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Midas Makeover

A $10 lamp goes from drab to drop-dead gorgeous thanks to a few leaves of gold and some finishing touches. By Kevin Austin.

A $10 lamp goes from drab to drop-dead gorgeous thanks to a few leaves of gold and some finishing touches. By Kevin Austin.

This time out, my goal was to find something as inexpensive as possible that was still worth the effort of a makeover — this $10 lamp I found at a local thrift store fit the bill perfectly.

What was done

Gilding is an old-world art practised by highly trained artisans, but don’t let that intimidate you. I had never done it before and was amazed at how easy it is. Imitation gold leaf (the real deal is just too expensive) and all the required tools are readily available at art supply stores. Before beginning, I held the bordered booklet of gold leaf sheets and cut it into four smaller sections, thus making the sheets easier to handle and apply. Here are the basic steps I followed.

• Ensure the lamp surface is clean and lightly sanded.

• Use a foam brush to paint on an even coat of gilder’s size, an adhesive that will make the sheets of gold leaf stick to the surface. Allow the size to cure for about an hour.

• Use a small, flat, soft bristle brush called a gilder’s tip to pick up a piece of leaf from the booklet. Avoid handling the leaf with your fingers, as it may tarnish and tear.

• Apply the sheet of leaf to the lamp’s surface and use the brush to gently smooth out any wrinkles, working from the centre out to the edges.

• Continue in that manner, overlapping the leaves as little as possible, until the surface is covered.

• When complete, gently rub or burnish the entire surface with a dry, soft bristle brush to ensure complete adhesion and to brush away excess leaves.

• Apply leaves to any bare spots resulting from burnishing or lack of sufficient sizing.

• To protect imitation gold leaf from tarnishing or oxidizing, apply a coat of protective sealer.

• The last, and optional step, is to rub antiquing glaze over the lamp with a foam brush to give the project that old-world look. Then apply a coat of satin sealer and allow to dry.

More makeover ideas
If you’re attempting a new technique like gilding, start small with a project like this lamp or a picture frame. Try leafing in other finishes such as aluminum or copper. If leafing isn’t your thing, spray paint is the quickest way to perk up a blah ceramic lamp. Try Krylon Fusion paint, which adheres well to ceramic. To give the lamp a more modern vibe, visit a glass supply place to get a custom acrylic base made instead of the Chinese-style one used here.

Styling ideas
This is the kind of lamp that can slide right into the gracious traditional setting seen here and no one will be the wiser to its humble provenance. The lamp’s chinoiserie shape pairs well with a bamboo side table, while the clean lines of the tuxedo-arm sofa offer a dash of modernity. The warm blush wall colour — Farrow & Ball’s Pink Ground — enhances the lamp’s golden glow.

 
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