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Adding Shimmer & Shine To My Cabinet Doors With Gold Leaf

Do y’all see that smile on my face?  It’s real. Nothing fake about it. But it’s not because I figured out my paint problems. It’s because for the entire day yesterday, I didn’t even give paint a thought. I gave my brain (and my body) a rest, and I did something crafty and fun instead.

I’ve wanted to try my hand at gold leafing for quite some time now, but I just never had a project that I wanted/needed to use it on until now.  Let’s revisit (for the 100th time) the kitchen that has inspired my own color choice and a few design choices for my kitchen.

cameron diaz kitchen from elle decorCameron Diaz’s Manhattan apartment kitchen, designed by Kelly Wearstler, featured in Elle Decor

See how each cabinet door has that small gold/brass detail around the recessed panels? Well, of course I wanted that on my cabinets as well.  The description of that kitchen in Elle Decor says that the cabinets are brass-trimmed.  Obviously that’s something that was completely custom, and probably cost a small fortune.

Needless to say, custom brass trimming for my stock Home Depot cabinets was out of the question, but I knew that with all of the metal finish products available in craft and home improvement stores, I’d be able to create a look very similar to that on my own cabinets.  So I grabbed one of my antiqued brass sconces and headed to Michael’s to see what they had.

Of all of the metallic products available (spray paint, craft paint, liquid gilding, Rub ‘N Buff, metal leaf, etc.) the only thing I could find that was even close to the right color was gold leaf.  Everything else was too orange, or too red, or too dull, or too fake shimmery/glittery but not quite metallic.I started on one of the four doors that will have glass added since I thought those would be easier to work with and I needed to get a feel for working with metal leaf since this was my first time to try it.  I used wide painters tape and taped off the little routed detail that I wanted to gold leaf.

Gold leaf detail on kitchen cabinet doors - 1

Then I used a small craft brush to add the liquid adhesive, let it dry until it was sticky, and then pressed the gold leaf onto it with a larger, stiffer craft brush.  Then I removed the tape to see what I had.I learned three valuable lessons on the first door.

1.  I didn’t use enough adhesive the first time and I was left with small voids on the door where gold leaf wouldn’t adhere.  So on the following doors, I brushed on two coats of adhesive instead of just one.

2.  I didn’t burnish the gold leaf down enough with the brush, so on the rest of the doors, I initially pressed the leaf gently onto the adhesive to be sure that everything was stuck down good, and then once all the areas were covered I proceeded to burnish it down with the brush using quite a bit more force in random circular motions.  I wasn’t gentle with it at all, and this really got the gold leaf into all of the nooks and crannies, and removed the excess.

Gold leaf detail on kitchen cabinet doors - 2

3.  I didn’t remove the gold leaf from the painters tape, so some of it wrapped around from the tape onto the cabinet door.  When I removed the tape, it tore the leaf and left jagged edges rather than crisp, clean, precise edges.  So on the rest of the doors, I used 220-grit sandpaper to sand the gold leaf off of the painters tape and then did one more round of burnishing the leaf with the brush before removing the tape.  This left a sharp, clean edge on the gold leaf detail on the door.

Gold leaf detail on kitchen cabinet doors - 3

Once I did my second soon-to-be-glass-front door and had great results (after learning from my mistakes with the first one), I moved on to a regular cabinet door.  I knew this would be a bit more difficult, but it wasn’t really that much more difficult.  It just required a bit more taping.

Gold leaf detail on kitchen cabinet doors - 4

But adding the gold leaf was just as easy as on the other doors.

Gold leaf detail on kitchen cabinet doors - 6

And once the gold leaf was on and burnished down really well, I used the sandpaper on the painters tape around the outside frame just like on the other doors, but I also used a razor blade around the tape on the inside panel.

Here are three of the finished doors…

Gold leaf detail on kitchen cabinet doors - 7

I just love that shimmery detail!  And I love even more that it didn’t cost me a fortune.  I purchased three packages of gold leaf, each with 25 sheets in it.  Each package was around $10, but then I used a “15% off total purchase” coupon.  At this point, I have no idea if three packages will be enough to do all of the doors.  I think it’ll be close, so there’s a chance I’ll need one more package.

And here’s a look at the doors with one of the sconces (sans shade, which you can see sitting inside the cabinet, still wrapped in plastic, at the top left of the picture)…

Gold leaf detail on kitchen cabinet doors - 8

You can see that the sconce has more of a brown tone to it, so once all of the doors are finished, I might test out toning the gold leaf down a bit with some sort of stain or dark wax.  But I’ll make that decision once I get them all finished, installed, and get the sconces installed.  If any of you have experience with gold leaf, and know of a good method for aging/antiquing/toning down the shimmer, I’d love for you to share!  I’m a little nervous at the thought of putting anything on top of it, but if I get everything installed and feel like it needs to be toned down, I’ll certainly do it.

I really enjoyed the process. It’s kind of tedious (that metal leaf is super thin, and even breathing directly in the direction of the gold leaf will send it flying!), but it’s easy. It’s one of those projects that you can sit and do for hours if you just need to turn your brain off, turn on some music, and just relax.  It’s a good “clear your head” kind of project, which is just what I needed yesterday.

Now I’m ready to jump back in and tackle that paint issue.

UPDATE:  Here are two close up shots of the gold leaf detail.  This first picture shows the very first door that I attempted, where I made the three mistakes mentioned above (not enough adhesive, not enough burnishing, and taking the tape off without removing the gold leaf from it first).  You can see how it left a jagged edge on the gold leaf.

Gold leaf detail on kitchen cabinet doors - 9

And then here’s the third door I did after I learned how to get the smooth edges (double the adhesive, more burnishing, and sanding the gold leaf off of the tape before removing).

Gold leaf detail on kitchen cabinet doors - 10

It’s still not perfect.  I think gold leaf is just one of those things that only the pros can do perfectly.  But you can see that the edges are much cleaner and more defined on the second picture.



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  1. I’m so happy that you found a way to get a mental break from the paint problems. The gold leaf looks beautiful!

  2. Oh my Gawsh!!!! Isn’t that the purtiest thing ever?!!! Sounds like you had a lot of fun once you mastered it. I have yet to utilize metal leaf for it’s intended purpose as you have. I have some- but it’s intended use for polymer clay and crackling techniques. 😀 compleeeeetly different use. As for aging- if it’s “true” metallic couldn’t you use a patina wash? My husband uses something called Modern Masters paint (he does miniature war gaming) 😉 It was a reactive paint- and then you spray something on it to activate the patina. But I think you are aiming for aging and changing the sheen, not the verdigris patina. Hmmm…I know one time I painted something with the mirror chrome finish spray paint and then I clear coated it and it turned to a galvanized silver. It was so cool that I just went with it… (it was just jewelry charms). Again that was paint, not an actual “metallic leaf”. I would look into glazing- that’s the only thing I can think of that would age it without a patina affect and still possibly allow it to be sealed.

    Glad you had fun!!! The leafing looks gorgeous!

  3. Kristi–I wasn’t too keen on your inspiration look but I LOVE yours. It makes the doors look so high end. Very nice and I am glad you got to fo something fun instead of paint. They always say to walk away from a problem and when you come back you’ll see it differently. Now your painting will be a breeze.

  4. My dearest Kristi….is there anything you do NOT know how to do? By the end of this project you need to write a book…a DIY book for weaklings like me who would never have “thunk” of doing something like this. OMGosh almighty…these are stupendously gorgeous! Way to go Kristi!
    Love them

  5. I would leave the gold leafing as it and not patina it. It looks stunning on the doors and makes them look more high end and elegant. I would not even worry about them not matching the scone. Afterall, you are not having everything matchy, matchy. They are beautiful, nice job!

  6. I was also thinking for any one wanting to paint their cabinets a dark navy blue, how beautiful silver leafing would look on it with brush nickel hardware. You have inspired our creative juices to flow.

    1. Love the idea with navy and silver!

      Kristi, you continue to amaze as always, definitely not something I would have ever thought of, but absolutely beautiful. I can’t wait to see it all come together.

  7. Why not apply some of that gold leafing (or another product that produces the same color and sheen) to the sconce? I love the doors and rather than messing with them try my suggestion.

  8. I love the doors!!
    I have not used gold leaf on wood, but I have used it on tons of candles (way back in the 90s!!). I believe that unless you purchased genuine gold leaf, the gold color will tarnish over time. I am assuming that you used composition leafing. If that is the case, you’ll probably want to control the bright gold color to make sure it does not change over time. To do this you have to seal it now while it is new and bright, then you can use stain or artist acrylics or oils over the sealed surface to tone down the gold, then seal again to protect the overlay. This process will make sure the original gold leaf color does not tarnish under your modifications and leave you with a dingy color change over time anyway. You can seal composition leafing with any water or oil based poly or varnish (I used to like an aerosol ceramic sealer that came in a satin finish, but I can’t remember the brand). Good luck!
    I love reading your posts. Keep inspiring!

  9. I have never used gold leaf but I absolutely LOVE the look of your cabinets. They are beautiful and I wouldn’t change a thing!

  10. Kristi, I love the execution and your diligence and perfectionism, if that’s a word… Is there any way you could post a close up look at one of the finished doors? Maybe on facebook or something. I may have to just run to Michaels at lunch, but I’d love to see the detail you worked so hard to get with the sanding…

  11. I love the gold leaf just as it is. I wouldn’t try to match the sconces exactly; let the gold speak for itself! I’m sure you know that different tones of the same hue are more interesting than having everything the same. It looks really rich against the green and will be the ‘jewelry’ in the room.

    Glad you had a break from the paint! Have you tried just sanding with steel wool on the soffit to take down the shine?

      1. I would wait until the lights are on in the sconces and see what it looks like then..it may make the sconces look lighter…the gold leaf looks so elegant on the green cabinet doors.love it..

  12. Do you put a clear coat over the gold leafing so it won’t scratch off? How will hold up with wear?

  13. it should just oxidize over time on it’s own, it is most likely real metal leaf, probably brass, so it should just oxidize with time

  14. NOOOOO!!! No toning down the pretty!!! It’s so pretty! Who says it has to be exactly the same as the sconces anyway?

    I’m glad you found something beautiful to do to clear your mind. Especially something that turned out this beautiful!

  15. Kristi, don’t mess with perfection! The look as is … truly beautiful…lol…don’t mess with it – just find out how to seal it to so it retains its glory and is cleanable!

  16. Kristi, i like the two different gold/brass colors as they are. Isn’t there a decorating principal that you add interest when you don’t always match perfectly? Actually, that is what led me to you in the first place, i was looking for guidance to mix metal finishes and you had a good discussion. I just scrolled back up and to me they relate beautifully. The barely noticeable difference may just give a timelessness to your kitchen. Caveat: I am not seeing it in person and you are entitled to match in your own home and you have training that I do not!

  17. Kristi,
    I love the gold banding–I didn’t even notice it on the original cabinets until you pointed it out. I do have experience with gilding–I gilded wood curtain rod finials, then I wiped them down with a burnt umber antiquing glaze which toned the gold down perfectly and then clear coated with a poly spray. I took a pic with my I-pad but can’t figure out how to attach it here. I did this probably 12 years ago and they look exactly the same as the day I did them. You definitely do have to seal the gilding even if you don’t tone down the gold or it wil tarnish (and not in a good looking way!) Have fun with it and good luck with the renewed good energy gained from this project in finishing the painting of the cabinets!

  18. I just knew that you wouldn’t be able to sit still with wine and chocolate! I, like one of the above posters, had not noticed the gold on the inspiration cabinets. I love it on your cabinets. The prefect touch.

  19. It looks so elegant. While I don’t think you need to do anything other than seal it, if you truly want to tone it down, do so with a burnt umber glaze. You can find it in those small bottles of Americana Deco Art paints. It will still need to be sealed when you seal your cabinets. So happy you found some relief from your frustration.

  20. When I read the title of your post,I thought, whaaaaaa???? Don’t ruin a good thing! Boy was I wrong!!!!!!!! It’s gorgeous!!!! I didn’t even notice it on your inspiration photo!!!!

  21. From now on, Kristi you must have this mantra in your head: “perfect is the enemy of good”. The sconces can compliment the gold on the cabinets; a perfect match is not necessary or even a good thing.
    Also, save as much of the gold leaf as possible. You may need it to fill in. I use a small baby food jar ( buy some veggie food for the cat and save the jar). I am now one of the many converts to the green color you chose. It is just stunning. And your millwork is top notch.

  22. Absolutely stunning! Love the color combination. I would not change a thing! You have inspired me to try this on a piece of furniture. You nailed this one (no pun intended). 🙂

  23. I wonder what it would look like if you gold-leafed the inside of the glass cabinets? Too much??? It might give you that look that the inspiration backsplash has or I guess it could look gaudy.

    Anyway,love the look you have going!

  24. That looks fabulous. Are you still using subway tile back splash? What I like about your design is that there are still light areas- like the floor. And the back splash? Cameron’s kitchen is somewhat foreboding to me. Your floor is perfect. The cabinets will really shine- in the good way. PS. Yesterday’ s post was great. I had to laugh at your descriptions of the unhelpful clerk and the nosey customer. We’ve all been there! Glad you found your way–you always do!

  25. They look great! Your kitchen is going to be amazing when it’s done. I can hardly wait to see it and it’s not even mine. Michael’s will honor competitors coupons and you can use them all at one time. This week JoAnn’s has a 30% off, Hobby Lobby has a 40% off and Michael’s has a 40% off. If you buy 3 packages of gold leaf you can use on coupon per package and save even more. You can print the coupons from the company’s website or if you have a smart phone each of them has an app and they’ll scan the coupon right from your phone. I’m all about saving money. Even if that means I have to visit Michael’s every day for several days with my coupons to get what I need. Or, take a friend, give them cash and some coupons. 🙂

  26. I knew when I got my email today that I would love the gold trim. Just the touch to make “very pretty” into “AWESOME.” I love it, love it. Sigh, I feel so much better 🙂

  27. Hi Kristi,
    The gold detail looks wonderful! Did you know that you can use a competitor’s coupon at Michaels? Hobby Lobby usually has a 40% off one item coupon on their website.

  28. Beautiful, I think it looks great and would not change a thing. A book is a great idea, you are an inspiration to many of us!!!! Waiting for the next chapter….

  29. Stunning! I actually like your gold leafing better than the brass inserts on the inspiration photo. I was thinking of going navy blue on a bathroom vanity and someone suggested silver leafing with navy- oh my, thank you. I am in love with that idea so I might just have to try it! Will you just seal the gold leafing when you seal your cabinets or do you have to do different treatments to each? Beautiful job Kristi! 🙂

  30. Wow these are GORGEOUS!! I would never think to put green on my cabinets but everything you do turns out so spectacular and high quality that I would let you paint mine green! I cannot wait for the final result!

    I love the leafing! It adds that something extra to your cabinets! I would not do anything else besides seal it, honey!

    Every room needs color, pattern, texture and shine and you’re on your way there!

    Do what makes you happy and don’t feel pressure to finish anything on a specific time frame- you’re one person and remember, you ENJOY doing this stuff! So when you get stressed out just know nothing is permanent and you will achieve the results you want! Xx

  31. I wasn’t to sure of the gold leaf at first but i really like the look now! i even like the look of the first door! looks sorta country.(think thats the word i am looking for)
    please stop beating yourself up over not being perfect, you are doing a great job !!

  32. I think everyone has pretty much said it all. I too love the gold leaf. It is looking more and more like your inspiration kitchen. One Question, what do you plan to use for cabinet and drawer pulls? As always….Blessings

  33. I’ve been waiting to see this since you first posted the original photo. I l can’t help but wonder how that gold
    leaf will hold up to cleaning.

  34. OMG! I can not wait until you are finished with this kitchen!! You are amazing. Truly! Now- i don’t know why i’m asking, but will you redo the first one you did? or leave as is?

  35. Oooohhhhh, pretty! Wow, that leafing looks really, really nice, and it looks like you quickly mastered the application. Nicely done, it adds a very elegant detail to your cabinets. That is going to be one gorgeous kitchen when it’s finished, it is shaping up so nicely already!

  36. Spectacular! Good on you for hanging in there. I love the gold leaf look and I would be cautious about trying to change it too much. If the sconces are not going to be attached to the doors so there will be a direct comparison, you should be fine – and I am assuming that they won’t be because that would be a bit odd and very unlike you!

  37. What a tremendous accent for the cabinets! Nothing is quite the same as working with metallic leaf. You hit the nail on the head about breathing and you certainly don’t want to sneeze. Don’t forget you can collect the gold leaf scraps and use them just like the sheets. If you collect as you go, it can add up and is useful for covering a spot where you may need a bit more coverage or for another small project. One tool that’s used in several of the books I have is the agate burnisher. Not a necessity but a ‘nice to have’.
    Also, an earlier comment asked about cleaning. There are several ways to seal gold leaf so that it lasts. After all, look how long it has lasted in historic architecture and art. The method and product used depends on your material, how much use it will have and some on personal preference. I have a book written by a member of a company that restores antiques. Leafing is one of the subjects it covers with photos and lots of great info. Much higher level than I will ever need but has some great tips and techniques. I’ll look for it and see if the book gives the company’s web site. After all your hard work you certainly want it to last and enjoy it for many years and both the products used for aging or toning it down, as well as those used for sealing, are very important since some can change the color or finish. I can’t wait to see them finished especially those with the glass doors.

  38. Wow! Those doors look fabulous. I’m not a painted cabinets person however I might be now. Yours are gorgeous. Just stunning. Love your work.

  39. ok, I didn’t think the gold leaf edging would be something that I would personally like, but once again, it looks AMAZING! I love that you know what is “you”. This kitchen is going to incredible when you’re done!

  40. Laughed with you to keep from crying as you struggle with painting these cabinets. You are so talented and this rarely happens to you where things don’t go as planned in your projects. With your determination you will make it a success! I believe it.

  41. You did a fantastic job as always. The next time you use gold leaf with painters tape take some clear glaze and paint along the line of the tape. Let it dry, continue with the gold leaf and this will give you a clean line. You are definitely an inspiration to us all. Keep up the good work.

  42. The cabinets are really coming around! The gold leaf really makes a huge difference! We gold leafed our master bathroom mirrors and our glass shower enclosure. They turned out beautiful! FYI – You will need to put a light seal on the gold leaf as any type of household cleaners such as Windex, etc may remove the gold leaf. I’m a very careful and just spray my rag with the cleaner and then clean the area instead of spraying the cleaner directly on the mirror/cabinet.

    I am so excited to see the finished room! I know it will be exquisite!

  43. Great article. Just wanted to point out that I am actually considered a pro gilder. I have been doing it many years. The truth is gold leaf or any other metal leaf will never ever be perfect. Not even at the Palace of Versailles. See, the imperfection of gilding with gold leaf is what actually makes it so beautiful and no other look can compare. So enjoy the imperfections because that is exactly what makes it so beautiful!