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Omaha Magazine

Reviving Heirlooms with a Touch of Gold: DIY

Feb 25, 2021 02:05PM ● By Sandy Matson
horse painting on white mantle

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Family heirlooms often stir up memories of our loved ones and happy bygone days. It just so happens, the distressed look of vintage accessories and furniture is a popular design trend right now. So, why not incorporate those heirlooms into your home decor?

For my DIY this issue, I made over two decor pieces from my childhood home that I inherited from my father. By using budget-friendly and personal touches, the items take on new life and blend seamlessly with my existing interior design.

The first of the two vintage pieces is a special door that came from an old, wooden colonnade in the farmhouse where I grew up. Colonnades are architectural features composed of a pedestal or partial wall that is topped with a column or post. They typically appear in pairs in the form of a room divider, bisecting a living room, for instance. Common in Craftsman bungalows, colonnades became more refined for storage with shelving and leaded glass doors. This door was given to me after my father retired from farming...a small remembrance to keep. By adding a bit of gold flake to the metal details of the door, I was able to give it new appeal. 

The other piece is a large, framed canvas painting of beautiful wild horses. This hung in my grandmother’s house for most of my childhood. Artwork featuring horses is still quite popular, so this more than 50-year-old painting remains in style. I employed the help of warm white paint, imitation gold leaf flakes, and sandpaper to enhance the picture frame and make it a bit more modern. I also added gold leaf to the actual painting to tie the two together.

Then, I placed both items on my faux fireplace mantel in my dressing room where I can see and enjoy them daily. Paired with my grandmother’s vintage candy dish—which was always filled with jelly beans for us kids for Sunday visits—these heirlooms bring my loved ones closer and fill me with nostalgia.   

 Mixing old and new decor creates a timeless look that is unique and personal. It’s also a great way to breathe new life into family pieces. Gilding is such a simple technique to update items. Just follow these steps.

Gilded Frame 

Supplies Needed:

• frame 

• adhesive or sizing for gold leaf (can also substitute Mod Podge)

• imitation gold leaf, available in flakes or thin sheets (I used flakes)

• chip brush (for metal flakes)

• fine-grit sandpaper

• paint (if desired)

• soft paintbrush

• Mod Podge sealant

Note: I found everything I needed at a craft store. 

Step 1 | Use painter’s tape to protect canvas. Wipe down frame with a damp cloth to remove any debris; let dry. If painting, rough up frame with sandpaper so paint will adhere well. Wipe down again with dry cloth.

Step 2 | Paint frame with two coats of warm, white paint, if desired. Let dry for at least 24 hours. Sand the frame again until it has the weathered look you want.

Step 3 | Apply the adhesive, starting on the inside of the frame, working outward, in areas to be gilded. After 30 minutes, begin applying gold metal flakes a section at a time, using your fingers or a chip brush to tamp down the metal leaf quickly. (The adhesive becomes tacky within minutes and once the flake is in place, it cannot be moved.) 

Step 4 | When applied, use a soft paintbrush to remove excess leaf. Use your fingers to smooth rough spots. Apply more gold flakes to fill any crevices. Again, use soft paintbrush to remove excess flakes. (I applied some gold leaf to the canvas as well to add a bit of shimmer under the horses.)

Step 5 | Seal the gold leaf by brushing on a thin topcoat of Mod Podge. This will prevent the gold from oxidizing and tarnishing, and also ensure the flakes stay in place.

For the vintage colonnade door, I added gold flakes to the metal surrounding the leaded glass doors and on the hinges. To give an an old-world appearance, I rubbed the gold flakes with my fingers for a slightly tarnished look. Lastly, I added a decorative knob for a vintage touch.

Gilding is easy, and once you begin you’ll likely start looking around your house for other things to spice up! Give it a try.  

This article first appeared in the March/April 2021 issue of Home Magazine. Click here to subscribe to the print edition.