How to create your own copper detail shelving

When we moved in to our house, the previous owners did as most sellers do and left us some little bits and pieces that they didn’t want to take with them to their new home. These included some lush UV-marked curtains covered in cat hair, some desirable ‘doctors surgery blue’ vertical blinds, and some instaworthy pine shelves with splinter-giving brackets. We were such lucky lucky buyers.

The shelves were still hung for us all over one wall of what is now Evie’s room, there were about 8 of them hung one above the other and all different distances apart, I can only imagine this was a deliberate interior design move to create some visual interest on what was otherwise a bland blue wall. Interestingly enough, the doctors surgery blue vertical blinds weren’t in the doctors surgery blue room…the room instead had the wine red cat hair curtains in it.

Anyway, the point is, we took all the shelving down to get Evie’s room done and I decided that in order to try and save a few bob in this massive money pit of a house I would upcycle the pine into something I could use elsewhere in the house. I wanted some shelves in the dining room, and so the copper leaf idea was born. All the items I got for the shelf cost about £12 because I already had paint brushed and some things around the house. 8 copper shelves for £12 isn’t bad, is it?!

Shopping list

  • old, crappy, basic wooden shelf of your choosing
  • white chalk paint (I already had Rustoleum chalk white paint in the house so I just used this. I reckon you could use any paint suitable for wood surfaces though)

    Rustoleum Chalk Paint in Chalk White
    Rustoleum Chalk Paint in Chalk White
  • Sandpaper (I used fine sandpaper)
  • Size (I discovered that this is the name given to the special glue that is used for doing leafing.) I used Windsor & Newton Japan Gold Size, an oil based adhesive that I was able to get cheap on Amazon Prime.

    Japan Gold
    Japan Gold size, specially formulated for copper/gold leafing
  • Copper leaf. I used a copper effect leaf as opposed to real copper. The argument is that real copper has more lustre, but I think my faux stuff looks wonderfully lustrous. It cost me about £3 from Amazon prime again.
  • A leafing brush…surprise surprise also from Amazon Prime.

    Leafing brush
    Leafing brush, a few pounds from Amazon
  • A small thin paint brush for applying the size
  • A larger paint brush for applying your paint
  • You might want to consider using an old dust sheet too because the copper leaf remnants do go everywhere. I was a wild child and didn’t bother for the leafing part and relied on my trusty Vax instead, but I did put something down to protect the carpet while painting.


  • Sand your shelf and brackets all over. I always wondered what the point was with this, but have ultimately discovered that its kind of like when you get your gel nail polish done…the base needs prepped and all oils, shininess and stains removed so that the paint sticks better. It also removes any scabby bits that can cause splinters.

    Sand your shelf
    Sand your shelf so the surface is prepped for painting
  • Paint your shelf and brackets with your chosen paint. I did three coats on the shelf and only 2 on the brackets…god knows why the brackets needed less, but it worked for me. I wanted a more ‘shabby’ finish so I used a paint brush for everything, but if you want your shelf paint finish to be really smooth then use a small roller on the large flat bits.

    Paint your shelf
    I painted my shelf with Rustoleum chalk paint
  • I wanted a very random and uneven finish from my copper leaf as opposed to a straight parallel stripe, so I will explain how I applied my size (glue, remember?!) to achieve that look. If you want a crisper edge then I would recommend marking your area to be leafed with frog tape. That stuff is heaven sent.
  • Using your small paint brush, apply a generous layer of size all down the middle of the shelf. Then simply squiggle your brush back and forth over that stripe to drag the glue out on each side in a very random wishy washy pattern. The glue will taper out towards the edges and be uneven and thinner in places, but this is good as it will add to the shabbiness of the finished look.
    Apply Japan Gold size
    Use small paint brush to apply generous stripe of size

    Uneven application of size
    You can see the unevenness of the size application at the edges
  • Japan Gold size is tacky and ready to apply leaf to within 20 mins. Use your knuckle to press lightly on the sized area. If it makes a little clicky sound when you lift it off it is ready to apply your leaf, if it is still wet and smooth to the touch it needs a bit longer to get sticky. You only have 30 minutes maximum to work with it before it dries fully, so move fast as soon as you know your shelf is tacky enough to go.
  • Then, apply your sheets of copper leaf along the glued area. They will need to overlap slightly so you don’t miss any glued bits out. Don’t worry if they get a bit folded and crumpled, this is what we want.

    Copper leaf application
    Apply sheets of copper leaf all over the glued area, overlapping them slightly
  • Once the glued area is all covered, use your soft brush to brush down the leaf, sticking it firmly to all tacky areas. There will be lots of bits that don’t stick because the glue isn’t on that bit of the shelf, as you brush over these areas the leaf will lift off and disperse, eventually making a big fat mess of your carpet (enter, the Vax!)
Brush down the leaf
Once you brush the leaf down, it will remain stuck to the areas with glue and will brush off the rest of the shelf
  • Then, all you need to do is flip the shelf over and do the same thing on the bottom. After all, once your shelf is hung it is as likely that you will be able to see the bottom of it as the top.
  • You can choose to seal your shelf with either an easy spray sealer, or by applying Japan Gold all over the leafed bit again. I decided not to because I want to shabbiness to continue and if little bits of leaf wear off this can only be a good thing.

Finished Shelf

Copper Shelf
Finished copper shelf

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