DIY: How to upcycle an old window

P1000944Part folk art, part organizational decor, this display uses corkboard and photographs to fill in alternating panes of an old window.

> How to do it yourself in 3 (well, maybe 12) steps:

1. Acquire an old window.

Very often this part is the hardest. I got lucky and snagged a window from the house my sister-in-law renovated. Old windows can sometimes be reclaimed from vintage stores, thrift shops and other second-time-around-type places. I have even salvaged a window from a trash heap off the side of the road!

2. Prepare the window.

Mostly this step involves cleaning. Since the window is old, it’s probably pretty dirty. Depending on how delicate your window is, you can decide how vigorous you can be when cleaning it and what type of products to use.

Here’s what I did:

  • Rinsed the window with water.
  • Sprayed it with a cleaner and scrubbed it lightly with a soft sponge. I used a very mild cleaner (something like a liquid Charlie’s Soap) because I did not want an abrasive cleaner to strip the paint off of the window.
  • Rinsed off the soap.
  • Let the window air-dry for about 24 hours in the hot Southern summer sun to be sure it was good and dry.
  • Sanded the window very gently to smooth out the rough edges and peeling paint. I used both an electric sander and my own elbow grease in combination with sandpaper. (Actually what had happened was that after about three minutes I killed my dad’s electric sander, which just fell to pieces in my hands–it was old anyway, I promise!–and then had to finish with whatever scraps of sandpaper I found in the shed because that day was the day I had set aside to complete this project and the kids’ precious naptime minutes were rapidly dwindling.)
    • Note: I sanded this window because the edges around the window were rough and splintery and the paint was peeling in places. Sanding helps to smooth the wood and to prevent further paint peelage. I did not sand to prep the window to be repainted; I did not repaint the window. I like to call any imperfections and inconsistencies in a piece’s appearance “a patina” and tell myself that it adds charm and character (and that it’s not because I’m lazy).
  • Attached mounts for hanging. The way you plan to use the window and the material your window is made of will determine the method you use for displaying the window and thus the hardware needed to display it. In this case with a heavy wooden window, I hammered in 2 very strong sawtooth hangers to the back of the window.
    • Style tip: I highly recommend using a window as a prop piece–that is, just setting on a mantle or table and letting it lean against the wall, no hanging or hardware necessary.

3. Decorate the window.

I used corkboard and photographs in alternating panes to create the look I was going for, which was a casual and functional display for a piece large enough to hang over the fuse box door in my den hallway.

Here’s what I did:

  • Used an exacto-type knife to cut corkboard squares to size. Be sure to cut over a surface you do not care about getting scratched!
    • Note: The knife will likely slice up whatever is under the corkboard, so protect your table or flooring or other surface by putting down a cutting mat, cutting board, extra layers of corkboard, whatever. I often just take my work to the driveway, which is hard on the knife but doesn’t do any damage to the driveway!
  • Worked the hot glue gun. That’s right: I just hot-glued those corkboard pieces right to the glass pane. It is not fanciest way to do it, but the corkboard is holding up and, as I mentioned, I was on borrowed naptime.
    • Note: For this project, the corkboard is on the top of window pane, so the glass in underneath the corkboard.
  • Trimmed my photographs to fit the pane. The photos were printed as 8x10s, but they needed a bit of trimming to fit just right.
  • Broke out the Scotch tape. Again, not the fanciest way to go about mounting a photograph, but it is working. Because the glass is in front of the photograph, the adhesive method had to be something that utilized the back of the photograph. After getting the photograph arranged just so in the pane, I affixed the tape all around the edges, trying to get a good seal around the entire photograph.
    • Note: For this project, the photographs are on the back of the window pane, so the glass is over the photograph.  The photographs could go on top of the glass pane (like the corkboard), but I wanted the photos to be behind glass to appear as though they were actually framed and to add depth to the overall texture of the finished window project.
    • Further Note: Some windows may have textured glass, which would determine whether or not any material could either be affixed to a certain side of the pane or be clearly visible through the pane.

> More ideas

  • Cover the corkboard with decorative or textured fabric–even changing out the fabrics for holidays, seasons, etc.
  • Use patterned scrapbook paper or wrapping paper instead of photographs.
  • Display children’s artwork (or some of your own!) instead of photographs. You could even have the children make handprints or footprints as artwork for display.
  • Paint some of the panes with chalkboard paint to create a rewritable surface (but be careful–it’s glass!). Also note that some old window panes are textured on one or both sides, which would not create a smooth writing surface.

> Close-up

bottle cap pushpins picSome bottlecap pushpins I made are used to hold up a few of my favorite clipped cartoons and quotes. The pushpin on the left features random magazine cut-outs, and the one on the right showcases my daughter’s rendering of a strawberry.

The quote shown here is by Maya Angelou and was found in (or, more accurately, was torn from) a Southern Living pamphlet for the Heirloom Recipe Cookbook and reads, “You can never go home again, but the truth is you can never leave home, so it’s all right.”



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