Makeover | Painting a shadow box

 I’ve always wanted a vintage typesetter’s tray. The trouble is, the ones I’ve seen for sale have been on the large side, and the walls in my house don’t have any large-sized spots left to fill.
So until I can persuade my husband to buy a bigger house or to build another wall in our current one, I am making do with a small (12″ x 17″) shadow box.

typesetter's tray
It’s not the vintage typesetter’s tray of my dreams, but it serves the purpose. And I kinda like it. I brought it home from a thrift store a couple years ago. Here’s what it looked like then:

I think I paid 50 cents for it. Which was probably 49 cents more than it was worth.

I wanted to display some of my old type blocks, which are all very dark, in the box, and I knew they would show up better against a light background, so I broke out the white paint.

The faux brass hardware on the corners I painted black and then layered a little silver Rub ‘n’ Buff over, in an attempt to make them look old and worn.

Then, because I can never leave well enough alone, I distressed the wood and backed a few of the squares with some whitewashed newspaper.

I put a few blocks of vintage type, an old camera lens and a miniature wooden shoe, among other treasures, inside my new box. The type blocks are from antique stores; the wooden shoe and the camera lens were thrift store finds.

The lens came in a leather case which is absolutely fabulous.

I wish it would have fit in one of the cubbies, but it was a little too big.

shadow box
An old wooden-wheeled caster with a beautiful worn patina — one of a whole box full of mismatched casters and wheels that I found at a thrift store one day — is perched in the top corner. Below the caster are a couple of square nails that I appropriated from my dad’s toolbox when I was a kid. (And by “toolbox” I mean “various coffee cans, peanut butter tubs and old pails” that he used for storage.)

shadow box
A beat-up silver trophy holds a collection of blocks. The trophy is plastic and came from a thrift store for a few cents. The blocks — which spell out H-E-A-R-T-S — are a family heirloom of sorts. The really old ones were part of a vintage game. When my mom was young, she added to the set by making a few extras herself. The old Z children’s block is another cheap thrift store find.

In the bottom section of the box, I have a couple of black dice, some numbers, a few old slides and a vintage bike license plate. The license plate came from eBay. Everything else is from thrift stores.

The 2015 is part of a set of letters and numbers that obviously went with a sign blank at one time. The letters were originally white, but I painted these black to contrast with the white shadowbox.

The rest of the letters are stored in a glass bottle.

I am fascinated by the old Kodachrome slides. This is one of my favorites: It features two guys in khaki clothes and (what might be) pith helmets sitting next to a camp fire. I imagine they were on safari in Africa when the photo was taken. Or maybe they were just sitting in their backyard roasting marshmallows.

shadow box
In the bottom of the shadowbox, I have a C that was lime green plastic when I bought it. I spray painted it black, then covered it with some Spanish copper Rub ‘n’ Buff. It looks like it’s some kind of aged metal now (until you pick it up and realize it’s light as a feather).

12 Replies to “Makeover | Painting a shadow box”

  1. “I would never paint a vintage typesetter's tray because I wouldn't want to destroy its historical integrity” Thank you! I completely agree.

    I think your shadow box is darling 🙂

  2. I think your shadowbox looks fabulous just the way it is!! I found an old wood cupboard silverware drawer at a show and promptly put it up on the wall. It looks so great with all my treasures in it. It tells a story of who you are and what you love. Yours is so great in an industrial kind of way!!

  3. It sounds like we are like-minded souls, AnnMarie. My style is very vintage industrial, and I love the idea of hanging an old silverware drawer full of treasures up on the wall.

  4. Why the Columbus reference? Are you a transplant from Ohio? I am…living in southeastern NC for the last 11 years. Love your shadow box. I love displaying my little seemingly meaningless doo dads in my house, too.

  5. No, I've got no connection to Ohio. We have a Columbus here in Wisconsin, too. It's a little smaller (population 5,013) than Ohio's, but I'm rather partial to it. I actually bought the Columbus bike license plate on eBay from a seller in (if I remember correctly) Missouri. So perhaps there's a Columbus there as well. I was actually searching for a black and white Columbus Street sign (which I was hoping to display on the gallery wall that I blogged about earlier) when I happened upon the bike license plate. It was so cute I had to buy it, even though it was too small to make much of an impact on the big wall. So instead, it lives in my shadowbox.

  6. Visiting from Cozy Little House…love your shadowbox and how you transformed it (I'm not that creative…I simply painted mine black, lol). Your vintage treasures make it stunning. Where in WI do you live? I'm in northwest IL, only 15 min. from the WI border.

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