We’ve long admired gold- and silver-leafed accents, and how they lend a touch of opulence to any space. But we’d never considered what it takes to cloak a piece in precious metal, and we’d never dreamed of attempting it on our own.
After stumbling upon an article on silver-leafing a chair, however, we were inspired. Three hours of work and $40 of supplies later, a tattered old mirror one staffer had owned since college was reborn as a gleaming gold statement piece. Here’s a step-by-step look at the transformation.
Preparing the surface and work area.
Some guides advise sanding your surface and applying a glossy base coat of oil-based primer as a first step; others simply recommend a quick swipe with some sandpaper. It’s up to you: For ultrasmooth results, primer is essential; if you’re looking for a more distressed effect, you can skip that step (which is what we did). After masking off the mirrored surface with brown paper and tape, we used fine-grit sandpaper to remove the top layer of wood finish, then dusted the surface with a clean, lint-free cloth to remove all debris. We then prepared a work area, covering the floors with a drop cloth (to catch errant flecks of gold leaf) and the work surface with cardboard (in case of drips).
Applying the adhesive.
In order to make the gold leaf adhere to the wood surface, you first need to apply a sticky substance called size (or sizing), available at craft stores or online. Using an artist’s craft brush, we applied a thin layer of this to every visible surface, taking care not to leave puddles or large bubbles. The adhesive goes on smooth and milky-white, then gradually becomes tacky and clear.
Applying the sheets of metal.
Once the sizing was sufficiently dry and sticky (about 15 to 30 minutes–touch it lightly with a finger to check), we began laying on the metal leaf. Because the sheets are so delicate and prone to finger marks, cotton gloves are a lifesaver, and make it easier to lift each sheet from the stack without damaging it. (Pieces are separated by sheets of paper, so this isn’t as hard as it sounds.) One by one, we placed sheets of gold leaf onto the tacky surface, overlapping them slightly to ensure complete coverage. Once affixed, we used a dry craft brush to press the leaf into crevices. (Note: If you’re working with a long, narrow surface, like this mirror, it may be helpful to cut the sheets of gold leaf into long strips, as shown below.)
Smoothing and polishing.
Once each surface was covered with leaf, we used a gloved hand to smooth out the wrinkles and remove excess metal, which flakes away from the non-sticky surfaces and areas of overlap. Using circular motions helped us to buff out the lines between sheets of gold. (No matter how much you buff, you’ll still be able to see faint lines, but with a little pressure they practically disappear.)
Filling in the gaps.
There were plenty of areas where the original wood surface showed through, both between sheets of leaf or in tiny crevices too deep for the leaf to have reached. Wherever wood was showing, we affixed narrow pieces torn from full sheets of metal, pressing them into the surface with the dry brush and a gloved finger, then buffing the surface to reduce visible seams.
Finishing it with a coat of sealer.
Once all surfaces are covered, we dusted off all loose metal fragments with a soft brush, then applied a layer of sealer (available at craft stores) to all gilded surfaces, taking care not to leave puddles or thick streaks.
Admiring our own handiwork.
Once the sealing agent was fully set (about an hour–it dries smooth and clear), the finished piece was ready for its closeup–and a cameo in a Joss & Main photo shoot.
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