Thursday, October 6, 2011

DIY project: green gilded coffee table

As I sit here at Starbucks, preparing to write this blog entry, I just have to note that a young couple is chatting with their photographer at the table next to me, about the very early planning stages of their wedding. It is, strangely, giving me a bit of an anxiety attack; it’s a combination of wanting to jump in, being glad we’re done with all that, while also missing it quite a lot. People told me it would be hard to stop planning after the wedding, and that I’d go into a kind of withdrawl. There’s been no time for withdrawl, and I count myself among one of the few brides who hasn’t considered becoming a planner since her own wedding. But somehow, listening to this young couple here, I simultaneously want to run away, spew a bunch of advice, and somehow take over their wedding.

No matter; I will shake this love/hate/envy/repulsion vibe, and tell you about our apartment.

So, as you may already have read, we are looking for a new apartment. We had planned to stay in our current abode until we were at a place where we could put money down on a house—something I didn’t care that much about, but Brian really wants a yard and garage, and if he’s willing to do the yard work, I’m not going to complain…I’d be one step closer to the border collie I dream about. But due to major water damage that has been quietly and insidiously eating away at the floor of our apartment, we’ve had to start looking for another place. Aside from the tedious and mind-numbing task of apartment searching, this hiccup hasn’t really slowed down our plan to build a nest: all of our planned activities are meant to update and improve the items in the apartment. So, despite beginning to pack up boxes of our stuff, we have pressed onwards with our projects.

Our coffee table is one of those projects, and the final result is something we are super proud of, and are enjoying quite a lot. Months back, I rescued this beaten-up, stained, nasty-looking coffee table from beside a garbage bin. Brian looked at me like I was a little crazy when I practically jumped up and down with joy, then made him carry it upstairs. I left Brian to wipe away the spider webs, and we used it, as is, for the summer months of wedding planning. This delay was a good thing for two reasons: first, because we were planning a crazy wedding and attempting to refinish a table in the middle of that would have meant somebody got murdered; secondly, it gave me time to really think about what I wanted it to look like. I scanned numerous crafty sites, looking for a killer idea, and somewhere out there on the internet, I spied a tutorial on using aluminum foil to faux-gild your furniture. If I ever find the tutorial again, I will give credit where due and post the link…but in truth, I only read it the once, and then didn’t really follow the instructions anyway, surprise surprise. But my advice for the DIY’ers out there is to give yourself some time: don’t rush into a project before you’re certain of what you want to do. Not following this rule can result in a botched project that may cost you a treasure.

We started off by sanding and priming the table. Primer and paint were the only expenses for this table, as all our other materials were already available around the house, and even then, we had a gift card from our wedding that we used to buy these items. The trick to priming and painting: be sure to let the coats dry. I think we rushed ours, but follow the directions on the back of the can—and if the can doesn’t tell you, the rule of thumb is three days for water-based coats, seven days for oil-based coats. Typically primer (versus paint) needs much less time, but always read to be sure. Paints do something called ‘off-gassing’, and if you rush, you will pull off layers of paint. We rushed on this table, and we ended up having to do three coats instead of two.

We painted the entire table green, even painting the areas that would eventually be gilded. Why? Because if you miss a tiny spot that ends up showing despite the gilding, it will drive you nuts. You will hate it. You will pick at it. It will haunt you until you either throw out the table, or end up using a three-hair paintbrush trying to get enough paint in there without painting over the gilding work. Trust me: use up a little extra paint and just paint the whole darn table.

Once we got our coats of green onto the table, we began the gilding process. 
For this, you will need:
-Acrylic glaze or gloss medium (we used gloss medium because I have a vat of it left over from a painting I did)
-Soft-bristled brushes—the Wallacks Student brushes are cheap yet very soft. Flat-headed ones are best.
-A roll of aluminum foil
-A lot of time. Rent some movies, this will take a while.

1) Rip up some foil into pieces that are random shapes and sizes.
Bits of crinkled foil.
2) Crinkle them up, then flatten them out. It’s up to you how crinkled you want them.
3) Spread a generous coat of glaze onto a small section of the gilding area. Press the foil into the area, then use your finger to rub the foil ‘flat’. (It will never really flatten out, staying crinkly.) We put the dull side facing out, because it was plenty shiny enough.
4) Used your brush to coat over the top with more glaze, generously yet not too thick.
5) Apply another piece, overlapping slightly. Tear, bend, fold, or crinkle the foil to make it fit around corners or into the space you’ve planned out. Be sure to have some overlap on every piece; it’ll make the look much nicer.
6) Keep doing this until you run out of foil, space, or patience. It took us two evenings to finish this part.

Let the glaze dry three days. After three days, you can either use a water-based varathane to seal the table, orrrr try this INTERMEDIATE skill, but it’s in all-caps and I warn you: if you don’t have a light hand, this can end up making things ugly…

7) Put some black acrylic paint on a plate. Find a stiff, nasty, worn-out old paintbrush. The beige-bristled ones from the Dollarama are great for this.
8) Put a TINY amount of paint on the tips of the bristles, then wipe most of it off on the plate.
9) When there is almost no paint left on the bristles at all, drag them lightly and swiftly over the foil. I found it looked best to apply at least a quick swish all over, then concentrate a few extra swishes in random spots.
10) Let it dry three days, then apply your varnish/varathane. (Hint: water-based varathane is trickier to find but is way less smelly, so it’s great for indoor projects.)
BONUS: I added something called ‘interference green’, a transparent metallic green paint that I bought years back just because it was pretty. I dry brushed that in amongst the black paint, and it added to the antiqued look.

And voila! You have a lovely table/chair/bench/ottoman/whatever else you want to refinish! It’s far more interesting than just stripping and varnishing the wood…though you do have to be ready to paint over your treasured item. Another tip for you: you will get grief from people for painting solid wood; don’t let it bother you. If the piece was so worn out, ugly, or outdated that it was going to end up in a landfill, there is no value in leaving it wood-coloured! This way, you’ve made the piece something beautiful for you to love, and when it comes time for the next home to love it, they’ll be much less worried about painting it again, themselves. (Also important to note: fake wood laminate furniture requires special primer. Email me if you want some specific tips.)

The paint and primer cost about $20.00 for this table, with oodles left over for the rest of the house. So, for the cost of a Swedish coffee table made of chip board that will always lean to the left just a bit, we saved a table from the landfill and made ourselves a showstopping treasure for our living room. The green matches perfectly the green of our wedding tablecloths, too…which is awesome, because we kept a couple and are making curtains for the room. It’s so much fun, Doing It Yourself, and definitely eco-economical!

As I complete this entry, feeling very satisfied with our upcycle and proud of our progress, the wedding-planning couple beside me has been drowned out by a new couple who are signing a mortgage at the next closest table. Between both happy couples, I’m feeling a little jealous of the Joneses, I gotta say. In an hour, I’m picking Brian up from his class, though; maybe I’ll throw on some pearls and buy a Good Housekeeping so we can lay in bed and pretend we have a kitchen to renovate. Sigh. Wish us luck on the apartment search!

By request: a close up shot added here:


  1. Looks super awesome! I saw a version of this once where someone used those little foil wrappers from Quality Street chocolates. Definitely less subtle, but still need.

    Can you post a close-up of the foil so I can see the swirlies you did? Thanks!

  2. Just discovered your blog via Lara Wellman. I was scrolling down and saw....A PUG!! We have a pug too. I always delight in meeting fellow pug owners :) I look forward to reading about your newlywed adventures

  3. Alidoesit: close up posted, just for you!

    Misty Pratt: we LOVE pugs and we have the same 'pug fan club' mentality!!! We're happy to have you follow our blog, and we'll be sure to get pics of Mr Darcy in there whenever we can. :)