the paint dried, I created a paste using paint, dirt, water, and plaster. I ended up using slightly different applications for each piece to get different finishes on each.

The large vase

For the large vase, the initial color I painted onto the vase (after spray painting the primer and textured paint as described above) was a combination of the Folk Art Home Décor Chalk paint in Castle and French Linen. Once that was dry, I created a paste with about equal parts of the same paint color, dirt, water, and Plaster of Paris. I wasn’t really measuring when I created the paste, but the final consistency was pretty thick. 

I used a popsicle stick to apply the paste using horizontal strokes and covered most of the vase with a pretty thick layer. I did leave some small areas uncovered and applied a thinner layer in some spots. I wanted it to look intentional, like the paste layer was part of the original vase when it was cast on the pottery wheel. 

The paste, once dried, was significantly lighter than I expected. The plaster significantly lightened the color of the paste layer. I then used sandpaper to smooth away some of the largest bumps/ridges in the paste. I didn’t sand too much, because I didn’t want to lose the texture created by the paste, but I did want some of the original paint color and even the stone-colored spray paint to show through in spots. I think this texture and color variation are what made this vase successful. I was very happy with how it turned out.

The small vase

For the smaller vase, I started with a combination of the Folk Art Home Décor Chalk paint in Parisian Grey and added a bit of the Castle Color. Once the base coat was applied, I created a paste like I described above. However, because of how light the paste turned out on the large vase, I was sure to add additional paint and slightly reduce the amount of plaster I added to the paste. The final product was still quite thick. This time, I applied the paste with a popsicle stick using vertical strokes.

Ultimately, I wasn’t as happy with how this looked as it dried. I think it was the result of the way I applied the paste using vertical strokes. It looked very artificial; not organic like I felt it looked on the larger vase. I sanded much (but not all) of the paste off and then decided to add an additional layer for more depth. I created a much runnier paste; it was mostly the Castle Chalk Paint with a bit of black acrylic paint mixed in because I felt like a darker layer would look good. I also added some dirt and water and only about a half a teaspoon of plaster. 

This paste was much more runny and I used a crumpled up paper towel to ‘sponge paint’ a layer onto the vase. I thought this final layer was successful at making the vase appear more natural and aged. I sanded this final layer to remove the largest bumps and was much happier with the final finish.

The tissue cover

For the tissue cover, I wanted a really dark, almost black color. I combined the Castle Chalk Paint with a large amount of black acrylic paint over the two layers of spray paint already applied. I initially followed the same steps as above and made a very dark paste using the same paint colors. The paste was also applied vertically using a popsicle stick. Just like with the small vase, I wasn’t satisfied with the look of the vase after the initial layer of paste was applied. It just looked too artificial and for some reason it was really lumpy and uneven. Perhaps I used too much plaster? Or too much dirt? I’m not entirely sure.

For this piece, I decided to add another paste layer using a circular application. For this paste, I used only black acrylic paint with the dirt, water, and small dash of plaster. Still using a popsicle stick, I applied the new layer of paste in a circular manner. In the end, this gave a much more organic result. I still sanded down the roughest parts, but was left with a much more interesting and more organic finished product.

Finishing

Once each piece was finished to my liking, I used a clear sealant spray paint to add protection. Without sealing, the pieces would leave a chalky residue on my hands after handling. This sealant did cause the colors of the pieces to darken a bit which I liked. However, I wish I had used a flat finish instead of the satin finish. The satin finish left the pieces with a little bit of shine which took away from the antiquing effect. Once sealed, they were ready to be placed around our home.

The finished pieces
The finished pieces

This was an incredibly messy project, but I am really happy with how these pieces turned out. And now I’m trying to think of other items on which I could apply these finishes. It was truly an excuse to play in the dirt and each piece looks completely different. I hope you feel inspired to try to upcycle thrift store vases into rustic, antique earthenware vases. There are many different approaches to this project, but hopefully this post helps you to decide whether these approaches will help you get the finished look you want.

Tools used

To complete this project, you will need the following items:

  1. Thrift store vase or other items (both ceramic and glass pieces will work for this project)
  2. Krylon Colormaster Paint + Primer in flat white (or whatever primer you have available)
  3. Krylon Fine Stone Textured Finish Spray Paint in Pebble
  4. Chalk paint, acrylic paint, or even house paint in your desired colors (I recommend having a few shades in similar color families as well as some black or dark brown paint)
    1. I used Folk Art Home Decor Chalk paint in Castle, Parisian Grey, and French Linen and standard black acrylic paint
  5. Paintbrushes
  6. Popsicle sticks
  7. Plaster of Paris
  8. Dirt
  9. Water
  10. Containers for mixing paints and making ‘pastes’ (I used paper bowls)
  11. Sandpaper
  12. Clear spray paint sealant

What do you think of this look? Do you own any of these pieces or would you try your hand at making them?

If you are looking for more DIY home décor inspiration, check out my posts on how to make candles or my post on making custom roman shades.

I am so glad you visited us at Jack and Bax. If you haven’t already done so, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter (sign up available either on the right sidebar or at the bottom of the page). And please follow me on Instagram and Facebook so that you don’t miss any of my upcoming projects!

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