Custom framing can be really expensive. Unless you’re framing something special, like your diploma, skip the added expense and give a thrift store frame a makeover instead!
It’s an easy and economical way to decorate your walls–plus it keeps old frames from ending up in the landfill.
It’s better to pick up interesting, solidly-made frames when you find them for a good price, rather than waiting until you have a specific piece of art that you want to frame. With thrift stores and yard sales, you never know when you’ll find a great bargain!
Accept that you’ll probably have a closet full of stuff that you’ll “find a use for someday.”
I like very ornate frames with lots of texture. However, you might prefer a sleek, modern style or something in-between. No matter what the frame looks like, make sure that the mitered joints are solid and the glass is in one piece.
Frames made of solid wood are the easiest to revamp, but you can also get good results with metal. Avoid frames made of plastic, MDF, and other cheap man-made materials.
You’ll need to take any backing off of the frame, as well as picture wire (if there is any). Most frames include a backer board and a mat–make sure you keep those!
Even if you decide to get a custom mat cut later, or even do a reverse mat technique with decorative paper or fabric, it’s a good idea to hang onto the original to use as a template.
If the frame has glass, be very careful when lifting it out. You can easily cut your fingers on the edges, just like a paper cut–but much nastier! Clean the glass with spray cleaner and set it aside someplace safe.
Then clean the frame itself with a microfiber cloth and a little bit of soapy water. The idea is to remove any kind of residue before you apply a new finish.
Chalk Paint: A staple among the upcycling community, chalk paint is great because you don’t need to prime a piece before you paint it. If you want to do a distressed finish, make sure the base is a dark color (either a dark stain or painted black/brown) before applying a lighter color of chalk paint.
Let the paint completely dry, then scuff sandpaper over the edges. It’s smart to seal chalk paint with paste wax for a smooth, long-lasting finish.
Gilder’s Wax: This is my all-time favorite crafting secret. Gilder’s wax is a paste wax mixed with mica powder. When you rub a tiny little bit of this stuff over a surface, you get an instant metallic makeover! The only downside is that you need a matte basecoat first.
Silver wax does best on black, while gold looks good on black, brown, or dark red. For a really unique style, paint the frame turquoise blue and then rub it with copper gilder’s wax. It’ll look like verdigris!
High Gloss Spray Paint: If you like a modern, minimalist style with a pop art sense of humor, then try this DIY trick. Get an older frame–the more ornate, the better–and use a high gloss spray paint in a bold hue.
Think hot pink or lipstick red. When you’re spraying, be sure to hold the can around 12 inches above the surface and move in arcs to prevent the paint from running or puddling.
Gold Leaf: Personally, I prefer gilder’s wax over gold leaf. But if you want a really luxe metallic finish (and you have steady hands plus infinite patience) then go for the gold.
You’ll need to sand the frame, apply a base coat and a layer of special adhesive called “size,” and then carefully apply thin sheets of leaf over the entire surface.
The results can be spectacular–just make sure you turn off your ceiling fan before you get started! Even a small breeze can blow the gossamer-thin sheets of metal away.