Learning how to apply gold leaf will open a world of opportunity to update your pad for next to nothing. So if you're looking for a quick and cheap DIY project, you really have struck gold – pun intended.
Gold leafing is a quick, affordable and fun way to add a gilded finish to your interiors, whether they are fresh out of a flatpack and a little basic or tired-looking and in need of a revamp.
Difficulty rating: easy (but a little bit messy)
Approximate cost: around £30/$40 for a small/medium project
Time: Set aside an hour or so along to your favourite box set!
How to apply gold leaf step-by-step
First things first, know your leaf!
Genuine gold leaf is sheets of real gold hammered down very thinly to make a leaf that can be used for gilding purposes. Imitation gold leaf is made from other metals (usually copper and zinc). You can also get foil sprayed with 24 carat gold.
We’d recommend using imitation gold leaf sheets (made up of copper and zinc; as copper is a good non-oxidising, non-corrosive agent it helps keep sheets shiny for years!) which we’ve tried and tested and which does an excellent (and affordable!) job. It’s also a little thicker and so it’s easier to work with, but it’s important to seal it (as we’ve recommended) to stop it from tarnishing.
You will need:
2. Metal size (opens in new tab) as you would use for painting with gold leaf
4. Three paint brushes - a basic set from Amazon is fine (opens in new tab)
5. Foam brush (optional) I used these Royal & Langnickel ones (opens in new tab)
7. An old rag or cloth for buffing
Step 1: Prepare surfaces for gold leaf
Make sure that the object you’re gold leafing or gilding is clean, dry and free from dust. If it’s wood, you may want to sand it lightly and then wash to ensure you have a smooth, clean surface. For anything else ensure any unwanted dirt has been removed. We’d recommend laying down some paper or a dust sheet as the excess gold leaf can be a little messy. If you’re only gold leafing one area then you will want to mark the area off with tape. I'm going to demonstrate using a terracotta plant pot.
Step 2: Paint on the metal size
Using a clean, dry paint brush paint on the metal size (opens in new tab) (or adhesive) in a thin layer onto the area that you wish to gold leaf, ensuring the entire area is covered. This needs to get tacky so you should leave this to dry until it’s sticky to the touch, follow the manufacturer's guidelines but typically you can leave this for between 30 minutes and 24 hours and it will remain tacky. A top tip is that though painted on white, the adhesive will turn clear when it’s ready.
Step 3: Apply the gold leaf
Now you’re ready to apply your gold leaf (opens in new tab). We’d recommend ensuring you wash your hands so they’re clean and dry before you begin. Before applying, make sure you’re applying the leaf the right way up, there is a shiny and duller side and you want to ensure the shiny side faces up so that you can see it. Each gold leaf sheet will have a translucent paper sheet ‘guilding sheet’ in between each, this is to aid application and stop them from sticking together.
When you’re ready to apply, pick up the gold leaf using the guilding sheet and place it onto the surface, trying to ensure it is flat. Using a finger or your foam brush (opens in new tab), smooth it down, adding a little pressure to ensure it connects with the surface. Carefully lift the sheet and the gold will transfer. Repeat this as necessary until the desired area is covered.
Step 4: Remove any excess
Once all of your gold leaf is applied use a clean, dry paintbrush to remove any excess gold leaf, using sweeping strokes back and forth and ensuring the whole area is brushed. If you have gaps (which is more likely for areas which aren’t level) that's totally fine.
If it’s still tacky, apply some more gold leaf but if you need to, reapply some metal size (per step 2) and patch up the gaps.
Step 5: Buff it up
Once your area is covered and you’re happy with it, use your cloth to give it a good buff, this will shine up the metal and remove any excess gold leaf. Once you’ve done this you can apply your lacquer (opens in new tab) (using a clean brush) to seal it, ensuring you let it dry per the manufactures instructions.
5 bougie gold leaf projects
Now you know the basics of applying gold leaf, here are five cool ways you can use it to give your home a bougie update – without the spend!
1. Gold leaf furniture
Got a piece of furniture you’ve grown tired of? Gold leafing is an excellent way to breathe new life into it! You could opt to gold leaf the entire piece, or just certain parts such as drawers ends or doors.
Just remember to sand it down first before following the tips above. Gold leafing is an excellent way to upcycle those thrift store finds in a minute!
2. Gold leaf your stairs
Want to provide a grand entrance for when people enter your home? Then gold leafing your stairs is a great way to do this! It’s as simple as following the steps above and here are some more top tips:
- It’s really important to sand down the stairs if you have existing paint or varnish, this is so that the size can take hold properly
- You can do this across the entirety of the staircase, or add a runner as both will look great. If you’re adding a runner then ideally you’d do this before any carpet is laid. If that isn’t possible then ensure you cover the runner to protect it from the materials you’re using
- We’d recommend only gold leafing the risers and instead, painting the treads. This is to avoid wear and tear and maximise the longevity of the leaf. For the treads, you should use a contrasting colour to the leaf and ensure you use appropriate paint for the surface, this will likely be egg shell which is designed for wood
3. Gold leaf photo frames
Not keen for a big project or want to try your hand at something small first? Then look no further, adding gold leaf to a photo frame is a quick, cheap and simple way to upcycle any old frame and make your walls more interesting! You can do this for any material, using a grained wood can look quite cool as it gives a grained effect with the wood and the gold leaf.
4. Gold leaf a fireplace
Fancy bringing those Downton Abbey vibes into your home? Gold leafing your fireplace is a good place to start.
The key thing to remember with this is that you need to do it at a time when your fire can be out of action for a few days because you want to ensure that the best doesn’t impact the leafing process. Ensure the area has totally cooled and then once the leafing has finished, waiting at least 24 hours to use the fire again. In addition, you’ll want to ensure you cover and protect your fire, well before you begin.
5. Gold leaf a plant pot
Last but not least, gold leafing a basic terracotta or other type of plant pot is a cute way to add a little glam to your garden.
It’s quick and simple, you can do the whole pot, or, for a more subtle look why not just leaf a section? To do this simply use tape to mark off the section you’d like to leaf, protecting the rest of the pot and follow the steps above!
Top tips when applying gold leaf
- Imitation gold leaf will tarnish so lacquer is needed unless needed you are going for an antiquated look
- Always use a gloss varnish and not a matt varnish to keep the glossy shine
- Gold leafing is a sticky business, if you’ve opted not to wear gloves then we’d recommend washing your hands intermittently throughout the process to remove any glue or build up