If you read the posts on our powder room transformation and the decoupage medicine cabinet, you probably couldn’t help but notice the mirror that we refurbished and brought back to life. This is how it looked after we carefully removed the mirror glass from the frame.
The mirror was something we found amongst the piles of stuff buried in our own basement! It had belonged to my husband’s great grandmother and somehow he ended up with it.
Some of the crisp detail of the molding was lost beneath the layers of paint and the paint was also chipping. Because of those issues, even though we were repainting it, we decided to strip it down to bare wood.
Test for Lead Paint
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NOTE: Before beginning any vintage upcycle project that involves paint removal, invest in a LEAD TEST KIT. Lead poisoning is a serious health concern. Our mirror didn’t contain lead, but if you are working on a piece that does, here are a few key tips:
- Steer clear of using methylene chloride paint stripper. It can be deadly – as this 2017 news story explains. Combined with lead, the fumes are even more toxic. There are products specifically formulated for lead paint removal that will neutralize the lead. However, the most important consideration is to find one that balances safety and effectiveness.
- Never remove lead based paint by any method that releases toxic fumes or lead dust into the air – such as with a heat gun or sanding.
- Wear a respirator mask, rubber gloves and disposable clothing.
- Work outside. If that’s not an option, cover furniture with plastic sheeting and crack the windows for fresh air. Keep children and pregnant women away from the work area. Never work indoors in a confined space (getting back to the news article linked above). Have a hepa vacuum on hand to clean up any debris.
- Check with your local authorities about proper disposal of the paint.
Although my husband is a ‘Jack of All Trades’, stripping is something he was professionally trained to do (I’m talking about wood here folks!), so he gladly took this project on. I guess that makes him a ‘Jack, the Stripper’ in this case!
To start, Hubs donned his safety equipment (mask, goggles gloves). Stripper is harsh regardless of the chemical composition, so cover up all bare skin. He then laid a few layers of heavy brown paper over his worktable to protect it:
Getting Down to Bare Wood
Before applying stripper, take the time to read the label and follow the directions/safety precautions for the product you purchased. Use a cheap brush to apply. Be patient and allow it to sit on the surface for the time suggested before trying to remove the paint; let it do it’s thing! Hubs often applies Saran wrap over the piece being stripped to keep the stripper from evaporating and drying out while it’s working hard to lift the paint. This saves time and product.
Here’s one of Hubs’ professional tips: he props the frame on metal L-brackets (like an upside down ‘V’) so the mirror is lifted off the table. This way, he can get the stripper on the front and around the inside and outside edges. He applies masking tape to the metal L-brackets first so that when he’s done, he can remove the tape along with the mess. A quick wipe and your metal pieces will be ready again for the next job!
The detail work on the frame needed a lot of attention and a few applications of stripper before he was able to get it down to bare wood. One way of getting into the detail work to remove paint is a fine steel wool pad. You can dip it right into the stripper and scrub away to help lift the stubborn bits. Another way is a brass brush; however even though brass is a soft metal, it can still leave marks on your beautiful detail.
Create a Custom Tool
For tighter areas that steel wool just can’t reach, Hubs has a better secret weapon: he cuts down a very stiff bristle brush to about half an inch or so. Again, he dips it into extra paint remover then pounces the bristles into the finer details. It’s both a gentle and effective way of removing paint. It also prevents scratching which you have to avoid at all costs because it’s almost impossible to sand carved detals smooth once they are nicked or damaged from harsher tools.
Here’s a look at the before and after.
Look at how beautiful the wood came up!
Hubs applied some wood filler into the cracks and sanded them smooth.
If we were going for a farmhouse look, I would have blended the wood filler into the wood and left it in its natural state, topcoated with varnish. I love the blond wood!
However, I wanted the frame to recede into our walls so, with a blank slate, Hubs primed it and then gave it two coats of the same charcoal grey paint that we used on the walls of our powder room.
Hubs reinserted the mirror in the frame. The mirror itself is beautifully aged and has a lot of character. In fact, many people now try to recreate that mercury glass look, but we are lucky to have the real deal!
Here’s a reminder of how it started out:
Hang and Enjoy
Here’s how it looks freshly painted and hung on the wall of our powder room.
Although the frame is understated and blends in with the walls, I think the detail is still front and centre. Also, the pop of colour reflected in the mirror from the decoupaged medicine cabinet really helps the powder room shine like a jewel.
With the shell details on the mirror, ceramic starfish wall decor, handmade glass light fixture and egg dart crown molding looking like scallops, the finished look sports a subtle beachy vibe (without the watery colours that would seem displaced in Canada’s cold climate). You can see the full bathroom makeover here.
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Other Projects from BoF
Mirrors are a great way to decorate – whether they’re indoors or outdoors. Here’s a close-up of another mirror project we did for the garden: