We bought this vanity table for Spencer’s bedroom thinking we’d paint it white or red. But once we knew she was taking her room in a gypsyfab direction, silver was the only way to go. After a bit of research, we determined silver leaf would provide the best results and stay truest to the original spirit of the piece.
We were emboldened after reviewing a few online tutorials. “It was easy” one said. “Only took me a couple of hours,” said another. Our experience was slightly different. Not saying the people in the other tutorials sugarcoated the process exactly… more like they were incredibly patient glass half full types or maybe their project was leafing a plain box. Or maybe we’re just Vikings.
With no idea what we were getting ourselves into, we kicked things off by properly cleaning and lightly sanding. While it was drying, materials were gathered:
-roll of kraft paper (I always want to wrap gifts with this but can never figure out what tape to use so the packages don’t unwrap themselves.)
-wax paper (VERY IMPORTANT)
Pandora and Apple:
-Otis Redding station on iPhone
We began excitedly yet cautiously by covering an area on the back with spray adhesive. Following the directions on the can, we let it sit for a minute or so. It was supposed to stay tacky for up to 24 hours. Then, we were ready to apply the pieces of leaf.
Those really are the only steps. You can see how we were lured in by its seeming simplicity.
The leaf comes in these little 5 1/2″ x 5 1/2″ books with sheets that alternate with tissue paper. Spencer picked up the first piece gingerly and I watched as it disintegrated in her hands like a moth. “I don’t think I’m going to be able to help you with this” she said solemnly wiping the glittery spectacle off on her jeans. I nodded. We were 92 seconds into the project.
But we didn’t give up and after a bit of trial and error we ended up with this process:
-cut the wax paper to size and place it directly on top of the leaf
-gently use your finger to smooth and encourage them to cling
-carefully—like, hold your breath don’t wake the colicky baby carefully—lift them together
It was the only way we found to pull the leaf away from the tissue underneath with a minimum of carnage.
The wax paper saved us.
From there we placed leaf + wax paper leaf-side-down on the adhesive, once again running our finger gently over the wax paper corner-to-corner. This ensured the leaf was adhering and smoothed out any wrinkles. Then we just pulled the wax paper away and went over the leaf with a soft brush.
And we repeated. And since we were covering a detailed, carved piece, we repeated 7,940 times.
1. Know that it is absolutely inevitable that the leaf will tear. If you can successfully adhere more than one without tearing it, we bow to your superior skills, delicate touch and unending patience. It gets better the more you practice but tear it will.
2. We kept reading that, where the silver leaf tore, the material underneath shows through, but that’s ok because it’s cool. At first, we disagreed, intent on ending up with a solid finish. The longer we went, however, the more the antiqued finish grew on us.
3. Early on it will look like huge scary crap. Like you’re just applying aluminum foil with school glue. Maybe even ruining stuff. Soldier on. It starts to come together after the first few pieces.
4. It is a mess. Anyone without a workshop who does this inside is crazy.
It’s like having Rip Taylor as a houseguest.
Seriously do this someplace you don’t mind if it gets monumentally messy and where it’s not too hot (found out the hard way that the adhesive dries and loses its sticky qualities in the sunlight.) So make sure you’re set up in the shade. Or San Diego.
Some more advice:
5. If you need a smaller piece of leaf, cut it, leaf side up, AFTER it’s on the wax paper.
6. Overlap the pieces but not too much. The leaf will only stick to the bare areas with adhesive. You can end up with a lot of waste if you overlap too much.
7. We used a soft brush to help blend the edges but sometimes a fingertip worked better.
8. Actually use a soft brush. We started out with one of those cheapie sponge brushes and was removing too much of the silver. It went much better once we got a truly soft paintbrush to go over the edges.
9. We used spray adhesive on the big swaths but, since our piece had lots of nooks and crannies, we found that going back over with an adhesive pen worked well for the detailed areas.
10. And in those small detailed areas, sometimes we just picked up pieces of leaf from the dropcloth and rubbed crumbly leafbits on with our fingers.
3 coats of protective sealer (Michael’s)
5 coats of clear gloss enamel spray (Home Depot)
Clear cabinet knobs (Home Depot)
pretty black and white scrapbook paper as drawer liner (Michael’s)
We made two Home Depot trips, three to Michael’s, spent about $50 and invested 20 hours of labor.
And we’re really happy with the final result. What do you think?
Spencer says she is going to keep this forever. “Damn straight up you are” I tell her. I really can see it being a piece that transitions as she does. From this angle, wouldn’t it be a great desk in the middle of a room? Especially if she ends up in a painted lady in San Francisco as she currently dreams.
Toward the end of the project Jay asked me if I I’d known what I was getting into, if I’d have done it. At the time I said yes. A few days later I was thinking “aluminum spray paint all the way!” And now that it’s really over? I think I would do it again. Especially if I had a realistic tutorial like this one to show me how.