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DIY: 21 Elegant Ways to Update Vintage Picture Frames

These days, filling your walls with up-cycled home decor is easier than ever. If you’re like me, you can spend long days perusing flea markets, local thrift stores, garage sales and antique stores looking for antique frames to add to your wall decor. Nowadays, repurpose old picture frames are very easy to find and make for great diy projects that make a big impact in your home decor.

Hands down my favourite way to frame contemporary art is to place it in a beautiful vintage frame. The contrast between old and new creates a warmth and authenticity to the artwork and bonus, it’s a lot less expensive than getting something custom framed. 

But what do you do with an old frame that doesn’t quite fit the bill? Maybe it’s a little damaged? Or the frame is stunning but the mat doesn’t match? Maybe you have a piece of art you love, but it doesn’t quite fit the frame? Or maybe you have one that’s the right size, but the wrong style? 

Here are 21 sophisticated ways to customize your picture frames that will help you turn old vintage finds into the perfect piece for your home in an elegant and custom way!

01. ?Add a Gold Finish with Rub-n-Buff

If you’re unfamiliar with Rub n Buff, it’s a metallic wax paste that can be applied on furniture, glass, metal and more. 

?Its incredibly easy to use and pretty much works on any surface. When I’m shopping for frames, I’ll often look at the style, texture and ornamentation of the frame rather than the finish because I know I can always use the Rub n Buff to get the finish I want. 

In fact, I’d say that in most cases the Rub n Buff looks better than gold or metal frames because you can control how much of it you use and still see some of the original material behind it, especially if it’s black! It gives it a really nice vintage look! A little bit goes a long way. 

How-To Create Your Gold Frames with Rub n Buff

01. Replace the Mat

The first step is to clean your old frame – removing old tape, paper, nails and whatever else you’re working with! Then, with a soft cloth remove the dust for all the little nooks and crannies.

Open a window or work outside as the product does sort of smell a bit like shoe polish. Ventilation is always best when working with these types of waxes, paints, etc…

Then, put a very little amount of wax onto a paper towel and rub your brush into it. I like to use an old makeup blending brush as it leaves the least amount of brush strokes and get into all the little details of the frame. It takes a bit more work but I think it’s worth it.

Dab the brush over the frame and adjust the quantity you use to vary the intensity of opaqueness of the gold finish. I find if you work slowly, this will take you quite some time as the product doesn’t really smudge or move around much… but that’s a good thing!

Continue to dab all over the frame and go back over it again any number of times until you get the look you want. 

Keep in mind, it is hard to get the wax off once you put it on. You can wipe it off and a teeny bit will come off but once it’s on, it’s pretty much not going anywhere so working in small layers is better than putting a lot directly on the frame. 

Note: I like this method much more than using gold spray paint because it’s a more controlled application and way less messy. But if you have some gold spray paint, feel free to give it a try. 

You can get your own little tube here. This is the exact colour I used.

In the next week or so, I’m going to be sharing a step by step video tutorial on how to use rub n buff on a few different surfaces – stay tuned for that post soon!

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02. Replace the Mat

One of the most effective ways to update an old frame is by simply replacing the mat. If you have a new piece of art or working with an old one, if you head to your local michaels or hobby lobby, you can find really nice and inexpensive mats to choose from to bring that piece up to today’s standards. Typically a nice off-white, textured paper will look good with any frame and artwork. But keep reading for some other design options!

03. Replace the Hardware

Old frames come with old hardware, and often times they’re loose or the hanging wire has moved and when you hang the frame, it wobbles or sits off the wall making for a messy look. Something as simple as this set of hardware and a screwdriver will give you everything you need to replace the old hardware with new. I like to use the clips that are very close to frame so that my frame sits snug against the wall. 

04. Add Small Artwork to A Big Frame

Small painting, big impact! One of the best ways to add some modernity to your frames is by placing a small piece or artwork in a larger frame. The negative or “white space” around the artwork creates a lot of visual relief and draws attention to the artwork and the frame separately, which I really like. 

05. Resize Your Artwork

Sometimes the proportions of the artwork or artwork opening aren’t ideal for the frame size, so if you own the artwork or have downloaded printables you can head to your local print house and as them to resize it for your or, resize your artwork on a website like imageresizer. You can upload a photo, scan or download your purchased and resize it to a different ratio instantly. Then reprint or take your print to the print shop and you’re all set! One of our most popular prints, Land Of You, is available in just about any size, paper or canvas prints, which you can buy here.

06. Add a Double Mat 

Double mats are when you have two layers of mats revealing a bit of the one in the back to create an additional border. When I’ve done this in the past, I’ll typically create an opening difference of about 1/4-3/8″ (8-10cm) between the two mats and vary their colour slightly to create that border you want. It can make your wall art look a little more traditional or formal, but works well if your artwork and the mat at the very back are the same colour tone, or black and white. 

07. Create Asymmetry

This is a growing trend, and creating asymmetry in your artwork makes for a very customized feel to your artwork. To do this, you’ll need to position your artwork inside your frame and then move your artwork up a little so that the distance from the artwork to the frame on the top is less than the distance on the bottom. This gives your wall art a super modern feel. I love doing this with a landscape painting that are much longer than they are tall as well.

08. Create an eclectic gallery wall

If you’re worried about the variety of frames you’ve collected, don’t! The best way to take a collection of frames that vary in style, size and artwork is to create a gallery wall that embraces their differences. Find a common element – hanging distance between frames, tone, style or artwork and use that one element to bring them all together. For example, neutral tones. I’m sure you’re not a stranger to gallery walls and have seen all sorts of different ways of creating your own, so don’t be worried about if something might not match at first! 

09. Paint over an Old Painting

?Cautiously and if you’re adventurous enough, you can always take an old piece of artwork and add to it. Perhaps some gold leaf, marker lines, collage elements or brushstrokes to bring that piece to life. 

10. Add Fabric Mat

Another favourite of mine, lining your mats with fabric is a really simple way to update your vintage picture frames. Head to your local fabric store and pick a natural, raw canvas or linen that goes well with your artwork. You can also use old table cloths or runners that maybe have a stain and can’t be used but would serve this purpose perfectly. For the full video tutorial on how to do this, head to this blog post. Its one of our most requested tutorials and for good reason, anyone can do it! 

11. Add Fabric Layers

Another way to add fabric to your wall art is to create a layer of fabric for your artwork to sit on top of. This is a really great technique if you love layers, texture and depth to your wall decor. The full step by step blog post can be found here!

12. Add Ribbons or Bows

Super cute and pretty-looking, adding velvet bow or ribbon to your artwork adds a dainty look to your wall decor. I like to use a dark camel or black velvet and create bows that the artwork appears to hang on, but in fact you’re still using the hardware to hold the support of the frame and the bow just appears to be holding the frame up. Click here to read the blog post on how to make your own bows here!

13. Reverse the Mat and Artwork Contrast

Very on trend for 2024, flipping the contrast between the artwork and the mat is really starting to take off. What I mean by this is that the mat is a very dark colour, black even and the artwork pops as the lighter element. I love to do this with a black and white sketches and a black mat on a dark wood or gold frame or a really warm toned landscape. Sometimes black frames in the traditional way look a little to stark for some so this is a great way to take the attention off of the frame to the artwork. 

Land Of You Art Print, Framed in a Vintage Black Frame with Black Mat
14. Add a Mirror Inlay

?With a little more planning and outside help, you can create a mirror using your vintage frames. 

Using the glass that came with your frame, you can apply a finish like Rust-Oleum Mirror Effect to create a distressed mirror look. ‘

How-To Add A Mirror Inlay

Clean the glass frame with a glass cleaner.  Wipe the cleaner off the glass completely.

Take the glass out of the picture frame and lay it on a cardboard surface outside.  As you can see from the pictures above, I didn’t do that.  I should have done this step in the beginning – you’ll have to take the glass out of the frame anyway – so go ahead and do that.

Vigorously shake the can well.  Lightly spray one coat of the paint on the glass surface of the frame.  It is going to appear runny, and does not spray on like normal spray paint would. 

Let the first coat dry for one minute, then spray a second coat of the glass spray on.

You will repeat this step THREE to FIVE times.  Remember to let it set for one minute in between each coat.

Let the glass spray dry completely.  I let mine dry overnight.

At this point, the painted side of the glass will appear slightly dull.  Turn the glass over because the back side of the glass is what will resemble the mirror

15. Paint It

The power of paint never fails to transform even the most mundane of frames. Any colour, matte or glossy will work so pick a colour that will work with your decor or gallery wall. The next time you come across artwork that looks outdated, imagine it with a different colour frame—that might be just the trick for bringing it back to life.

16. DISTRESS IT

Found a nice frame with a few knicks or bruises? Not to worry! Sometimes, adding more distressing does the trick! I like to sand, chip or scratch some of my frames to give them a really rustic look. Using a soft sandpaper and removing some of the finish or paint also can make a big difference, so don’t toss it back in the pile so quickly. 

If the mat is in good shape but the colour doesn’t quite work – there seems to have been a point in time where yellow, light blue and burgundy mats were flying off the shelves! – and you don’t particularly want to pay or wait for a new mat, painting it is also a great option. Just as paint can update a frame to complement the art, it also works on picture mats. Painting basic white mats a fun, fresh colour really makes art prints pop, especially prints that incorporate text. Nursery or kids room wall decor is a great place to find creative ways to use colour in your art. 

17. Wax It

And if gold or paint isn’t your jam, waxing your frame is also a great option as some of these old vintage frames were made of really nice, solid wood with hand carved details. If they’re painted you can use a paint remover to strip the paint off, or if it’s just a soft varnish you can use sandpaper and remove the gloss or stain. Once it’s in its natural state, some natural mineral wax will do the trick to bring it back to life and add some freshness. 

18. Get Creative Add Hand Sketches

Feeling creative? Grab some nice paper and some charcoal or pastel pencils and create fun shapes and doodles with your kids! Create a fun monocromatic series or just black and white, and hang them in various frames to add a personal touch. 

19. ?Frame Nature – leaf or dried flower

And if nature is your happy place (as it is mine), taking dried leaves or flowers and framing them in ornate frames makes for great wall art! Create a nice border with a mat or using fabric and place the flower or leaf on top to create a layering of texture. The easiest way to dry flowers is the old, textbook method. Carefully place each leaf or flower in the middle of your heavy book and let it dry for 3-5 days. 

20. Multiple Artworks in one Frame

If you’ve sourced a larger or elongated frame, another fun way to add some creativity to your wall decor is to use three or four pieces inside the frame. With a little planning at the local framer or craft store, create openings in your chosen mat for each piece and create a narrative or sequence. This idea also works great for family photos or a series of mini paintings. 

21. Vintage Inspired Prints

Likely you’re familiar with using vintage prints or printables as a quick and easy way to add warmth and coziness to your wall decor. Etsy is a great place to find plethora or vintage prints for sale as well as our print shop where you’ll find an assortment of print styles to choose from. If you want a printable of any print, send us a message and we’ll get it for you! 

I hope you enjoyed this little blog post with ideas on how to update vintage picture frames and that you’ll give it a try! If you do, share the results with me on Instagram @donatdelanoart.com and I’ll reshare them on my stories.

If you’re new here, I’m Donata Delano. I am the creative owner and artist behind Donata Delano Art. I started the good Canvas in an effort to build an art community focused on art, creativity and business. Aside from art related tutorials, tips and information occasionally, I also post recipes, crafts and our adventures living abroad.

As for my business, as some of you know, I run my art studio out of our home. I have a dedicated room where I paint, package and ship all my artwork to you. If you’re curious about my daily life and how I run my business, I post often about my process, my studio and my work on my instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/donatadelanoart/

You can also follow along on Pinterest, where I pin all things design, decor, crafts style and holiday goodies: https://www.pinterest.ca/donatadelanoart/

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