Upcycling Bookcase Project

Upcycling a Bookcase - Black and Copper

Whilst planning the interior decor for the open plan living room in our new Whitby Harbour Apartment, I decided to try to upcycle a 1940s glass fronted bookcase.

I purchased an old 1940s bookcase on Ebay for £70.  I wanted something with some nice details which would look good once painted.  I thought that if it was too plain, it wouldn't match our planned luxurious room design scheme; so I took my time in choosing the right bookcase and found this one:

Bookcase ready for upcycling

1) First I gently sanded the bookcase all over to give a good key for the paint.  I just did this by hand as the bookcase isn't that big or robust, but for larger pieces of furniture, an electric sander is better and faster.

2) I then made sure I masked off anything I didn't want painting.  In this case it was the glass panels on the front  This is a really boring job but is so important to ensure you have neat and professional paint lines.


3) The next job was to get painting.  I used a black eggshell paint by Farrow and Ball and 2 and 3 inch brushes.  It's important to use a good quality paint to give the best finish and don't put it on too thickly as it will run and drip.

Once the first coat is on and dry, I gave it a very light sand and then applied a second coat.

painting completed

4) Once the paint had dried, which was only a few hours for this eggshell paint, I started to try and guild the back panel of the bookcase with copper leaf.  I bought all my materials on Amazon, including the proper guilders brush, 3 books of copper leaf and a pot of copper leaf paint for touch ups!

The copper leafing was much much harder than it looked on the YouTube video I watched to find out how to do it! See the video here.....it's quite useful, but it was much trickier in my view! Leafing Video Link

The back of the bookcase had already been papered and varnished in the past, so I thought the surface would be well sealed for applying the size (guilding adhesive).

I used an oil-based Japan Gold Size, which apparently dried to a suitable 'tack' within 1 to 2 hours.  On my first attempt I found that the papered back wasn't that well sealed and the size just soaked in and seemed to dry instantly....the gold leaf didn't adhere properly and fell off the next day when I tried to brush the loose bits off!!  Anyway, lesson learned, I reapplied size and checked the tackiness every 10 minutes or so.

Although the suggested 'drying to tack' time is 1-2 hours, in our house the size was ready for applying the copper leaf in only 30 minutes!!  So watch out for that or you will also have your copper leaf falling off straight away after you apply it!!

The second attempt at applying the copper leaf and filling in the gaps left from the first time was a bit more successful but I still had lots of little 'holidays', which is where you don't have enough size and the copper doesn't adhere.  This was a bit frustrating as I really wanted a nice neat and glossy finish.  I think I basically need a lot more practice!

Not to be beaten, I turned to my copper leaf paint I had purchase in case of having this problem and touched up any gaps with that.  The overall copper leafing effort isn't as neat as I wanted and it's more shabby chic than smart and glossy, but once the shelves were back in and I put some books and ornaments in the cabinet I think the overall effect will work really well.

5) To complete the job and give a tougher finish, I will use a clear matt water based varnish on the painted surfaces and will use a clear acrylic varnish to protect the copper leaf.  The copper will tarnish to a green colour if it's not protected from the air, so this step is crucial!!

Let me know what you think, or if you have any questions.....but please don't give me a hard time for my learning on the job or a messy work space ha haa!

Black and Copper Bookcase UpcycledUpcycling Bookcase Project